A premature birth is a birth that takes place more than three weeks before the baby’s estimated due date. Premature babies especially those born very early, often have complicated medical problems.

World Prematurity Day is an opportunity to call attention to the heavy burden of death and disability and the pain and suffering that preterm birth causes. It is also a chance to talk about solutions. Each year, an increasing number of countries have observed World Prematurity Day by organizing national and local events, including public art installations, parliamentary hearings, health professional meetings, and marches.[1]

THEME: Born Too Soon: Providing the right care, at the right time, in the right place.


  • Every year, 15 million babies are born prematurely -more than one in ten of all babies around the world- and this number is rising.
  • Premature birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age.
  • Three quarters of these deaths could be prevented with current, cost effective interventions.
  • More than 60% of premature births occur in Africa and South Asia, but it is a global problem.
  • World Prematurity Day is a key moment to focus global attention on the complications from preterm birth, the leading cause of child deaths under age 5, which account for nearly 1 million deaths each year.[2]


Premature births occur for a variety of reasons. Most premature births happen spontaneously, but some are due to early induction of labour or caesarean birth, whether for medical or non-medical reasons. Common causes include;

  • Poor nutrition before and during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy with twins, triplets and other multiples.
  • Premature birth during previous pregnancy
  • Use of harmful substances like cocaine, marijuana, rophynol, alcohol etc.
  • Some infections during pregnancy like urinary tract infection, lower genital tract infection.
  • Problem with the Uterus, Cervix or Placenta
  • An interval of less than six months between pregnancies
  • Hypertension in pregnancy (Pre-eclampsia)
  • Physical injury, trauma or stress[3]


Most premature babies can experience short term or long term complications. However, not all babies born too early experience complications.

Long Term Complications

Cerebral Palsy due to abnormal brain development, there is disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture.

Congenital Heart Disease is an abnormality in the heart valves, heart vessels and the wall of the heart. CONGENITAL heart disease like patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is common in preterm births.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome – Due to immature lung development, could cause collapse in the lungs, harsh and irregular breathing


Jaundice – A yellowish skin colour caused by buildup of substances in the blood called bilirubin

Apnea of prematurity – This is when premature babies cease to breath for more than 20 seconds

Hypothermia – A premature baby is born with little body fat and immature skin, which makes it harder to maintain body heat.

Neonatal hypoglycemia – when a preterm baby is born with a plasma glucose level of less than 30mg/dL (1.65mmol/L) in the first 25 hours of life.


Measures to prevent premature birth can predominantly be taken in the areas of healthcare and lifestyle changes, before planning a pregnancy and might decrease the risk of premature birth.

According to WHO, more than three quarters of premature babies can be saved with feasible, cost effective care, such as;

  • Essential care during child birth and in the post natal period.
  • Provision of antenatal steroid injections given to pregnant woman at risk of preterm labour and under the set criteria to strengthen the baby’s lungs
  • Kangaroo mother care; the baby is carried by the mother with skin to skin contact and frequent breastfeeding.
  • Antibiotics to treat newborn infections

Preventing deaths and complications from preterm birth, starts with a healthy pregnancy. Quality care before, between and during pregnancies will ensure all women have positive pregnancy experience.[4]

For further information on premature birth, causes, prevention, complications, you can visit Royal Victoria Medical Centre





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