Prematurity Explained

When children are born prematurely, as are more than 520,000 each year, they're at risk for health problems, some of which are very serious. We don't know all the reasons why they're born early, but we can tell you how to increase your baby's chance of having a full nine months to grow and develop.

What Health Risks Do Preemies Face?

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You've probably read about miracle babies who weigh barely a pound at birth and not only survive but thrive. These children are the exception, however. While medical experts have made great strides in care for the smallest babies, very premature newborns are at high risk for breathing problems, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and vision or hearing loss.

The number of preemie births is rising: Between 1995 and 2005, it grew by 15 percent. Most of these births are between 34 and 36 weeks; this is only four to six weeks early, but these babies, compared with full-term babies, are more likely to develop jaundice or to have difficulty breathing, feeding, or regulating body temperature. They're also more prone to develop learning and behavior problems in childhood, which isn't surprising given the fact that a baby's brain at 35 weeks weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 40 weeks.

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