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Barwon Health / Maternity Services

(03) 4215 2060

Premature birth

Most pregnancies continue to full term, which is between 37 and 42 weeks gestation. Sometimes, babies are born early, and these babies are known as ‘premature’.

Preterm labour begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. Babies born over 32 weeks gestation are more likely to need help with breathing and keeping warm, so will likely need the specialised facilities available for premature babies in the special care unit.

Barwon health does not have facilities needed to care for very premature babies (under 32 weeks) so it is necessary to transfer these babies to a neonatal unit, ideally before delivery (if time permits) or immediately following the birth.

 Some possible reasons why labour starts early may be due to infection in the mother, twin or triplet pregnancies, or other complications such as pre-eclampsia, weakness in the cervix or problems with the placenta.

Some of the signs that you may be starting labour prematurely can be that your waters break, you feel contractions or you have a ‘show’. If you think you could be in labour or if you have any vaginal bleeding, call the hospital straight away.

It may possible slow or even stop premature labour using drugs that stop contractions. This will provide more time in the uterus for your baby so that steroids can be given to you which will help to protect your baby’s lungs from breathing problems. Steroids generally take up to 24-48 hours in your system to be effective for your baby.

There are certain circumstances where a mother’s condition in pregnancy threatens her health or that of her baby if the pregnancy were to continue. In these circumstances, a mother may be advised that she needs to have her labour induced (started early) because either she or her baby may have a better chance of survival.

Last Modified: Wednesday, 28 September 2016