October 29, 2014
A premature birth, or preterm birth, occurs when an infant is born three weeks or more before the 40th week of pregnancy. Premature births are often dangerous, and lead to a host of lifelong problems. It’s crucial for physicians to take proper precautions and steps to help the mother prolong the pregnancy as much as possible until the infant’s due date arrives. In many instances, premature births can be prevented with the correct medical measures.
Preventing Premature Births
There are a number of indications and signs that a mother may be at a heightened risk for delivering a baby prematurely. It’s the physician’s responsibility to monitor and watch out for warning signs and to ensure everything is done to prevent a premature birth. Common indications that the mother is at heightened risk for delivering her infant early include:
- Carrying twins
- Previous miscarriages
- Maternal obesity or maternal anorexia
- Maternal high blood pressure (preeclampsia)
- Gestational diabetes
- Maternal infections
Premature Birth Risks
Preterm births, as mentioned earlier, can lead to a myriad of health problems for infants. Some of the most common risks include:
- Respiratory problems
- Low birth weight
- Brain hemorrhaging
- Cerebral palsy (CP)
- Digestion issues
- Developmental delays
- Heightened risk of both heart disease and Type II diabetes, later in life
- Visual problems
- Hearing loss
- Feeding and digestion problems
According to scientists and physicians who research premature infants, brain injuries are a common problem in babies born preterm. NPR reports that that lack of oxygen is a common occurrence when infants are born prematurely, leading to a heightened risk of brain damage and injuries. Although most babies who are born early will go on to survive, the incidences of brain damage are still on the rise.
“That means that overall rates of cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental disabilities are on the rise,” said the chief of neonatology at the University of California’s David Rowitch. “The most common cause of brain injury in premature infants is a lack of oxygen in the days and weeks after birth. The lack of oxygen damages white matter, which provides the “communication highways” that carry messages around the brain and to distant parts of the body,” he continued.
When an infant’s white matter in the brain is damaged, it prevents the brain from sending necessary signals to other parts of the body, resulting in cognitive and physical development issues.
Premature Births and Physician Liability
As aforementioned, the physician responsible for the mother’s care during and after pregnancy has the legal responsibility to make sure the patient has the best prenatal care possible. If a physician fails to properly monitor, fails to carry proper prenatal testing, and/or fails to diagnose medical problems, they may be liable for the health problems an infant develops.