Premature birth Information

In humans, preterm birth refers to the birth of a baby of less than 37 weeks gestational age. Premature birth, commonly used as a synonym for preterm birth, refers to the birth of a premature infant. The child may commonly be referred to throughout their life as being born a "preemie" or "preemie baby". Because it is by far the most common cause of prematurity, preterm birth is the major cause of neonatal mortality in developed countries. Premature infants are at greater risk for short and long term complications, including disabilities and impediments in growth and mental development. Significant progress has been made in the care of premature infants, but not in reducing the prevalence of preterm birth. The cause for preterm birth is in many situations elusive and unknown; many factors appear to be associated with the development of preterm birth, making the reduction of preterm birth a challenging proposition.

In that they continue developing after birth, most animals are not born mature. At birth, a normal human infant is less mature than infants of some other primate species, possibly to allow the disproportionately large head to fit through a pelvis adapted for walking on two legs.

In humans, whereas the usual definition of preterm birth is birth before 37 weeks gestation, a "premature" infant is one that has not yet reached the level of fetal development that generally allows life outside the womb. In the normal human fetus, several organ systems mature between 34 and 37 weeks, and the fetus reaches adequate maturity by the end of this period. One of the main organs greatly affected by premature birth is the lungs. The lungs are one of the last organs to develop in the womb; because of this, premature babies typically spend the first days/weeks of their life on a ventilator. Therefore, a significant overlap exists between preterm birth and prematurity: generally, preterm babies are premature and term babies are mature. Prematurity can be reduced to a small extent by using drugs to accelerate maturation of the fetus, and to a greater extent by preventing preterm birth.

Wikipedia, Premature birth, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premature_birth (as of Apr 1, 2010)

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