Premature birth is not something that most of us plan for. When your baby comes along early, it’s often unexpected and with little warning, meaning that some of the preparations you’ve made in your birth plan may go out the window. 

This does not need to be the case though.It would be impossible to cover everything about premature births in a single blog post, but we wanted to do our best to cover as many questions about preterm labour and births as possible based on our experience and on research. Informed is best, and knowing what your options are in advance can help you to make decisions better at a more critical time.

What is a premature birth?

A premature birth is when a baby arrives before 37 weeks of pregnancy. A full-term pregnancy is considered to be between 37 and 40 weeks. The NHS reports that around 8 out of every 100 babies will be born prematurely.

There are different classifications for preterm babies depending on at which time of gestation they are born, and each of these may face different challenges:

  • Late preterm babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks.
  • Moderately preterm babies are born between 32 and 34 weeks.
  • Very preterm babies are born between 28 and 32 weeks.
  • Extremely preterm babies are born before 28 weeks.

Is a premature birth always unexpected?

In some cases, it is safer for either or both the mother or baby for a preterm labour to be planned and induced. The most common reason for this is pre-eclampsia which causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and can become very serious and even life threatening if it is not discovered and monitored well. In cases such as this, you may be offered an induction to prevent the condition becoming too severe or a C-section before 37 weeks. This will be very carefully considered and discussed with a specialist, usually in a hospital.

What are the risks of a premature birth?

While medical advancements have improved outcomes for premature babies a huge amount in recent years, there are still potential risks to consider. The severity of risks increases the earlier a baby is born, but these are some of the most common. Bear in mind though that every baby and birth is different and some premature babies experience minimal health problems.

  • Breathing difficulties: Premature babies’ lungs may not be fully developed, making breathing challenging. They might require ventilation support in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).
  • Feeding problems: Their sucking and swallowing reflexes might not be fully developed, making it difficult to breastfeed or bottle-feed. They may need to be fed through a tube until they are stronger.
  • Infection: Their immune systems are weaker, making them more susceptible to infections.
  • Long-term health problems: Premature babies have a higher risk of developing conditions such as
  • Developmental delays affecting learning, speech, movement, and social skills; cerebral palsy; vision and hearing problems.

Can I still collect my baby’s cord blood if they’re born premature?

Yes, you can still collect your baby’s cord blood if they’re born premature. It is feasible to collect cord blood and umbilical cord tissue for stem cell storage whether your baby is born vaginally, by C section, with any type of intervention or induction.

There may be advantages for storing cord blood for stem cell treatments for premature babies including the potential for the baby’s own stem cells to treat complications arising from prematurity including lung or brain problems. 

There is also fascinating research which shows that despite the cord blood collected from premature babies being lower in volume, the concentration of stem cells per unit is as much as twice as high as those of full term babies. This is a small scale study but it is crucial in helping to solidify the knowledge that it is feasible to extract a sufficient quantity of stem cells from a cord blood collection in premature babies.

It is worth bearing in mind that due to the situation of the premature birth, the medical professionals will always prioritise your baby’s wellbeing so cord blood collection may not be a priority at the necessary moment. If it is something that is important to you and is noted in your birth plan, they will do their best to allow the opportunity to collect this precious blood.

If you have any more questions about giving birth early and collecting your baby’s cord blood, please do get in touch!

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