What Are the Causes of Prematurity?

In many cases, the causes of prematurity aren’t known. However, certain risk factors are associated with an inappropriate lifestyle.
What Are the Causes of Prematurity?

Written by Carmen Martín

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Prematurity is defined as a baby that’s born prematurely. Specifically, before 37 weeks of gestation. A complete pregnancy is 40 weeks of gestation. Therefore, prematurity entails certain risks, as the baby’s organs and systems are more immature. Also, it increases the incidence of pathologies that complicate development. In this article, we explain the causes of prematurity, as well as its types.

The types of prematurity

When a baby is born, it can be premature (less than 37 weeks of gestation), full-term (37 to 42 weeks of gestation), or post-term (born after 42 weeks of gestation). Here are the types of prematurity:

  • Extremely premature. A baby born before 28 weeks of gestation.
  • Very premature. Born between 29 and 32 weeks of gestation.
  • Moderate to late premature. Between 32 and 35 weeks of gestation.
  • Late premature. Born between 35 and 37 weeks of gestation.

Most babies are born just a few weeks earlier and don’t experience any prematurity-related problems. However, the more premature they’re born, the higher the risk of serious and even life-threatening complications. Extreme prematurity can cause death in newborns.

In addition, premature babies are at an increased risk of suffering from long-term problems. For example, problems related to developmental delay and learning disorders. However, most children who are born prematurely grow without long-term difficulties.

The causes of prematurity

A woman who decided to quit smoking.
Pregnant women should avoid addictions to minimize the risks of preterm birth.

In most cases, the causes of prematurity are unknown. However, experts identified some risk factors, such as:

  • Being a teenager or a woman over 40 years old.
  • Belonging to a low socioeconomic level. This causes the prenatal care to be inadequate.
  • Being pregnant with twins, triplets, or more.
  • Following a bad diet. Very thin women are at a higher risk of prematurity. It’s possible that this occurs due to a decrease in uterine fluid due to poor nutrition.
  • Also, obesity is considered a risk factor. Fatty tissue produces inflammatory proteins that trigger spontaneous labor.
  • Suffering infections during pregnancy. These include urinary tract infections and STDs.
  • Having already suffered a case of prematurity. This is the most important risk factor. The number of preterm births and the gestational age at which these preterm babies were born mark the risk in the new gestation.
  • Suffering from heart or kidney diseases, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
  • Having an incompetent cervix. This is when the cervix starts dilating early.

In addition, there are other factors that increase the risk of prematurity:

  • The use of toxic substances. For example, tobacco, cocaine, or amphetamines.
  • Uterine factors. Uterine surgery, malformations, or fibroids influence prematurity.
  • Complications of the current pregnancy. Bleeding in the 2nd and 3rd trimester, alterations in amniotic fluid volume, premature rupture of membranes, etc.

This article might interest you: What Can Cause Discharge During Pregnancy and How To Treat It

Risk symptoms

If you’re pregnant, some symptoms should alert you. You should go see your doctor if any of them appear or if you have any other problem. Firstly, bleeding during the second or third trimester is a symptom that stands out. This is because it can cause a premature rupture of membranes. Therefore, it can cause prematurity.

Secondly, experiencing painful contractions earlier than expected, as they can be a sign of preterm labor. Similarly, if you see liquid and don’t know what it is. It could be amniotic fluid. Also, this is a symptom of premature rupture of membranes.

Tips to help you avoid being a premature mother

A pregnant woman following a healthy diet.
During your pregnancy, a healthy lifestyle will help you avoid the risk factors associated with prematurity.

However, as we mentioned in this article, although the causes aren’t known, some recommendations can help avoid prematurity. First of all, if you’ve already had a premature baby, you should wait 12 months to get pregnant again.

Also, it’s advisable for you to avoid tobacco and any toxic substance while you’re pregnant. Similarly, you must follow a balanced diet. It’s best to correct malnutrition and anemia before pregnancy. Experts also recommended following a diet low in fats and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

When labor begins prematurely, doctors administer drugs to the pregnant woman. These drugs delay or stop contractions. In addition, they also seek to accelerate the baby’s lung development to avoid complications.


Prematurity rates have increased in recent years. Among other things, this is due to the increase in the mother’s age, as well as hypertension and diabetes. Also, because the use of fertility treatments has increased. These, in turn, lead to more multiple pregnancies.

Therefore, it’s necessary to detect the symptoms early and go see your doctor if you have any questions. Similarly, further scientific advances are necessary to increase the life expectancy of premature babies.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.