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One in eight babies in the UK (80,000 each year) needs special care after they are born, the majority because they are premature. A baby is premature when it is born before 37 weeks’ gestation. 35-37 weeks is moderately premature, 29-34 weeks is very premature and before 29 weeks is extremely premature.

Each category is progressively less common and it is extremely rare for babies to be born before 28 weeks. However, with advances in the medical care babies are receiving, as well as improved knowledge of how to care for them, more and more babies born at 25, 24 and even 23 weeks’ gestation are surviving and going on to lead happy, healthy lives.

Premature births are on the increase, and around one third of them happen for no known medical reason.

One common cause is the condition pre-eclampsia, which causes dangerously high blood pressure in the mother and often results in the baby being delivered early. Other causes include infections, multiple births (twins and triplets) and intrauterine growth restriction, where the baby doesn’t grow as quickly as it should.

I have been told I may give birth prematurely. What do I need to know? 

Having a premature baby can be an extremely traumatic and stressful time for parents, and the experience can be a world away from the birth they expected.

There are a few things that are useful to know just in case, to make the situation easier to cope with.

If your baby needs urgent special care, they may be taken to the neonatal ward very quickly after birth, which means you may not get to see him or her straight away. This can be very distressing but it is important to remember it is essential that your baby gets the necessary care as soon as possible

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