Premature means that a baby is born several weeks earlier that the agreed ‘due date’. Most women have their babies between 37-42 weeks. The due date (EDD or expected date of delivery) is calculated at 40 weeks. So technically any baby born before the 37th completed week of pregnancy is termed premature.
The closer to your EDD your baby is delivered the fewer problems they should have in coping to life outside the womb.
Only a tiny percentage of babies will actually be born on the day that they are due. Predicting when the birth will actually happen is virtually impossible. It is not totally understood why women do go into labour, it is thought that it is probably a combination of factors. Most preventive measures to stop premature labour have not been proved to be effective, so there may be little an individual can do to reduce the risk of this happening 1.
It is widely thought that there are certain factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of having a pre-term baby. These include previous obstetric history or prematurity, illness during pregnancy, a mother’s health pre-pregnancy, social class, multiple pregnancy, and fetal problems, such as reduced growth and smoking. 2.
The most effective way of preventing premature labour is by leading a healthy life-style before and during pregnancy, including not smoking or drinking alcohol, eating a well balanced diet and having some form of daily exercise all assist in women experiencing a normal pregnancy and birth outcome.
1Enkin M et al. (2000) A guide to effective care in pregnancy and childbirth. 3rd edition. Chapter 24 Preterm labour.
2Kelnar C, Harvey D. (1987) The sick newborn baby. Bailliere Tindall.