A tiny baby lies on its stomach and smiles.
Because they’re born before they’ve fully developed, preemies are prone to some serious health problems. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Preemies, or premature babies, are those born well before their due date.

But it’s not quite as simple as that.

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, premature babies fall into different classes. Preterm babies are those born at 32 to 37 weeks, while early preterm babies are born before 32 weeks.

And then there are the tiniest of the tiny: Micro-preemies, born at 26 to 27 weeks and earlier, making up a newer classification.

Nationally, about 10 percent of babies were born preterm in 2014, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Michigan the preterm birth rate was about 11.6 percent in 2013, according to the March of Dimes.

There are plenty of great places where preemies can receive excellent care, such as neonatal intensive care units.

Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has a small baby unit for micro-preemies, babies born at 27 weeks and earlier. I was able to tour the unit this past summer, and it was amazing!

Although we have the ability to provide great care to babies who are born early, the best goal is to have them born closer to their due date—it helps them reach their optimal health.

Here are some things you can do to try to avoid a premature birth:

Little bodies, big hearts

While preemies are adorable, these tiny babies are also prone to some serious health issues:

  • Lung problems: Their lungs don’t always have a chance to fully mature if they’re born early.
  • Brain growth: In studies on brain development, The March of Dimes found the brain weight of a baby born at week 35 is about two-thirds what it would be had the baby been born at 39 to 40 weeks.
  • Body temperature: Smaller babies have a harder time keeping warm because of less body fat.
  • Jaundice: This yellow tint to the skin occurs because the liver is immature and has a harder time breaking down red blood cells.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Know the signs of premature labor (we will discuss those in another post).
  • Start prenatal care early and continue with all your appointments.
  • Keep communication open with your provider about any concerns you have.
  • If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, follow your provider’s recommendations to keep these as controlled as possible.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

We also know that the following situations put you at a greater risk for preterm birth:

  • Infections.
  • Carrying more than one baby.
  • Problems with the uterus or cervix.

Sometimes a mom goes into labor and it simply can’t be stopped.

This was the case with my second baby. I started with a pain in my low belly area and I thought it had something to do with my hips. At the hospital we found it was an placental abruption. My baby was born vaginally at 32 weeks, weighing 4 pounds 1 ounce. She spent three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.

In her story “35 weeks and my water broke,” Rebekah Thompson recalls the day her labor could not be stopped.

Other times, labor can be stopped and the baby can continue growing.

We’d like to hear from you! Did you have a preterm birth? Share your story in the comments below.