Premature babies

If you have any concerns or questions about Premature babies speak to your GP or midwife - this information is a general overview and not intended as professional medical advice.

In this section


What is a premature baby?

A premature baby is a baby born before the 37th week of pregnancy.

What can cause premature births?

  • Multiple baby pregnancy.
  • Highly stressful events such as a bereavement.
  • Pre-eclampsia.
  • Infections.
  • Membranes rupturing (waters breaking).
  • If the baby’s growth has slowed or stopped, then it may be safer for the baby to be delivered early, by caesarean.
  • Smoking, excessive alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • Malnutrition.

What happens during a premature birth?

Premature babies are usually born by caesarean section, although a number are born vaginally. It will be depend on what is considered safest for you and your baby. After the birth, your baby will probably be taken to the SCBU (special care baby unit).

How can I reduce the risk of premature labour?

Follow the guidelines for healthy eating during pregnancy, especially don’t smoke, avoid alcohol and recreational drug and avoid contact with cat faeces which can cause infection.

Keep in contact with your midwife, report any worries you have. Tell the midwife or GP if you think you may have a urinary infection. Be aware of signs that Labour could be imminent. Make sure you attend all your antenatal appointments.

What are the risks of having another premature birth?

If you have had a premature birth, you have a higher risk of going into early labour. But many women, who have had a premature birth, will go on to have a full term pregnancy. It would be advisable to see your GP to discuss the risks.

Helpful contacts are BLISS freephone 0500 618140, for more detailed information, and Tommy’s information line 0870 7773060, .


Special care baby units

If your baby is born prematurely or has a medical condition, they will be taken to the SCBU (special care baby unit)

SCBU Equipment

The equipment in the SCBU may look daunting and scary but it will help your baby.

Some of the equipment you will encounter are as follows

  • Incubators which control the temperature and humidity around your baby. Premature babies need help to regulate there body temperature.
  • Ventilators aid your baby’s breathing.
  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) assists the baby’s breathing, using a tube placed in the nostrils
  • Tubes are used to take blood, feed the baby, and administer drugs
  • Babies are monitored by pads attached to the chest. Premature babies often forget to breathe, when this happens an alarm sounds.

See for more information on special care baby units and the equipment. Ask questions to the medical team caring for your baby, some people find it helps to know what’s happening.



Premature babies 0-12 months

When your baby is born prematurely you will want to do whatever you can for them. When they are in incubators, surrounded by equipment you can feel helpless.

But you can help your baby.

  • Breast milk is known to be beneficial for premature babies, so by trying to feed or express milk you are providing them with a great start. Breast milk even adjusts to your premature baby’s needs.
  • Touch is another thing you can give your baby. Babies respond to touch, especially that of their parents.

Some babies are allowed home, whilst still needing support with their breathing. This is known as being “on oxygen”. For detailed information visit , where you can download the booklet “Going Home on Oxygen”.

Premature babies usually catch up with their peers, in size, within the first year (if the baby was very premature it may take up to two years). Obviously the size of the parents and amount of food eaten will have an effect too. Their size and weight are generally compared to the time in weeks, from their due date.

Premature babies often sleep more, but for shorter spells.

It tends to be that premature babies have their vaccinations at around the same time as full term babies. Your GP or health visitor will be able to give you more details.

Weaning will depend on your baby’s individual condition and needs. This should be discussed with your GP or health visitor.

You will need premature baby clothes and certain adapted products to accommodate your baby’s size.

Below is a list of useful websites