Developmental Origins of Diseases

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Pre-term and Extreme Pre-term Birth

Pre-term birth occurs when pregnancy does not proceed past 37 weeks gestation. Full term refers to birth from 37 to 42 weeks gestation. Pre-term birth can result from complications in the mother's health during pregnancy such as preeclampsia, diabetes, infection, heart and kidney disease and problems with the placenta. Other causes of pre-term delivery may involve choices made by the mother and include smoking, alcohol, poor nutrition and drug abuse. Maternal age can also contribute as noted for low birth weight and include women less than 20 and more than 40 years of age. The rate of pre-term in the United States is 11.5% dropping from 12.1% in 2002. Yet, in Mississippi the average rate of preterm birth is 17.1%; 21.1% within the African American population. Thus, race is also a causative factor.

Pre-term birth, like low birth weight, is also the second leading cause of death in the first year of life within the general population, but it is the first cause of death among African American babies. Pre-term babies can have trouble breathing due to immaturity of the lungs. Heart, brain and gastrointestinal problems in addition to the inability to control body temperature are also common problems following pre-term birth.

Pre-term birth is also associated with a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Pre-term birth also increases the risk for cerebral palsy, impaired cognitive skills, vision and hearing, and behavior and psychological problems in addition to long-term increased risk for high blood pressure, heart and end-stage renal disease in later life.

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