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Neonatal care: pregnancy and preterm birth

By Nicola Vasey, MPharm, MRPharmS, and Robert Tinnion, MBBS, MRCPCH

Premature baby's hand (Science Photo Library)

A preterm baby is one born before 37 weeks’ gestation. Women who have delivered prematurely in the past are at an increased risk of preterm delivery, as are smokers and those with a low body mass index 


The length of a normal pregnancy is around 40 weeks. Babies born before 37 weeks are classified as preterm. An infant born at or after 25 weeks will be transferred to a neonatal unit for supportive care. Whether or not aggressive measures will be taken to support infants born between the beginning of the 23rd week and the end of the 24th week will be based on assessments undertaken at birth.

The causes of preterm birth include infection, inflammation, multiple pregnancy, placental abruption and hormonal disruptions. Preterm birth may be prevented or delayed using pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies. There is compelling evidence to support the use of antenatal corticosteroids to reduce the complications of premature birth.

Nicola Vasey is lead clinical pharmacist for women’s and children’s services and Robert Tinnion is a research fellow in neonatal medicine, both at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.



Citation: Clinical Pharmacist URI: 11102021

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