Premature Babies


Generally, a normal, healthy pregnancy should last 40 weeks (that’s how your doctor determines your due date). Babies are not fully developed until they reach at least 39 weeks. Even though babies sometimes arrive early, those born before 39 weeks are more likely to:

  • Have problems feeding
  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Be in the hospital for more than just a couple of days

The last few weeks of pregnancy are extremely important for your growing baby. Sometimes, the mother or baby can have serious problems and a delivery before 39 weeks cannot be avoided. But if you and your baby are both well, it is best to wait until labor begins on its own. Think about this: During the last four to five weeks of pregnancy, a baby’s brain grows by 50 percent! Read more about why at least 39 weeks is best for your baby.

In 2010, approximately one out of every eight infants in Tennessee was born premature. Premature birth is one of the leading causes of infant deaths in Tennessee. To help lower the number of babies in the state who are born before 39 weeks, the Tennessee Department of Health has partnered with the March of Dimes, the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Initiative for Perinatal Quality Care to provide information to expectant mothers and fathers and give babies the best chance at a healthy start.

What if my baby is premature?

If your baby is born prematurely, he or she might need to spend extra time at the hospital. Your doctor and the hospital staff may want to monitor your baby closely in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. There, they can determine the baby’s condition, and give you an idea of how long it will be before your baby will be healthy enough to come home.

Your doctor is always your best source of information. The March of Dimes also offers more guidance about your premature baby.

What can I do to help avoid an early delivery?

For Expectant Mothers:

  • Start prenatal care as soon as you learn that you are pregnant.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Talk with your obstetrical provider about the best time for you to have your baby.
  • If your obstetrical provider recommends that you have your baby before 39 weeks, ask why.

For Expectant Fathers:

  • Provide support to your partner during her pregnancy.
  • Help get ready for the new baby.
  • Be involved! Attend childbirth classes. Attend prenatal care visits. Ask questions.

Learn more about why healthy babies are worth the wait.