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Labor that begins before the end of the 37th week is considered "preterm" or "premature." Approximately one out of every 10 babies born in the United States is preterm. No one knows the exact cause of preterm labor, but certain situations increase the odds for it, including preeclampsia; maternal health problems such as kidney disease, diabetes, or heart disease; multiple pregnancy; problems with the placenta, such as placenta previa or placenta abruptio; problems with the uterus, such as structural defects, an incompetent cervix, or fibroids; past preterm labor or delivery; or short intervals (less than a year) between pregnancies. Other possible culprits include vaginal infections, poor nutrition, stress, depression, smoking and alcohol and drug abuse.

Internet Resources

March of Dimes: National Campaign Against Prematurity
The March of Dimes has played a role in making America's children healthier for 65 years and is now taking on the problem of premature birth. This site contains information on premature birth, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) parents and the national campaign against prematurity.

MedlinePlus: PrematureBabies
Developed at the National Library of Medicine specifically for consumers, this site is a portal for both government-sponsored and privately developed health information for the lay public.

Sidelines National Support Network
Sidelines is a not-for-profit organization providing international support for women experiencing complicated pregnancies and premature births.

Renee Schine Crown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) (pdf)
The NICU is located in the Prentice Women’s Hospital. They provide care to an estimated 1600 premature or seriously ill newborns each year in the NICU. The units offer state-of-the-art care to premature and full-term babies.


  • Kangaroo Care: The Best You Can Do to Help Your Preterm Infant. Ludington-Hoe SM. 1993.
  • My Baby Sister Is a Preemie. Amadeo DM. 2005. (For children.)
  • No Bigger Than My Teddy Bear. (Book for children aged 5-12.) Pankow V. 1987.
  • Parenting Your Premature Baby and Child: The Emotional Journey. Davis D. 2004.
  • Preemie Parents: Recovering From Baby’s Premature Birth. McDermott-Perez L. 2007.
  • Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies. Wechsler LD. 2000.
  • Protect Your Pregnancy. Campos BC. 2004.

The following resources are available in print at the Health Learning Center or electronically at  http://www.nmh.org/nm/health library virtual library 

  • Gale Encyclopedia of Children’s Health: Infancy through Adolescence.Krapp K, ed. 2011.
  • Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Longe JL, ed. 2011.



  • 14 Steps to Better Breastfeeding. 16 min.
  • A Preemie Needs His Mother: First Steps to Breastfeeding Your Premature Baby: Parts I, II.
  • Getting to Know Your Premature Baby From Head to Toe. 28 min. (Available in English and Spanish.)
  • Kangaroo Care—A Parent’s Touch
  • Kangaroo Mother Care.
  • When Baby Comes Early: A Parents Guide to Prematurity.

Contact Us

For more information, please contact the Alberto Culver Women's Health Learning Center at 312-472-3640 or womenshealthcenter@nmh.org.



Last UpdateJanuary 30, 2012