What is a preterm baby?

Online Q&A
November 2013

Q: What does “preterm” mean?

A baby is born “preterm” if he or she is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. Normally, a pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks.

Q: Why do preterm babies need special care?

Preterm babies are not fully prepared to live in the world outside their mother’s womb. They get cold more easily and may need more help to feed than full-term babies. Because their bodies are not yet fully developed, they may have problems breathing and can also suffer from other complications including infections.

Q: How many babies are born preterm every year and where?

About 15 million babies are born preterm each year; that is more than one in ten babies worldwide. 60% are of them are born in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Q: How many preterm babies could be saved?

Around 1 million preterm babies die each year, and countless others suffer some type of lifelong physical, neurological, or educational disability, often at great cost to families and society. An estimated three-quarters of these preterm babies could survive if they had access to proven and often inexpensive care.