What exactly is premature birth? World Health Organization (WHO) define a premature birth (or preterm birth) as one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. A premature baby is one born alive before the 37th week of pregnancy is completed.

There are three sub-categories of preterm birth, based on gestational age. (Number of weeks pregnant.)

  • Extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks)
  • Very preterm (28-32 weeks)
  • Moderate to late preterm (32-37 weeks)

The risk of preterm birth for a single pregnancy is approximately 7%, risk of preterm birth for a multiple pregnancy increases dramatically to approximately 57%. Average delivery dates for a twin pregnancy are approximately 37 weeks, and 33 weeks for triplets.

How many babies in the UK are born prematurely?

In the UK approximately 1 in 13 babies are born before 37 weeks. This equates to approximately 60,000 babies every year.

From the 60,000 approximately 5% will be born before 28 weeks, 11% between 28-32 weeks and 84% between 32-37 weeks.

Not all babies born early will require specialist help in a neonatal unit or suffer from health problems. The earlier a baby is born the more likely they will require extra help in a neonatal unit and have additional health problems. Babies born before 26 weeks have the highest risk of having health problems, and therefore a higher risk of requiring medical intervention.

The UK has higher premature birth statistics than many other EU countries. Out of the UK four nations, Scotland has a higher percentage of premature births. Of the 22 Eu countries, only Greece and Romania have a higher percentage. Scotland’s premature birth rate is also rising and is the highest of the 4 UK nations.

What exactly is premature birth? Causes of preterm delivery.

There are many reasons why delivery happens early and sometimes there is no cause identified. Below is a list of the percentage of women who deliver early and why.

  • Premature rupture of membranes 30%
  • Preterm labour (no known cause) 25%
  • Bleeding during pregnancy 20%
  • Hypertensive disorder of pregnancy 14%
  • Weak cervix 9%
  • Other 2%


1 in 4 preterm births is planned due to multiple pregnancy or medical reasons.

What is being done to help lower the rate of preterm births?

New research is ongoing all the time into why preterm birth happens and how it can be prevented, resulting in babies born early to have the best chance of survival. Thanks to amazing charity organisations like Bliss and Tommy’s who raise money to fund research projects into the how? and why? Scientists are learning more and more every day. 

Reference list for statistics used on this page, and further reading.

Cribbs & Co stock a lovely range of premature baby clothing from 1lb up to 1 year. Check out the online store for our full selection.

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