What is preterm birth?

8. Resources

Please select any of the folllowing buttons to view further information related to this learning resource.


Cerebral palsy

A lifelong condition affects an individual’s muscle control, movement and co-ordination. Cerebral palsy is usually caused by an injury that occurs to the brain either before, during or shortly after birth.

Chronic lung disease of prematurity

A condition affecting the lungs of preterm babies leading to difficulties with breathing. Although most preterm babies fully recover, a few may have lifelong breathing difficulties as a result of chronic lung disease of prematurity.

Extremely preterm

Birth before 28 completed weeks of gestation.


The period of time during which a baby develops in the womb. The length of a pregnancy is measured in the number of weeks of gestation.

Intraventricular haemorrhage

The blood vessels in a preterm baby’s brain are fragile and can burst easily. An intraventricular haemorrhage occurs when the blood vessels burst and blood leaks into the spaces in the brain where fluid is stored, called the ventricles. If severe, an intraventricular haemorrhage can lead to developmental problems or disability later in life.

Moderate and late preterm

Birth at 32 to 36 weeks of gestation.

Necrotising enterocolitis

very preterm babies’ digestive systems are under-developed at birth. This means their intestine, the tube that carries food from the stomach to the bowel, can become damaged easily. Necrotising enterocolitis is a condition in which a very preterm baby’s intestine becomes damaged, sore and swollen. If severe, this may need surgery to repair the baby’s intestine and it can lead to long term digestive problems.

Neonatal unit

A neonatal unit (NNU), or neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a hospital ward specialising in the care of sick or premature babies.


A doctor who specialises in the care of newborn babies.

Occupational therapist

A health professional who helps children and adults to perform everyday activities.


Birth before 37 completed weeks of gestation.

Retinopathy of prematurity

A condition that can occur as a result of very preterm birth in which the blood vessels in the retina, at the back of the eye, grow abnormally. If severe and not treated successfully, it can lead to visual impairment or blindness.


The lungs naturally produce a chemical called surfactant to help them stay open when a person breathes out. Very preterm babies may not produce enough surfactant in the first days after birth, which means their lungs may collapse in between breaths. Artificial surfactant is often given as a medicine to very preterm babies to stop their lungs collapsing and to help them breathe.


Birth at 37 to 42 weeks of gestation.

Very preterm

Birth before 32 completed weeks of gestation.

Learning outcomes

By completing this resource you will be able to:

  • To define preterm birth
  • To understand that the more preterm a baby is born, the greater the risk of developmental problems later in life

This resource was developed by:

We would like to thank the following people who all helped in the development of this resource:

Content authors: Samantha Johnson, Sarah Clayton, Lucy Cragg, Camilla Gilmore, Rose Griffiths, Neil Marlow, Victoria Simms.

Technical developers: Heather Wharrad, Mike Taylor, Aaron Fecowycz and Lydia Jones.

Contributors: Susannah Tucker.

Content reviewers: Dr Jonathan Cusack, Consultant Neonatologist, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust; Dr Stephen Wardle, Consultant Neonatologist, Nottingham University Hospitals; Alison Brown, Teacher; Olivia Smith, Teacher.

Acknowledgements: With thanks to the participants of the PRISM-2 Study Stakeholder Workshop for their role in co-designing this resource.

Funding: The development of this resource was funded by Action Medical Research

Learning Object Copyright and Terms of Use

All Learning Objects developed by the PRISM Study team in partnership with the Health ELearning and Media team (HELM) at the University of Nottingham.

If you have any queries about our Learning Objects, please contact helm@nottingham.ac.uk. To find out more about the Prism Study please contract prism@le.ac.uk

Terms of Use

Private individuals, and publicly-funded educational and other institutions, may link to and use the Learning Objects on this site without restriction for non-commercial educational purposes. Use of any Learning Objects for any commercial purpose, or by any profit-making commercial entity, is not permitted without our express permission. If you wish to use a Learning Object for any commercial, revenue-generating or non-educational purpose, you must contact us by emailing prism@le.ac.uk to negotiate terms of use and payment.

We much prefer that you use this and other Learning Objects by linking to them on this website as:

  • this ensures you're always using the most up-to-date version
  • we gain data on usage of the Learning Objects, from access statistics and user feedback forms

Local circumstances, such as network security policies, may constrain your ability to link to external sites, or may impair the usability of our objects. If you're unable to run our Learning Objects 'from source' for these or other reasons, please contact us with a brief explanation of your circumstances and we may provide you with specified Learning Objects as an IMS Content Package.


Modification to adapt Learning Objects to local circumstances is permitted, with the following restrictions:

  1. The modified version must clearly display the PRISM Study logo, and the School copyright notice.
  2. The modified version must not be distributed outside the modifying institution without the express permission from the Prism Study team; contact via email at prism@le.ac.uk.


If you have any queries about our Learning Objects, please contact prism@le.ac.uk


Please use the attribution below if you wish to refer to our learning objects. If you use Firefox, you can install the useful OpenAttribute add-on to allow you to easily copy and reference these and other materials marked as Creative Commons.

Creative Commons logo This Learning resource is licensed using the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


Johnson, S., & Marlow, N. (2016). Early and long-term outcome of infants born extremely preterm. Archives of disease in childhood, 102, 97-102. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2015-309581

Manktelow, B. N., Smith, L. K., Prunet, C., Smith, P. W., Boby, T., Hyman-Taylor, P., … & Draper, E. S., on behalf of the MBRRACE-UK Collaboration. (2017). MBRRACE-UK Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report, UK Perinatal Deaths for Births from January to December 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/downloads/files/mbrrace-uk/reports/MBRRACE-UK-PMS-Report-2015%20FINAL%20FULL%20REPORT.pdf

Pierrat, V., Marchand-Martin, L., Arnaud, C., Kaminski, M., Resche-Rigon, M., Lebeaux, C., … & Ancel, P. Y. (2017). Neurodevelopmental outcome at 2 years for preterm children born at 22 to 34 weeks’ gestation in France in 2011: EPIPAGE-2 cohort study. bmj358, j3448. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j3448

Saigal, S., & Doyle, L. W. (2008). An overview of mortality and sequelae of preterm birth from infancy to adulthood. The Lancet371(9608), 261-269. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60136-1