More Itsy Bitsy Teenie Babies Survive

Extremely premature babies survive more now than in past decade with similar disabilities

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Modern medicine is improving all the time through research and technology. But it cannot always address every problem – especially with extremely young preemies.

The good news is that more babies born before 26 weeks of pregnancy are surviving now than a decade ago.

However, these babies still often suffer from extreme disabilities. As the survival rates have increased, the disability rates have not changed.

Attend all prenatal appointments.

The study, led by Kate L. Costeloe, a professor of pediatrics at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry within London's Queen Mary University, aimed to investigate the outcomes, deaths and disabilities of the babies over that 11 year period.

Heathy-term babies born on time should arrive between the 38th and 40th week of pregnancy. Any baby born before the 37th week is considered premature, but extremely premature babies are born before the 26th week of pregnancy.

The researchers included three groups of newborns in their study. One group was the 3,133 children born between the 22nd and 26th week of pregnancy in 2006 in England.

The other two groups were babies born between the 22nd and 25th weeks of pregnancy who were admitted to neonatal units in both 1995 and 2006. There were 666 included for 1995 and 1,115 for 2006.

In the group of 2006 babies born between 22 and 26 weeks, each additional week made a significant difference in whether the babies survived.

While only three babies (2 percent) born at 22 weeks survived, 66 babies (19 percent) born at 23 weeks survived. Forty percent of those born at 24 weeks survived, 66 percent of those born at 25 weeks survived, and 77 percent of those born at 26 weeks survived.

However, among the babies who survived, most had at least one major disability or medical need. When 68% of these babies were discharged from the hospital, they still required supplemental oxygen, and 13 percent of them had a serious brain abnormality. In addition, 16 percent of these preemies received laser treatment for retinopathy of prematurity, an eye condition that can lead to blindness.

When the researchers compared the number of extremely premature babies born in 1995 and 2006, they found that the number of babies admitted to neonatal care increased by 44 percent.

The survival rate of extremely premature babies also grew in 2006, though not by as much as the overall birth rate of these babies. While the 1995 survival rate of babies born between the 22nd and 25th weeks was 40 percent, the survival rate in 2006 was just over half at 53 percent.

Again, in these groups of extreme preemies, each additional week later that a baby was born, the likelihood of survival increased when comparing 1995 to 2006.

Only 4 percent of the babies born at 24 weeks survived in 1995, compared to 20 percent of 24-week babies who survived in 2006. However, the overall rates of the brain abnormalities and the need for the supplemental oxygen did not change much between 1995 and 2006.

So, even though more babies are surviving when being born extremely early, rates of severe disability in these children has remained steady over the past decade.

The study was published December 4 in the journal BMJ. The research was funded by the Medical Research Council. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 4, 2012
Last Updated:
December 5, 2012