Premature Babies Beating the Odds

Premature babies survived more often, likely due to improved mother and child care

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Premature babies are beating the odds — more and more are going home from the hospital after they're born.

A new study from Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta found that more premature babies are surviving. The improved survival rates were likely due to improved care for both mothers and babies, the authors of this study said.

"By understanding the causes and timing of death in premature infants, we can make more informed decisions as clinicians, better counsel families, and conduct more in-depth research to continue improving survival and long term health of premature infants," said lead study author Ravi M. Patel, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory.

The older a premature baby is at the birth, the better the chances of survival. A normal pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. Each week in the womb ups a baby’s chances of survival. Very premature infants born at 22 to 28 weeks often have trouble because their lungs are not fully formed. They are also prone to infections. These tiny infants require complex care and support.

The infants in this study were born 12 to 18 weeks before their expected due dates.

Dr. Patel and team looked at infant mortality for three periods: 2000 to 2003, 2004 to 2007 and 2008 to 2011. By 2011, it had decreased 9.6 percent compared to the 2000-to-2003 period.

Prenatal care improved greatly in the same time frame, Dr. Patel and colleagues noted. For instance, mothers at risk of an early delivery were more likely to receive medications called prenatal glucocorticoids, which can help the baby mature faster while still in the womb.

The care of premature infants also improved in that time, these researchers found. High-frequency ventilation, for instance, can support babies who have trouble breathing. This is significant because lung problems are often a big issue in premature babies. The use of high-frequency ventilation increased between 2000 and 2011.

Many moms can reduce their risk of having a premature baby, according to The March of Dimes. Women who are pregnant shouldn't smoke, drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. They should also see a doctor as soon as possible when they think they are pregnant and go to all their scheduled appointments. Women should discuss issues like being overweight or obese or having a chronic disease with their doctors.

Among the March of Dimes' other suggestions to reduce the risk of having a premature baby are frequent handwashing, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and reducing stress.

"Our findings underscore the continued need to identify and implement strategies to reduce potentially lethal complications of prematurity," said study author Barbara J. Stoll, MD, director of the Pediatric Center of Emory and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "Ultimately, strategies to reduce the high rates of extreme prematurity are needed to make a significant impact on infant mortality."

This study was published Jan. 22 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded this research. Dr. Patel received a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.


Review Date: 
January 21, 2015
Last Updated:
January 22, 2015