Mature Lungs of the Premature

Premature babies face increased risk of death, even if lungs have reached maturity

(RxWiki News) Babies born prematurely face an increased risk of many health complications, including death. Even if a newborn's lungs are fully developed, the increased risk of death remains, according to a new study.

In light of recent research showing that babies born before 39 weeks of gestation have an increased risk of health problems, Yu Ming Victor Fang, M.D., and colleagues wanted to find out whether newborns who were born between 36 and 38 weeks of pregnancy with fully matured lungs faced a greater risk of health complications when compared to those delivered at 39 weeks or later.

To assess the health-related outcomes of newborns, the researchers looked at admissions to neonatal intensive care units; length of stay in neonatal intensive care units; newborns requiring mechanical ventilation; various measures of respiratory health complications; and neonatal deaths.

The results show that deliveries between 36 weeks and 38 weeks and 6 days are linked to a substantially increased risk of health complications for newborns.

According to Dr. Fang, pregnant women should be counseled if they are scheduled to give birth before 39 weeks of pregnancy. Even if tests show that their baby's lungs have developed normally, premature births still increase the risk of a variety of health complications.

Every year, over half a million babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) in the United States. Premature births - also called preterm births - are the main cause of death among newborns. Premature infants who do survive have an increased chance of developing many lifelong health complications, compared to fully matured newborns. In the United States, preterm births account for $26 billion in health care costs per year.

The results of this study were recently presented at The Pregnancy Meeting™, the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

Review Date: 
February 14, 2011