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Report: Smaller Babies Find Improving Survival Chances

Survival rates for the smallest babies are on the rise. Picture by Jerry Oster
Survival rates for the smallest babies are on the rise. Picture by Jerry Oster
October 5, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - It's good news for the tiniest and most vulnerable among us: thanks to changes in care practices and other advances, survival rates for extreme preterm infants, sometimes called "micro preemies," are on the rise.

The study, from the National Institutes of Health research network, looked at more than 34,000 babies born between 22 and 28 weeks gestation at facilities across the country, over nearly 20 years.

Between 2009 and 2012, survival rates for babies born at 23 weeks increased from 27 percent to 33 percent, which pediatric neonatologist Dr. William Truog calls promising.

"There is continuing reason for optimism for these children, and yet at the same time, we know that being born with this degree of prematurity, the course is long, difficult, and still the risk of long-term developmental problems is still substantially higher," he says.

Truog, one of the co-authors of the study, says standardizing certain practices, like giving a mother in early labor a short course of steroids to boost the baby's lungs, has been a big factor. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 11 percent of babies in the United States are born preterm, or before 37 weeks.

Of those, about one percent are born before 28 weeks.

Truog says that equates to roughly one in every 100 births, a rate nearly twice as high as some other developed countries. He stresses that while modern medicine has made great strides toward treating extremely premature infants, there is simply no substitute for a healthy full-term pregnancy.

"Every week or two that a baby can stay in the womb safely by stopping or delaying labor, it just confers a huge survival advantage week by week," says Truog.

The study appears in the online edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD