Increase In The Number Of Extremely Premature Babies Surviving And Thriving

In promising news for parents of extremely premature babies, not only is the survival rate of these very early premmies improving, but more of these tiny warriors are reaching toddlerhood without any sign of developmental delay.

extremely premature baby

While the survival rate of babies born between 22 and 24 weeks is still very low, with just one in three surviving – this latest research is a glimmer of hope.

Positive News For Preterm Babies

Researchers at Duke Health have discovered that compared to extremely preterm babies born ten years ago, more little ones are showing no signs of moderate or severe cognitive and motor delay when they become toddlers.

“The findings are encouraging,” lead author Noelle Younge, M.D. explained. “We see evidence of improvement over time.

“But we do need to keep an eye on the overall numbers, as a large percentage of infants born at this stage still do not survive. Those who survive without significant impairment at about age two are still at risk for numerous other challenges to their overall health.”

The study delved into the records of more than 4000 very premature babies, with about 30 per cent of those born at the beginning of the study surviving. This survival rate increased to 36 per cent for those who were born towards the end of the study, around ten years later. However, there was some concern that with an increased survival rate, would come more children with developmental issues.

“One concern was that the improved survival might have been accompanied by a greater number of infants who went on to have impairments in the long term, such as cerebral palsy, developmental delay, hearing and vision loss,” said Dr Younge.

“However, we actually are seeing a slight improvement. Because children continue to develop over years, it’s important to continue to track this data so families and providers can make the best decisions in caring for these infants.”

premature baby


Why Are The Outcomes Improving?

The researchers think that there may be a couple of reasons for the improvement in both survival and development:

  • Less infections in preterm infants.
  • The increased use of steroids in mums-to-be to help make the lungs of unborn babies stronger.

“We’ve taken a big focus on preventing infections, and there’s a lot more encouragement and support for the use of mother’s milk than there was 15 years ago, which has also been linked to better outcomes,” senior author C. Michael Cotten, M.D. said.

There have been several groundbreaking recent studies on premature babies, including an injection that may prevent preterm births, and a study into the benefits of skin-to-skin.


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