Premature Baby Boom

July 13, 2006

More than half a million babies, or one in eight newborn babies, are born prematurely each year, according to an MSN article. While doctors were unable to nail the exact reasons for the trend, they say it costs at least $26 billion a year to keep these fragile infants alive.

Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are premature. Those born before 32 weeks face the greatest risks of death — about one-fifth don’t survive a year — and long-term health problems, such as cerebral palsy, retardation or learning disabilities, asthma and other conditions.

Doctors have made great strides in helping preemies to survive, even those born as young as 23 weeks, and most who do survive infancy grow up fairly healthy. But being even a few weeks premature can increase the risk of health and developmental problems.

Doctors speculated that an increase in infertility treatments among older women that result in twins, triplets and other high-risk pregnancies, and poor health habits among young, low-income women, have contributed to the statistics. Still, doctors say they don’t want to make mothers believe they are at fault for delivering premature babies.

“We don’t have a good handle on prematurity,” says report co-author Dr. Marie McCormick of Harvard University, who receives anguished phone calls from new mothers asking, “I did everything right, why did I have a premature baby?”

McCormick wants women to know: “If she delivers prematurely, don’t think she’s done something wrong.”

Hopefully, McCormick and her team will continue to study the issue. I feel for women who have gone through the anguish of visiting their babies in ICU.