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Rates of Premature Births Rising Worldwide


Premature birth is the second greatest killer of babies worldwide -- after pneumonia. A new report compiled by experts around the world looks at what can be done to prevent premature births, and what can be done to save those babies who are born too soon.

The birth of a child....what should be a joyous experience, too often ends in death if that child is born prematurely in a developing country.

A major report about premature delivery called "Born Too Soon" shows that globally, one in 10 babies is born prematurely. As a midwife, Carole Presern has seen newborns die.

"It's a devastating experience. It touches you and you remember those faces," she said.

Presern's organization, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, is one of the report's contributors --along with the World Health Organization, Save the Children and the March of Dimes. She says there's much that can be done to prevent preterm births.

"You make sure people are not having their babies too young. You make sure if they have pre-existing conditions, like if they are too underweight, which is quite common in the developing world, //// But you've also got to look at if they've had a history of preterm birth. They need much more attention. You want to look at the spacing between births. You don't want people having their children too fast because that can lead to prematurity," she said.

Presern says if there's a danger that a baby will be born prematurely, there are simple, inexpensive things that can be done to help that baby survive.

"You can give the mother steroids before the baby is born. That helps the lungs to mature. That's a very cheap, very cost effective intervention," Presern said.

After birth, a no-cost option is called "kangaroo care" where the baby is strapped to the mother's chest. It's highly effective because it keeps the baby warm, says Dr. Joy Lawn with Save the Children, another report co-author.

"Kangaroo mother care, even compared to care of a baby in an incubator, halves the risk of death," Lawn said.

The report also shows premature births are rising worldwide. In rich countries like the United States, it's often due to multiple births following in-vitro fertilization -- and because of the common practice of having caesarian deliveries that are medically unnecessary. But the numbers are also rising in developing countries, says co-author Christopher Howson with the March of Dimes.

"Over 60 percent of preterm births occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia," Howson said.

The data suggest that's where it's most dangerous to be born too soon. But no matter where a birth occurs, a baby born even a couple of weeks short of full gestation faces far more health complications than a baby born full term. And experts say continued research is needed to better understand the many causes of premature births, how to make them happen less often, and how best to help premature babies survive, and thrive.
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