Preventive steps could dramatically reduce preterm births
Lowering preterm birth rates by an average of 5 percent across 39 high-resource countries, including the United States, through preventive measures would prevent prematurity for 58,000 babies a year by 2015, according to experts.
In an article published in The Lancet to coincide with the second annual World Prematurity Day, the expert group said prevention of preterm birth also could save billions in economic costs.
"Governments and health professionals in these 39 countries need to know that wider use of proven interventions can help more women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies," lead author Hannah H. Chang, MD, PhD, a consultant for The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said.
"A 5 percent reduction in the preterm birth rate is an important first step," Chang said
Christopher Howson, PhD, vice president of Global Programs for the March of Dimes, a co-author said that the preterm birth rate in the US currently is on the decline, but for this trend to continue, "it's critical that high-resource countries such as ours focus vigorously on prevention."
The authors of The Lancet article said that five proven interventions, when combined, would lower the preterm rate across 39 countries from an average 9.6 percent of live births to 9.1 percent, and save about 3 billion dollars in health and economic costs.
One of the ways is by eliminating early cesarean deliveries and inductions of labor unless medically necessary. The other by decreasing multiple embryo transfers during assisted reproductive technologies.
Thirdly, helping women quit smoking. Provide progesterone supplementation to women with high risk pregnancies and cervical cerclage for high-risk women with short cervix.
"The means to reduce the risk of preterm birth by 5 percent are already available," Catherine Y. Spong, MD, Associate Director for Extramural Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says.
"Continued research into the causes of preterm birth has the potential to reduce the proportion of infants born preterm even further," she added.
Preterm birth, birth before 37 weeks completed gestation, is the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face a lifetime of health challenges, including breathing problems, cerebral palsy, motor and intellectual disabilities and others.
The study is published in the scientific journal The Lancet.