Globally about 15 million babies are born premature every year, out of which one million babies die due to complications related prematurity. Low birth weight (new-borns weighing less than 2,500 grams at birth), due to prematurity and/or restricted growth in utero, is also a major contributor of new-born and child deaths, as well as disability and non-communicable diseases globally.
Dr Tushar Parikh Chief Consultant Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospital, Pune says,“It has been observed in last 10 years that the number of urban women becoming first time pregnant in their late 30s and 40s is increasing. Many of them have to resort to IVF techniques. They have a higher chance of delivering a premature baby.”
“The cause of preterm birth is often not known. Risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, being pregnant with more than one baby, being either obese or underweight, a number of vaginal infections, tobacco smoking and psychological stress, among others. Premature babies need specialized care in the Neonatal Intensive care unit. Premature babies have immature organ systems and therefore they use to have high mortality,” said Dr Ramesh Bhosale, gynaecologist from Sassoon General Hospital.
Fortunately, due to rapid advances in medical science our understanding of premature baby’s physiology has improved tremendously. With the availability of newer generation ventilators coupled with hi-end technology now we are able to give more than 90% survival rates for premature babies born in the well-equipped hospital.
Since time is a critical factor in survival of tiny premature babies, it is recommended that a mother who has complications related to pregnancy and is likely to deliver a premature or LBW baby, should deliver in a hospital equipped to take care of all neonatal problems. Neonatology is the specialty of paediatrics which looks after such sick babies during first critical months of life.
“Addressing access to quality, equitable, and respectful care around the time of birth and during the neonatal period is critically important for maternal and new-born survival. Family members must look after each other and provide emotional support when there is premature baby in the family. Premature baby may take a long time in the hospital NICU before they are ready to go home. A baby born at 28 weeks may take around 8 to 10 weeks to be fit enough to go home,” says Dr Parikh.
India has more preterm births than any other country in the world – over 3.3 million per year – and over 300,000 deaths due to direct preterm complications.
The Government of India has taken action to prevent preterm birth and to improve the chances of survival for babies born too soon including publishing operational guidelines in 2014 to direct the use of antenatal corticosteroids (ACS) in health facilities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends ACS be administered to women who are at risk of early labour between 24-34 weeks of pregnancy to promote lung maturity in the unborn baby.