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Outlook is bleak for the smallest premature babies: 80 percent have impairment


Prevention is key, March of Dimes says

Death or severe cognitive and neuromotor impairment are common outcomes among extremely premature infants (fewer than 26 weeks’ gestation), according to a British study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine. "Prematurity is a common, serious problem in America and unfortunately, the number of preterm births is rising each year," said Scott D. Berns, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, vice president for chapter programs of the March of Dimes. "Too many babies are born extremely premature in this country, and the result is that many of them die in the hospital or suffer lifelong consequences, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, blindness and hearing loss."

"More research on the underlying causes of preterm birth is needed if we are to reverse this trend," Dr. Berns said. "The March of Dimes wants to prevent prematurity from occurring in the first place -- we want every birth to be a healthy one."

This British study is the largest to date of babies born at 22 to 25 weeks of gestation with followup to early school age. Among the findings is that 41 percent of the extremely premature group have severe or moderate mental impairment at six years of age, compared to only 2 percent of a comparison group of classmates born full term. Only 20 percent of the children born extremely premature have no neuromotor or mental disability.

In 2003, the March of Dimes launched a five-year, $75 million Prematurity Campaign that includes more funding for medical research, services and education for women and their providers, and help and hope for families in crisis. It includes March of Dimes NICU Family SupportSM, a national project that provides comfort and information to families with a newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Families who have experienced or are experiencing a preterm birth are invited to visit, an online community for families to share their stories.

Michele Kling | EurekAlert!
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