According to the most recent estimates, preterm birth is the leading cause of death among all children under 5 years of age, claiming more than 1 million lives every year. Across the world, over 15 million babies are born too soon and the rates of preterm birth are increasing in almost all countries. Survivors may face a lifetime of disability, including learning disabilities and visual and hearing problems. Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are at risk due to loss of body heat, breathing difficulties, infections and a lack of proper nutrition.
Preterm birth can be prevented
Preterm birth can be prevented by investing in research to discover why preterm birth occurs, and in health care for mothers before, during and after childbirth. Family planning and increased empowerment of women, especially adolescents, will also help to reduce preterm birth rates. More research is also needed to link the multiple causes of preterm birth to effective solutions, but it is clear that hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved each year with quality care for preterm babies.
Better care for preterm babies
Interventions to manage preterm labor aim at reducing serious complications arising from preterm birth. These interventions include, where feasible, medications called tocolytics to slow down labor, antenatal corticosteroids to help the baby speed up lung development and survive preterm birth, and antibiotics to prevent infection.
Care for babies born too soon or too small should include:
Essential and extra newborn care, especially feeding support
Chlorhexidine for umbilical cord care, when needed
Photo by Genna Naccache/Save the Children
The fourth annual World Prematurity Day was held on November 17, 2014. Hundreds of associations, societies, professionals, private sector organizations and individuals came together with events and activities around the globe, bringing attention to the global challenge of premature birth.
How can we address preterm birth?
Watch the short interview with Professor Joy Lawn, as she outlines what can be done to improve care for preterm babies and how countries are taking action.