Addressing Critical Knowledge Gaps in Newborn Health

Preterm Birth

According to the most recent estimates, 35% of newborn deaths are caused by complications of premature birth. Every year, 15 million babies are born too soon and rates are increasing in almost all countries. More than 1 million babies die each year due to complications of preterm birth, making it the leading cause of newborn deaths worldwide and now the number two cause of child mortality, after pneumonia. 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. Almost half of all preterm babies are born at home, and even for those born in facilities, essential care is often lacking. 

Preterm birth can be prevented

Preterm birth can be prevented by investing more 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 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 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, where possible, include: