Bid to reduce premature births
Published 16/11/2012 | 02:12
A handful of strategies could prevent almost 60,000 premature births a year in countries such as the UK, research has shown.
Experts said a combination of five measures could lower preterm birth rates by an average of 5% in 39 high-income nations.
By 2015, this could prevent 58,000 babies being born too early each year.
Preterm birth, before the 37th week of pregnancy, is a leading cause of death in newborn babies. Infants born early may also suffer breathing problems, anaemia, mental impairment and susceptibility to infection.
The recommended interventions include eliminating early caesarean deliveries and inductions of labour unless medically necessary, and reducing multiple embryo transfers during In-Vitro Fertilisation procedures.
Other recommendations include helping women to quit smoking, providing supplements of the hormone progesterone to women with high-risk pregnancies and cervical cerclage - a stitching procedure to close the entrance to the womb and prevent it opening too early - for high-risk women.
The findings are published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Research author Dr Joy Lawn, from the charity Save the Children, said: "Our hope is that the proposed target of a 5% relative reduction in preterm births in high income countries will motivate immediate programme action.
"Research should also focus on preterm birth causes and solutions in low income countries where preterm birth rates are highest and the underlying causes may be much simpler to address."
In the UK at least 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year, resulting in around 1,200 infant deaths. Preterm birth costs the UK public sector almost £1 billion per year, according to the charity Tommy's.