The birth of the child which should be a joyous experience, too often ends in death, if that child is born prematurely in a developing country. A major report about pre-mature birth called “Born Too Soon” shows that globally one in ten babies is born prematurely.
As a midwife, Carole Presern has seen newborns die.
“It’s a devastating experience. And it touches you and you remember people’s faces.”
Presern’s Organization-the partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, is one of the report’s contributors, along with the World Health Organization, "Save the Children" and March of the Dimes. She says there’s much that can be done to prevent preterm birth.
“You make sure people are not having their babies too young. You make sure those have pre-existing conditions like they are too underweight which is quite common in the developing world as you’ve learned. You’ve got to also look at if somebody’s had a history of preterm birth that needs much more attention. You want to look at the spacing between births. So you don’t want people having their children too fast because that can lead to prematurity.”
Presern says if there’s a danger that a baby will be born prematurely, there are simple and inexpensive things that can be done to help that baby survive.
“You can give the mother steroids before the baby’s born. That helps the lungs to mature. That is a very cheap, very cost-effective intervention.”
After birth, a low-cost option is called “Kangaroo Care” where the baby is strapped to the mother’s chest. It’s highly effective because it keeps the baby warm, says Doctor Joy Lawn, another coauthor who is with “Save the Children”.
“Kangaroo mother care even compared to care in incubator, halvs the risk of death.”
The report also shows premature births are rising worldwide. In rich countries like the United States, it’s often due to multiple births following in-vitro fertilization and because of the common practice of having caesarian deliveries that are medically unnecessary.
But the numbers are also rising in developing countries. Says coauthor Christopher Howson with the March of Dimes:
“Over 60% of preterm births occur in sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.”
The data suggest that’s where it’s most dangerous to be born too soon. But no matter where a birth occurs, a baby born even a couple of weeks short of full gestation, faces far more health complications than a baby born full term.
And experts say continued research is needed to better understand the many causes of premature birth- how to make them happen less often and how best to help premature babies survive and even thrive.