New study shows increased survival rate for premature babies

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New research finds the survival rate for premature babies has improved.

The study looked at babies born across the country, including Children’s Mercy and found that about one in nine babies are born prematurely, according to the CDC.

The study, which is from the National Institutes of Health Research Network, looked at more than 34,000 babies born between 22 and 28 weeks. Between 2009 and 2012 the survival rate for babies born at 23 weeks increased from 27 percent to 33 percent.

"There is continuing reason for optimism for these children, and yet at the same time, we know that being born with this degree of prematurity, the course is long, difficult, and still the risk of long-term developmental problems is still substantially higher," said Dr. William Truog , pediatric neonatologist and study co-author at Children's Mercy.

Dr. Truog, one of the co-authors of the study, says standardizing certain practices, such as giving a mother in early labor a short course of steroids to boost the baby's lungs, has been a big factor. According to the CDC, about 11-percent of babies in the United States are born preterm, or before 37 weeks. Of those, about one percent are born before 28 weeks.

Dr. Truog adds that the rate or premature births in the U.S. is nearly twice as high as some other developed countries. He stresses that while modern medicine has made great strides toward treating extremely premature infants, there is simply no substitute for a healthy full-term pregnancy.

"Every week or two that a baby can stay in the womb safely by stopping or delaying labor, it just confers a huge survival advantage week by week," Dr. Truog says.