Babies born just a few weeks premature are six times more likely to die during their first week of life, than full-term babies, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
"We have known from previous studies that late preterm infants have greater risk of certain problems like respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice and brain development, Now we have evidence that there is a greater risk of death among these babies," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes Foundation.
Late preterm babies, those born at 34 to 36 weeks gestation (full term is birth at 37 completed weeks gestation), account for 71 percent of all premature births. The national preterm birth rate is 12.5 percent which means that more than 500,000 infants are born too soon each year.
In 2005, the nation's annual societal cost (medical, educational, and lost productivity) from preterm birth was $26.2 billion and average first year medical costs were about 10 times greater for preterm than for term infants.
But the financial costs pale in comparison to the devastating consequences shown in the study.
"This study adds to our growing knowledge of the increased medical complications and higher risk of infant death among late preterm infants compared with babies born full term," said Joann Petrini, PhD. director of the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center and one of the study's co-authors. "Babies born even just a few weeks too soon should be closely monitored."
"Late preterm and full term infants have different risks for death in the first year of life and our study found the greatest disparity -- a six-fold difference -- in the first week of life," said Kay M. Tomashek, MD, MPH, a researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the paper's lead author.
Journal reference: "Differences in Mortality Between Late-Preterm and Term Singleton Infants in the United States, 1995-2002," is being published in the November 2007 Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 151, No. 5.
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