A discouraging new study finds that little progress had been made in bringing the death rate down for extremely preterm infants in the United States since 2000.
Extremely preterm infants are born after just 22 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. These infants are at high risk for complications and death, the researchers said.
National data showed that there was a significant drop in the risk of death for extremely preterm infants between 1990 and 2000. During that time, the death rate for babies born after 23 weeks of pregnancy fell from about 81 percent to 68 percent. The death rate for those born after 28 weeks dropped from 9.5 percent to 6 percent, the study found.
But, between 2000 and 2010, there was little to no decrease in the death rate, according to the study in the Journal of Perinatology.
The difference may be partly due to breakthroughs in preterm infant care made in the 1990s. Since that time, there have been some advances, but no major ones, said study author Dr. Michael Malloy, a neonatologist and professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The findings can help both doctors and parents have realistic outlooks when it comes to extremely preterm infants.
Malloy said the study is an attempt to temper public expectations. “We just can’t work complete miracles. We have to accept the fact that there is a biology that we are running up against,” he said in a university news release.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about preterm birth.