Attention! Surge in Number of Premature Babies

High levels of stress hormones have been associated with preterm birth, highlighting the need for adequate mental health support during pregnancy.

Attention! Surge in Number of Premature Babies

There has been a startling uptick in the number of preterm births. This concerning trend is causing alarm among experts, as it poses serious risks for both the mother and the baby. While advancements in medical technology have improved survival rates for premature infants, poor lifestyle choices, high levels of stress, and poor dietary habits are all potential contributors to preterm birth. To address this concerning rise in preterm births requires a multi-faceted approach that focuses on education, awareness campaigns, access to quality healthcare services for all women.

Preterm birth, also known as premature birth, refers to the delivery of a baby before 37 weeks gestation. It is a significant global health issue. The rise in the number of premature babies is a growing concern in the country.

With more women choosing to delay starting a family until their late 30s or even 40s, the risk of preterm birth significantly rises. Women over the age of 35 have a higher likelihood of delivering prematurely compared to younger mothers. Underlying health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes also increase the chances of preterm labor. The use of Artificial reproductive technologies such as IVF increases the chances of Prematurity. Lifestyle choices and environmental factors can also lead to premature births. Smoking during pregnancy has been strongly linked to premature delivery, as tobacco smoke constricts blood vessels and reduces oxygen supply to the fetus.

Dr Tushar Parikh, Senior Consultant Neonatologist & Paediatrician, Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi, Pune added, “Those born prematurely are at a higher risk of developing various health issues such as respiratory problems, vision or hearing impairments, and even neurological disorders like cerebral palsy. Additionally, prematurity can increase the likelihood of cognitive and developmental delays. With immature brains, preterm infants might experience difficulties with mobility, speech development, learning disabilities, or behavioral disorders later on. Furthermore, preterm infants often require intensive medical interventions immediately after birth in order to survive and thrive. This includes specialised neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) support to provide necessary monitoring and treatment for their delicate condition.”

Even exposure to air pollution can heighten the risk of preterm labor. High levels of stress hormones have been associated with preterm birth, highlighting the need for adequate mental health support during pregnancy. Stress can disrupt normal fetal development and trigger early contractions leading to premature delivery. Similarly, inadequate nutrition during pregnancy deprives developing babies of vital nutrients necessary for healthy growth and increases their vulnerability. Overall, globally approximately 9-10 % of babies are born premature.

“While the exact causes of preterm birth are not fully understood, there are several risk factors that have been identified. These include maternal age (both young and advanced), multiple pregnancies (such as twins or triplets), tobacco and substance abuse during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition and prenatal care, infections during pregnancy, and certain medical conditions like high blood pressure.  One of the most concerning aspects of preterm birth is the potential long-term health consequences for babies. More premature babies have higher chances of developing morbidities in the baby. Understanding the various factors contributing to the rise in premature births is crucial for developing effective strategies aimed at prevention and better care for these vulnerable infants,” he added.

“Early and regular prenatal care, education on healthy lifestyles, screening programs for mental health issues, and nutrition during pregnancy can be helpful for women. Pre-pregnancy visits to an obstetrician for planning pregnancy and screening for maternal health are beneficial.  Addressing the problem of preterm birth involves a comprehensive approach that combines improved healthcare access, research advancements, and prioritizing mental health support during pregnancy. By addressing these various aspects simultaneously, w rates of premature births can be reduced with healthier outcomes for both mothers and babies alike,” concluded Dr Parikh.

While the survival of premature babies has improved tremendously in recent times, it increases the cost burden on the family. Most of the tertiary neonatal centers will have > 80% survival for babies born at as low gestation as 26 weeks. NICU care has improved now with the availability of high-end ventilators, good nutritional care, and development supportive care the outcomes have improved tremendously even for babies less than 1 kg at birth.

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