One in 10 babies in Australia are born prematurely.
It’s a staggering, heartbreaking statistic and one that a new public health program hopes to tackle.
Enter The Western Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative. The initiative, launched in 2014, has been responsible for lowering the rate of premature birth in the state by 8%.
Now, those results have prompted a national roll-out of the program which combines a state-wide obstetric outreach service with a public health and social media campaign called “The Whole Nine Months“.
The risks of pre-term birth
Pre-term birth is the single greatest cause of death and disability in children up to the age of five. In the first year of the initiative, 200 babies that would have been born prematurely were delivered safely, at full term.
Now, thanks to an $1.2 million injection of federal funds, the program will be rolled out nation wide.
“We now have the opportunity to prevent this at its source, during pregnancy,” Professor Newnham said. “The effects of increasing age at birth are outstanding… [with the] chance of survival for very young pre-term babies increased enormously just by a few days.”
How the program works
The program is based on a relatively simple premise. Every pregnant woman will have her cervix measured between 16 – 24 weeks, usually during a routine ultrasound. The length of the cervix in mid-pregnancy is a strong predictor of the risk of pre-term birth.
If the cervix appears shortened, then medical practitioners can monitor the mum and act accordingly. In most instances, doctors will use a natural progesterone pessary, which can nearly half the chance of a preterm delivery.
Like 10% of new mums, Amber Bates welcomed her fourth baby much earlier than expected.
Baby Adison was born at 25 weeks gestation, weighing just 865g. She faced an uphill battle from day one.
“Adison had a long journey through NICU complicated by chronic lung disease, infection, brain bleed, hernia and other general premmie related issues.”
It would be 18 days before Amber could hold her son for the first time. After 100 days in the NICU Adison and Amber finally headed home but the little fighter has overcome plenty of obstacles along the way including heart failure, lung damage and sleep apnoea.
Four years later and Adison continues to defy the odds. But not all premature babies are this lucky. Take little Austin, who was born at just 23 weeks gestation but lost his life just three short months later.
Through premature labour testing, researchers may be able to prevent these early births from happening. And we are now one step closer. To learn more, check out our article on premature labour testing or visit The Whole Nine Months.