Premature Babies Stand Better Chance at Specialized Hospitals, Study Shows
If your baby is born prematurely, the odds that he or she will survive increase dramatically if you can get to a specialized hospital. Here's hoping there's one in your area.
A report published in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association draws a link between the death rate of premature infants over the past 30 years and the level of hospital care they received.
The numbers form a clear pattern, Dr. Howard Kilbride, section chief of neonatolgy at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., tells ParentDish.
If mothers who go into premature labor can get to a Level III hospital (where highly specialized care is available), they dramatically increase the odds of their child's survival.
Kilbride says the problem is that such hospitals are available in urban areas, but despite efforts by hospitals to provide regional care, expectant mothers in remote rural areas might face greater risk.
"There are gaps, to be sure," Kilbride tells ParentDish. "There are costs associated with going to a hospital far away, and not just financial costs. There are transportation and scheduling issues to consider."
Nonetheless, Kilbride says the report confirms what physicians and other health care providers have believed since the 1970s. He says researchers pored over previously published studies to come up with a comprehensive report.
And what it should tell expectant mothers, he says, is to secure comprehensive perinatal care that includes access to a Level III hospital in case of premature labor. Specialists at such facilities stand a better chance of controlling premature labor or keeping a premature baby alive, he adds.
Does that mean women should avoid midwives and doulas or other hospitals?
"This is not an attack on any group of providers," Kilbride says.
Researchers didn't look at the specific effect of other care on premature labor and birth. They simply connected the dots from previous studies on the Level III care.
The study was led by Sarah Marie Lasswell of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She and her team looked at 41 previous studies and found a premature baby's chances of survival shoot up 62 percent at Level III hospitals.
Low-birthweight babies had an 80 percent greater chance of survival.
Kilbride tells ParentDish he's not surprised, but the confirmation is certainly nice.
The study also effectively argues for greater regional care, so more women can get higher-quality perinatal care, he adds.
"Strengthening perinatal regionalization systems in states with high percentages of VLBW (very low birth weight) and VPT (very pre-term) infants born outside of Level III centers could potentially save thousands of infant lives every year," the authors of the study write.
Related: Rapid Weight Gain in Preemies Helps IQ
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