Premature birth can be devastating

Maybe you’ve heard, “If my baby is premature it will be fine because NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) are so amazing.”   It’s true:  NICUs are amazing. But despite the best care, preterm babies (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and their families face extraordinary challenges.

The leading cause of death

Despite all the advances in obstetrical diagnostics and therapeutics over the past 10 years, premature birth is the leading cause of infant death and illness, and it is the second-leading cause of death in children before 5 years of age. 

Premature birth complications can influence a child for life

Premature babies who do survive often have extended stays in the NICU. Subsequently, they may have serious complications that need monitoring and treatments, often for the rest of their lives:

  • Cerebral palsy: Half of cerebral palsy sufferers were born prematurely
  •  Vision and hearing loss and other chronic conditions
  • Long-term learning and social impairment
  • Respiratory, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal disorders, as well as poor temperature and metabolism control, asthma, and anemia.
  • Preterm babies have on average 20 doctor office visits during the first year of life compared to 14 for a full-term baby.

The emotional burdens are heartbreaking

“For those women the onset of preterm labor and preterm delivery is not just an awful event but it's an incredible surprise,” says Dr. Lee Schulman, Medical Director and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Northwestern University.

Consider the story of Leigh:

Going home without my baby was absolutely one of the worst days of my life,” says Leigh Rubin.
“My baby girl, Mia, was born after 35 weeks and 6 days. I had no idea, until 72 hours earlier, that being born before 37 weeks—as late as 35 weeks, 6 days—could be risky for my daughter. And I keep thinking, ‘Why me? Why me? Why me?’

“The doctor who delivered Mia said that because she was born before 37 weeks she was ‘preterm,’ so she had to go to the NICU. They brought her to my room within 24 hours, so we thought everything was okay. Then 2 days later in the middle of the night — just 12 hours before we were ‘going home as 3’ —a nurse and doctor rushed into our room and told us that Mia’s O2 saturation dropped to a dangerous level. She had to stay in NICU for 10 days to be stabilized.

“Going home without my baby was absolutely one of the worst days of my life.

“If I had known that I was at risk, I would have asked my doctor what we can do to get my pregnancy a little further along before delivering. Just a week further along would have made a big difference.

“Women need to know that ‘going early, even a little early,’ is not good for their baby. Or for them. If you are at increased risk for a premature birth, knowing can make a difference on how you handle your situation.”

Leigh was fortunate that the effects of her baby being born early were short term — isolated to those first few weeks of her life. Now she is a healthy, energetic baby, hitting or exceeding all milestones.

Besides being Mom to Mia, Leigh is a Creative Director & Designer at Rubin Creative. She is also a member of the PreTRM Patient Advisory Board.

Overwhelming stress for families

For thousands of other families, having a premature infant can be devastating and life changing. 

Day-to-day life is completely disrupted as they may spend hours providing special care for their premature infant and may need extra time away from their jobs. Mothers of premature babies spend 10.2 days more on short-term disability over 6 months following delivery than mothers of full-term babies.

The financial costs for families

Families may also face financial stress as they struggle to pay the high hospital costs. The cost of a preterm baby is 10 times as much as that of a full-term baby: $54,194 versus $4,384 for a full-term baby, including the cost of the birth and extended hospital stay in the NICU for the baby. Families may also have considerable travel and housing expenses while their baby is in the hospital

Later, long term costs may include early intervention services to cope with disabilities and developmental delays, and special education services for long-term developmental/learning issues. Parents may also face additional financial burdens from lost work productivity for office visits and therapies.

Understandingly and dealing with a premature baby often creates stress within families.

There are a lot of couples, parents who don't stay together, when their babies go through a NICU experience, when babies have problems. It's really disruptive for families,” says Dr. Burdette Faucett, Maternal Fetal Medicine Expert.

Cost to society— $26.2 billion a year

“The clinical and financial impact of preterm birth continues to increase and contribute to the rising cost of healthcare in the US,” states Dr. Jay D. Iams, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine estimated cost of premature birth in the U.S. in 2005 was $26.2 billion a year.  Today, these costs are estimated at over $30B. These costs include:

  • Labor and delivery costs for the mom
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit costs for the baby
  • Early intervention services to address disabilities and developmental delays
  • Special education services for long-term developmental/learning issues

We MUST do better, and we CAN

“Preterm birth is still our greatest obstetrical/neonatal problem. We can do better,” says Dr. Faucett

New technology such as the PreTRM® test has the potential to reduce the cost, both emotionally and financially, of thousands of premature births every year.

“The outcome of our in-depth analysis showed the potential significance of…. the PreTRM test, to improve neonatal health and achieve subsequent reduction of overall costs of preterm birth on the healthcare system,” says Dr. Iams.

The good news is that the PreTRM test is available to help predict your personal risk of delivering prematurely. Knowing if you are at higher risk gives you and your healthcare provider the ability to help manage your risk with the goal of giving your baby the best start in life.

This new technology for preventing premature births can save lives and brighten the future for children, families, and communities across the country.