Study: Pre-term babies face long-term ills

They are fragile and tiny and weigh only a few pounds. Parents of these premature babies worry greatly about their health.

"She did have some problems with breathing and having her heart rate what they call 'brady down' and had to be on a caffeine drip for over a week," said mother Carla Ransom.

Carla Ransom gave birth to little Alexandra seven and a half weeks early.

"I was certainly very hyper-vigilant when bringing her home about whether she was breathing and when she was eating and very focused on how much she was eating," said Ransom.

A new study, looking at how premature babies fare as they age, indicates some of them face an increased risk of mortality into childhood, compared to babies born full term.

"Boys and girls born at the extreme premature range, which we consider 22 to 27 weeks, had a much higher chance of mortality -- somewhere on the level of nine or 10 times higher," said Dr. Geeta Swamy, Duke University Medical Center.

Dr. Swamy, with Duke University Medical Center, is part of a team of researchers that analyzed data from about 60,000 premature births in Norway. They also looked at reproduction rates and found men born pre-term did worse than women.

"Men were less likely to reproduce if they were born prematurely as compared to women," said Dr. Swamy.

Researchers say the reason for this is still unclear, but it's possible medical problems or diminished cognitive ability could make it more difficult for survivors of pre-term birth to find a mate. Congenital problems may contribute to the increased risk of mortality. The study appears this week in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"As a parent of a pre-term baby, the more information you have, the more comfortable you are," said Dr. Swamy.

Researchers say parents need to be aware of the possible long-term risks. For now, Carla Ransom focuses on one day at a time and says Alexandra, now six months old, is thriving and doing well.

Experts say it's important to realize that while there are risks for premature babies, many of them do grow up to be healthy adults. Still, researchers would like to see more ways to prevent premature births from happening in the first place.


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