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Babies Born Few Weeks Early Face Higher Death Risk

Late preterm infants 6 times more likely to die during first week of life, study finds

TUESDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Compared to full-term babies, those born just a few weeks premature are six times more likely to die during their first week of life, a U.S. team finds.

"Late preterm and full-term infants have different risks for death in the first year of life, and our study found the greatest disparity -- a six-fold difference -- in the first week of life," lead author Dr. Kay M. Tomashek, a researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a prepared statement.

Late preterm babies (born at 34 weeks to 36 weeks gestation, compared to 37 weeks for full-term babies) account for 71 percent of the more than 500,000 premature births each year in the United States, according to the March of Dimes Foundation.

"We have known from previous studies that late preterm infants have greater risk of certain problems like respiratory distress syndrome, feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice and brain development. Now, we have evidence that there is a greater risk of death among these babies," Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

Nov. 13 is Prematurity Awareness Day in the United States. In 2005, the medical, educational and lost productivity costs associated with preterm birth in the United States totaled $26.2 billion, the March of Dimes estimates. Average medical costs during the first year of life for preterm infants were about 10 times more than for full-term infants.

"This study adds to our growing knowledge of the increased medical complications and higher risk of infant death among late preterm infants compared with babies born full-term. Babies born even just a few weeks too soon should be closely monitored," study co-author Joann Petrini, director of the March of Dimes Perinatal Data Center, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health & and Human Development has more about preterm labor and birth.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: March of Dimes Foundation, news release, Nov. 12, 2007

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