What are the risks of preterm birth?

20 Oct 2022

Babies born prematurely are at increased risk of physical, learning, behavioural and neurological disability compared to those born after 37 weeks gestation. Babies born at less than 28-30 weeks gestation are at the highest risk of these problems. Fortunately in these extremely preterm babies, the risk of severe developmental problems is quite low.

Significant advances in neonatal technology and neonatal care have improved the outcome and quality of life for preterm babies. 

What we know:

  • Babies born prematurely at less than 28 weeks gestation are less likely to survive than babies born after 30 weeks gestation. However, thanks to a revolution in technology, knowledge and care, babies born at 26-28 weeks receiving NICU care now have a >94% chance of survival to go home. In the 1970’s babies born at 28 weeks (this gestation) had < 10% chance of survival.
  • Survival rates are lower for each week for babies born at less than 28 weeks however even babies born at 24 weeks now have a survival chance of >70%.
  • Those born late preterm (at 34 to 36 weeks gestation) have high survival rates and generally have no serious long-term problems.
  • Babies born extremely preterm at 23-28 weeks are more likely to survive if they are born in a hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. See here for information and statistics.
  • A correlation exists between preterm birth, long-term learning disability and neurological disability (including cerebral palsy) Fortunately 83% of premature babies have no major long-term disability.
  • 72% of all babies admitted to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or Special Care Nursery were born prematurely.

Follow-up after discharge with feeding support and early intervention services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy can improve the neuro- developmental outcomes of preterm infants.

Parents often experience a wide range of emotions after the premature birth of their baby. Joy, exhaustion, sadness, anxiety, fear, guilt and numbness are just some of the feelings that can overwhelm new mothers and fathers whose baby is very premature, sick or is receiving intensive care or special care.

There is also often a large financial impact on parents of premature babies. There are support services available which can help with both the emotional and the financial burden.

For more information see related articles or detailed source information below 

Risk of Preterm Birth

How Everyday Counts for Preterm Babies

If you have had a premature baby and need support, please see below

Preterm Infants Parents Association

Life's Little Treasures

Miracle Babies Foundation

This information has been reviewed by Neonatologist, Dr John Smyth.

Disclaimer: This information by Running for Premature Babies Foundation is educational and informative in nature and is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. For further information, please Contact Us.