Preterm Infant Survival Significantly Increased in Recent Years

Despite increased survival rates, half still end up rehospitalized, and one-in-five will develop neurodevelopmental problems.

The chances for preterm infant survival have increased significantly in recent years, though half of extremely premature babies will still be hospitalized, and many suffer from neurodevelopmental issues by age 2, according to the findings of a new study.

Researchers from pediatric departments at universities and hospitals nationwide collaborated on the study, which looked at outcomes for extremely preterm infants born from 2013 to 2018, and found that nearly 80% of infants born between 22 and 28 weeks of gestation survive to be discharged from the hospital. Their findings were published on January 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study involved a prospective registry for extremely preterm infants who were born at 19 Academic centers in the U.S. which are part of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Neonatal Research Network. Researchers looked at data on nearly 11,000 infants born between 22 and 28 weeks of gestation from January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2018, comparing them to survival rates of preterm infants born between 2008 and 2012.

According to the findings, 78.3% of preterm infants born between 2013 and 2018 survived to be discharged from the hospital, which is an improvement over the 76% rate observed from 2008 to 2012. However, the researchers also noted that the closer the infant was born to term, the greater their chances of survival.

“Among extremely preterm infants born in 2013-2018 and treated at 19 US academic medical centers, 78.3% survived to discharge, a significantly higher rate than for infants born in 2008-2012,” the researchers concluded. “Among infants born at less than 27 weeks’ gestational age, rehospitalization and neurodevelopmental impairment were common at 2 years of age.”

The findings come amid increased attention about prior cases of premature infant deaths caused by necrotizing enterocolitis, which some say was often caused by feeding premature newborns cow’s milk-based formula like Similac and Enfamil, instead of using breast milk or donor milk.

Studies have shown that cow’s milk formula products like Similac and Enfamil cause NEC for premature babies at substantially higher rates of NEC than is seen among babies fed breast milk or donor milk. This disorder occurs when the walls of the intestines are invaded by bacteria, leading destruction of the bowel and often requiring emergency surgery while a premature baby is still in the NICU.

There are now a growing number of Similac NEC lawsuits and Enfamil NEC lawsuits are now being pursued by families of premature infants, alleging that the baby formula manufacturers withheld information for decades from families, doctors and hospitals about the risks associated with the cow’s milk formula, especially among premature or low-birth weight babies.

As additional families learn that baby formula caused NEC for premature infants born in prior years, the size and scope of the litigation is expected to continue to increase, with hundreds of claims ultimately expected throughout the federal court system.

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