July 13, 2006
A new report shows more than half a million babies are born prematurely each year. Not only is this difficult for the babies and their families, it's becoming quite expensive to keep these fragile babies alive.
The Institute of Medicine, a U.S. panel of experts, has found the increase in premature births is a growing public health problem that is costing the nation $26 billion a year.
"Yes, there's an expense that is incurred because they have to be in a special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit," said Dr. Robert Sinkin, the Chief of Neonatology at the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Dr. Sinkin takes care of the infants born before their 37 week due date. Most are at great risk for health and developmental problems. Physicians are puzzled as to why the amount of preemies is getting higher.
"There is a large number of babies being born prematurely for which we have no explanation," said Dr. Sinkin.
The U.S. panel's report shows drugs, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases are part of the cause. However, a major contributing factor is fertility treatments. They believe they increase the risk of having multiple babies and mothers of twins and triplets are more likely to deliver early. So, the U.S. panel recommends strengthening the guidelines to limit the amount of embryos a doctor can implant.
Dr. Sinkin believes this isn't may not be the right solution for this growing health concern.
"One needs to stop and think about whether or not there are other things that we could be doing," said Dr. Sinkin.
Instead, Dr. Sinkin believes the best thing for babies is to find more ways of preventing them from arriving too soon.
The report also notes that improvements in medicine have allowed more premature babies to survive. After correcting for prematurity, the United States has among the lowest infant death rate in the world.