The lives of thousands of fragile premature babies, born before 28 weeks gestation, could be saved and lifelong disabilities avoided, if doctors adopt new research recommendations on how much they should saturate a newborn’s blood with oxygen, as they struggle to survive.
International findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that premature babies born with weak lungs or other breathing-related issues face a greater risk of dying before they reach their second birthday if their blood is saturated with slightly too little oxygen during clinical attempts to keep them alive.
The new study identifies the perfect range of oxygen saturation levels as 91-95 per cent, eliminating a degree of guess-work currently used in clinical practices which could result in infant death, eye disease or permanent neurologic damage.
We now know that if you give 20 babies the higher target, one extra baby who wouldn’t have normally survived, will survive and live without disability.
“Through this research, we wanted to ensure we are not condemning a high proportion of babies to a risk of disability or death that can be avoided,” says co-principal investigator of the study, Professor William Tarnow-Mordi from University of Sydney.
“We now know that if you give 20 babies the higher target, one extra baby who wouldn’t have normally survived, will survive and live without disability.
“…This evidence will help prevent thousands of deaths worldwide each year.”
Up until now, the amount of oxygen saturation a premature baby requires to survive, and live without disability or disease, has been a moving target – between 85 and 95 per cent saturation, and dependent on the treating physician.
This research conducted on over 2,100 babies in hospitals across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA shows that doctors who target the lower levels within this range, 85-89 per cent oxygen saturation, increase an infant’s risk of death by 45 per cent.
“In terms of public health, these findings mark a major advance as this is about an everyday treatment that happens in every neonatal clinic across Australia,” Prof Tarnow-Mordi explains.
In terms of public health, these findings mark a major advance as this is about an everyday treatment that happens in every neonatal clinic across Australia.
The findings come as good news to current and future parents of premature babies, born before 28 weeks gestation.
“These findings mean that parents can be reassured…There’s never been a better time for premature babies to be born now because of all the research that has gone on.
“The issue of deaths in premature babies is never going to go away but with these findings, we can make a difference in survival rates of very premature babies.”
The human body requires and regulates a very precise and specific balance of oxygen in the blood to survive and function in good health.
The expert estimates that around one per cent of all babies are born up before 28 weeks gestation, accounting for 700,000 to a million babies a year who are born three months early worldwide.
The issue of deaths in premature babies is never going to go away but with these findings, we can make a difference in survival rates of very premature babies.
According to the NSW Pregnancy & Newborn Services Network, extremely pre-term babies have an 80 per cent chance of surviving their first birthday.
The Better Health Channel Victoria says one third of babies born at 24 weeks gestation who are admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will not survive. Meanwhile, babies born at 30 weeks gestation have a 98 per cent of living.
Prof Tarnow-Mordi says all the doctors who took part in this study across the world reported back that they will change their neonatal practices to reflect the research’s recommendations and help save the lives of extremely pre-term babies.
“They are keen for this result to influence the way they set their policies from now on.”
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