Why are there an increasing number of preterm births?



The rate of preterm births hasn’t stopped increasing in developing countries. Each year, around the world, 15 million babies are born preterm, making up 15% of all births. In Catalonia, this figure has gone from 5.5% in 1993 to 7.3%, which means that in 2011 nearly 6,000 babies were born preterm.

There is a consensus in the scientific community to explain the causes of this increase and they point to possible reasons including assisted reproductive technology, multiple births, work stress, maternal problems (diabetes, high blood pressure, post-conization, etc.), and delayed maternity, among others. Experts already have some indicators that allow them to identify when a pregnant woman is at risk of having a preterm birth.

A baby is considered premature when it is born before the 37th week of gestation. Although survival rates are growing steadily, 75% of all deaths among hospitalized children correspond to those born preterm. These babies are born with less developed organs and systems (brain, respiration, temperature control, digestion, metabolism, etc.), making them more vulnerable to disease and, in later years, more predisposed to sensory and motor development deficiencies, learning difficulties or behavioral problems.

In Catalonia 7.3 out of 100 babies are born preterm. This rate is growing in developed countries although we don’t yet know the causes.

Despite the efforts of medical professionals and scientific breakthroughs, extremely preterm babies can't develop in neonatal care units in the same way they would in their mother’s womb. Reducing prematurity is one of the current scientific challenges, as a result of the decreased quality of life these preterm babies often suffer and their high economic and social impact at birth and for the rest of their lives. In Catalonia there are various benchmark hospitals with research groups studying this topic.

On 16 and 17 January, more than 20 international experts will meet at CosmoCaixa Barcelona for the scientific debates Extremely Preterm Babies. Improving Perinatal Care organized by B·Debate —an initiative of Biocat and the "la Caixa" FoundationHospital Sant Joan de Déu and the Sant Joan de Déu Foundation with collaboration from the Stanford School of Medicine. Over these two days, participants will debate the factors that contribute to preterm births, identify new lines of research for the future and establish prevention and management strategies to improve the quality of life of these infants and reduce the resulting economic and social impact.

The scientific side of the event is led by professionals from the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, headed up by Dr. Josep Maria Lailla, and of Neonatology, under Dr. Xavier Krauel. Noteworthy international participants include Gian Carlo di Renzo, of the University of Perugia (Italy), who is an expert in optimizing care during pregnancy to avoid preterm births, and Naoto Takahashi, of the Tokyo Hospital, who is an expert in medical care for extremely preterm babies. While in Spain and most developed countries the majority of babies born at 22 weeks die, in Japan nearly half survive. Other participants will include Stellan Hakansson, a researcher from the Umea University Hospital, who has compared mortality rates of preterm babies in Sweden where they apply opposing policies regarding the treatment of these infants, and Hugh O’Brodovich, of the March of Dimes, one of the most important organizations in the world in researching prematurity.

Follow the debate on Twitter @BDebate with the tag #BDebate