Helping the 15 million babies born too soon every year

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Posted on behalf of Natasha Salaria

A small baby held on one armThis Sunday is World Prematurity Day 2013, a global effort to raise awareness about premature birth and its prevention.

Published last year, Born Too Soon is a global action report which involved collaboration from more than 50 organisations and provides the first-ever national, regional and global estimates of preterm birth. The major findings of the report have now been expanded upon in six new review papers, which are published today in a supplement for the journal Reproductive Health. The articles have been jointly funded by the charities Save the Children and March of Dimes and are published in collaboration with the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and WHO.

Premature birth is a global unresolved issue. It is currently the world’s leading cause of neonatal death and is the second-leading cause of deaths in children under five after pneumonia. Worldwide estimates indicate that 15 million babies are born too soon every year, with figures showing that preterm birth rates are on the rise in most countries.

Why is this happening and what can be done about it?

There are many factors associated with preterm birth, including low BMI of the mother, extreme physical work, limited access to fertility treatment, smoking and tobacco use, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, multiple pregnancies, leaving too short a gap between pregnancies, and the age of the mother.

It’s been found that breastfeeding within an hour of birth is associated with improved chances of survival for preterm babies and it has benefits for their immune systems and brain development. This, along with other cost-effective interventions such as antenatal corticosteroids and Kangaroo Mother Care (which involves infants being carried, with skin-to-skin contact), need to be tested in low- and middle-income countries.

Have your say today on this important issue

To mark World Prematurity Day and the publishing of the Born Too Soon supplement in Reproductive Health we will be hosting a one hour tweet-chat on Twitter to discuss what actions are currently in place to reduce neonatal mortality as a result of premature birth and what actions can be taken in the future to improve this.

We will be joined in discussion by a very prominent group of researchers in the field of premature birth. For a chance to have your say, join us (@GHWindow), Mary V Kinney (@maryvkinney), Joy E Lawn (@joylawn), Salimah Walani (@SalimahWalani) and Anthony Costello (@globalhlthtwit) for the tweet-chat today (Friday 15th November) at 4pm UK time, using the hashtag #B2Soon.

You can also join #WorldPrematurityDay and make your voice heard in a 24-hour twitter relay starting at 8pm EST today to help raise awareness of babies #born2soon. And you can visit facebook.com/worldprematurityday to read stories from around the world.