Rotunda parties for premature babies as survival rates increase
The "strength and tenacity" of Ireland's premature babies is being celebrated today as part of World Prematurity Day.
Out of 70,000 births in Ireland every year, some 4,500 are born pre-term - that is one every two hours.
The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, the second busiest maternity hospital in the country, is holding a party today for all premature babies born there in 2015 who weighed less than 1,500 grams.
Decades ago, many babies born at 28 weeks had a very slim chance of survival but now, thanks to modern medical care, babies born at just 26 weeks have an 80pc chance of surviving.
Master of the Rotunda, Professor Fergal Malone, said one of the main risk factors for pre-term birth is having delivered pre-term in a prior pregnancy.
"The Rotunda has recently launched a new specialist pre-term birth prevention clinic, in which a dedicated specialist in maternal-fetal medicine reviews all such high-risk mothers," said Prof Malone.
The clinic "provides the latest interventions" to prevent recurrent prematurity, he said.
"This includes weekly progesterone injections, cervical suturing, ultrasound assessment of the cervix, and vaginal swabs to predict pre-term birth."
World Prematurity Day helps raise awareness of the challenges that families face as result of a pre-term birth.
"In regards to advances in neonatal medicine, we have seen the rates of chronic lung disease halved in the hospital's neonatal unit, which is very promising and reassuring," Prof Malone added.
One of the biggest changes in helping babies with under-developed lungs is a process known as "volume guarantee".
Professor Naomi McCallion, based at the Rotunda, is one of the world's leading experts in this welcome innovation.
Since 2012, the percentage of premature delivery, defined as less than 36 weeks gestation, has increased nationally each year, from 5.1pc of all deliveries in 2012 to 5.5pc of all deliveries in 2015.
Survival rates for pre-term infants relate to the degree of prematurity. Most infants born later than 26 weeks would be expected to survive with lower rates of disability.
Dr Michael Boyle, consultant neonatologist at the Rotunda, said it was heartening that far more babies are surviving now with the latest care available.
Veteran staff recall that many babies would not have survived a generation ago, he said.
Delayed clamping of the umbilical cord for up to a minute after delivery is being found to be associated with significant neonatal benefits in pre-term infants, including improved circulation and a decreased need for blood transfusion.
The Rotunda Foundation has launched Tentacles for Tinies - a new project in which volunteers craft cuddly octopus toys to be placed in incubators with premature infants.
The tentacles can feel like the umbilical cord to babies, with significant calming effects.