World-first Kiwi research giving new hope for prem babies

New Zealand researchers have released the findings of a world-first study on premature babies.                                 

Twenty years of data from 1.2 million babies was used in the research, helping parents and doctors make better decisions about how to care for premature babies.

Te-Kymani was born on the extreme margin of viability, at 24 weeks gestation, weighing just 650 grams.

He's too little to breathe without support and too fragile to feed.

"It's like being on a rollercoaster, we go up and down.  Sometimes we go five steps forward, five steps back, we just take every day as it comes and just see how we go," says mum, Natasha Williams.

But due to new research the doctors caring for him can say even at 24 weeks, babies have a 66 percent chance survival to the age of 10, of doing well at school and living a healthy life.  Although there is an increased risk of respiratory problems and learning difficulties.

Using Stats NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure”, Wellington Regional Hospital neonatologist, Dr Max Berry, and her team have been able to see that even for the most premature babies there is hope. In fact, outcomes for these babies are better than in many other countries around the world.

"Now for the first time we've got this tremendous ability to say, in New Zealand, within our context, within our culture, this is what it looks like for these children growing up, and that's an incredibly powerful resource to have."

Dr Berry and her team used 20 years of New Zealand data from Statistics New Zealand with funding from Cure Kids, tracking the most premature babies to those born near full term.

"We took 1.2 million babies that were born and were able to look at early life survival, early life medical needs, what their educational needs were and their grades, so it gives us that holistic start of life picture not just for the first few years of life but all the way through childhood and into early adulthood," says Associate Professor Nevil Pierse, University of Otago, Wellington.

The data helps assess risk factors years in advance and will help implement best practice and policy change.

Dr Berry says it also gives families confidence.

"When we compare New Zealand and our publicly funded health system that we are amongst the best in world in terms of how good we are at supporting survival but also about the quality of survival for these children," says Dr Berry.

Helping make the world of difference to mums like Natasha Williams and baby Te-Kymani.

World Prematurity Day is acknowledged on Saturday November 17, raising awareness of preterm babies and their families.