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Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
Premature birth increases death risks
Babies born early are at risk of dying from infection
Babies born even a few weeks early are at increased risk of dying, according to doctors.

Research carried out by doctors at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, suggests that the length of time the baby is in the womb has a direct influence on its chances of survival.

The doctors studied the health records of several million American and Canadian babies born as little as one week prematurely.

They discovered that babies born even slightly early are more than twice as likely to die in infancy compared to full-term babies.

According to the doctors, the babies were at particular risk of dying from asphyxia or infection.

"Every day of development during pregnancy is precious to the health of an unborn baby," said Dr Jennifer Howse, who is president of the March of Dimes, a voluntary organisation that funded the study.

"This finding that just a few days prematurity is associated with higher risk of death gives even greater urgency to our efforts to find ways to prevent preterm birth from occurring."

Further studies

The McGill University researchers are carrying out further studies to determine why many women go into labour early.

Every day of development during pregnancy is precious to the health of an unborn baby

Dr Jennifer Howse, March of Dimes

Previous research has suggested premature births may be linked to lower socio-economic status.

Dr Michael Kramar, one of the authors of the study, said that the link had more to do with lifestyle than money.

"Having less money or education probably has no direct effort on the duration of pregnancy.

"Instead, it probably leads to unhealthy behaviours, exposure to stress, and reactions to stress that shorten pregnancy."

The team of researchers are now looking to see if the stress of poverty and a lack of education and resources can affect pregnancy.

They will also examine whether some women are more vulnerable to the effects of a diet which lacks certain important nutrients.

The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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