Babies born at 22 weeks will now be resuscitated, in accordance with updated guidelines from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM).
Previous recommendations stated only babies born at 23 weeks or later were given life-saving treatment, with those born earlier than this believed to be too premature to survive.
However, new evidence suggests those born earlier can indeed survive. Sadly, most born at this stage will still die, however a third could live in cases where treatment is possible.
According to the British Medical Journal, these guideline changes reflect steady steps made in neonatal and obstetric care over the course of the past 10 years.
These improvements have led to enhanced survival rates among very premature babies. Among babies born at 23 weeks who are receiving treatment in UK neonatal units, 4 out of 10 are now expected to survive, compared with just 2 out of 10 back in 2008.
As reported by BBC News, consultant neonatologist Professor Dominic Wilkinson has described this as ‘fantastic news’:
The very high risks mean it’s not always the right thing to do to provide intensive medical treatment.
Survival for babies born before 22 weeks was previously not considered feasible because their lungs were not thought to be developed enough.
By 22 weeks, a baby developing in the womb will usually only have developed the very earliest parts of the lung that would allow them to exchange oxygen. Some may survive at this point, but any earlier than this and oxygen would be unable to get into their blood.
As reported by The Telegraph, President of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine Dr Helen Mactier said:
We’ve got better at keeping extremely premature babies alive and we know clinicians are increasingly willing to consider survival-focused care for the most extremely premature babies.
We have a responsibility to offer the best possible care to the baby and consistent advice and guidance to worried parents.
Sometimes this will mean that the mother should be moved before birth to a maternity care centre alongside a neonatal intensive care unit.
According to statistics published by The Telegraph, those born between 22 and 26 weeks are considered to be extremely premature, with great variance noted in their medical outcomes and ultimate chances of survival.
Approximately 7 out of 10 babies born at 22 weeks will die, while 8 out of 10 babies born at 26 weeks will live.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence, contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.