When my cousin was born, my aunt and uncle were told that he didn’t have a high chance of surviving the week. He was extremely preterm at about 24 or 25 weeks and was also born with medical complications. After months in the hospital however, he was allowed to go home and though he was frail during his elementary years he eventually grew up to be on the varsity football team in high school and continues to be robust and healthy to this day. My aunt and uncle were one of the lucky ones, but other parents of very preterm children are sometimes not as fortunate.

There are many factors that influence preterm survival rate and a study conducted in 2008 set out to examine some of them to determine which preterm infants were most likely to survive. In the study, 4,000 very preterm infants born between the 22nd and 25th week of pregnancy were studied to identify which factors meant life or death.

The first thing noticed by the researchers was that gestational age was a key factor. Obviously the longer the gestational period, the greater the chances were that the child would survive. It was determined that infants born at 25 weeks had a greater chance of survival than infants born at 22 weeks and below. In fact, infants born at 22 weeks were often given comfort care over intensive medical care because their chance of survival was so slim. Comfort care saw to the infant’s basic needs, but didn’t force the infant to undergo medical procedures that would likely to stressful or painful.

In addition to gestational age, other factors included the gender of the infant, birth weight, whether or not the mother was given medication to help with prenatal lung development, and if the infant was one of multiple births. Through the study, which was published in the New England Journal Of Medicine, it was found that female infants with higher birth weight who’s mothers had taken the antenatal steroids for lung development had a higher chance of surviving even though they were extremely preterm.

Co-author of the study, Dr. Rosemary Higgins commented that "many neonatal intensive care units base treatment decisions mainly on gestational age," said Dr. Higgins. "We found that it's much more accurate if the assessment is based on the combination of 5 factors, rather than just on gestational age."

Higgins also said that the five factors are more reliable because it’s often hard to accurately determine the correct gestational age.

Source: (2008, May 16). NIH Study Reveals Factors That Influence Premature Infant Survival, Disability. April 16, 2008 News Release - National Institutes of Health (NIH).