Few things are scarier than facing a premature birth.
Although there have been many medical advancements, preterm labour is still a major cause of neonatal loss.
However, statistics now show that the survival rates of even the earliest preemies are pretty amazing.
If you’re facing preterm labour, you’re probably wondering what outcomes are likely, based on your current gestation.
If you’re at risk for preterm labour, knowing the outcomes week by week becomes part of your pregnancy countdown, and you know each day and each week mean improved survival rates.
Premature Survival Rates By Week
When I had bleeding, at 16 weeks of pregnancy, I remember my heart sinking.
It was quickly lifted when I had a healthy ultrasound, but I knew second trimester bleeding (coupled with some placental complications) could increase the likelihood of preterm labour.
Later, when my water broke at 29 weeks, I frantically began searching statistics. Each day I spent in hospital was a relief, knowing my baby’s prognosis was better with each passing day.
During my first 24 hours at the hospital, doctor after doctor came by to discuss a variety of things – from the maternal fetal medicine specialist discussing ultrasounds, to the neonatologist coming in to talk about survival rates.
It was a whirlwind of information, but all I wanted to know at the time was how likely it was that my baby would be okay.
What Are The Survival Rates For Premature Babies?
When considering survival rates, there are many factors at play – the country you’re in, the hospital you go to, your baby’s gender, and so on.
Different areas and hospitals have varying policies, on resuscitation, or viability, for example. Statistics simply provide a broad picture of what is likely to happen.
The newest and most changing statistics are those for the extremely premature – also known as micro preemies – because years ago, viability did not begin until close to 28 weeks.
Now, generally, when you reach 24 weeks, you’ve reached viability, and the survival rate is 40-70%
Some facilities will attempt to resuscitate infants born as early as 22 weeks. The survival rate is 0-10%.
The lower survival rate can, in part, be attributed to fewer attempts to resuscitate infants at this gestation, due to the poor long-term prognosis prior to 24 weeks.
Infants born at 34 weeks have nearly the same survival rates as term babies – at 98% or more.
They are more at risk for certain health and developmental complications than term infants, but their survival, and long term prognosis, are very close to those of term infants.
Survival Rates By Week
Each situation is unique, but these statistics will help you be aware of what to expect.
- 21 weeks or less: 0%
- 22 weeks: 0-10%
- 23 weeks: 10-35%
- 24 weeks: 40-70%
- 25 weeks: 50-80%
- 26 weeks: 80-90%
- 27 weeks: more than 90%
- 28 weeks: 92% or more
- 29 weeks: 95% or more
- 30 weeks: more than 95%
- 31 weeks: more than 95%
- 32 weeks: 98%
- 33 week: 98%
- 34 weeks: 98% or more
Although each hospital has varying policies on managing premature births, 24 weeks is considered the age of viability, because 50% or more babies survive at this gestation.
With the support of neonatology, babies born at 32 weeks have survival rates close to those of full term babies.
Babies born at or after 34 weeks have survival rates of full term babies, often with a little support with eating and, occasionally, with breathing.
While considered preterm, babies born between 35 and 37 weeks don’t usually require respiratory support, and many can feed orally without complications. However, some of these babies will still need some support in transitioning, which could mean a short NICU stay. Survival rates in this group, however, are rarely a concern.
Can You Increase Your Baby’s Chance Of Survival?
Much of pregnancy and birth is outside our control. However, there are still some things we can control.
When it comes to prematurity, the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is quite true.
Not all cases of prematurity are preventable, but there are things we can do to lower our risks, and increase baby’s chance of survival. And for the situations where we have zero control, thankfully we live in a time of many neonatal advancements.
To reduce your risk of going into preterm labour:
- Have regular and adequate prenatal care
- Contact your midwife or doctor if you have any signs of a UTI or other infections/fevers
- Take measures, before conception and during pregnancy, to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes (GD)
- If you develop GD, or you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, follow your doctor’s dietary, exercise, and medication recommendations. If you have type 1 diabetes, you should work with your endocrinologist as necessary.
- Report any bleeding to your midwife or doctor
- Report cramping or contractions to your midwife or doctor. While they are often not a concern, it’s important that your provider decide whether you need to be seen
- Contact your midwife or doctor immediately, if you think your water might be leaking or has broken,
If preterm labour is already imminent, there is not as much that can be done; there are still things, however, that might help your baby:
- If preterm labour begins, get to the hospital as soon as possible
- Sometimes tocolytic medication can weaken or stop contractions, allowing baby to stay put a few days longer, and sometimes even until full term
- If you’re under 32 weeks, your midwife or doctor will probably administer magnesium sulfate to help protect your baby’s brain, and reduce the risk of cerebral palsy. Magnesium sulfate also acts as a mild tocolytic, which can help baby stay in a bit longer
- If you’re under 34 weeks, your midwife or doctor will administer one or two doses of steroids to help your baby’s lungs mature
As you can see, the most important thing to improve your baby’s outcome is to get to your provider as soon as you suspect preterm labour. Tocolytics, magnesium sulfate, and steroids are typically given in hospital settings.
Learn more about Premature Labour – Signs, Symptoms and Management and find reassurance with a Photo Series Celebrating The Strength Of Premature Babies.