60,000 babies are born prematurely every year, leaving them at risk of life-long complications. These risks largely depend on how early babies are born. Thanks to research, we can do a lot to help premature babies, but survival often depends on how early they’re born; at 24 weeks babies have a 60% chance, but at 22 weeks it’s just 10%.
With the right care, we can often predict and sometimes prevent premature birth – but our new research found 3 in 4 parents didn’t know they were at risk until their baby was born, which makes it harder for us to give the right care to the right families at the right time.
Parents also told us that often they didn’t have access to all the information they needed and that other people didn’t understand what they were going through. This lack of awareness puts more stress on families at an already difficult time, as they only learn about the dangers of premature birth while personally going through it.
Tommy’s is the largest UK charity funding medical research into premature birth (as well as other pregnancy complications and losses). We believe that parents need to know whether they’re at risk of preterm birth before it happens, so that they can get the help they need as soon as possible. By identifying who’s at risk, we can sometimes take action to keep the baby in the womb for longer so they can grow bigger and stronger, or give them medical treatments to help them develop and improve their chances after they are born.
As part of this campaign, we ran a survey with over 1,000 parents of premature babies, which also revealed that 1 in 3 parents of premature babies experienced anxiety, depression or PTSD. Most (56%) parents told us they felt guilty, or like they had failed (54%), after their babies were born early. Around three-quarters (73%) said that other people didn’t understand what they were going through, and half (53%) didn’t even have the information they needed to understand what was happening themselves. Previous studies we’ve conducted found 10x higher risks of postnatal depression among parents of premature babies, with hospital records showing that a third of mums and almost two-fifths of dads were diagnosed with the condition after their babies were born too soon.
Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin commented:
“Pregnancy and parenting should be an exciting journey, but when babies are born too soon, it often presents unique challenges that mean families need some expert guidance. We need to raise awareness and improve understanding of premature birth, so that people aren’t learning about it while going through it and struggling to cope with so much at once. Premature birth is often unexpected, but it shouldn’t be; with the right care, we can not only predict it but prevent it.”
As part of our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to give birth, we are bringing together all this latest information and advice on our new My Prem Baby app. The app was developed with input from parents and premature birth experts – including obstetricians, neonatologists, premature birth researchers, specialist midwives and paediatricians.
Once you've signed up, you can track your pregnancy and your baby’s growth week-by-week, with tailored midwife advice and information. For those parents whose babies have arrived early, the app allows you to monitor your baby’s feeding and weight, record personal and practical milestones and share updates with friends and family. We know preterm birth can take a huge toll on parents’ mental health, which is why the app also encourages you to keep a diary and get support for your own wellbeing. You can download My Prem Baby from Google Play and the App Store.
Find out more about our work predicting and preventing premature birth here.