Premature birth statistics

A preterm birth is one that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Globally, more than 1 in 10 pregnancies will end in preterm birth.

Pre-term birth statistics

What is preterm birth?

A preterm birth is one that happens before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy.

The World Health Organisation gives the following definitions for the different stages of preterm birth:

  • Extremely preterm: before 28 weeks
  • Very preterm: from 28 to 32 weeks
  • Moderate to late preterm: from 32 to 37 weeks.

Around 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK each year. This puts the UK’s preterm birth rate between 7-8%, ranking us 134th out of 184 countries in the world for preterm birth. This is higher than many countries in Europe and higher than Cuba, Ecuador and Iraq.

In 2013, of the 7% of births that were preterm, almost 5% were extremely preterm (between 24 and 27 weeks), 11% were very preterm (between 28 and 31 weeks) and 85% were moderately preterm (between 32 and 36 weeks). 

Globally, more than 1 in 10 pregnancies will end in preterm birth. That’s 15 million babies per year (and the number is rising). More than 60% of preterm births happen in Africa and South Asia. On average, in lower-income countries 12% of babies are born too early compared with 9% in higher-income countries. Preterm babies have an increased risk of longterm illness and disability, with the severity of the complications depending on how early the baby is born.

What are the chances of survival following preterm birth?

  • In babies born preterm, the chance of survival at less than 22 weeks is close to zero. At 23 weeks it is 19%, at 24 weeks 40%, at 25 weeks about 66% and at 26 weeks 77%.
  • Recent studies in the UK comparing babies born in 1995 and 2006 have shown improved rates of survival (from 40% to 53%) for extreme preterm births (born between 22 and 26 weeks).
  • There is a dramatic difference in survival of premature babies depending on where they are born. For example, more than 90% of extremely preterm babies (less than 28 weeks) born in low-income countries die within the first few days of life; yet less than 10% of extremely preterm babies die in high-income countries.
  • Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under five years of age, responsible for approximately 1 million deaths in 2015. 

Causes of preterm birth

In some cases a cause of preterm birth can be shown but more often it is unknown or unclear. Complications, such as infection or cervical incompetence increase the risk. In 25% of cases, preterm births are planned because the mother and/or baby are suffering from complications such as pre-eclampsia, kidney disease or growth restriction.

What are the links between multiple pregnancies and preterm birth?

Studies show that the length of gestation typically reduces with each additional baby. On average, most singleton pregnancies last 39 weeks, twin pregnancies 37 weeks and triplets 33 weeks.

Media requests about premature birth

Our clinicians, scientists and researchers are available to speak about preterm birth for press and media. If you are interested in speaking to a clinician, contact Hannah Blake, telephone: 07730 039361 or email [email protected]

Sources

1. WHO (2012) Country data and rankings for preterm birth 2012, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

2. WHO (2012) Country data and rankings for preterm birth 2012, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

3. WHO (2012) Country data and rankings for preterm birth 2012, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

4. ONS (2015) Pregnancy and ethnic factors influencing births and infant mortality: 2013, Office of National Statistics, London, England, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/...

5. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

6. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

7. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

8. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

9. Daniel F. MacKay, Gordon C. S. Smith, Richard Dobbie, Jill P. Pell (2010) Gestational age at delivery and special educational need: retrospective cohort study of 407, 503 schoolchildren 2010, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.10...

10. BJM (2012) Short term outcomes after extreme preterm birth in England: comparison of two birth cohorts in 1995 and 2006, The EPICure studies, BMJ 2012;345:e7976, http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/345/bmj.e7976.full.pdf

11. NICE (2015) Preterm labour and birth 2015, NICE guideline NG25, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, London, England, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng25/chapter/Context

12. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

13. WHO (2017) Preterm birth fact sheet 2017, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs363/en/

14. NICE (2013) Preterm labour and birth scope 2013, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, London, England, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng25/documents/preterm-labour-and-birth...

15. NHS Choices [accessed 10/01/2018] Premature labour and birth, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/premature-early-labour/

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Read more about our research into premature birth

  • Clinician scanning a pregnant woman

    The London Preterm (premature birth) Surveillance Clinic

    This unique Preterm Surveillance Clinic – funded by Tommy's as part of our research in St Thomas' Hospital, London, has won an NHS Innovation Challenge Prize, for its success in reducing the number of premature births in South East London.

  • researcher looking at samples in the Tommy's London centre

    Tommy's London research centre

    Tommy’s prematurity research centre in London is based at St Thomas’ Hospital, where the charity first began. Opened in 1995, it is the first Maternal and Fetal Research Unit in the UK.

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