Premature Boys At Higher Risk Than Girls
November 15, 2013

Premature Baby Boys At Higher Risk Of Disability Than Girls

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Boys are at a much higher risk for death or disability due to being born prematurely compared to girls. This finding is just one of many reported in six major papers recently published by the journal Pediatric Research ahead of the third annual World Prematurity Day on Sunday, November 17.

"Baby boys have a higher likelihood of infections, jaundice, birth complications, and congenital conditions but the biggest risk for baby boys is due to preterm birth,” said Dr. Joy Lawn, a study author and epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

“For two babies born at the same degree of prematurity, a boy will have a higher risk of death and disability compared to a girl. Even in the womb, girls mature more rapidly than boys, which provides an advantage, because the lungs and other organs are more developed.”

Funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the research papers focused on the over 15 million children that were born early. Outcomes for these babies are based largely on the wealth of the nation in which they were born, according to the study researchers.

In wealthier nations, over 80 percent of babies born under 37 weeks survive and flourish. In middle-income countries, the risk of disability for babies born at 28-32 weeks is twice as high as for those in wealthier nations. In poor countries, preterm babies are up to 10 times more likely to die than those born in the wealthiest nations.

"Three quarters of the 1 million babies who die each year from complications associated with prematurity could have been saved with cost-effective interventions, even without intensive care facilities," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said about the research.

The new studies outlined several simple steps that could be taken regardless of where a preterm child is born. Women in preterm labor could be given injections of dexamethosone, a steroid used to treat asthma, which would accelerate the development of the child’s lungs. For the total cost of $1, two shots would lower the risk of premature babies having respiratory problems when they are born.

The study researchers said a simple technique called “Kangaroo Mother Care,” where the preterm infant is held on the mother's bare chest, helps to keep the baby warm and facilitates breastfeeding. The technique helps to heat preterm babies, whose tiny bodies lose heat quickly.

The study researchers said their findings also show the need for more work on finding ways to avert preterm birth and increase the long-term outlook for children who are born early.

"We need research to inform us about what we don't understand, such as what causes preterm labor, and to find other things to improve the outcome for survivors," said Dr. Edward R.B. McCabe, Chief Medical Officer of the March of Dimes Foundation. "But we also need to use what we know already so we can prevent more preterm births."

Many countries are planning activities designed to raise public awareness on World Prematurity Day. These events are being staged by government organizations, foundations, health institutions, charities and families.