When Chrissy Hutchinson’s waters broke at 21 weeks and six days pregnant, she was terrified. Doctors told her they couldn’t stop the labour and that there was no real chance her baby would live. What happened next is an incredible reminder that miracles happen every day.
Baby Alexis weighed a mere 499 grams – that’s less than a can of soup – and remained in hospital for almost five months after her birth. But apart from minor respiratory problems, this incredibly tiny baby thrived and is now a healthy five-year-old.
Better survival rates for extremely premature babies
Alexis is not the only miracle baby. A recent study of 5000 babies born between 22 and 27 weeks gestation found that a small minority of babies born earlier than 23 weeks can survive with adequate medical intervention. Of the 755 babies born at 23 weeks, active treatment was given to 542 and about one third of these babies survived.
What is even better news is that half of the babies who lived had no significant problems.
The study, conducted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the American Academy of Paediatrics, found that “in general, those born at 23 weeks of gestation should be considered potentially viable” because more than a quarter of such babies survive when treated intensively.
“It confirms that if you don’t do anything, these babies will not make it, but if you do something, some of them will make it,” said Dr David Burchfield, chief of neonatology at the University of Florida.
Study shows premature babies now viable earlier
In America a baby is considered “viable” at 24 weeks but this recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, may lead to changes in when to offer treatment to such tiny babies.
In Australia around one per cent of babies born are classed as ‘extremely premature‘ – that is, they are born between 23 and 25 weeks gestation. They will require high-level intensive care to survive, but the decision on whether to go ahead with intensive care treatment or not is left to doctors and parents and made on a case-by-case basis.
Australian statistics show that more than three-quarters of babies born at 25 weeks will survive and more than 80 per cent will not have a major disability – and prospects improve for each day that a baby is born closer to their due date.