New Study Shows Babies Can Survive as Early as 22 Weeks
When I worked as an OB nurse, there was a very fine line between what was considered the “cut-off” age for babies born too soon.
At some hospitals, they wouldn't treat the baby if he or she was born at 24 weeks, at others it depended on the parents' wishes or the baby's medical condition prior to birth. At others, circumstances with older babies may have warranted treatment or delaying resuscitation. There were no hard and fast rules about a specific age, although most would agree that at 22 weeks old, a baby would be much too young to survive. And if the baby did survive, he/she wouldn't be able to live any kind of normal life.
But a new study shows that not only can babies as young as 22 weeks be successfully revived, but that they may actually go on to recover and grow without any complications.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 3.5% percent of 357 infants born at 22 weeks could survive without severe health problems if hospitals treated them. The study found that the different ways that hospitals used to treat babies born too soon had a drastic effect on the outcomes for those babies. “Hospital rates of active treatment accounted for 78% and 75% of the between-hospital variation in survival and survival without severe impairment, respectively, among children born at 22 or 23 weeks of gestation,” researchers concluded.
Although the study found that 3.5% of the infants survived without severe health problem, it is important to note that that's still a very, very small percentage of infants and the study isn't calling for a blanket statement for all premature babies to always be treated that young. There are still a lot of complexities in situations with extremely premature infants. Not all babies develop at the same rate and not all 22-week-old infants would look the same, developmentally speaking.
However, it is still important information for parents to know, especially as the rates of premature babies continue to rise. The fact of the matter is, not all hospitals will treat very premature babies, so it's best to know the policy at the hospital you plan to deliver at, just in case and to speak with your OB care provider ahead of time to be prepared for an emergency.