When a baby is born before 38 weeks of gestation the birth is considered a premature birth. The results of study authored by Dr. Geeta Swamy, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center, published in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded that 1 in every 8 births in the United States is premature.
The study also found that 60% of babies born at 26 weeks of gestation will develop long-term disabilities. These include chronic lung disease, blindness, deafness, and neuro-developmental problems. This number decreases to 30% for babies that are born at at least 31 weeks gestation. Another recent study in the June publication of the Lancet reported that approximately 12% of American babies are born before 37 weeks gestation.
Some premature births happen spontaneously and simply cannot be avoided. In other situations, the doctor decides rightly that it is best for both the mother and the baby that the baby is born early.
Thanks to cutting edge medical care more than half of the babies born at 25 weeks or sooner in the United States survive. Unfortunately, the cost of caring for these premature babies in this country alone is nearly $26.2 billion a year, which translates to $51,600 per premature infant.
The initial neonatal treatment required is not the only economic burden faced by families of premature infants. After the infant is discharged from the hospital there continues to be substantial cost incurred for healthcare, education, and social services for the infant and affected the family. Babies born sooner than 27 weeks are 10 times more likely to suffer from intellectual disabilities and 80 times more likely to have some variety of cerebral palsy— a neurological condition that cause physical disabilities.
Clearly, it is not unusual for expecting mothers to develop complications leading to premature birth. Often times, the mother will be placed on bed rest along with other measures for extended periods of time to delay the birth. Unfortunately, these measures will not always be successful with the birth coming early despite the efforts of medical providers.
The emotional and physical toll of a premature birth can be significant. The financial toll can be devastating. Medical costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even with insurance, the costs could be ruinous. For those without insurance, the medical costs will surely cripple the family financially for years to come.