Recently the British Medical Journal published the results of INSERM’s « EPIPAGE-2 » research study which demonstrated that in the past 20 years, preterm infants live longer and have fewer complications.

The EPIPAGE-2 research team studied over 5,500 infants born between April and December 2011 at 22 to 34 weeks’ gestation (5 to 7 ½ months). The data were collected from questionnaires completed by families and treating physicians.

In France, approximately 50,000 babies are born premature every year, accounting for 7% of births; with 8,000 of these being considered “extremely preterm” meaning prior to 31 weeks (7 months) of pregnancy.

In 2011, for babies born prior to 7 months’ gestation, the survival rate without any major complications, at two years of age, was 80.5% compared to 74.5% for children born in 1997. Study coordinator, Professor Pierre-Yves Ancel, pointed out: “The premature infants not only had improved survival rates but there were no motor or sensorial disabilities in the follow-up period.”

According to Professor Pierre-Yves Ancel: « The big difference with the late 1990’s is that nowadays there is a systematic and organized follow-up for preterm infants, thanks to implementing a network of doctors and other professionals”, which covers almost the whole nation, even if we still observe some regional differences in care for preterm infants. Thus the prognostic for extreme preterm infants may vary up to 50% according to the region of birth.

Furthermore, parents today are more often requested to become involved in their babies’ care. For example, the staff may suggest gentle and soothing skin-to-skin contact to comfort their child. The objective is to counterbalance the preterm infants’ technical environment with “a velvet revolution” as initiated by the USA’s Nidcap program (Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program). In France 25 maternity clinics out of a total of 66, are trained to use this technique. The association SOS Préma reports: “Recent research has demonstrated that these programs are beneficial for the child’s cognitive, motor, behavioral and psychosocial development, associated with a shorter hospitalization period.

Nevertheless, the results also reinforce the importance of each additional week in the mother’s womb. According to the 2011 data, the survival rate is much higher in infants born between 32-34 weeks’ gestation (almost 99%) compared to that for infants born between 24-26 weeks’ gestation (only 52%).

Professor Pierre-Yves Ancel specifies « the children in this study are now 5 ½ years old and are currently undergoing additional tests”. Additional time is required before reporting on more specific details.