More premature babies surviving

The number of babies surviving after being born very premature is rising, say researchers.

According to research papers published by the British Medical Journal, there has been a rise in the survival rate of babies born at 24, 25 and 26 weeks.

The studies led by researchers at University College London (UCL) and Queen Mary compared babies born between 22 and 26 weeks in 2006 and those born between 22 and 25 weeks in 1995.

Overall survival was found to have increased by 13 per cent, from 40 to 53 per cent, although there was no significant improvement in survival of babies born before 24 weeks.

The studies also found an increase by 11 per cent of very premature babies surviving to three years old without disability.

The rising survival rate reflects advances in neonatal medicine.

The numbers of women giving birth prematurely is rising in the UK by about 1.5 per cent a year.

Around 7.8 per cent - or 60,000 - babies are being born before 37 weeks' gestation.

Professor Neil Marlow, an MRC-funded academic at University College London's Institute for Women's Health and a co-author of both papers said: "Our findings show that more babies now survive being born too soon than ever before, which is testament to the highly-skilled and dedicated staff in our neonatal services.

"But as the number of children that survive pre-term birth continues to rise, so will the number who experience disability throughout their lives.

"This is likely to have an impact on the demand for health, education and social care services."