Magazine article Science News

Making Babies Bigger before Birth

Magazine article Science News

Making Babies Bigger before Birth

Article excerpt

Infants weighing as little as 1-1/2 pounds at birth can survive with the aid of costly, highly technical care -- incubators, respirators, pulse and breathing rate monitors and tube feedings. But U.S. medical resources are being strained by the ever-increasing need for this expensive treatment. Moreover, many infants born too small do not survive, even with high-tech care: A newborn weighing less than 5-1/2 pounds is 40 times more likely to die during the first month than is a heavier baby. Now the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences argues that it is time to turn to preventive approaches. It reports that much of the loss of newborns and much of the need for high-cost neonatal treatment could be prevented by increasing women's access to good-quality prenatal care.

The urgency of this argument is underscored by reports this week that the rate of decline in the U.S. rate has slowed. According to data of the Public Health Service, the infant mortality rate, which had dropped steadily from 24.7 per 1,000 live births in 1965, appears to be plateauing at about 11 deaths for each 1,000 births. Japan and several countries in northern Europe have rate below 9 per 1,000.

Birthweight is considered to be a major determining factor in infant survival. In addition, low-birthweight infants have an increased risk of such handicaps as cerebral palsy and mental retardation. "What's needed is a shift in emphasis from treating the effects of low birthweight to treating the causes," says Richard E. Behrman, chairman of the IOM committee and dean of the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

About a quarter of a million U.S. Infants are born each year weighing less than 5-1/2 pounds--the definition physicians use for a low-birthweight infant, a classification that includes both premature babies and those with intrauterine growth retardation (SN: 10/15/83, p. …

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