Charlotte Lozier Institute

Phone: 202-223-8073
Fax: 571-312-0544

2776 S. Arlington Mill Dr.
Arlington, VA 22206

Get Notifications

Sign up to receive email updates from Charlotte Lozier Institute.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Saving Extremely Premature Babies

Dive Deeper

Medical advances worldwide have made it possible to save extremely premature babies at earlier and earlier ages making the age of viability younger and younger. Years ago, doctors were surprised to save children born at 23 weeks gestation. Now, treating children at 23 weeks has become more commonplace. About of extremely premature infants born in the United States at 23 weeks survive.1

Currently, pioneering medical teams are attempting to save children at 21 and 22 weeks gestation. Survival rates for extremely premature infants are much higher in hospitals that have invested in special equipment and training. In fact, one hospital in Cologne, Germany specializes in treating extremely premature infants. In this hospital, over 60% of babies born at 22 weeks survive. By comparison, in US hospitals, only 20% of babies born at 22 weeks survive. Thankfully many US hospitals are investing in the technology to save these miraculous newborns.2
Premature baby in an incubator.  The baby's breathing, blood pressure, temperature and eating are closely monitored. (Image Credit: Science Source)

Many technological advances have increased the chance of survival for extremely premature infants. These infants’ lungs are underdeveloped. Mature lungs are full of tiny air sacs, called alveoli. Oxygen and carbon dioxide move into and out of the blood in the alveoli. The alveoli resemble balloons. To keep the alveoli from sticking shut when a person exhales, the body produces a substance called surfactant that helps the alveoli reopen.  Extremely premature infants do not produce enough surfactant, so doctors use a synthetic surfactant to help the alveoli stay open.3 Furthermore, doctors also help extremely premature infants create more of their own surfactant by giving the mother an injection of corticosteroids before anticipated preterm birth. The corticosteroids help the lungs mature more quickly, helping the infants breathe better outside the womb.4

Extremely premature babies often have trouble regulating their temperature, so special incubators and blankets keep them warm. Their blood pressure and blood flow are closely monitored, as is their nutritional intake. Special measures are taken to protect their eyes and skin from light and friction.5

As more hospitals invest in medical equipment needed to save babies at the edge of viability, and as they train their obstetrics and neonatology teams to treat these miraculous patients, more and more of them will survive,6 bringing joy and hope to many families.

This premature baby girl was born at 26 weeks and 6 days gestation, weighing about 990 grams. This photo was taken about 24 hours after her birth. A mechanical ventilator helps her breathe in the neonatal intensive-care unit. (Image Credit: Chris Sternal-Johnson, May 30, 2009)