Paige Drinkwater was born at 31 weeks after a difficult pregnancy. (Supplied: Angela Drinkwater)
Pregnant smokers feature heavily in Tasmania’s “alarming” pre-term birth rate, according to experts who have joined forces to try to reduce the state’s figure.
- In Tasmania 11.3 percent of babies are premature
- High obesity and smoking rates are a factor
- A new program aims to reduce re-term birth rates
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show Tasmania’s pre-term birth rate has been rising steadily since 2005, and in 2016 it was the highest in the country.
In Tasmania, 669, or 11.3 per cent of babies, were born pre-term compared to the national average of 8.5 per cent.
Pre-term birth (before 37 weeks) is the leading cause of death and disability in children up to five years of age in the developed world, including Australia.
Lindsay Edwards from the Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance (APBPA) said there were lifestyle factors driving the problem.
“Here in Tasmania we have a population which still has a high rate of smoking and also obesity in pregnancy,” Dr Edwards said
“One in three of our young mothers aged under 20 continue to smoke through their pregnancy.
“We know pre-term births carry risks to the babies in the neonatal period but also have long-lasting effects.
“Children born earlier have much higher rates of disability, cerebral palsy and, you know, they face challenges.”
Peyton Drinkwater, now six, and her baby sister Paige were both born prematurely. (Supplied: Angela Drinkwater)
“For families, the nursery journey is quite rocky; sometimes babies can be quite unwell after birth, especially at those extreme pre-term gestations, so it’s certainly an emotional rollercoaster.
“It’s also a significant burden on the health system in terms of the cost of looking after one very pre-term baby in the hospital.”
The Hobart-based obstetrician, who works with high-risk pregnant women, said the cost of looking after a baby born before 31 weeks was estimated to be $600,000 and $700,000.
The alliance is working to set up a program in Tasmania to reduce pre-term birth rates, including setting up a specialist clinic for at-risk women and increased education about the risks of smoking in pregnancy.
‘It was a very scary, emotional time’
Hobart woman Angela Drinkwater is not a smoker but experienced two pre-term births as a result of pregnancy complications.
Both her daughters were born at 31 weeks.
Aaron and Angela Drinkwater with baby Peyton, whose birth Ms Drinkwater described as “very scary and emotional”. (Supplied: Angela Drinkwater)
Ms Drinkwater said her daughter Peyton, now six, was born after her placenta abrupted, or detached from the wall of the uterus.
“It was a very scary and emotional time,” Ms Drinkwater said.
Her second daughter Paige, now aged six months, was closely monitored during the pregnancy after a hematoma (blood clot) was discovered next to the placenta early on.
Ms Drinkwater said the close monitoring during her second pregnancy was beneficial, and helped put her mind at ease.
Both girls are now doing well.
The whole nine months
John Newnham heads a program set up in Western Australia which has reduced the state’s pre-term birth rates by 8 percent, or 200 babies a year.
“If that were translated across Australia that would be 2,000 cases prevented each year,” Professor Newnham said
“We introduced seven interventions; the first is increasing awareness and education for whole population that no baby should be born before 38.5 weeks unless there’s a solid medical reason to do so.”
As part of the program, women also have their cervix measured in mid-pregnancy ultrasounds to detect if they have a shortened cervix, a big predictor of pre-term birth.