By Jessica Donaldson
A new ‘Health and Wellbeing of Children in Western Australia’ report delves into the numbers of premature babies born in the state and shows a big leap over the past five years.
In 2007 six per cent of all babies born in Western Australia weighed less than 2500gm, and in 2012 that figure has nearly doubled to 10.5 per cent.
The average birth weight of children during this time has been steady at approximately 3570gm.
The director of King Edward Memorial Hospital’s neonatal team, Karen Simmer, says the reasons for the rise in premature babies can mostly be attributed to the mother’s health; with issues such as obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption being named as contributors, but the biggest factor is the recent rise in older mothers using In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment.
Professor Simmer says “There are more premature babies being born and that’s partly due to more artificial reproductive technologies, so that has contributed to the increase in lower birth weight. We also have more women who are very young or older having babies, particularly women over 35 or 40.”
Professor Simmer highlighted the importance of each mother’s general health and wellbeing, and said that it was important for women not to lose or gain too much weight during their pregnancy.
But health problems do not just affect mothers; premature babies are exposed to a number of risks due to their small size, and underdeveloped immune, digestive and respiratory systems.
Research shows that babies born with a low birth weight are more likely to develop heart disease and hypertension in later life, as well as have an increased likelihood of developing obesity.
Underweight babies are also five times more likely than average weight babies to suffer from disorders such as autism.