1 May 2024

Why NZ's pre-term birth rate keeps rising - and how it could be prevented

From Nine To Noon, 9:05 am on 1 May 2024

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

A maternal and perinatal health researcher says New Zealand's rate of pre-term births is continuing to rise - while repeated recommendations on how to prevent it, languish in reports that don't get acted on.

Each year around 4,500 babies are born early in New Zealand - that is, before 37 weeks gestation. That increases the risk of death - but if the child survives, also increases the risk of life-long sickness and disability.

New Zealand's rate of pre-term births has gone from 7.4 percent in 2009 to 7.9 percent in 2021 - based on the most recent data. And that data also shows location, ethnicity and socio-economic status can play a big role in outcomes for babies.

Multiple reviews into maternal and perinatal mortality have recommended the Ministry of Health look at setting up a pre-term birth prevention programme. It hasn't happened.

Kathryn speaks with Katie Groom, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist at Te Whatu Ora Te Toka Tumai Auckland (Auckland City Hospital) and also Professor of Maternal and Perinatal health at the Liggins Institute.

Katie has helped establish the Carosika Collaborative to improve birth outcomes in Aotearoa and establish a gold-standard practice guide for clinicians.

Kathryn is also joined by Alena, who lost two babies - one just 10 weeks after birth, and another at 20 weeks' gestation. She's currently pregnant again - 24 weeks along - but this time has had a crucial intervention.

If you want to know more about the Carosika Collaborative and premature birth research in New Zealand, The Liggins Institute is holding a free public lecture Thurs May 2 from 6-7pm at 85, Park Road in Auckland.