Touching Lives - February 2007
Deprivation and premature birth
Around ten per cent of very premature babies (born before 32 weeks of pregnancy) die before their first birthday. Reducing the risk of premature birth is vital, but very little is actually known about why some babies are born so early. Pregnant women have few guidelines on how to avoid going into labour too soon.
Researchers at the University of Leicester have recently discovered that women from the most deprived areas are twice as likely to give birth very prematurely as women from the most affluent areas.
Professor David Field and doctors Elizabeth Draper and Lucy Smith have already collected extensive data on over 13,000 very preterm births, in the former Trent NHS region between 1994 and 2005. They will now use their £33,713 Action Medical Research grant to perform sophisticated statistical analyses of their data to explore factors that might explain the link between deprivation and premature birth.
Previous studies have suggested that infection might trigger premature labour. The team are therefore trying to find out whether the higher rate of preterm birth in disadvantaged women is due to higher rates of infection. Other factors they will consider include the mother’s age, birth weight, ethnicity, smoking habits, alcohol use, stress, occupation and education.
The team also hope to find out whether the general level of deprivation in a particular neighbourhood can be used to identify which women are at high risk of giving birth very prematurely.