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19th March 2012

Asthma in premature babies- the chicken or the egg?

New research into the causes of asthma in children
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A recent study has found that the more premature the baby, the higher the increase in the chance of the child developing asthma. The number of children diagnosed with asthma is on the rise. On the face of it, this may not seem that surprising, but dig a little deeper into the study and you find that babies just a few weeks early (usually considered to be a safe time to deliver) actually have a 2 percent higher risk of asthma than those born at full term.

Experts were keen to stress that this modest increase in risk should not be a cause for concern to parents. However, what this study really highlights is that the health risk to babies increases with increasing prematurity and this risk continues right up until full term. This contradicts the widely held belief that babies born after 37 weeks suffer no more health problems than those born at full term.

But is the fact that these babies are a few weeks early really causing these asthma issues? The study also showed that babies were more likely to be born earlier if the mother was of low socio-economic status, or if she smoked. Smoking during pregnancy is strongly linked with both asthma and prematurity in babies.

If smoking is, in fact, the cause of the increased rate of asthma; then perhaps the real message to come out of this study is that doctors and midwives need to do more to help mothers-to-be with giving up smoking. It was recently reported that in Scotland there has been a massive 10 percent drop in the premature birth rate since the smoking ban was introduced in 2006, with the number of pregnant women smoking dropping from 25 percent to 19 percent. If this number could be reduced further, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, then there is a real chance that the number of babies born prematurely, or with asthma, would drop significantly.

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