Pregnancies lasting the ‘Whole Nine Months’ give babies the best start in life. With this as their driving force, a coalition of SA-based clinicians and researchers are launching a multi-faceted campaign to help prevent preterm birth.
The Whole Nine Months comprises an awareness campaign for parents-to-be, coupled with clinician education and new guidelines for perinatal practice. The guidelines are being written by obstetrician, gynaecologist and researcher Dr Monika Skubisz.
“Complications arising from preterm birth are the leading cause of death in Australian children under five years old,” Dr Skubisz says.
“Despite this, and several known risk factors, preterm birth rates are going up nationally.”
Known risk factors include maternal infections during pregnancy, previous history of preterm birth and smoking.
“The challenge we have in preventing preterm birth is that the causes differ from one person to the next and even one pregnancy to the next, so there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” Dr Skubisz says.
The Whole Nine Months is backed by the Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Alliance and supported by the State Government, including the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon Stephen Wade MLC.
“We know from research how important it is for babies to be given the best possible chance to fully develop while in the womb,” the Minister says.
“Ensuring parents-to-be know how to avoid risk factors for pre-term births is a key step towards good health outcomes for our next generation.”
Dr Skubisz says similar campaigns have been rolled out with great effect in other states, starting with Western Australia in late 2014.
“Under the guidance of Professor John Newnham, the first full year of that campaign saw a reduction in premature births of almost eight per cent across WA,” Dr Skubisz says.
“That is a significant figure. It means 200 or so babies who would otherwise have had to deal with immediate and ongoing health issues relating to preterm birth avoided that fate.”
The Whole Nine Months will be formally launched tonight when around 200 obstetricians, midwives, general practitioners and other professionals involved in antenatal care convene at SAHMRI.
“The SAHMRI team based at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital has made enormous contributions to what we know about preterm birth prevention and continue to be research leaders in the field,” Dr Skubisz says.
“Tonight, we’ll hear an update on the work Professor Maria Makrides’ team has been doing around omega-3 fatty acids as a preterm prevention, which has involved more than 3500 South Australian women across two major clinical trials.”
The launch will also feature Dr Skubisz presenting and inviting feedback about the new guidelines she’s writing, which will help health professionals maximise full term pregnancies.
“We’ll also address other significant issues such as counselling for expectant parents about the potential consequences of inductions before the 37th week of pregnancy,” Dr Skubisz says.
Preterm birth is defined as before 37 weeks’ gestation, while early preterm birth means delivering before 34 weeks.