Premature birth by the numbers

– Worldwide, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm each year
– In 2015, preterm birth was responsible for nearly 1 million deaths – World Health Organization.
– Preterm birth is defined as birth before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy (and after 20 weeks)
– In WA alone, nearly 3000 babies are born preterm each year – approximately 1 in 12 pregnancies ends preterm.
– Rates of preterm birth among Aboriginal Australians and disadvantaged communities are approximately double.
– Preterm birth is the single greatest cause of death and disability in children up to five years of age in the developed world.
– Immediate care for a single newborn with a birth weight of less than 750 grams typically costs the health system $216,000 and in the range 1.5kg – 2kg around $59,000.


Hugo River Blake
Hugo and Anita3 River Blake
Matthew Clare Adison
Matthew Claire2 Adison

Useful contacts/links

 Gestational Diabetes Diabetes WA
 Healthier Eating and lifestyle help Shape Up
 Smoking, Drinking Alcohol and Drugs Make Smoking History / Alcohol and Drug Information Service / Drug Aware
 Support to families Fetal Future Support Network / Tiny Sparks WA / Miracle Babies

Definition and Incidence

Preterm birth is defined as birth before 37 and after 20 completed weeks of gestation. In Western Australia, the rate of preterm birth is up to 10 per cent, resulting in almost 3000 preterm infants each year from the state’s total birth number of 33,000. In Aboriginal Western Australians, the rate is approximately double.


Preterm birth is the single largest cause of death and disability in children up to five years of age in the developed world. In Western Australia, preterm birth is next to birth defects as the major known cause of perinatal loss. The consequences of preterm birth are inversely proportional to the age at birth. Individuals born too early are at increased risk:
 •In the newborn period of death, respiratory disease, cerebral haemorrhage, necrosis of the bowel, infections and prolonged stay in an intensive care environment.
 •In childhood of cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease, deafness, blindness, learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
 •In adulthood of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, under-employment and socialisation difficulties.


Until recently, preterm birth was thought by many to be an unavoidable consequence of human reproduction. Times have changed and preterm birth is now considered to be preventable, at least in a proportion of cases. There are many pathways to untimely early birth and recent advances mean that several of these pathways can be prevented at their onset. Research discoveries now enable clinical strategies to be developed that will safely prevent a variety of the causes.The Western Australian Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative aims to safely lower the rate of preterm birth in our State. The Initiative will commence with release of new evidence-based clinical guidelines and a dedicated trial Preterm Birth Prevention Clinic based at King Edward Memorial Hospital. Thereafter, there will be public health messages aiming to raise awareness in the women and families of our state. The entire process will be underpinned by on-going research and evaluation of the effects.