New research from the RTE School of Medicine has found that the number of babies born with an underlying medical condition at birth has increased by 25 per cent in the last decade.
The study, which examined data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre in Dublin, found that from 2007 to 2011, the proportion of babies with a diagnosis of prematurity increased from 13.4 per cent to 21.6 per cent.
The research found that babies with an “intrinsic” condition had a higher risk of premature death compared to babies with “external” conditions.
The “external factor” was defined as the presence of a congenital anomaly or other problem at birth, such as cerebral palsy, cerebral palsies, heart disease or brain injury.
In the last 10 years, the percentage of babies who had an intrinsic condition has increased from 15.5 per cent of all births to 20.7 per cent, the research found.
While this may seem like a good sign, there is one possible caveat.
The new research is limited to Ireland and will not be able to explain the higher incidence of premats in the UK and Canada.
However, the Irish health service has also highlighted the increase in the proportion born with a condition, and has been trying to get more people into care.
Dr Karen Gull, director of the Irish Birth and Infant Care Service (IBIC), said the findings are “surprising” but that there is an awareness of the problem in the health system and there is “an increase in awareness” as well.
“We are trying to find out how this increase has occurred, what is causing it and what are the interventions that are available to us,” she said.
In 2010, there were 8,500 babies born in Ireland with an intrinsic disease and the Irish government reported that there are now 11,000 babies with the condition.
Dr Gull said the number is an increase from 7,000 in 2010 but “the increase in births is due to a wider range of factors”.
Dr Gilder, the lead researcher on the study, said there were three factors that contributed to the rise in the number.
The first was the “intra-uterine environment”, which was the mother’s exposure to a baby in the womb.
Second was the presence and quality of antenatal care.
Third was the increase of mothers and babies with other illnesses, including mental health conditions.
She said the increase is “very concerning” and that there needs to be more research done to understand why it happened.
“There is a lot of work to do in this area but we need to know what is happening in the antenatal and birth environment,” she added.