A research program that has reduced the number of premature births in Western Australia is being rolled out to other states and a parallel program is set to be developed in New Zealand.

WA recorded an 8 per cent drop in the number of pre-term births in 2015, the first year the program was put into operation.

It combines a state-wide obstetric outreach service with a public health and social media campaign called “The Whole Nine Months”.

Professor John Newnham of King Edward Memorial Hospital, who heads up the program, said the national roll-out, which comprises $1.2 million in federal funds, could potentially prevent the premature births of thousands of babies.

“Pre-term birth is the single greatest cause of death in children up to five years of age and a major source of disability,” Professor Newnham said.  “We now have the opportunity to prevent this at its source during pregnancy.

Under the program, every mother now has her cervix measured in mid-pregnancy to assess the risk of pre-term birth.  If the cervix is shortened, that indicates the possibility of a pre-term birth and the mother is prescribed a steroid treatment that reduces the risk.  “A tablet made of natural progesterone in the vagina, one each evening, will nearly half the chance of her delivering early,” Professor Newnham said.

“Every day that we can prolong a pregnancy is a day less of worrying in the nursery.”

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