The increasing proportion of babies in Scotland born preterm is a “cause for concern”, the country’s chief medical officer has warned.
In a new report published this week, Dr Catherine Calderwood found premature birth rates in Scotland had risen to among the highest in Europe.
“Scotland’s high, and increasing, prematurity rate is a cause for concern”
The earlier babies were born, the higher the risk they would have serious health problems both immediately after birth and throughout their life, the document noted.
Out of 22 comparable European countries, only Greece and Romania had higher early birth rates among singleton babies, while Scotland had the second highest prematurity rate for multiple pregnancies.
In addition, the report found that the percentage of single babies born alive prematurely in the country had increased from around 5% in the mid-1970s to around 6.5% now.
For alive babies from a multiple pregnancy the figure had doubled over the same period of time, from 33% to 66%.
The report – named a summary of the health of the nation: chief medical officer’s annual report 2017-18 – highlighted how risk factors for preterm birth were on the rise in Scotland.
These included mothers being aged 40 or over at the time of delivery as well being overweight or obese.
It added that maternal smoking, while on the decline, was still “relatively common” in the country.
Scotland also had “persistently high” social inequalities and medical intervention rates in pregnancy, for example babies delivered by caesarean section, according to the analysis.
“Midwives need to have adequate time, training and resources”
“As prematurity is such a key risk to children’s short and long-term health and development, Scotland’s high, and increasing, prematurity rate is a cause for concern,” Dr Calderwood said the report.
“International comparisons suggest that more could be done to reduce our prematurity rate, and ensure that children have the best chance to flourish in their early years,” she added.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Mary Ross-Davie, director for Scotland at the Royal College of Midwives, highlighted the importance of midwives receiving the right support to tackle the issues highlighted.
“In order to provide really excellent care that focuses on these public health issues and supports women to make healthy changes to their behaviour where needed, midwives need to have adequate time, training and resources,” she warned.
“We also need to have adequately funded local support services that can provide wider support to women who need it, including specialist smoking cessation services, benefits and financial advice services, housing services and dieticians,” she added.