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According to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics in 2011, 80 per cent of babies born extremely prematurely survived.‘We found that babies born at 27, 28, 29 weeks, which had really high mortality rates when I was doing the first study, are now doing well and living normal lives,’ Prof Neil Marlow, a consultant neonatologist at University College London Hospital and one of the authors of the EPICure studies, says.Out of 4,001 births, the first EPICure study (another study took place in 2006 and the latest, following the original children, now aged 19, is due to be finished next year) found that 311 babies survived and were eventually discharged, including two babies born at 22 weeks, six at 23 weeks, 100 at 24 weeks and 186 babies at 25.The study concluded that babies born before 24 weeks who survived were still ‘unusual’.I think we’re programmed to find [full-] term babies attractive – there are strong evolutionary reasons to think a little fat baby looks great.But pre-term babies look so delicate and vulnerable – you just know they aren’t going to be able to do very much for themselves for a while.’ READ: The premature baby girl who became an internet sensation From the 1970s to the 1990s doctors typically would not treat a baby born before 23-24 weeks – apart from perhaps ventilating the baby, it would be left to see if it could survive on its own.But she came through and did well – I’ve got a photograph of a very happy-looking toddler.’ It is astonishing that a premature baby survives at all.

She went into surgery and the surgeons took out a big lump of colon that had infarcted [the tissue had died].

‘I came into paediatrics straight from adult medicine,’ Dr Smith, who worked in Bristol and London before heading up the neonatal department at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, says, ‘and your first reaction is “cor blimey”, because of the size of them.

Some of these babies are very small – about 500g [1lb 1oz].

Not only are more premature babies surviving, but more are being born.

Along with a steady rise in birth rates, there are increasing numbers of older mothers and those using fertility treatments – two groups of women who are more likely to have premature babies.

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