Mums-to-be urged to 'Tick the box' to reduce preterm birth

10 Feb 2023
Mums-to-be urged to 'Tick the box' to reduce preterm birth

A new campaign has launched, aiming to reduce preterm birth rates that have remained virtually unmoved over decades across Australia and the world.

Professor Maria Makrides, the Leader of SAHMRI’s Women and Kids Theme, says the ‘Tick the box’ campaign encourages pregnant women in SA to opt in for a free check of omega-3 levels in their blood.

“There’s nothing extra to do because the omega-3 test can be included as part of the standard testing that happens already,” Professor Makrides said.

“All pregnant women in SA have access to the SA Pathology’s Maternal Serum Antenatal Screening early in pregnancy. Using this standard testing form, doctors can order an omega-3 test.

“From there, SAHMRI scientists and SA Pathology analyse the omega-3 levels, then the results are sent back to your doctor, with advice depending on whether the levels are low, moderate or sufficient.”

Mums-to-be with low levels could be prescribed inexpensive, readily available omega-3 supplements, which could increase the chances of their baby being born at full term.

“If we can recreate the results of the controlled research studies we’ve done within this Community Omega-3 ‘Test-and-Treat’ Program, we expect to see a reduction of about 14% in babies born before 34 weeks of gestation,” Professor Makrides said.

“Babies born too soon, especially before 34 weeks of gestation, are more likely to have lengthy hospital stays and might have longer term health and developmental problems.”

The free omega-3 screening through SA Pathology has been available since 2021, but Professor Makrides says this public awareness campaign is needed to encourage more expectant mothers to talk with their maternal care provider and ‘tick the box’.

“Since we’ve begun offering the Omega-3 ‘Test-and-Treat’ Program in partnership with SA Pathology, we’ve had more than 6,500 women participate,” she said.

“About 15% of women tested low and were advised about specific supplementation. For this program to continue making a difference to our community, we need at least eight out of 10 pregnant women to tick that box. At the moment, more than 100 pregnant women in South Australia are getting tested each week — we’d like to see that number doubled.”

Premature birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under five years of age in Australia. Babies born preterm are also at greater risk of chronic issues with their respiratory, immune and digestive systems and they’re more susceptible to problems with speech, social skills, learning and behaviour.

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