Fetal viability and Premature Birth. When is my baby viable?

Fetal Viability. When is a Baby Considered Viable.

As a mum-to-be, you might start becoming aware of certain milestones in your pregnancy that are highlighted as important by your medical practitioners. One such milestone is the point at which your growing baby becomes viable.

What Does Fetal Viability Mean?

When medical practitioners refer to fetal viability (or baby viability), then it means that your pregnancy has reached a point whereby if your baby is born early, it has a reasonable chance of survival.

Advancement in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) has meant that babies born early have an improved chance of survival. However a premature baby’s survival doesn’t simply depend on the NICU.

When inside the womb, a fetus will receive oxygen from nourished blood through the placenta and umbilical cord. Once delivered however, babies have to use their lungs to breathe and receive food via their gastrointestinal tract. Their survival is hence also largely dependent on the ability of their lungs to function, and their ability to hold fluids and receive nourishment from means other than the placenta.

When is My Baby Viable or Most Likely to Survive if Born Premature?

Typically, a big milestone for the viability of your baby will come at 24 weeks of pregnancy. It is generally regarded that being born at 24 weeks gives your baby a ‘reasonable’ chance of survival.

This does not come without much care from NICU however, as your baby’s lungs and vital organs may not have developed to be strong enough to function on their own yet. You baby will likely need mechanical ventilation to help them breathe, and may require other invasive treatments.

In the case of survival, the earlier the birth, the higher the risk there is of a baby having health issues or disability on survival.

What are the Chances of Survival for Premature Births?

Each additional week inside the womb gives a baby more time to develop, improving a baby’s chances of surviving. Better Health Channel of Victoria and in Australia claims that:

  • For babies born at 24 weeks gestation who are admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), up to two thirds survive.
  • For babies born at 30 weeks gestation, up to 90% will survive

With advancements in neonatal care and technology, there have been more and more cases reported of babies surviving as early as 22 or 23 weeks. Surviving at 22 weeks is however often considered a ‘miracle’, while a premature baby born between 23-25 weeks is still considered to be in the ‘grey zone’ of probabilities of survival. Birth weight, lung development, ability to retain fluids and sensory responses are all said to play a factor affecting survival rates; and there is a chance that babies born at this stage may not be able to be resuscitated in difficult cases.

For babies born at 26-27 weeks gestation, the probability of surviving resuscitation improves. With each week of life, a premature baby’s chances of survival will also tend to increase significantly.

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