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‘Helping Babies Breathe’ Program May Help Save Newborns’ Lives, Studies Show

“Training midwives and other birth attendants to help babies start breathing immediately after birth may prevent stillbirths and newborn deaths in the developing world, two new studies suggest,” Reuters reports, noting, “So-called birth asphyxia — when babies are born not breathing — is one of the major causes of newborn death in regions with limited resources, researchers said.” According to the news service, both studies focused on the Helping Babies Breathe program, which, “launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), trains birth attendants to immediately dry and warm babies — and to start breathing for babies with a bag and mask if they don’t breathe on their own within one minute” (Pittman, 1/21). The results of the studies, “one in India and the other in Tanzania, [were] published online January 21 in Pediatrics,” Medscape Medical News writes (Hand, 1/21).

The first study, led by “Jeffrey Perlman from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, who helped implement Helping Babies Breathe in Tanzania, … compared about 8,000 babies born at eight hospitals before birth assistants were trained in the breathing program to almost 10 times as many babies born afterward” and “found newborn deaths dropped from 13 per 1,000 babies to seven per 1,000 once Helping Babies Breathe was implemented,” while the “rate of stillbirth fell from 19 per 1,000 babies before to just over 14 per 1,000 after,” Reuters notes. “In a second study from Southern India, another set of researchers saw no change in newborn deaths after the same program was taught to almost 600 birth attendants in rural health centers,” although “stillbirth rates fell from 30 per 1,000 babies to 23 per 1,000 after the training, Dr. Shivaprasad Goudar from Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Belgaum, Karnataka and colleagues found,” the news service adds. “We really need to focus on the early steps of resuscitation for the developing world, because that’s [when] most of the mortality is occurring,” John Kattwinkel of the University of Virginia, who wrote a Pediatrics commentary, said, according to Reuters (1/21).