Key facts preterm birth

Worldwide, 15 million infants are born preterm annually (1). In Europe*, preterm birth is one of the leading causes for neonatal mortality and accounts for more than half of all infant deaths. Prevalence rates of preterm birth range from 5.4 to 12.0 % of all live births (2). 

The survival rate for preterm infants is continuously improving thanks to advances made in science; however, associations and organisations of parents and healthcare specialists no longer focus their attention on methods designed to ensure the survival of preterm babies, but also examine the options open to give these babies the best possible start in life. While the provision of developmental care at neonatal intensive care units is viewed as key factor, the primary goal must always be to prevent preterm birth from the beginning. Education, treatment and care of mothers-to-be must begin long before the birth date – because the best incubator a child can have is always the mother’s womb.  

Today, many studies have shown that the social environment of a preterm infant plays a critical role in the child’s development. Building family bonds, acquiring parenting skills, establishing networks in the environments of the families involved and access to aftercare are increasingly becoming a part of treatment concepts. And yet there is a lack of officially controlled quality criteria that would make these elements mandatory for all clinics where preterm infants are treated.  

On the following pages, EFCNI provides more detailed information on preterm birth for parents and others interested persons.

The information presented in this site is not intended as a substitute for advice or attention. Please consult your healthcare providers for individualised professional care.

Definition & epidemiology

Preterm infant

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Causes & risk factors

Gestational diabetes

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* 31 European countries (28 EU member states  plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland).

(1) Althabe F, Howson CP, Kinney M, Lawn J, World Health Organization. Born too soon: the global action report on preterm birth. 2012. Available from:

(2) EURO-PERISTAT Project. European Perinatal Health Report. Core indicators of the health and care of pregnant women and babies in Europe in 2015. Available from: (Date of visit: 29.11.2018)