American Osteopathic Association

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Combination of Interventions Offer Neuroprotective Benefits to Premature Infants, Improve Outcomes for Babies Born Too Soon

When Early Delivery is Unavoidable, Obstetricians and Neonatologists Can Drive Better Outcomes with Environmental Controls and Metabolic Stimulation 

CHICAGO—October 6, 2015— Premature infants have a higher chance of healthy brain development through a series of small interventions designed to protect and stimulate neurodevelopment in babies at risk of learning challenges in childhood.

By age eight, more than 50 percent of very low birth weight preterm children require special education services and 15 percent will have repeated at least one grade in school, according to neonatologist Alissa Craft, DO, who will present a meta-analysis of interventions at OMED 15 October 17 in Orlando. OMED is the annual medical education conference of the American Osteopathic Association.

“We can absolutely make these children better, stronger and faster than they would be without intervention, even if we can’t level their development with that of those born at full term,” Dr. Craft said. “As osteopathic physicians, we focus on each baby’s developmental strengths and challenges to get the greatest amount of function possible while caring for their whole family during the difficult early days they spend in the hospital.”

Obstetricians are the first line of defense for neuroprotection when premature birth is a strong possibility, according to Dr. Craft. In addition to prescribing prenatal vitamins containing AHA or DHA, the mother can be treated with medications including magnesium sulfate, allopurinol and, potentially, n-acetyl cysteine, to protect the fragile brain.  During delivery of preterm infants, a 30-second delay in clamping the umbilical cord sends extra blood and oxygen to the baby to bolster its reserves, she added.

Because premature newborns are particularly vulnerable to the effects of early experiences, controlling the environment for preterm babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can protect baby’s brain development. Noise, light and activity—even that created by an incubator or caregiver—impedes the infant’s ability to rest and causes muscle tension, which burns calories the baby needs for growth. In cases involving brain injury from delivery or in-utero damage, a slight lowering of the infant’s body temperature allows the baby’s brain to rest and recover from the stresses of the NICU, Dr. Craft noted.

Medications, hospital staff and contact with parents can also influence outcomes for preterm babies, though there is no one single factor that produces significant improvements.

“It’s important to recognize that there are two sides to everything we do for preterm babies, whether we’re limiting the amount of time they are held or maintaining a super quiet room. By following the osteopathic tenant of caring for the whole person, and considering their emotional needs in conjunction with any physical problems, we can achieve good outcomes for babies while helping the whole family move through the challenges of premature birth,” Dr. Craft added.

The American Osteopathic Association and the Erickson Institute are currently developing a certificate program in early childhood development for primary care physicians. This innovative program will involve coursework in three areas: communication and cultural development; social, emotional and physical development; and protective resources and risk factors.  The program curriculum will be announced by the end of December.

About OMED 15

OMED 15 is the American Osteopathic Association's five-day medical education event offering clinical and research updates in 15 specialties, with an emphasis on osteopathic principles and practices.

The osteopathic philosophy of medicine takes a whole person approach to prevention, diagnosis and treatment, giving its practitioners a distinct model for clinical problem solving and patient education.  OMED welcomes all health care professionals-- including MDs, nurse practitioners and physician assistants—interested in osteopathic medicine's collaborative approach to increasingly complex medical issues.

To learn more about DOs and the osteopathic approach to medicine, visit


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