Preventing cerebral palsy in pre-term labour

Date: 27 September 2019


The neonatal and maternity teams at Medway Maritime Hospital are celebrating the success of a programme which aims to reduce cerebral palsy in premature babies, ahead of World Cerebral Palsy Day next week (Sunday 6 October 2019).

Babies born before 37 weeks are at higher risk of developing medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, a lifelong condition affecting movement and coordination caused by a problem with the brain occurring before, during or after birth.

Cerebral palsy causes a range of difficulties from minor problems to severe disability. Although being born prematurely does not mean a child will develop cerebral palsy or any other health issues, nearly half of the children who do develop cerebral palsy are born prematurely. In the UK around 60,000 babies are born prematurely every year.

The Preventing Cerebral Palsy in Pre-Term labour programme (PReCePT) is a national programme which aims to increase the uptake of administration of magnesium sulphate as a neuro protector. 

Dr Helen McElroy is consultant neonatologist and the Regional Clinical Lead for PReCePT across Kent, Surrey and Sussex. She explains how the work of PReCePT focuses on the needs of the local population and is transforming outcomes for premature babies:

“We know that magnesium sulphate given to women in premature labour reduces the likelihood of cerebral palsy by crossing the placenta and protecting the brain in premature babies.

“The PReCePT programme aims to increase the number of eligible women who are given magnesium sulphate to 85 per cent. Before Medway hospital joined the programme in September 2018, around 70 per cent of eligible women per year were receiving treatment. Since joining the programme this has increased to 88 per cent and our aim is to exceed 95 per cent by 2020.”

Archie Johnson is a happy, healthy three year old who was born at 26 weeks weighing 680 grams. His mother, Emma Counsell, from Medway, remembers being offered magnesium sulphate to help protect her baby’s brain.

Emma said: “Sadly we lost Archie’s twin when I was around 19 weeks pregnant. When I was told I had to deliver Archie, I was given the magnesium sulphate some time before my scheduled delivery to give it time to pass through to the baby. After now learning more about the risks of cerebral palsy in premature babies, I am so relieved that Archie was given the treatment.”

The success of PReCePT at Medway Hospital is testament to the excellent work of midwife Jenny Woolley and close collaboration between the maternity and neonatal teams, supported by the Kent, Surrey, Sussex Academic Health Science Network. If this success is repeated across England it is predicted to prevent several hundred cases of cerebral palsy per year.

  • Summary:

    The neonatal and maternity teams at Medway Maritime Hospital are celebrating the success of a programme which aims to reduce cerebral palsy in premature babies, ahead of World Cerebral Palsy Day on Sunday 6 October 2019.