Doctors are now more likely to induce a birth early because they are more confident that the baby will survive, according to a new study.
The latest research backs evidence that babies are increasingly surviving after early birth.
The study will add to the debate surrounding abortion and refresh calls to lower the UK’s upper time limit for terminating pregnancy which currently stands at 24 weeks.
Researchers found that the risk of neonatal death from premature birth more than halved between 1980 and 2004.
The rate of premature births also increased significantly between 1980 and 2004, the Edinburgh University research revealed.
The research, published in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine, also found that the number of premature babies rose from 54 per 1,000 births between 1980 and 1984 to 63 between 2000 and 2004.
Scientists analysed data relating to almost 90,000 births in Scotland between 1980 and 2004.
They hope a better understanding of premature babies will enhance treatments for expectant mothers.
Professor Jane Norman, director of the Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health Research at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The increase in survival rates for babies born prematurely backs up decisions by doctors to medically induce births to prevent potential complications.”
The study was carried out in collaboration with Information Services Division and NHS Scotland and funded by the Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government and the charity Tommy’s.
Last week a new study was released suggesting that mothers who have had an abortion are much more likely to give birth to an underweight or premature baby in the future.
Earlier this month there was a public outcry after it was reported that a baby was left to die when doctors refused to treat him because he was born two days too soon and therefore ‘just a foetus’.
Sarah Capewell gave birth to Jayden after 21 weeks and five days of pregnancy.
But doctors refused her desperate pleas to place him in intensive care because medical guidelines state that under 22 weeks a baby is a foetus and does not qualify for intensive care treatment.
Miss Capewell has since launched a Downing Street petition, which has so far been signed by more than 15,000 people.