The economics of preterm babies
Globally, premature birth is the foremost cause of neonatal mortality and the main cause of pediatric disorder and disability. Babies born preterm are at risk of various adverse neonatal outcomes, including chronic lung disease, sensory impairment, disability, learning difficulties, and social and behavioural problems. On average, they require more intensive and longer stays in neonatal care at the time of birth and afterwards. As a result, the parents of preterm babies incur a higher cost for hospitalization. Moreover, sometimes preterm babies need extra care at home which prevents mothers, in particular, from returning to work. This study estimates the rate of return to work for mothers who give birth to a preterm baby by comparing expected time to return and actual return to work. The study compares the employment status of respondents before delivery of their premature infants and 12 months after delivery, and measures the rate of actual return to work 12 months after delivery. The study uses the data collected through the ‘Parental Labour Force Participation’ survey, which was a part of the clinical trial ‘Lactoferrin Infant Feeding Trial (LIFT)’. Microsoft Excel and STATA 15.0 were used for statistical analysis (i.e., descriptive statistics, logit models, and other statistical estimations). The rate of actual return to work for mothers 12 months after giving birth to their preterm babies is observed to be 64 percent, which is lower than the labour force participation rate (86 percent) of respondents before delivery. Of the 64 percent of respondents who returned to work 12 months after delivery, 31 percent returned as expected and 33 percent returned, although this was not what they had planned. Those who returned worked almost 13 hours less per week 12 months after delivery than prior to delivery. The main reason for not returning to employment was to take care of their preterm babies. The study also evaluates the impact of delayed return to work on maternal income and welfare dependency. There was a negative impact on mothers’ income level, with their income declining by around AU$ 16,700, on an average, 12 months after giving birth to their premature baby. Accordingly, dependency on government welfare increased.