In what researchers call a "double whammy for boys," new research has found that they are more likely to be born premature and more likely to die or suffer disabilities from being born too soon. Researchers say the disparity—around 55% of premature births are male—happens all around the world, the AP reports. The cause of the difference isn't fully understood, but mothers carrying boys are likelier to suffer complications including high blood pressure. Girls mature more rapidly in the womb and for a premature baby, "the difference of a few days maturity between a boy and a girl can mean the difference between major lung complications or not," the lead researcher says.
Around a million of the 15 million babies born premature every year die and around 3% of the survivors end up with severe to moderate disabilities including learning disorders and cerebral palsy. The lead researcher says death and disability rates could be cut by adopting skin-to-skin "kangaroo care" instead of intensive care in many cases. "The perception is you need intensive care for pre-term babies," she tells the BBC. "But 85% of babies born premature are six weeks early or less. They need help feeding, with temperature control and they are more prone to infection." Unless they are born so early that they need help breathing, "kangaroo care is actually better because it promotes breastfeeding and reduces infection," she says. (Read more premature birth stories.)