Background. Our goal was to determine the effects of recent changes in delivery room and neonatal care, including surfactant and dexamethasone therapy, on survival, neonatal morbidity, and 20-month neurodevelopmental outcome of infants with birth weights of less than 750 g.

Methods. We compared the outcomes of 114 infants of 500 to 750 g birth weight delivered at our perinatal center between January 1990 and December 1992 (period II), when surfactant and postnatal dexamethasone were used, with the outcomes of 166 such infants born between July 1982 and June 1988 (period I).

Results. The rate of cesarean section increased from 17% to 27% and delivery room intubation increased from 54% to 72% during periods I and II, respectively. Survival increased from 23% during period I to 43% during period II. The increase in survival was significant at birth weights of 600 to 700 g and at 24 weeks' gestation and greater. During period II fewer infants died at less than 24 hours of age and more died at more than 28 days of life. Neonatal morbidity did not change appreciably; neither did 20-month neurodevelopmental outcomes. Twenty percent of the infants had subnormal cognitive function (Mental Development Indices < 70) and 10% had cerebral palsy during period II.

Conclusions. Despite an increase in survival during 1990 to 1992, the neonatal and early childhood outcomes of the survivors were unchanged. Physicians and parents anticipating the delivery of extremely low birth weight infants must be aware of these outcomes to make informed decisions as to the advisability of aggressive care at birth and thereafter.

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