Born before 22 weeks, the little girl is now a spunky 3-year-old—and her birth may offer the medical community a new outlook on extremely premature births.

By Maressa Brown
November 08, 2017
Premature baby's hand
Credit: Kristina Bessolova/shutterstock

Internationally, around 15 million babies are born too early -- before 37 weeks gestation -- every year, according to the World Health Organization. And in the U.S. alone, last year, one of every 10 babies was born prematurely, notes the CDC. It also bears noting that the prevalence of preterm births in the U.S. is on the rise, with an additional 8,000 babies being born prematurely last year due to a rise in the preterm birth rate between 2015 and 2016, according to a report released Wednesday from the nonprofit organization March of Dimes. Now, the story of a baby born at just 21 weeks is making headlines, as it may shed some light on how the medical community can better care for preemies.

Back in 2014, a medical emergency lead a mom in San Antonio, Texas named Courtney Stensrud to deliver her baby girl while she was only 21 weeks and four days along in her pregnancy. According to a new case report, published in the journal Pediatrics, Baby Stensrud "may be the most premature known survivor to date." According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 22 weeks is the lower threshold of viability.

Before Stensrud gave birth, she researched births that occurred at 21 weeks. "There were stories of 22-weekers, 23-weekers, but nothing about 21-weekers. So I knew that there was little to no survival or viability at 21 weeks," the stay-at-home mom, now 35, told CNN.

When her little girl arrived, weighed only 15 ounces, Dr. Kaashif Ahmad, a MEDNAX-affiliated neonatologist at the hospital and lead author of the case report, spoke with the new mom about her child's extremely low chances of survival and initially counseled against resuscitating the baby, CNN reports.

"Although I was listening to him, I just felt something inside of me say, 'Just have hope and have faith.' It didn't matter to me that she was 21 weeks and 4 days. I didn't care," Stensrud explained. "As he was talking to me, I just said, 'Will you try?' And he said he would, and three years later, we have our little miracle baby. ... I don't tell her story a lot, but when I do, people are amazed. If there's another woman in antepartum that is searching Google, they can find this story and they can find a little bit of hope and a little bit of faith."

Though Stensrud felt called to share her story for other parents, she asked CNN to refrain from publishing their daughter's name and current photos to respect their privacy.

Experts are quick to caution that Stensrud's experience may be more the exception than the rule. More research needs to be done on preterm births lower than 22 weeks, Ahmad says, explaining, "We have to be very cautious about generalizing one good outcome to a larger population." That said, the case report will hopefully help inform new answers to the difficult questions regarding the recommendation to resuscitate a preterm baby.