Doctors should avoid using nitric oxide on premature babies weighing less than 1,000 grams, according to two new studies.
The studies have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine and show that although the gas can halve the risk of developmental problems in premature babies with undeveloped lungs, the gas can be harmful to newborns who are too small and too ill.
But for slightly larger, healthier premature babies, the gas is beneficial making the lungs mature rapidly and cutting the risk of developmental problems in half.
Paediatrician Michael Schreiber of the University of Chicago, whose team tracked 138 children, said: Babies born at two pounds (0.9kg) have only a 50 percent chance at two years of age of being considered totally normal.
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