Hospitals Push for Full-Term Deliveries to Improve Baby's Health
Considering an early delivery for scheduling or other non-medical purposes? It may be best to wait.
According to the March of Dimes, a nonprofit that focuses on preventing birth defects and infant mortality, experts are discovering that early births scheduled for non-medical reasons can cause problems for both the mother and the baby.
That's why the organization is conducting a pilot program at hospitals around the United States, including six Illinois medical centers, working to put an end to elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy, the Chicago Sun Times reports.
The March of Dimes says being pregnant for 39 weeks gives a baby's body all the time it needs to grow so that:
- Vital organs, such as the brain, lungs and liver, have time to completely develop.
- Vision or hearing problems after birth are less likely.
- The baby will gain more weight before birth and therefore have an easier time staying warm than a baby who is born too small.
- The baby can suck and swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after birth, which babies born early sometimes can't do.
Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill., and the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago are two of the medical centers chosen to participate in the March of Dimes pilot program, the newspaper reports.
About 3,500 babies are delivered each year at Edward, with 28 percent taking place before 39 weeks of gestation. Half of those births are elective, Pat Bradley, the hospital's obstetrics director, tells the Sun Times.
"The longer the baby can stay in, the better it is, as long as there is no medical reason to do otherwise," Bradley tells the newspaper.
An early delivery may be requested for various reasons, such as a father leaving town or being deployed by the military, or a mom may want to use a particular doctor for delivery or put an end to pregnancy-related discomfort. Others may have to juggle child care or other family responsibilities, the Sun Times reports.
Dennis Crouse, director of the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Illinois Medical Center and chairman of the committee that oversees the March of Dimes project, tells the Sun Times that while the medical community previously thought it was OK to deliver a baby a few weeks early, recent research indicates otherwise.
"These infants have a much higher risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit," Crouse tells the newspaper. "They have a much higher risk of having respiratory disease. Their hospital stays are usually much longer. It interferes with breast-feeding. And there is evidence long-term these infants may have an increased risk of some neurological issues."
The Edward program makes use of a March of Dimes kit with educational materials that help ensure inductions and C-sections are performed at the right time and for the right reasons. Hospital staff have incorporated these materials into prenatal classes and have posted them on the Edward website, and physicians are making them available in their offices, the Sun Times reports.
Dr. Peter Weeks, medical director of obstetrics and gynecology at Edward, tells the newspaper that since the introduction of the March of Dimes educational materials, doctors have been changing their behaviors and informing patients about the benefits of staying pregnant longer.
Based on data from these hospitals, participants in the 2011 March of Dimes project can expect to reduce pre-term births and admissions to a neonatal intensive care unit by 15 percent to 20 percent, Crouse tells the Sun Times.
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