Have you ever seen a baby who was born too soon? As the mother of premature twins, I recall all too clearly the dozens of impossibly tiny and fragile preemies who, along with my own newborns, struggled for life in the neonatal intensive care unit. Nature intends for unborn babies to reach the 40-week mark as they develop inside the protective environment of the womb, and infants born earlier often are at higher risk for potentially devastating health problems—and for death.
Sometimes (as in my case), it just is not medically possible to keep babies healthfully gestating all the way up to that 40-week mark. But I was alarmed when a recent survey of 773 US hospitals showed that it is common for babies to be purposely scheduled for elective early delivery by Cesarean section or induction between 37 and 39 completed weeks’ gestation—without any sound medical reason! Conducted by The Leapfrog Group, a health-care watchdog organization, the survey reported that many hospitals’ rates of early elective deliveries exceeded 40%... and I was appalled to see some figures that were significantly higher.
There are medical circumstances in which the health of the mother or baby would necessitate an early C-section or induction of labor, noted Barbara Rudolph, PhD, MSSW, the senior science director of The Leapfrog Group. But too often, an early delivery is scheduled for no better reason than the convenience of the parents or doctors—even though the final weeks of pregnancy are important for the optimal development of babies’ brains, lungs and other vital organs and even though mothers who deliver early are at increased risk for postpartum complications.
If you are expecting: A hospital’s rate of early scheduled delivery reflects the routines of doctors who practice there. So check your local hospital’s rate at www.LeapfrogGroup.org/tooearlydeliveries#State, Dr. Rudolph suggested, then discuss with your doctor the guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommending that no elective delivery be performed before 39 completed weeks’ gestation.Source: Barbara Rudolph, PhD, MSSW, is the senior science director of The Leapfrog Group, a health-care watchdog organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts an annual survey of hospitals.