Hospitals Show Progress in Clamping Down on Early Elective Deliveries
A few months ago, we recalled a case in which Patrick Malone represented a family who sued a group of obstetricians when their baby was delivered early and suffered brain damage. As we noted in that blog, except when there are real medical complications, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends against delivering babies or inducing labor before 39 weeks of gestation.
Earlier this month, a study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology not only confirms the wisdom of waiting to full-term before delivering the baby, but shows that hospitals that promote full-term delivery can realize excellent results.
As described by KaiserHealthNews.org, the study profiled 25 hospitals in five states that were able to cut their rates of elective early deliveries from nearly 28 in 100 to fewer than 5 in 100 in one year.
Such efforts are critical to lowering the rates of deliveries, which can put babies at risk of serious health issues including feeding, breathing and developmental problems. The latter often turn out to be long-term problems—one study by researchers at Emory University found that babies born before 38 weeks had lower scores on standardized tests in first grade.
Because 10 to 15 of 100 U.S. babies are delivered early without a medical reason, the value of full-term gestation needs to have wider appreciation among both parents and doctors. It is not uncommon for either party to opt for early delivery not because it’s optimal for the wee ones, but simply because it’s more convenient. That is, too often early delivery is a matter of scheduling preference than medical need.
Hospitals are starting to accept that they are on the frontlines of preventing the long-term negative effects of early delivery, and so must the rest of us. As the lead author in the hospital survey said, “This quality improvement program demonstrates that we can create a change in medical culture to prevent unneeded early deliveries and give many more babies a healthy start in life.”
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