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Elective Early Deliveries Increasing Birth Injury Risks, Group Says

A recent report indicates that some hospitals are delivering more than 40% of babies early for no medical reason, which could put newborns at an increased risk for a birth injury, life-long health problems and even death. 

According to a survey conducted by the hospital quality watchdog The Leapfrog Group, early deliveries are common at many hospitals, resulting in higher infant mortality rates, permanent health problems and placing an unnecessary strain on hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unites (NICUs).

The Leapfrog Group announced the findings in a press release last week along with a “Call to Action” to educate mothers-to-be about the risks of choosing an unnecessary early delivery.

Researchers from the employer-driven hospital quality watchdog conducted a survey of 773 hospitals in the United States and found a wide disparity between how often elective early deliveries were conducted from one facility to the next. Some hospitals had 10 times the number of medically unnecessary early deliveries as others.

In 2010, there were 57,000 early elective deliveries conducted by the hospitals surveyed. Some had early elective delivery rates lower than 5%, while others had rates that exceeded 40%. An early elective delivery is defined as cesarean or induction deliveries that occurred before 39 weeks without a medical reason.

A number of neonatal experts and organizations say that a baby should be given at least 39 weeks to fully develop because brain, lungs and other organs are not completely developed until the last few weeks of gestation.

“A baby’s birth should not be scheduled before 39 weeks of pregnancy, unless their health care provider says it’s medically necessary,” said Dr. Alan R. Fleischman, medical director of the March of Dimes.

Leapfrog called for hospitals nationwide to reduce their early elective delivery rates to less than 12% last year, and is now calling for that number to be decreased to less than 5% of all deliveries. The organization said it decided to lower the target numbers after it found that 50% of hospitals were able to meet the 12% number, and 29% only exceeded it by 5% or less.

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