Though many pregnancy guides and professionals state that a delivery at 37 weeks is considered full term, more recent research has found that infants born this early have more issues than those born at 39 weeks. For example, infants born between 37 and 39 weeks are more likely to suffer from breathing problems, infections and be hospitalized in a neonatal intensive care unit. Studies have also indicated these infants have twice the infant mortality rate than those born after 39 weeks gestation. Yet, despite these weeks, many pregnant women and doctors opt for an early, pre-planned delivery.
Dr. Scott Berns, deputy medical director at the March of Dimes, has been working to educate doctors and patients about early pre-planned deliveries. Over the years, he’s spoken with a number of colleagues about it, hoping to discourage them from allowing women to schedule early, pre-planned deliveries. Unfortunately, he was often met with indifference or denial of there being a problem.
“They’d say, ‘This is not a problem for me,’” Berns told Healthland Time. “And I’d say, ‘Look at your data.’”
Berns developed a “toolkit” to help hospitals drop their early, pre-planned delivery rates. The toolkit educates doctors and nurses on the most recent statistics and recently found risks of delivering prior to 39 weeks. That education includes the intricacies of fetal development, which is designed to help hospital staff understand why it’s so important for women to wait the extra two weeks. In addition, the program offers advice on implementing bans on all non-emergency deliveries prior to the 39th week of pregnancy.
Eventually, he was able to convince 25 hospitals from five states that account for 38% of all U.S. births to use his toolkit. They agreed to ban all elective Cesareans and inductions before 39 weeks. They were provided with the educational materials as well as some forms that would help them determine if an early delivery was medically necessary. They participated in regular phone calls to share strategies and troubleshoot problems that arose. Data from those hospitals in New York, Illinois, Texas and California was collected in 2011.
As you may have guessed, there was some resistance from both doctors and moms-to-be. But the toolkit had something for that as well. Doctors who may have resisted because they simply desired to accommodate mothers who were tired of being pregnant were encouraged to educate their patients on the benefits of waiting until after 39 weeks to deliver.
“If you show a mom that these last weeks of pregnancy really count, that the chances for a baby to be born healthy are higher if she waits out a couple more weeks, that really resonates,” Berns said.
And it seems he’s right. According to the data collected, his toolkit was able to effectively drop the early elective delivery rates in those 25 hospitals by 83%. He now has his sights set on another 100 hospitals; he hopes that their participation will hope reverse the trend of early, pre-planned delivery rates all across the country.
Did you have a pre-planned delivery or have you been hoping to have one? Knowing what you know now about the benefits of waiting an extra two weeks, would you make the same choice?
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