By Laura Anastasia
Cook on, mama! Keeping your little bun in the oven until at least 39 weeks gestation is healthier for you and baby- and new results from a yearlong five-state trial program show that more and more women are going that route.
Twenty-five hospitals in California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Texas took part in the March of Dimes' Big 5 State Prematurity Initiative to reduce the amount of elective deliveries before 39 weeks in hospitals in the five most populous U.S. states.
Using a specially devised toolkit, participating hospitals sought to bring down the rate of elective deliveries of babies before 39 weeks of gestation unless medically necessary. For years, medical groups have advised that expectant mothers wait for delivery to start on its own, and 38 percent of births in the United States occur in these five states.
The program was a success: In one year, the number of early term deliveries at participating hospitals plummeted by 83 percent. In the first month, almost 28 percent of the babies were born at 37 or 38 weeks. In the last month, the number was down to just under 5 percent.
"This 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," says Bryan T. Oshiro M.D., of Loma Linda University School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discourages delivering babies before 39 weeks unless the mom or baby's health is in danger. The group considers babies born at 37 or 38 weeks "early term." The mortality rate for infants born at that stage is 1.5 times higher than it is for babies born at 39 to 41 weeks, according to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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