For years, hospitals and doctors were delivering more and more babies at 37 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. The number of deliveries at 37 to 38 weeks now makes up about 20% of the four million annual births in the U.S.
Induced births and Caesarean section births are called early-elective deliveries.
About 10% to 15% of early-elective deliveries are induced. An expert says as many as 30% of inducements have no medical reason. The deliveries were often scheduled for the convenience of the doctor or the mother.
Hospitals are now working very hard to reduce these numbers. Part of their success depends on educating the mother.
Doctors say the final weeks of pregnancy are important to the baby’s health. Vital organs such as the brain and lungs are developing up to the 39th week.
Insurers and employers know that early delivery babies often end up in neonatal intensive care units (health care to babies 1 to 4 weeks old). Reducing that number can save about $1 billion a year.
The good news is that the number of early-elective deliveries can go down. Twenty-six hospitals took part in a recent study. In those hospitals early-elective deliveries fell to 4.8 percent of all deliveries. A year earlier they were 27.8 percent of all deliveries. Caesarean deliveries also went way down.
The study is encouraging health providers to take steps to reduce the number and risks of early-elective delivery.