Approximately 33,000 babies will be born preterm this month alone, according to the March of Dimes. Preterm births, defined as birth before 37 weeks, are the leading cause of newborn deaths in the United States.
Each year, the March of Dimes publishes a Preterm Birth Report Card and issues grades by comparing each state’s rate of preterm births to the March of Dimes’ 2020 goal of 8.1 percent.
In the 2020 Preterm Birth Report Card, South Carolina scored an “F” with an 11.5 percent preterm birth rate.
While there is ongoing research into all the causes of preterm births, three primary factors have been identified: access to healthcare before and during pregnancy, smoking cessation among women, and late-preterm births, defined as births between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.
Increased rates of late-preterm births have been linked to rising rates of early labor induction for non-medical reasons. In the United States, the rate of labor induction has more than doubled since 1990.
The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to the baby’s development. For instance, a baby’s brain at 35 weeks weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 39 or 40 weeks.
Elective deliveries before 39 weeks can cause serious risks to the newborn, both short- and long-term.
Many preterm babies are born at very low birth weights and require the specialized care of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). During the baby’s stay, physicians who are trained to care for critical infants monitor the baby closely while important organs such as the brain, lungs and liver continue to develop. In addition, these physicians immediately address any serious complications that may occur.
Long-term health problems linked with preterm birth include: cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, chronic lung disease, blindness and hearing loss.
If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor about the importance of delivering your baby at 39 or 40 weeks. Some questions you can ask include:
· Is there a problem with my health or the health of my baby that may require me to deliver early?
· Can I wait to have my baby until I reach 39 weeks?
· Why do I need to be induced for labor? How will you induce labor?
· Will inducing labor increase my chance of needing a C-section?
· Do I need a C-section? If so, what problems can a C-section cause for me and my baby?
· Will I need to have a C-section in future pregnancies?
It is important to remember that you may not have a choice when you deliver your baby. If complications occur with your pregnancy or your baby’s health, you may need to have your baby early.
However, if you have a choice and are planning to schedule your baby’s birth, give your baby the best start by waiting until at least 39 weeks.
Dr. Eric Coughlin received his medical degree from West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, West Virginia. He also completed an Obstetrics and Gynecology residency at the Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, West Virginia. Dr. Coughlin cares for patients at McLeod OB/GYN Associates, located at 101 William H. Johnson Street Suite 500, Florence, SC. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Coughlin, call (843) 777-7400.