Reducing Pre-Term Births; Where Public Health Campaigns Can Make a Difference

January 27, 2012
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Health plans have realized for quite some time that the widespread practice of scheduled C-sections and induced labor before the end of 39 weeks of pregnancy is an expensive proposition. Even babies born a week or two early have a significantly higher chance of being admitted to neonatal intensive care units, having difficult breathing and experiencing bloodstream infections. Such births are surprisingly common.

Health plans have realized for quite some time that the widespread practice of scheduled C-sections and induced labor before the end of 39 weeks of pregnancy is an expensive proposition. Even babies born a week or two early have a significantly higher chance of being admitted to neonatal intensive care units, having difficult breathing and experiencing bloodstream infections. Such births are surprisingly common. In 2010 about 17 percent of babies were delivered at 37-39 weeks without a medical reason.

The Leapfrog Group. March of Dimes and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has taken the initiative to try to address this issue by getting the word out and having hospital set performance. They’ve decided there’s no reason for hospitals to have more than 5 percent of births in the early delivery/no medical reason category, and have asked hospitals to report their results.

The good news is that it seems to be working. The rate dropped from 17 percent to 14 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to newly published figures.  More than 700 hundred hospitals voluntarily reported their rates to Leapfrog. It’s fascinating to scroll through and see the variability. A good number of hospitals are at or below the 5 percent target while some others are way up in the 20 to 30+ percent range. That can’t be random variation.

So why are these medically unnecessary early births occurring? Childbirth Connection has a good summary:

  • Women’s lack of knowledge about the risks, benefits, and appropriate use of labor induction
  • Lack of shared decision making
  • A perception among women, caregivers and hospital administrators that induction is convenient and cost-effective
  • Frequent use of screening tests at the end of pregnancy, despite lack of evidence of improved outcomes
  • A belief that the best way to manage risks in pregnancy is to deliver the baby


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