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Healthy Babies Worth the Wait

Banner Health supports March of Dimes campaign to limit early deliveries in support of fetal development

Beginning immediately, Banner Health, one of the largest non-profit health systems in the country, will no longer schedule elective cesarean sections and labor inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy unless specific medical criteria can be demonstrated.

This decision, supported by March of Dimes and other respected health care organizations, will apply to nearly 30,000 deliveries in the 19 Banner hospitals that provide obstetrical care, including Banner Lassen Medical Center.

It is an effort to underscore, unless there is a medical reason why mom or baby is having medical problems, nature knows best when it comes to the time of delivery.

“We want to help our families to understand that babies need time to fully develop in the womb,” says Dr. Ken Welch, obstetrician and Banner Health leader.

“As we become better at caring for preterm infants, the community has come to believe that an early delivery is a safe delivery. It is our responsibility to communicate that is simply not true.”

A full-term pregnancy is more than the advertised nine months. It is closer to 10 months, or more specifically 39-40 weeks. Yet ongoing research and now a new national study have identified specific health advantages for babies that are born after 39 weeks gestation.

Eliminating elective deliveries before 39 weeks is supported by American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and The Joint Commission.

Other research has suggested that babies born at full term have fewer hearing and vision problems, fewer feeding problems and they are less likely to deliver at a low birth weight. The brain, lungs and eyes are in the final stages of development in the final weeks of pregnancy, and imaging studies indicate that the brains of infants born after 39 weeks are notably larger than younger gestation babies.

In 2010, 42 percent of babies born at Banner Health hospitals were delivered in advance of 39 weeks. Some of those deliveries were a medical intervention to protect mother or baby, and some were spontaneous deliveries. An unknown number were elective c-sections or inductions.

“In the past, convenience, a father’s availability, general discomfort and other factors were sometimes given consideration when determining a delivery plan,” said Dr. Welch. “By changing our policy at Banner Health to encourage full-term, healthy pregnancies and deliveries, we are standing by our commitment to excellence in patient care—for both mother and baby.”

Only 25 percent of women know a full-term pregnancy should last at least 39 weeks, according to research published in the December 2009 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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