Early Birth May Affect Breathing Ability
Doctors and parents urged to think twice about scheduling early deliveries
(HealthDay News) -- Doctors have had so much success at saving the tiniest of babies that many people don't even think that delivering at 36 or 37 weeks into a pregnancy is early anymore.
But research continues to show that significant risks remain when a baby is delivered even a few weeks early.
"Our study verifies that late preterm birth neonates delivered from 34 to 37 weeks have much higher risks for respiratory complications than infants delivered from 38 to 40 weeks' gestation," Dr. Judith U. Hibbard, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the study's lead author, told HealthDay. "The risk for respiratory [illness] decreases with each advancing week of gestation."
Late preterm births now make up about 9 percent of all deliveries in the United States, according to the study -- and many early births are the result of planned cesarean deliveries.
Hibbard said she hopes that the study's findings make parents and doctors think twice about scheduling early births.
"It may discourage obstetricians and providers from delivering women earlier without good indications and may prompt further research into why there is such a high late preterm birth rate in the U.S. -- and what interventions we might undertake to decrease it," she said.
Pregnancies generally last about 40 weeks. Any delivery that occurs between 37 and 42 weeks is considered full-term, according to the March of Dimes. It reports that the rate of premature births -- reflecting any baby born before 37 weeks -- has risen by 36 percent since the early 1980s.
Breathing problems are one of the biggest complications faced by premature babies because the lungs finish maturing late in pregnancy.
Hibbard's study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed data from nearly 234,000 deliveries at 19 U.S. hospitals between 2002 and 2008. There were more than 19,000 late preterm births in that group.
Of those late preterm babies, 7,055 babies had to be placed in neonatal intensive care units, and 2,032 suffered respiratory problems, the study found.
Respiratory distress syndrome was the most common breathing problem seen in the late preterm infants. A potentially life-threatening condition, it affected 390 (10.5 percent) of those born at 34 weeks and 140 (0.3 percent) of those born at 38 weeks, the study reported.
For infants born at 34 weeks, the risk for developing respiratory distress syndrome increased 40-fold, but the risk decreased dramatically as the pregnancy neared full-term.
Dr. Eduardo Bancalari, director of the division of neonatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the study's findings weren't surprising.
"The right time to be born is at 40 weeks," he said, "and any time before that, the risk increases."
On the Web
To learn more about premature birth, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: HealthDay News; Judith U. Hibbard, M.D., professor, obstetrics and gynecology, University of Illinois at Chicago; Eduardo Bancalari, M.D., professor, pediatrics, director, division of neonatology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami; July 28, 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association; March of Dimes (www.marchofdimes.com)
Author: Serena Gordon
Publication Date: July 31, 2011
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