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Hospitals pushing full-term deliveries

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

When it comes to the right time to deliver a baby, some local hospitals are letting Mother Nature do most of the deciding.

The University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago and Edward Hospital in Naperville are among six Illinois medical centers chosen to take part in a March of Dimes pilot program calling for a halt to elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy.

About 3,500 babies are delivered annually at Edward Hospital, said obstetrics Director Pat Bradley, with 28 percent of these births taking place before 39 weeks of gestation. Half are elective, a number that has risen dramatically during the last decade.

Yet, “the longer the baby can stay in, the better it is, as long as there is no medical reason to do otherwise,” she said.

Dennis Crouse, director of the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, agrees.

Crouse, who is chairman of the committee that oversees the March of Dimes project, said a baby’s brain, lungs and other physical functions still are developing during the last few weeks of gestation. While the medical community previously thought it was OK to deliver a baby a few weeks early, recent research indicates otherwise.

“These infants have a much higher risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit,” Crouse said. “They have a much higher risk of having respiratory disease. Their hospital stays are usually much longer. It interferes with breast feeding. And there is evidence long-term these infants may have an increased risk of some neurological issues.”

The Edward program makes use of a March of Dimes kit providing education materials to ensure inductions and C-sections are done at the right time and for the right reasons.

Hospital staff has been trained in the use of this kit and has incorporated materials in prenatal classes and posted them at Physicians also are making patient education materials available in their offices.

Reasons for requesting early deliveries vary. The dad may be leaving town or is being deployed by the military. The mom may want a particular doctor or might want to end pregnancy-related discomfort. Some moms fear they won’t get to the hospital in time. Others are trying to juggle child care.

Dr. Peter Weeks, medical director of obstetrics and gynecology at Edward, hopes the results at his hospital will be “immediate and dramatic.”

Since introducing the March of Dimes materials to staff members, he said, doctors are changing their behaviors and informing patients about the wisdom of staying pregnant longer.

Based on data from these hospitals, participants in the 2011 March of Dimes project can expect to reduce pre-term births and admissions to a neonatal intensive care unit by 15 percent to 20 percent, Crouse said.

That is significant from both a health and cost perspective. The typical hospital bill for a full-term baby goes up tenfold when a baby is in the newborn intensive care unit.

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