The Leapfrog Group, a hospital quality watchdog has found that thousands of elective c-section babies are born prematurely. This results in a greater chance of death, being admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and various life-long health problems.
Leapfrog claims it is the first national organization to make this information public by hospital. It’s report covers findings from 773 hospitals in Leapfrog’s 2010 annual hospital survey. They found significant differences between hospitals in their levels of early elective cesarean section and elective inductions. Some hospitals being ten times higher than others. According to the group, hospital rates of early elective deliveries range from less than five percent to more than 40 percent. Between them they reported over 57,000 early elective deliveries by cesarean section or induction during the reporting period.
Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder called for every hospital to publicly report their rate and actively prevent the practice, which is so harmful. She added “every woman planning to give birth should demand the information.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Childbirth Connection and the March of Dimes, caution that the amount of time a baby needs to develop fully — which includes having a fully developed brain and other organs –is at least 39 completed weeks. In their study, Leapfrog found many newborns are “electively” scheduled for delivery before the 39th week, meaning without a medical reason, at disturbing levels.
This accumulation of data finally shows what many in the health care community have suspected, that the scheduling of deliveries before 39 weeks without medical cause is common and also varies from hospital to hospital, even in the same state or city. For example, in the city of Los Angeles, the rates varied from 4 % to as high as 29 % while in Boston, the range was near 0 to as high as 27 %. Education efforts are being implemented by Leapfrog, Childbirth Connection, and the March of Dimes to provide information about the importance of every week of pregnancy with women, and care providers, as well as their membership of employers and regional business coalitions.
A call to limit births before 39 weeks for no medical reason has been heeded by health insurance companies Aetna, CIGNA, UnitedHealthcare, and WellPoint. They are collaborating on an awareness campaign that includes three key messages:
The last weeks of pregnancy are important
There are risks for mothers and babies if births are scheduled before 39 weeks for nonmedical reasons
Expectant mothers should investigate the rates of elective deliveries for hospitals in their community
Senior VP and medical director of the March of Dimes, Alan R. Fleischman, MD, emphasized that the final weeks of pregnancy are essential to a newborns health because important organs, including the brain and lungs, are not fully developed until then. Find out more about the health risks of early elective and c-section births in our earlier article.