'Late Preterm' Babies Face Surprising Risks
There's some disturbing new information out today about babies that are born too early, a trend that has been increasing in the United States: A new study found that babies born prematurely are at much greater risk for serious neurological problems such as cerebral palsy, even if they are just a few weeks early.
Joann Petrini of the March of Dimes and her colleagues studied more than 140,000 babies born in northern California between 2000 and 2004 found that the earlier babies were born the greater their risk for problems. For example, babies born between 30 and 33 weeks of gestation were nearly eight times as likely as full term babies to have cerebral palsy.
But even those born just four to six weeks before a mother's due date -- so-called "late preterm" babies--were more than three times as likely as full-term babies to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. They were also at increased risk for developmental delays and mental retardation, according to the study published online today along with an editorial by The Journal of Pediatrics.
More than half a million babies are born too early each year in the United States, and the rate of premature birth has been rising, causing increasing concern among doctors. That's because preterm babies are at increased risk for a host of health problems, including breathing and feeding problems, jaundice, delayed brain development and death. Late preterm babies account for more than 70 percent of all preterm births, and for most of the increase in preterm birth rates in the last two decades.
There are a variety of reasons why more babies are being born too early. Part of it is due to the fact that more women are waiting to have children--older women are more likely to give birth early. In addition, an increase in IVF and other infertility treatments has increased the number of twins, who also tend to be born early. Also, doctors are more likely to induce labor at any sign of problems, and more women are asking their doctors to induce labor or schedule Caesarean sections, sometimes just to make their deliveries more convenient or predictable.
The new findings, the researchers say, provide powerful new evidence for why women and their doctors should try to do whatever they can to carry their babies to full term.
Anyone care to share their thoughts about scheduling C-sections?
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