Skipping Last Weeks Of Pregnancy Can Be Dangerous

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s a big unknown of pregnancy: When exactly will the baby be born?

Science has tried to pinpoint it, but nature is unpredictable. However, over the last 10 years, more expectant moms have tried to beat nature by choosing their child’s birthday.

It’s a popular trend, but one that’s proving to have dangerous consequences.

Inside neonatal intensive care units across North Texas, tiny new lives fight to survive. Most of them are preemies – babies born prematurely – and many of them were born early on purpose.

“More babies die from prematurity than any other cause,” said Marilyn Herrick with the Dallas March of Dimes.

She says more women are actually choosing to have their babies early by scheduling an induction or c-section before 39 weeks.

“They’re just really uncomfortable during the last couple weeks of pregnancy,” she said.  “They really don’t think it matters.”

But, it does.

The final weeks of pregnancy are critical for brain and lung development, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“At 37 weeks, the baby’s brain is only 80 percent of what it will be at 40 weeks, and at 35 weeks, it’s only two-thirds of what it will be,” said Iris Torvik, Vice President of Women and Children Services for Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.

Torvik says the trend of elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy has skyrocketed.

“Most women think that 36 weeks of pregnancy is full term,” she said. “They don’t realize it’s 39-40 weeks.”

The result is a nearly 20 percent increase in NICU admission: A costly decision that Torvik says is usually made out of convenience.

Doctors are allowing it by bowing to pressure to please the parents-to-be.

“They are getting a lot of pressure from women and from couples who want the convenience,” Torvik said.

And, it’s not just an issue for babies, either. Moms are at risk for complications, too. That’s something Kelly Bennett of Hurst learned the hard way.

“I was very concerned about planning my time off,” Bennett said.  “I jumped at the chance when they said do you want to be induced a week early. I thought, “That’s perfect!”

But, it wasn’t perfect. Hours into her labor, the baby’s heartbeat slowed to a dangerous rhythm. Bennett was placed on oxygen, and was minutes away from an emergency c-section.

Doctors were able to save them both, and her daughter was born healthy.

But, that moment scared Bennett, and she let nature take its course with her other pregnancies. It’s stories like Bennett’s that prompted the March of Dimes to begin asking hospitals to take a stand against scheduling early births.

“You have to open your eyes to the fact that waiting a little bit longer is probably the best thing,” said Dr. Kamilia Smith from Baylor Medical Center.

Smith says in many cases, doctors approve early inductions based on the size of the baby and tests for lung development, but even those aren’t exact.

“There’s a lot of changes that occur in those last couple weeks of pregnancy,” she said.

Baylor is now one of five hospitals in Texas taking part in the initiative to eliminate scheduled births before 39 weeks for non-medical reasons, and the March of Dimes says it’s already having an impact.

“There are less admission in the NICU, there are less problems for the moms,” said Marilyn Herrick.

The hope now is that more hospitals will get on board.

“You don’t want to bring home a patient, you want to bring home a newborn baby,” Herrick said.

Most hospitals around North Texas have policies about elective inductions, but many cases hospitals say told it’s up to the individual doctor.

Just last month, legislation on this issue became law. Gov. Perry signed a bill restricting Medicaid from covering elective deliveries before 39 weeks.

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  • Sarah Robbins

    As a NICU nurse, I think this new legislation is a terrific step twards decreasing the rate of premature birth. Of course some doctors will make-up a reason for delivery if they really want to, but most will likely comply to ensure payment for their services.

  • Eleonora Usher-Rigby

    My son was born at 38 weeks via c-section due to complications. He had to be on oxygen for 3 days and during the induction his heart rate slowed dangerously. I can’t believe that anyone would elect to deliver early for CONVENIENCE. Being pregnant is by nature inconvenient and if a person can’t deal with that, perhaps they are not ready for a baby. Having to deliver early for medical reasons affecting either the mother or baby is a different thing entirely.

  • J. Mom

    If a mother to be doesn’t want the inconvenience of carrying her child for an additional 2 to 3 weeks I can only imagine what type of parent she will be. It seems that a logical step for the legislature and insurance companies would be to require the doctor who agreed to induce early and the mother to pay for 100% of any costs associated with the birth, complications or problems the baby has. Why are doctors allowed to retain their license to practice when their standards of care are no higher than pleasing narcissistic women who like the idea of having a baby without the inconvenience that comes with carrying a child to term? Why isn’t CPS notified when a mother, out of convenience for herself, intentionally subjects her child to being born prematurely thus creating a health hazard for the child?

  • Jenn

    Not all babies are going to be born at exactly the 40 week mark either.Due dates are guesses, not an expiration mark. Some babies gestate till 42 weeks. Rarely is a baby truly “overdue”. Inducing at 40 weeks can have the same potential problems as inducing at 36 or 38 weeks. There is rapid brain development that occurs in the final weeks. Mother nature knows what she’s doing, let babies come when they are ready. Doctor’s need to do much better job at informing women, and women need to educate themselves about their bodies. Trust that your baby knows what it’s doing, trust your body, and don’t believe everything your doctor tells you. Better yet chose a midwife!!!!!

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  • Mica

    I am extremely upset that your story makes it sound like the parents are pressuring the doctors into agreeing to this. I have known many women over the last 5 years who have been pressured into inducing early by their doctor so their doctor can plan a vacation. This would be doctors in both Oklahoma and Texas. Please don’t make it sound like the mothers do not want the “inconvenience” of carrying their baby to term. Women trust that their doctors know what is best for them and their baby and doctors are betraying that trust by convincing women to deliver early.

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