The Leapfrog Group, a 10-year-old hospital monitoring group, has found that doctors and hospitals are commonly scheduling women for elective deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation, even though studies have established a bright arrow that shows that babies are at risk of death or serious health problems if they are born before then.
A survey of 773 hospitals released this week shows that these institutions performed more than 57,000 inductions and Cesarean sections before 39 weeks just in the last year. The hospitals displayed a wide range of rates for early elective deliveries, from less than 5% to more than 40%.
"Leapfrog’s release of 2010 data is the first real evidence that the practice of scheduling newborn deliveries before 39 weeks without a medical reason is common and varied among hospitals even in the same state or community," the report stated.
The brain and lungs aren't fully developed until the very last weeks of pregnancy, said Alan R. Fleischman MD, senior vice president and medical director of the March of Dimes, a group that works to prevent birth defects, and is working with Leapfrog to cut the numbers of early births.
“Women need to protect themselves by refusing to schedule their deliveries before 39 weeks without a sound medical reason, and by knowing the facts about the hospitals they plan to deliver in,” said Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder.
Some hospitals, notably Hospital Corporation of America, have programs in place to encourage doctors to refrain from scheduling Cesarean sections and elective inductions for nonmedical reason, Leapfrog officials said.