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Studies: Scheduling delivery too soon puts infants at risk

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Early births for the sake of convenience will end Saturday at Columbus Regional Hospital, the result of a new initiative launched in partnership with the March of Dimes.

The nonprofit organization selected the local hospital as one of four hospitals in Indiana and 100 nationwide for a $10,000 grant to serve as models for the rest of the country.

Columbus Regional will use its grant to educate doctors, staff and mothers about the value of carrying babies for at least 39 weeks — and ideally for the full 40-week term, said Margie Campbell, a clinical nurse specialist at the local hospital.

That will take the form of literature distributed to pregnant women, Internet seminars for the hospital staff and the ability to share data with other grant-chosen hospitals.

Dangers of early birth

March of Dimes lists these dangers to children who are born early:

Babies born early have more learning and behavior problems in childhood that babies born at 40 weeks.

Babies born early are more likely to have feeding problems, because they can’t coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing as well as full-term babies.

Babies born early are such as to have breathing problems, like apnea, when a baby stops breathing.

Babies born early are more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome.

Starting Saturday, Columbus Regional personnel will refuse any woman’s request to be induced early, unless it’s a medical necessity in the best interest of the mother or child, Campbell said.

Studies show that babies born too early — even by just a few weeks — have less developed brains than their full-term counterparts and can have breathing problems, cerebral palsy and lifelong learning disabilities, among other problems.

The March of Dimes, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found in recent studies that the risk of death, though small, more than doubles for infants born at 37 weeks compared to those born at 40 weeks.

“Convenience is not a reason to bring a baby into the world who isn’t ready,” Campbell said.

Minjoo Morlan, associate director of program services for the March of Dimes Indiana chapter, said March of Dimes chose Columbus Regional as one of its grant recipients because of its reputation for providing excellent care in its birthing center.

Columbus Regional uses a highly trained nursing staff, emphasizes immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and child and encourages breast-feeding to maximize cognitive development when it matters most, Campbell said.

Research has shown that elective inductions performed before 39 weeks have risen sharply in the United States during the past 20 years, said Paige Harden, public relations and marketing specialist for Columbus Regional Hospital. She said the reported rate of labor induction has more than doubled, from 9.5 percent in 1990 to 22.5 percent in 2006.

She did not know what the rate is currently at the local hospital.

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