1 in 25 U.S. Babies Born Too Early

First Posted: Jun 23, 2014 12:28 PM EDT

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia shows that nearly one in 25 U.S. babies are born too soon. The study, which covered millions of U.S. births within the last 15 years, illustrates how many mothers-to-be are opting for elective cesarean sections and induced labor that could pose an increased risk to the health of their future child. 

"A growing body of research suggests that health outcomes are worse for infants born before 40 weeks gestation, compared to full-term births," said Scott A. Lorch, M.D., M.S.C.E., a neonatologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), in a news release. "Unfortunately, many of these earlier births are 'nonindicated,' meaning there is not a medical rationale to deliver the baby early. We analyzed the extent to which these infants are born too soon and without medical indication."

For the study, researchers examined data from a population-based analysis that covered 7.3 million uncomplicated term births during 15 calendar years from 1995 to 2009 in three larger stages: California, Missouri and Pennsylvania. These areas account for 20 percent of the United States, according to researchers. The study, published in the journal Medical Care, also used hospital discharge data connected to state birth certificate records and included mothers and infants from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Throughout the study period, the early-term non-indicated birth rate was 31.8 percent. This rate peaked in 2006 at 4 percent of uncomplicated births to term infants before 39 weeks' gestation without medical indication. By 2009, the risk of non-indicated birth before 39 weeks was 3.74 percent--86 percent higher than 1995, at the start of the study period. 

"Our study team found that nonindicated early births had adverse consequences for newborns and families," added Lorch, who also noted that early-term, non-indicated cesarean sections more than doubled the chance of newborns needing ventiliation because of respiratory distress. Early-term non-indicated cesareans also typically lengthened an infant's hospital stay. 

The findings also revealed that many mothers were less likely to experience early-term non-indicated births if they were older and had higher education levels as well as private health insurance. Non-hispanic black women wre more likely to undergo non-indicated cesarean birth than non-Hispanic white women, but were also less likely to experience non-indicated labor induction.

Despite recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, non-indicated early deliveries have continued to rise. Researchers hope to focus future studies on a more specific underlying need for these procedures.

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