By Martha Bebinger
Many of us know a mom who chose to have her baby before its due date. There are lots of reasons why one might choose to do this: the health of the mom or the baby, her doctor’s schedule, the demands of her husband’s work, or even to hit a specific birthday. But if that perfect day falls before the 39th week of pregnancy, and there’s no medical reason for an early delivery, many hospitals in Massachusetts are saying no, you have to wait.
Jennifer Brickley, with her daughter Audrey, says too many women plan deliveries as they do hair or spa appointments. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)
The number of early deliveries, from induced labor or C-sections, has been on the rise across the country for more than a decade now, including in Massachusetts. One reason is that we’ve come to expect that babies born “a little bit early” will be fine.
“Before the benefit of the neonatal intensive care unit, people were very conservative and would not induce or do repeat C-sections before 39 weeks,” says Dr. Glenn Markenson, the director of maternal and fetal medicine at Bay State Medical Center in Springfield. “But as they saw how well babies were doing with pediatric care, and they were getting pressured by patients because of social situations, there was a creep down from 39 weeks to 38 weeks, sometimes 37 weeks.”
With access to such excellent care, we overlook the facts — babies are in these expensive neonatal units because they’re having problems.
“Early-term infants have higher rates of respiratory distress. There are also issues with feeding,” says Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director at the Department of Public Health. “The most recent evidence shows that babies born before 39 weeks may also have developmental issues, so when you add up the increased risks and you weigh that against a situation when it’s purely elective, then you really can’t justify it.”
A growing number of hospitals in Massachusetts, and across the country, are saying no to elective inductions and C-sections before 39 weeks. The change is happening quietly and some new mothers don’t like it.