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Health Notes: U of M study: Early elective deliveries put babies at risk

Thousands of mothers are putting their newborns at risk each year by having elective deliveries before reaching full-term, a new study from the University of Minnesota says.

The study — the first of its kind to show rates of labor induction and cesarean sections between 37 and 39 weeks of gestation — links early elective deliveries without medical reasons to health problems for babies.

Katy Kozhimannil, assistant professor at the university’s School of Public Health, led the study in collaboration with researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

They found that infants delivered by early elective cesarean sections are 60 percent more likely to have extended hospital stays and more than twice as likely to have respiratory problems compared to infants delivered after full-term. Infants delivered by early elective induction also are at greater risk for extended hospital stays, the study found.

The team noticed spiked rates of early elective delivery for women younger than 20 and older than 35, as well as for women who give birth at rural or small-volume hospitals.

“There are misunderstandings about when a baby is ready to be born,” Kozhimannil said. “Since our findings show there are differences in who is having an early elective delivery, the importance of a full-term birth needs to be communicated to all women.”

The study reported that early elective deliveries have made up more than 3 percent of births in the United States during the past 20 years, or more than 120,000 babies each year.

Researchers reviewed birth certificates and hospital records for all births in California, Missouri and Pennsylvania between 1995 and 2009. The sample accounted for about 20 percent of births in the United States during that time.