Optional Early Baby Delivery Rates Drop

Fewer elective early births are occurring in US hospitals since last year

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The rate of elective births before 39 weeks has dropped 3 percent since last year among U.S. hospitals, though rates vary dramatically, from under 5 percent to as high as 40 percent.

An early elective delivery means the pregnant woman has chosen to give birth early, either by induction or cesarean section, before her water breaks or labor starts when there is no medical reason to do so.

"Your body or doctor will tell when best to deliver."

Early deliveries are usually scheduled between 37 and 39 weeks of pregnancy. The survey was conducted by The Leapfrog Group, a coalition of companies that aims to improve safety, quality and affordability in U.S. healthcare, according to their website.

The group conducts an annual Leapfrog Hospital Survey and began last year reporting on hospitals' rates of elective early deliveries.

Leapfrog's target for hospitals is an elective early delivery rate of less than 5 percent. If the national average rate were reduced to1.7 percent, an estimated $1 billion could be saved, according to Leapfrog.

Among the 757 hospitals who voluntarily reported their rate of early elective deliveries, 65 percent improved from last year.

The average rate across all hospitals dropped to 14 percent this year from last year's 17 percent.

“This is extremely promising news, but there is still work to be done,” said Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder.

"We are seeing far too many newborns delivered early and without a medical reason, and there are still a number of hospitals who refuse to make this information public,” Binder said.

Not all hospitals are included in the survey. Participation is voluntary, and non-reporting hospitals do not make their rates public.

States whose hospitals report an average rate at or below the national average include California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Ohio, which has the lowest rate at 7.6 percent.

Alabama had among the highest rates at 22.5 percent.

Without a medically necessary reason, babies should remain in the womb for at least 39 weeks for complete, healthy development, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Childbirth Connection, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the March of Dimes.

Earlier deliveries should only be scheduled if there are health risks to the mother, such as pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure or a ruptured membrane.

Among the common medical problems experienced by preemies are respiratory problems, increased risk of infection, difficulty maintaining an appropriate body temperature and jaundice.

Preemies also tend to remain in the hospital longer after they're born and have a higher death rate than babies who are born after the 39th week of pregnancy.

The Leapfrog survey is voluntary for hospitals. The organization is supported by the Business Roundtable, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Leapfrog members, among others. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 1, 2012
Last Updated:
February 1, 2012