Thanks to c-sections, preterm births are on the rise, says the March of Dimes. Cesarean sections are a decades-old practice that has saved the lives of countless infants -- including my two children. But some experts are concerned that the procedure might be compromising so-called late-preemies: babies born between 34 and 37 weeks.
According to research by the March of Dimes and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 60,000 more preterm births in 2004 than in 1996. Of those, 92 percent were delivered via cesarean. In terms of single baby births, there was an approximately 10 percent increase in preterm deliveries. Thirty-six percent were c-sections.
A big deal
Increases in preterm births and c-sections might not seem significant, but it is. Late preterm babies are at greater risks for problems like breathing difficulties, feeding issues, jaundice and even death than their full-term peers.
According to the Associated Press:
"If slightly early birth sounds like no big deal, consider: A baby's brain at 35 weeks weighs only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 40 weeks, says a dramatic "brain card" developed by the March of Dimes to educate women. Some will catch up fine, while others have learning or behavioral delays. Also, being even a few weeks early can cause initial breathing problems if lungs aren't mature enough; feeding problems; even an increased risk of SIDS."
Ones born younger have even worse potential complications.
More research needed
While cesareans are lifesavers when there are pregnancy complications, there are risks with the procedure and it's something that shouldn't be done without cause earlier than 37 weeks.
"While maternal and fetal complications during pregnancy may result in the need for a c-section, we're concerned that some early c-section deliveries may be occurring for non-medically indicated reasons," said Alan R. Fleischman, M.D., the March of Dimes medical director and senior vice president. "We need research to determine how many c-sections that result in preterm babies are not medically indicated and may place both mother and baby at risk for little or no medical benefit."
What to do
- If you will be delivering your next child via c-section, know how far along you are and what potential complications there are with your birth. Early pregnancy ultrasounds can help pinpoint a date, as can knowing when your last period was.
- Educate yourself on any and all reasons you need a c-section and prepare questions for your doctor (and write them down so that you don't forget).
- Unless there is a medical reason, don't schedule your birth before the baby reaches a minimum of 37 weeks.