May 26, 2011

Longer Pregnancies = Healthier Babies

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- A new study suggests adding just a few more weeks to a woman's pregnancy can cut a baby's risk of death in half even if the pregnancy has reached "term." Researchers say these results show that continuing a pregnancy to at least 39 weeks is vital for a newborn's health.

A team of investigators from the March of Dimes, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration found the overall risk of death more than doubles for infants born at 37 weeks of pregnancy when compared to those born at 40 weeks. This correlation was the same for all races and ethnicities.

In 2006, the infant mortality rate was 1.9 for every 1,000 live births for babies born at 40 weeks. The mortality rate increased to 3.9 per 1,000 when a baby was born at 37 weeks of pregnancy.

"There is the perception that babies born between 37 and 41 weeks of pregnancy are all born healthy. But this study confirms that even babies born just a week or two early have an increased risk of death," Alan R. Fleischman, M.D., senior vice president and medical director at the March of Dimes, was quoted as saying. "It is clear, that regardless of race or ethnicity, every additional week of pregnancy is critical to a baby's health."

Preterm birth is defined as less than 37 weeks of pregnancy. Until recently, babies born after 37 weeks were evaluated as a single group. The researchers say there may be times when medical reasons require a baby to be delivered early, but elective early delivery is harmful and should never be scheduled before 39 or 40 weeks of pregnancy.

SOURCE: Obstetrics and Gynecology, May 2011