Some Moms Opting for Early Delivery—But at What Cost?

As a worrier, my twin pregnancy arc has looked something like this: Without too many real symptoms in the early stages, I worried I might not really still be pregnant. Following that, I coasted seamlessly into the stage of worrying about delivering dangerously early.

Now, at nearly 34 weeks, I'm hoping I can continue to cook these nuggets until they're really big and strong — a chance many multiples moms I know would have given almost anything to have. Alas, in particular when it comes to carrying multiples, the threat of pre-term labor is very real, and the fear of it — or the reality of it — consumes many parents to be.

Despite that, and despite growing evidence that supports the idea of better health outcomes for babies who reach full term, it turns out that many women are delivering early electively.

According to new research from the University of Minnesota and published in the journal Medical Care, more than 3 percent of babies delivered in the U.S. are coming into the world early and without valid medical justification; if that doesn't seem like a huge figure, consider it's about 120,000 babies across the entire population each year.

So what does early mean? A baby is considered full-term at 39 weeks of pregnancy. And the study showed that early delivery without medical reason "at between 37 and 39 weeks is associated with health problems for mothers and babies" alike, according to HealthDay News.

According to the study, women were more likely to opt for early induced labor if they were 35 or older, were white with higher education, were insured privately, and delivered their babies in rural or non-teaching hospitals.

Those choosing to deliver early by C-section tended to be younger than 20 or older than 35, black, have higher educations, and gave birth at smaller hospitals.

The study further suggested that babies born early by elective C-section were much more likely to have longer hospital stays as well as respiratory issues than babies born at full term. Further, babies born early after elective induced labor also faced longer hospital stays.

"There are misunderstandings about when a baby is ready to be born," study leader Katy Kozhimannil said in a news release. "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, not just those who may traditionally be considered high risk for elective procedure or high risk for poor outcomes."

Pregnant? Estimate the big day with our due date calculator.

In month 9 of pregnancy, your baby is fully-grown and preparing for his big debut. Find out what to pack in your hospital bag as you prepare for labor and delivery.

Premature baby image courtesy of ShutterStock

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