Initiative Seeks to Stop Elective Premature Births

Nov 25, 2012

Health officials have begun an initiative to try and prevent elective premature births. The Courier-Journal reports partners in the venture include the March of Dimes, the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the state's Medicaid managed care organizations and several hospitals across the state.

The Kentucky Hospital Association is also involved and has started a program designed to limit early elective deliveries to 3 percent or less by the end of next year. The goal was set by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

KHA project director, nurse Donna Meador, says the KHA network has 16 hospitals that are part of the project. She said the average rate now for elective premature births at participating hospitals in her network is 12 percent.

"It could be either (the mother or the doctor). If you have a woman who is very uncomfortable," she may want to give birth before she reaches 40 weeks, which is how long pregnancy is supposed to last, Meador said. "The doctor might say, `We'll go ahead and induce you.' "

Previously, experts thought of babies between 37 and 39 weeks gestation as full term and not at risk for complications. Elizabeth Cobb, vice president of health policy at KHA, said now experts know that babies keep developing through the last few weeks.

"I am very proud of the work of these hospitals that are doing their part to educate the public as to why the last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to proper development of a baby's vital organs, including the brain and lungs," Meador said.

Premature babies are more prone to have problems feeding and sleeping when they are young and problems with learning and behavior as they grow.

Cobb said she hopes all 51 hospitals in the state participate in the initiative or a similar one to cut down on the number of elective deliveries so that different practices don't confuse families.

"This is really a change in culture," she said.