Scheduled deliveries of babies before 39 weeks gestation can be a life-saving event for mother and baby if medical complications arise. However, if a delivery isn't spontaneous or necessary for the health of the mother or baby, it is considered an elective delivery. Elective deliveries before 39 weeks gestation have been a focus for Kittitas Valley Community Hospital over the past year and the Family Birthing Center has successfully worked to decrease rates from nearly 50 percent of early births in 2011 to an average of 11 percent in 2012.
"We've tried to minimize elective deliveries before 39 weeks gestation as much as possible. It's better for the baby to fully develop before birth - and full development doesn't occur until 39 weeks gestation," stated Linda Stewart, Family Birthing Center Director.
Development of the liver, brain, and lungs continues until 39 weeks gestation. Babies born before full development are more likely to have vision and hearing problems later in life. They can also have difficulty sucking and swallowing immediately after birth and often require more intensive care.
Hospitals across Washington State have focused on reducing elective deliveries before 39 weeks in collaboration with the Washington State Hospital Association. A statewide goal for early elective deliveries has been set at 3.5 percent. More careful monitoring of these deliveries is also planned at the national level by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services beginning in January 2013.
"We want what is best for both mother and baby, and research shows that a pregnancy of 39 to 41 weeks is ideal," continued Stewart. "We hope to see the numbers of early elective deliveries continue their downward trend."
If you have questions about the recommendation that a pregnancy continue to at least 39 weeks if possible, contact your healthcare provider.