The Battle Against Prematurity
Prematurity is the worldwide leading cause of infant death. A recent study published in The Lancet, based on medical research spanning 194 countries and thirteen years, confirms that over a million children under the age of five die every year because of complications caused by premature birth.
What is Prematurity?
Premature (or pre-term) birth describes a baby born before 38 weeks (some studies use 37 weeks). Of particular concern for babies born early is lung development. Lungs develop at a slower pace, and oftentimes are not complete until around 34 weeks. Doctors should typically try to delay labor in these situations, and may need to provide drugs to speed up lung development.
How Does the United States Compare?
It is no surprise that premature birth hits underdeveloped countries particularly hard. The impact on people with low income who live in areas with diminished medical care is extreme. Many areas of the world lack neonatal intensive care units. Some countries with high premature death rates include Nigeria, India, Pakistan and West Africa.
In the United States, the number of babies born prematurely has been declining. In 2013 it was 11.4% of all births, lower than the previous fifteen years. However, this leaves about 450,000 premature births every year. Preterm-related death accounts for about 35% of all infant deaths in the United States. Some risk factors for prematurity include low income and women without health insurance, smoking, gestational diabetes and obesity. Control over those factors would very likely decrease the premature birth rate even more.
Late Pre-term Births and Induction
Given the statistics, it is surprising that some doctors recommend pre-term birth to their patients. Complications associated with prematurity can result from even late pre-term births, just before 38 weeks. Induction and cesarean section are more frequently performed in this time period, despite some studies which show that even a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in some cases may be less risky than a pre-term birth. There is a certain level of “convenience” associated with scheduled pre-term delivery. That convenience is not worth the increased risks to the baby’s health and life.
There are any number of reasons why a baby could have been born premature. Sometimes it is unavoidable, and sometimes the doctors or nurses should have done more to recognize signs of early labor and to prevent it. If you have questions, contact our medical malpractice attorneys at (440) 252-4399 or online for a free consultation.
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