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New initiative targets preterm births/elective deliveries
February 8th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

New initiative targets preterm births/elective deliveries

Federal health officials are getting serious about reducing the rising number of preterm births and early elective deliveries by promising more than $40 million in grants to help reduce those trends. 

The Department of Health and Human Services launched the Strong Start initiative  on Wednesday, which will provide funding to health care providers and other organizations that offer prenatal care to women covered by Medicaid. It will also kick off a national campaign to educate hospitals, doctors and mothers that early elective deliveries- where babies are born before 39 weeks of gestation - can lead to a number of health related problems for both the mother and child.

"Preterm births are a growing public health problem that has significant consequences for families well into a child's life," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "The Strong Start initiative will help give expectant mothers the care they need for a healthy delivery and a healthy baby."

"As a nurse, I know the importance of prenatal care and the risks associated with early deliveries," said CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, whose agency will be distributing these grants. HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is teaming up with groups like the March of Dimes and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to address what they say is a major problem.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, during the last 20 years, premature births have risen 36%.  Each year, more than a half a million premature infants are born and these children often need extra medical attention and eventually require services like special education. ACOG says elective deliveries, those done before 39 weeks for non-medical reasons, increase the risk of complications for mother and child significantly.

"One of the most certain ways of helping babies get a good start in life... delivering no baby earlier than 39 weeks, unless medical or obstetric complications require otherwise to keep mother and child safe," said Dr. Hal C. Lawrence, Executive Vice President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Our joint initiative will help bring this important information to women and physicians across the nation, and has enormous potential to make a real and lasting change in how we care for expectant moms, and more importantly how expectant moms expect us to care for them."

March of Dimes President Jennifer Howse calls the initiative the single most important step towards preventing prematurity to date. "Working together to eliminate medically unnecessary early deliveries will reduce the emotion and financial burden of prematurity for thousands of families."

That financial burden, according to CMS, can cost the agency an estimated $20,000 in medical costs for a preemie's first year of life compared to $2,100 for a full-term baby.  It estimates the savings to Medicaid will be more than $75 million a year.


soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Marlee

    Why on earth would anyone voluntarily deliver preterm? Note to teaching hospitals: When a mom hollers the baby's coming it may be wise to listen!!

    February 8, 2012 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. JLB

    Reminds me of the pamphlet the hospital sent me when I was pregnant explaining how babies born before I think it was 38 weeks had smaller brains, etc and how you should not go into labor before then. I was thinking how crazy it was to be freaking women out about preterm labor when they can do nothing about it! If doctors really are inducing too early target the doctors; don't freak women out about things they can do nothing about.

    That being said, both my babies were born before 38 weeks after my water broke unexpectely in each case. They so far have been healty and needed no extra care due to the "early" delivery. Setting a 39 week date is a bit nuts considering that 40 weeks gestation is just an estimate and varies by person and ethnicity (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/33/1/107.full). My family averages 36-38 gestations with 8-9lb babies, but another family may average longer gestations. Trying to push everyone into one box isn't going to be the best health care for some of them.

    February 8, 2012 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sacchrainkiss

      Of course it is understood that some women will go into labor early and that nothing can be done to stop it. However, there are plenty of women who elect to be induced, or have an elective C-Section early because they don't want the "inconvenience" of spontaneously going into labor. I have known ladies who wanted an elective C-Section because they didn't want to stretch or tear, they wanted to give birth on a certain day or they were "scared of the pain." There are reasons to have a C-Section or be induced, but they should be valid medical reasons not just "I want to have my baby on a certain date."

      February 9, 2012 at 10:35 | Report abuse |
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    Currently, the cost of health care is rising at a much higher rate than inflation. Even if we were to implement your beloved single payer, at a certain point we can not afford to pay for every new treatment and technology that comes along if we want to have any semblance of an economy. If you dont have insurance you should check out "Penny Medical" for information on how to get one.

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    There are many reasons why pregnant women decide to have their baby early, but I feel they are thinking about themselves and not their baby. I have been an OB nurse for 27 years and I have seen and heard it all especially the excuse that my friend had a baby born early and it is just find. But the mother is not thinking of the long term consequences that this baby has to endure. To be a mother means you have to put your baby first not yourself.

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