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Rate of babies delivered early at U.S. hospitals drops sharply

Growing pressure from employers, government officials and patient-safety advocates pushes down the rate of early-elective deliveries to 4.6% last year, from 17% in 2010, data show.

March 02, 2014|By Chad Terhune

Dignity Health, one of the nation's largest hospital chains, adopted a "hard-stop" policy in 2012 and drove its rate of early-elective deliveries from 7% in 2011 to less than 1% in 2012. Before the policy change there were about 70 early-elective deliveries each month at 29 Dignity hospitals that offer maternity services, and now it's down to one or two cases per month.

Dr. Robert Wiebe, Dignity's chief medical officer, said obstetricians aren't generally involved in care for the newborn so many "don't always know the consequences of early-elective delivery or they underestimate the risk."

Wiebe said it had been common for doctors to move up delivery because they were going out of town for a vacation or conference. Patients often welcomed the idea after forging a strong bond with that doctor.

"They are all seemingly legitimate reasons on the surface," Wiebe said, "but if you understand the risk to the baby it's not the right thing to do."

Riverside County resident Jennifer Loza said she was offered an early delivery for her baby son, Steven, in 2002. She had suffered from migraines and morning sickness for much of her pregnancy so the idea was tempting. But she opted to wait, feeling it was better for her son.

"Moms tend to listen to doctors," Loza said. "But you have to follow your gut and trust your own instincts."

Twitter: @chadterhune

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