Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Puzzle of Preterm Births

The more time in the womb, the better for babies.

For every week a baby stays in utero between 32 and 39 weeks there's less risk of all sorts of problems including jaundice, seizures, and brain hemorrhages. And that's just the start of it. Compared to full term births (So-called "late pre-terms" (born between 32 and 36 weeks) have lower reader and math scores in first grade, more behavioral problems and possibly even lower IQs.

That's the take-away from a July study in Pediatrics.

But then again there are all kinds of reasons babies exit the womb early, some medical, some scheduled, some unscheduled.

And yes, two increasingly common, schedule c-sections (a third of all births) and induced labors (a fifth) , have generated some heat lately. The preggers procedures have risen in the last couple decades for sure. And sometimes they're done for medical reasons. Sometimes not.

The recent Pediatrics study looked at 15,000 preterm births - but I'm not sure if the researchers teased apart some of these complicated relationships between timing of birth and health outcomes.

Do otherwise healthy babies who are delivered early fare better than those who have health issues?

Do babies delivered by scheduled c-section fare worse than those c-section babies delivered early due to medical problems? Do healthy induced babies fare differently than healthy c-sections.

There are preterm births and then there are preterm births.

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