A group of North Carolina hospitals thinks patience is a virtue when it comes to giving birth.
Today, the Perinatal Quality Collaborative of North Carolina is wrapping up its "39 Weeks Project," a yearlong effort to decrease the number of babies delivered before 39 weeks of gestation unless it is medically necessary.
Officials say the effort has changed the way participant hospitals deliver babies - the number of optional deliveries between 36 weeks and 38 weeks of pregnancy has decreased 44 percent since September 2009.
"The goal of PQCNC is to make North Carolina the best state to be born in," said Dr. Martin McCaffery of UNC Hospitals. He is the group's director.
"Early babies are more likely to be readmitted," McCaffery said. "There's a heavy physical cost to families and a fiscal one, too."
The collaborative began in 2007 with the goal of improving pregnancy health for babies and mothers.
Its latest project challenged North Carolina's 88 hospitals that offer pregnancy care to investigate how many births they performed early for nonmedical reasons. Forty facilities answered the call, assigning teams of at least one doctor, one nurse and one hospital administrator to comb through delivery records between October 2009 and June 2010.
The results found a number of early deliveries scheduled for nonmedical reasons. Some families scheduled early births so that out-of-state relatives could attend, while others had concerns about missing work. Some doctors delivered babies early as a matter of convenience for expectant mothers who were ready to deliver.
Each year, North Carolina has 17,368 births before 39 weeks, PQCNC officials said. Infants born before 39 weeks can face possible infection, respiratory and brain issues, and even death, said Dr. Nancy Chescheir, PQCNC's maternity project director.
The more time unborn babies can develop naturally, Chescheir said, the more likely they'll grow up healthy.
"A lot of women didn't understand waiting 39 weeks was important to not just their baby's safety but their own," she said.
Anna Bess Brown, state program director of March of Dimes North Carolina, which partnered with PQCNC, said, "Babies are not meant to be born on a schedule. Women don't know that down the road they may have delivery complications if they have a C-section."
McCaffery, PQCNC's director, said 16 hospitals will continue the "39 Weeks" drive for an additional year.
"It was a learning experience for a lot of the hospitals to sit down and look at this data," McCaffery said. "Mothers will be healthier, and babies will be healthier."
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