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A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks, while an early-term pregnancy is 37 weeks to 38 weeks and six days. In about 10 percent to 15 percent of all deliveries in the United States performed before 39 weeks, there is no good medical reason for the early delivery, according to the researchers.
Illness and death rates "have increased in mothers and their babies that are born in the early-term period compared to babies born at 39 weeks or later. There is a need to improve awareness about the risks associated with this," Dr. Jani Jensen, a Mayo Clinic obstetrician and lead author of a review article on the topic, said in a Mayo news release.
For newborns, the increased risks of elective early delivery include breathing problems, feeding difficulties and conditions such as cerebral palsy, according to the news release. These complications can boost infants' chances of admission to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Elective early delivery requires a pregnant woman to be induced, which involves the use of medications or procedures to trigger labor. This can lead to a prolonged labor in which infants need to be delivered with instruments such as a forceps or a vacuum, which may cause infection or bleeding complications, the researchers said.
There is also an increased risk of requiring a cesarean delivery, and mothers could face more long-term surgical complications, according to the article recently published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Public awareness campaigns and health care providers can help raise awareness about the potential complications associated with elective early delivery, Jensen said.
Some hospitals prohibit doctors from doing elective early deliveries, and some insurers refuse to pay for early deliveries performed without good medical reasons, the news release noted.
-- Robert Preidt
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