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Babies Born Before 37 Weeks Not as Healthy

Respiratory Distress, Jaundice, Low Blood Sugar More Common
WebMD Health News

Aug. 2, 2004 -- Babies born one or two weeks early are generally believed to be as healthy as full-term infants, but new research shows this is often not the case.

When compared with newborns delivered at 37 weeks and beyond, delivery at 35 or 36 weeks was linked to more serious medical problems and higher hospital costs. This is one of the first studies to examine health issues associated with near-term birth.

Specifically, the near-term newborns were far more likely than full-term infants to develop early respiratory problems, jaundice, and low blood sugar and have difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature. Researchers from Boston's MassGeneral Hospital for Children say their findings suggest that even though these babies may look as healthy as full-term infants, they are more likely to have certain medical problems.

"There is a conventional wisdom that babies born close to term are clinically the same as full-term newborns, and up until now there has been little in the literature to support or counter this idea," lead researcher Marvin L. Wang, MD, tells WebMD.

Too Posh to Push

Wang says the findings have implications for women who choose to have their babies delivered before their due dates by elective C-section for reasons of convenience or because they perceive surgical delivery as less damaging to their bodies.

Early, planned C-section is reported to be a growing trend among Hollywood celebrities -- and this trend has even spread to other areas of the country. Known as "too posh to push," the term is based on news reports claiming that ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham had her babies this way.

"There can be valid medical reasons for delivering early, but our study calls into question the presumption that elective delivery at 35 or 36 weeks poses no risk to the infant," Wang says.

In his role as co-director of the newborn nurseries at Massachusetts General, Wang says he routinely saw more post-delivery health problems among near-term infants than among those born at 37 weeks or more, but he was surprised to find that few researchers had studied this newborn population.

Wang and colleagues examined the records of infants born at the hospital over a three-year period and randomly selected 95 full-term infants, born at 37 weeks or more, and 90 near-term infants, born at 35 or 36 weeks..

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