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Babies Born Even a Few Weeks Early Face Higher Risk

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"It's obvious from this latest data that preterm birth is still a problem," Robert C. Cefalo, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. As a result of these findings, he says, women contemplating pregnancy or at risk for preterm birth should work with their clinicians to "avoid preterm labor and delivery" whenever possible. Cefalo is clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill in North Carolina. He is also a pioneer in maternal-fetal medicine, the subspecialty dealing with pregnancy complications.

But is this a cause for alarm about any baby born early? Charles R. Rosenfeld, MD, director of neonatal-perinatal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, helps put the numbers in perspective.

"Our institution has the largest delivery rate in North America, with close to 16,000 babies a year," he tells WebMD. "Of that group, about 100 babies a year are less than 30 weeks gestation." About 500 to 600 of those babies are born between 32 and 36 weeks, he says, and "at 36 weeks gestation, we don't even put them in our neonatal care unit -- their survival rate is 95%." Rosenfeld is also professor of pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology.

However, Mark A. Klebanoff, MD, MPH, director of the division of epidemiology statistics and prevention research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Maryland, tells WebMD: "These babies are not the same as full-term babies, and they still account for more than their share of infant mortality." Still, when it comes to the question of inducing labor, he says, "If a woman is having a complication, it becomes a question of weighing the risks of continuing the pregnancy vs. having the baby now."

Rosenfeld agrees, and adds, "This report is a reminder that we need to watch out for the big preemies as well as the little preemies."

 

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