You can't be just a little bit pregnant, but you can have a baby who's born just a little bit too early. Too often, however, women who decide to induce labor a week or two before they reach full term don’t realize that rushing the delivery date by even a few weeks may hurt their newborns and, possibly, their pocketbooks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data recently showing that in 2009 the preterm birth rate declined, for the third year in a row, to 12.18 percent of all births. Still, preterm birth is one of the reasons the infant mortality rate in the United States exceeds other developed countries.
But the preterm birth rate—defined as babies born before 37 weeks gestation—doesn't tell the whole story. Babies born even a little shy of the 39-week mark may still suffer health trouble, including breathing and feeding problems, says Dr. Scott Berns, a pediatrician who is a senior vice president at the March of Dimes.
In addition to the health toll, premature births in 2005 cost the country at least $26 billion, or more than $51,600 per infant born early, according to the March of Dimes. Families often bear much of the burden. Some who think they have insurance coverage can be surprised to learn that even when choosing a hospital that is in their insurance network, some costs for neonatal intensive care units will not be covered.
"Over 90 percent of women think it's safe to deliver before 39 weeks," he says. "Even though technically 'preterm' is considered under 37 weeks, babies aren’t fully developed until 39 weeks."
So pregnant women should give careful consideration to the effects of an elective induction before full term and try to avoid it, says Berns. “The key is becoming an active partner and participant in your care.”