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Skipping Last Weeks Of Pregnancy Can Be Dangerous

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It's a big unknown of pregnancy: When exactly will the baby be born?

Science has tried to pinpoint it, but nature is unpredictable. However, over the last 10 years, more expectant moms have tried to beat nature by choosing their child's birthday.

It's a popular trend, but one that's proving to have dangerous consequences.

Inside neonatal intensive care units across North Texas, tiny new lives fight to survive. Most of them are preemies – babies born prematurely – and many of them were born early on purpose.

"More babies die from prematurity than any other cause," said Marilyn Herrick with the Dallas March of Dimes.

She says more women are actually choosing to have their babies early by scheduling an induction or c-section before 39 weeks.

"They're just really uncomfortable during the last couple weeks of pregnancy," she said.  "They really don't think it matters."

But, it does.

The final weeks of pregnancy are critical for brain and lung development, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

"At 37 weeks, the baby's brain is only 80 percent of what it will be at 40 weeks, and at 35 weeks, it's only two-thirds of what it will be," said Iris Torvik, Vice President of Women and Children Services for Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.

Torvik says the trend of elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy has skyrocketed.

"Most women think that 36 weeks of pregnancy is full term," she said. "They don't realize it's 39-40 weeks."

The result is a nearly 20 percent increase in NICU admission: A costly decision that Torvik says is usually made out of convenience.

Doctors are allowing it by bowing to pressure to please the parents-to-be.

"They are getting a lot of pressure from women and from couples who want the convenience," Torvik said.

And, it's not just an issue for babies, either. Moms are at risk for complications, too. That's something Kelly Bennett of Hurst learned the hard way.

"I was very concerned about planning my time off," Bennett said.  "I jumped at the chance when they said do you want to be induced a week early. I thought, "That's perfect!"

But, it wasn't perfect. Hours into her labor, the baby's heartbeat slowed to a dangerous rhythm. Bennett was placed on oxygen, and was minutes away from an emergency c-section.

Doctors were able to save them both, and her daughter was born healthy.

But, that moment scared Bennett, and she let nature take its course with her other pregnancies. It's stories like Bennett's that prompted the March of Dimes to begin asking hospitals to take a stand against scheduling early births.

"You have to open your eyes to the fact that waiting a little bit longer is probably the best thing," said Dr. Kamilia Smith from Baylor Medical Center.

Smith says in many cases, doctors approve early inductions based on the size of the baby and tests for lung development, but even those aren't exact.

"There's a lot of changes that occur in those last couple weeks of pregnancy," she said.

Baylor is now one of five hospitals in Texas taking part in the initiative to eliminate scheduled births before 39 weeks for non-medical reasons, and the March of Dimes says it's already having an impact.

"There are less admission in the NICU, there are less problems for the moms," said Marilyn Herrick.

The hope now is that more hospitals will get on board.

"You don't want to bring home a patient, you want to bring home a newborn baby," Herrick said.

Most hospitals around North Texas have policies about elective inductions, but many cases hospitals say told it's up to the individual doctor.

Just last month, legislation on this issue became law. Gov. Perry signed a bill restricting Medicaid from covering elective deliveries before 39 weeks.

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