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The March of Dimes opened a new campaign this summer to curb the large and growing number of otherwise healthy pregnancies that are deliberately ended early by induced labor or Caesarean delivery.

Research has clearly shown that a change in approach that emphasizes allowing babies to develop fully when both mother and baby are doing well could result in healthier babies and lower medical costs. The campaign is called “Healthy babies are worth the wait.”

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What prompted the campaign is what many experts view as an alarming trend in American obstetrics — the steady rise in elective deliveries of singleton babies before 39 weeks of gestation, when fetal development is complete. Gestation is calculated from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period. Studies have shown that as many as 36 percent of elective deliveries now occur before 39 weeks, and many of these early deliveries are contributing to an unacceptable number of premature births and avoidable, costly complications. Although guidelines issued 12 years ago by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists cautioned against elective delivery by induction or Caesarean before 39 weeks, an overwhelming majority of new mothers and many doctors who deliver babies believe it is just as safe for birth to occur weeks earlier.

The March of Dimes provided support totaling $1.27 million in 2009 alone to fund more than 60 CenteringPregnancy programs in 31 of its chapters nationwide. Since 2005, the March of Dimes has invested $4.13 million to fund the expansion of this model of care to more clinics and more women.

The Institute for Family Health has successfully implemented the program, helping their prenatal patients decrease c-sections from 28 percent to 21 percent, preterm births from 8.3 percent to 1.8 percent and decreased low birthweight from 8.3 percent to 2.65 percent, according to results of an IFH evaluation of its 2008-2009 CenteringPregnancy® groups. The group model of prenatal care was developed by the Centering Healthcare Institute, which provides training and support to healthcare providers to adopt this proven intervention.

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Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death in the United States, and babies who survive face serious lifelong health problems. More than 543,000 babies are born too soon each year, and the nation’s premature birth rate has increased 36 percent since the early 1980s. Each year, preterm births cost the nation more than $26 billion. Worldwide, about 13 million babies are born prematurely each year.

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