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Hospitals reduce number of early births
The number of babies born too soon worldwide is staggering: 15 million, according to the March of Dimes.

One million of them die as a result of early birth.

Southeast Georgia Health System has teamed up with several organizations to put a dent in that number.

Knowing that the risk of death for babies born at 37 weeks more than doubles compared to those born at 40 weeks, the health system has been working toward a goal of 39 weeks gestation prior to delivery.

"While many mothers may want to deliver their babies sooner, it's important to give babies time to grow and fully develop before birth," said registered nurse Elizabeth Gunn, vice president of Patient Care Services at the health system.

"Reasons for wanting to schedule an early delivery are sometimes understandable, but waiting until at least 39 weeks gestation is a great benefit for a healthy delivery and a healthy baby, which is much more important in the long term," said Gunn.

Lifelong health challenges, such as cerebral palsy and learning disabilities, are among the risks for babies who survive early births.

Together with the Georgia Hospital Association, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the March of Dimes, the health system has successfully reduced the number of medically unnecessary inductions and Cesarean deliveries scheduled before 39 weeks of delivery.

Dr. Tina Mitchell, chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology with the health system, says using a rapid cycle improvement process and a March of Dimes toolkit, as well as scheduling changes, has enabled the health system to reduce that number by almost 38 percent at the Brunswick hospital and by 22 percent at the maternity center in St. Marys.

"We implemented a physician checklist for induction of labor and created an informed consent for the patient. All inductions under 39 weeks require approval by the department chief or other member of the department," Mitchell said.

"These are approved only for medical indications for the mother or the fetus."

Requests for elective inductions before 39 weeks are reviewed, she said.

The health system has also been able to reduce the number of infants admitted to the special care nursery and the number transported from the level two nursery to the level three neonatal intensive care nursery.

* Reporter Sarah Lundgren writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at slun, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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