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Pregnancy: 39 Weeks Program: June 27, 2011

Studies show a baby’s brain at 35 and 36 weeks is about two-thirds the size it is at 40 weeks.

While it’s not uncommon for doctors and moms to schedule a delivery date less than 39 weeks, there’s a new program aimed at changing their minds.

“I am 26 weeks, almost 27 this week, and I’m expecting a little girl, were going to name her Scarlet Fae,” says mom-to-be Lauren Smotrila.

Lauren is eager to meet her daughter, but hopes the baby will arrive full term. More than 17% of live births in the US are born between 37 and 38 weeks. In many cases, it’s by choice.

“People have sort of pushed the envelope, both providers and patients wanting to get delivered early, wanting to get delivered at certain times,” says Dr. Mary Yankaskas, an obstetrician/gynecologist on the medical staff of ┬áLee Memorial Health System.

These elective births are taking a toll on the newborns.

“They were having feeding problems, breathing problems, increase risk of infection and even increase risk of death,” says Dr. Yankaskas.

Which is why Lee Memorial Health System is participating in the 39 weeks program. It tracks five hospitals in five states. They’re finding expectant moms weren’t aware of the risks associating with delivering under 39 weeks.

“Because we think that’s its ok at term, but to deliver electively, we were seeing an increasing number of those babies that were having significant problems,” says Dr. Yankaskas.

Part of the 39 weeks initiative includes getting delivering doctors on board. Most times they were unaware of any complications after the birth.

“As providers you may not know a patient had a transition problem or went to the NICU for a few days because after the mom goes home you may not hear about anything,” says Dr. Yankaskas.

The program is only aimed at elective births, not cases where doctors find a health risk. Months into the program, Dr. Yankaskas says there’s been at least a third to a half decrease in the number of babies going to the NICU locally.