Despite spending more on health care than any other developed nation, the United States still ranks about 27th in infant mortality.
Those numbers have improved in recent years, but there is still work to be done, according to Premier health care alliance CEO Susan DeVore. In a July 5 interview with PBS, DeVore said preterm birth is still a major problem in the U.S., and that a trend toward scheduled labor and cesarean sections may be to blame.
Women in the U.S. are electing to have C-sections planned or labor-induced prior to 40 weeks, at 39 or 37 weeks, DeVore told PBS. Some do this for convenience, with no medical reason for their choice.
"Before the birth of my most recent grandchild — who was born a few months ago — my daughter said that she and the doctor talked about scheduling her C-section so that I could be in town," DeVore told PBS. "And I said, 'No, you're not scheduling your C-section before 39 weeks. And if I'm out of town and have to fly back, I'll fly back.'"
It was once thought it didn't matter when an infant was born after the 37-week mark, DeVore explained, but more recent research has found that birth before 40 weeks can lead to complications during delivery. Preterm infants may go on to develop other health conditions as adults.
Failure to recognize when an infant is in distress, postponed C-sections, lack of timely resuscitation, and the use of inappropriate labor-inducing drugs also put American infants at risk, DeVore said. Premier health care put together checklists intended to end these harmful practices, and at the 14 hospitals where the checklists were implemented, infant injury during birth was reduced by 25 percent, she said.