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Researchers are reporting that premature single births are on the rise in the United States, mostly among infants delivered by Caesarean section (C-section). They say part of the increase might be due to C-sections that are not medically necessary. This trend is frightening since premature babies are at risk for many problems such as breathing and feeding disorders, delayed brain development, and possibly death. A study of single births from 1996 to 2004 showed an increase of one percentage point from 9.7 percent to 10.7 percent in premature deliveries. Ninety-two percent were delivered by C-section, with most of the babies being born “late preterm”, meaning they were born after thirty-four to thirty-seven weeks of pregnancy as opposed to the typical thirty-eight to forty-two. The rate of C-sections has also risen in recent years from 20.7 percent in 1996 to 30.3 percent in 2005. The study was based on a review of previous studies and birth records conducted by the March of Dimes Foundation, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Late preterm babies are the fastest growing subgroup of preterm births and make up about seventy percent of all premature births in the United States. Even though they are close to full-term, they are still at an increased risk for serious problems because they were born early. Obstetrics have changed drastically over the last few years with doctors inducing labor and performing C-sections when such practices are not needed. It is believed they are doing so to prevent litigation in case something goes wrong during vaginal delivery, while also allowing the obstetricians to plan exactly when a birth will take place, saving them time and allowing them to have an efficient schedule. Obstetricians are becoming a bit complacent about delivering babies early because pediatricians and neonatologists have become so proficient at taking care of premature babies. They may let their guard down at around thirty-six weeks because they believe the baby will be fine if it has to be delivered.

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