"They have higher morbidity rates," she said. "They are more likely to be delivered with respiratory problems. They have a higher death rate. They are more likely to have long-term neurological developmental problems, compared with infants delivered later."
Dr. Salih Yasin, the associate chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "we are paying the price for our advances in medicine."
The ability to have good outcomes for increasing numbers of preterm infants has trickled down to make late preterm delivery more common, he said. The trend has been going on for a long time, he said.
"What we ended up having is feeling more comfortable with babies at a lower-than-term delivery," Yasin said. Facing a potential problem, he said, a doctor is inclined to deliver the baby rather than try to manage the problem in utero until the baby reaches full term.
But no infant should be delivered preterm unless there is a medical reason, Yasin said.
"Delivering a baby preemie is not the best practice for the mother or the baby," he said. "Just like picking a fruit before it's ripe: Even if it's ripe on the outside, it tastes not the same."
The U.S. National Institute on Child Health and Human Development has more on preterm labor and birth.
SOURCES: Joyce A. Martin, M.P.H., epidemiologist, U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; Salih Yasin, M.D., associate chairman, obstetrics and gynecology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami; Nov. 18, 2009, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Born A Bit Too Early: Recent Trends in Late Preter
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