University of Utah OB/GYN Research Chair Weighs in on Utah's "D" Grade

Excerpts from the Salt Lake Tribune article “Premature births: Utah earns a ‘D’ from March of Dimes study”:


One cause is women or doctors scheduling deliveries a couple of weeks before the due date without a medical reason. In response, there is a push by Utah doctors to refuse to electively induce labor or perform Cesarean sections unless a woman is one week or less away from her due date.


Michael Varner, who helps oversee obstetrics research at the University of Utah, has heard the pleas: “They’re 38 1/2 weeks [along] and they’re tired of being pregnant. Their doctor is going out of town. It’s a week before Christmas.”


But, he adds, “doctors should just say, ‘No.’ Hospitals should just say, ‘No.’ A spontaneous onset of labor and vaginal delivery is overall the safest.”


While some of the rise in Utah’s rates of babies born between 34 and 37 weeks can be attributed to delivering ill babies that might not have survived until term, Varner states that about HALF of all hospital births in Utah are scheduled.


Babies born even a couple of weeks early are at risk for respiratory and feeding problems, jaundice, long-term mental disabilities and sudden death, Varner said. A baby’s brain at 35 weeks weighs two-thirds of what it will weigh at a full term of 40 weeks, according to the March of Dimes.



Utah’s premature birth rate has jumped 24 percent since 1995. Varner said the main reason is the number of babies delivered between 34 and 37 weeks, due to a rise in the number of twin and triplet births and improvements in care that allow doctors to deliver ill babies earlier.

Another reason is the “disturbing” trend of elective inductions or C-sections before 38 weeks, he said. It’s hard to know how often that happens. Counting induced vaginal deliveries and C-sections, about half of Utah’s 52,000 births are scheduled, though some of those are for medical reasons.