Island Hospital has a message for expectant mothers: Babies are healthier if you let them come out when they’re ready.
Tami Allen, director of emergency and obstetrical services, said 39 weeks is the minimum length of pregnancy before a physician should induce labor or perform a Caesarean section unless there’s a documented medical reason.
“Delivering a baby prior to 39 weeks — even if it’s one day prior — puts the baby at risk,” she said.
The push at Island Hospital is part of one across the state and nation to reduce the rate of early induced births — a rate that was higher than 17 percent in Washington in 2008.
The risks to babies include breathing and feeding problems and increased chances of admission to neonatal intensive care units.
Less than a year ago, Island Hospital, which sees close to 400 births each year, was inducing labor at a rate nearly eight times the state average. Allen said hospital administration worked to drop the rate dramatically this spring and put the hospital back on track.
Dr. Robert Prins said the high rates of elective births in Anacortes are not a sign of shoddy medical practices, rather they’re a reflection of the unique population that Island Hospital serves.
Prins said one-third of births at the hospital are from families in the San Juan Islands. Without a scheduled delivery, those mothers risk going into labor on the islands. Then they need an airlift to the hospital, or they must give birth under emergency circumstances on the islands, Prins said.
Another third of the births are from Whidbey Island, where many servicemen’s wives schedule their children’s births so that fathers can see their children before they are deployed.
“Those are two things that are restraints in Anacortes that a lot of other people don’t have,” Prins said. “Those are the two major reasons we do it.”
Prins said the hospital is trying to convince expectant mothers on the islands to stay at a motel in town as they approach their due date, and the hospital is working with hoteliers to keep the rates manageable. As far as military families on Whidbey, Prins said there’s nothing the hospital can do about deployments.
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