MONDAY, Aug. 2, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Infants born at 35 or 36 weeks of gestation face a higher risk of complications such as jaundice, low blood sugar and problems maintaining body temperature than babies born after 37 weeks do.
The finding, which appears in the August issue of Pediatrics, points up the fact that babies born fairly close to their due date may still experience a fair number of health problems.
"Near-term babies fared worse than full-term babies," said study author Dr. Marvin Wang, a pediatrician at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.
And, Wang added, near-term babies cost more to care for. "Near-term infants typically averaged $2,600 more than full-term babies," he said.
For this study, Wang and his colleagues compared the medical records of 90 near-term babies (born at 35 or 36 weeks) to 95 full-term babies (born after 37 weeks).
They compared hospital costs, length of hospital stay, Apgar scores, need for intraveneous treatment and diagnoses for jaundice, low blood sugar, temperature instability, infection and breathing problems.
The researchers found that near-term infants had a higher risk of having problems, including jaundice, low blood sugar, respiratory distress, difficulty maintaining body temperature and the need for intravenous feeding. Near-term babies were also more likely to have more than one problem compared to full-term babies. Eighteen near-term infants had six or more clinical diagnoses, while none of the full-term babies had that many problems.
"Near-term infants are more likely to have typical illnesses that we infrequently see in full-term babies and parents need to be prepared that there will be more lab work and treatment and more support required than for a full-term baby," said Wang.
Most of the near-term babies, he said, were able to go home at the same time as the mothers.
Wang said he didn't know if there were any long-term health consequences from these early deliveries, but he did not think so.
"These are issues that when you detect and treat them, you get over them very quickly," said Wang. He added that other studies have shown that near-term babies who are having problems breast-feeding have a higher rate of readmission to the hospital for dehydration.
Wang said one of the biggest problems with near-term infants is in knowing how to treat them. "These are babies in-between premature and not quite full-term, so you have to wonder when they have a symptom like breathing difficulty if it's because they're sick like a full-term or is it a preemie problem, such as immature lungs?"
Dr. Robin Steinhorn, head of neonatology at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said the new study "gives us numbers for what all of us who treat these babies know to be true -- babies are supposed to go full-term for a reason, and babies born even a few weeks early are more likely to have problems."
Wang noted this study bolsters the argument not to electively induce labor at 35 or 36 weeks for anything other than an urgent health need.
Steinhorn agreed. "Babies should not be delivered before 37 weeks unless it is for the health of the baby or mother," he said.
Visit the National Women's Health Information Center's pregnancy section to learn more about having a healthy pregnancy and full-term delivery.