It's a sad reality that not all pregnancies end at nine months with a healthy bundle of joy. For parents of babies born with birth complications, the normally celebratory event is often mitigated by worries and fears over the medical uncertainties that lie ahead for their newborns.

Given that, the medical community has the obligation to do all they can to prevent birth complications for their obstetric patients.

Early intervention can thwart preterm labor

A few years ago at their annual gathering, a physician from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) addressed his colleagues. He spoke of the then-new medical developments that obstetricians could use in treating patients who were predisposed to preterm births.

According to Roberto J. Romero, MD, a professor at Detroit's Wayne State University and an affiliate of the National Institutes of Health's Perinatal Research Branch, "Preterm birth is one of the most challenging problems." He explained that here in the United States, the rate of women having preterm births has held steady at 12 percent across the board for the past 20 years. However, in areas where the population is medically underserved, those rates jump to 20 percent.

One of the birth complications from preterm labor is cerebral palsy -- a life-long aggregate of disabling conditions of varying severity. While there is no way yet for obstetricians to predict every single instance of preterm births in their patients, they do have two important diagnostic tools at their disposal.

2 treatable conditions linked to preterm labor

Pregnant women who present with either of the following conditions have as much as a 50 percent enhanced risk of giving birth prior to their 33rd week of pregnancy -- a deficiency in the hormone progesterone and having a short cervix.

Fortunately, when properly diagnosed early enough in the pregnancy, both conditions are usually treatable.

The discovery arose from the results of Medscape Medical News' 2011 research study, PREGNANT. The trial involved 456 pregnant patients and was controlled by placebos and randomized. Researchers discovered that when obstetricians prescribed a vaginal progesterone cream in their patients with sonographic evidence of a short cervix, their rate of preterm births -- along with the babies' potential cerebral palsy diagnoses -- dropped by nearly half, or 45 percent.

In addition, the cream is also linked to reduced likelihood of newborns experiencing low birth weights, respiratory distress syndrome and other lethal birth complications.

Obstetricians must properly screen patients

It is highly unlikely that most (if any) women who are experiencing first pregnancies will have any clue that they have a foreshortened cervix. Thus, it is up to their obstetricians to properly screen each patient using a sonograph. The non-invasive prenatal test is simple and relatively inexpensive when contrasted with the costs associated with cerebral palsy diagnoses.

In fact, in conjunction with the research findings, the scientists also reported the results of a corresponding pharmacoeconomic analysis. They learned that simply by obstetricians measuring cervical length via ultrasound, they could potentially decrease the medical bills for preterm births by as much as $12 million. This was based on screenings priced at less than $185.

Failing to properly screen can indicate malpractice

Because of the multitude of factors that can contribute to preterm births, it is not realistic to expect that an obstetrician is able to anticipate and screen for each one. But because of the lifetime of medical and rehabilitation costs associated with cerebral palsy diagnoses, parents have a duty to explore all of their options when a baby is born with preterm labor birth complications. When appropriate, this could include filing a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice.


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