Updated February 20 at 11:20am

Five Questions With: Dr. Karen Babos

Senior national medical director of women’s health at UnitedHealthcare talks about the educational campaign 39 Weeks.

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Five Questions With: Dr. Karen Babos


The cost of early elective deliveries of babies before 39 weeks create about $1 billion in additional health care costs. Even worse, studies show the health of babies delivered at 37 weeks or earlier result in significant health problems.

As a result, the March of Dimes has teamed up with UnitedHealthCare of New England and Women & Infants Hospital to launch an educational campaign, 39 Weeks, to encourage women to carry their babies to 39 weeks.

Providence Business News asked Dr. Karen Babos, senior national medical director, women’s health, at UnitedHealthcare, to explain the importance of the educational program.

PBN: The 39 Weeks campaign, a partnership between UnitedHealthcare and the March of Dimes, is an educational campaign to have women carry their babies for 39 weeks. The campaign seems targeted as much at doctors as it is for pregnant women. Why is that?

BABOS: Our consumer research shows that 92 percent of women who were pregnant for the first time did not realize that full term is more than 39 weeks. Our research also shows that they depend on their physicians for medical information. It’s important to emphasize this critical message for all parties.

PBN: Elective deliveries before 39 weeks for non-medical reasons can lead to significant newborn health complications – and an increase in medical costs, according to the literature. What do you think has led to the higher demand for such elective deliveries?

BABOS: Most women don't know that it takes at least 39 weeks to full infant maturity. Being pregnant is a long, hard process and it’s only natural that a mother would like to deliver as soon as possible. However, with this information, we’re certain that mothers will gladly wait for full term. The whole issue is about learning more about infant growth.

PBN: Is there a way to quantify what the increase in medical costs are as a result of the early elective delivery. Are there a lifetime of consequences?

BABOS: According to one report in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology there is potential for an estimated $1 billion in annual savings from solving this problem.

A nationwide study published in the January 2009 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine found that from 1999 to 2002, more than 35 percent of elective C-section deliveries were performed before 39 weeks’ gestation.

This research revealed that babies born at 37 weeks’ gestation were twice as likely to have health problems, usually respiratory in nature, than babies born at 39 weeks or later. Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions were 5.9 percent at 39 weeks’ gestation, and rose to 8.1 percent at 38 weeks and 12.8 percent at 37 weeks.

PBN: How closely is UnitedHealthcare working with the March of Dimes Rhode Island chapter on this campaign? How closely is it aligned with Women & Infants Hospital, where most of Rhode Island babies are born?

BABOS: This is a very close collaboration with the March of Dimes and Women & Infants Hospital. It is an exciting effort because we know that together we can really make a difference and change the lives of babies, their families and the community.

PBN: What opportunities are there to work in partnership with the business community on the 39 weeks campaign?

BABOS: There are opportunities for media organizations, pediatrician offices, toy stores, children's clothing stores, super markets, practically anywhere moms and parents convene to get involved in the campaign. They can connect with the March of Dimes to share informational brochures and possibly host events or other programs that will build awareness about this important issue. People and companies can also make donations to the March of Dimes to help with their ongoing efforts to promote infant health.


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