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The risks to babies’ health posed by planned early delivery for non-medical reasons

Cristina Borra, Universidad de Sevilla; Libertad González, Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Almudena Sevilla, University College London
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Planned early delivery for non-medical reasons has negative consequences for babies’ health. They have a lower birth weight and are hospitalised more frequently during their first months of life.
Key points
  • 1
       In recent years the number of childbirths brought forward for non-medical reasons has increased in many countries. In Spain, the rate of induced deliveries was 19.4% in 2010, nearly double that recommended by the World Health Organisation, which sets it at 10%.
  • 2
       Children delivered preterm due to the cancellation of the “baby cheque” weighed less at birth (by between 130 and 300 grams) and had 20% more hospitalisations, especially due to respiratory problems.
  • 3
       Some 2,000 families brought their baby’s delivery forward to meet the qualifying deadline for a subsidy of €2,500 (the famous “baby cheque”). This has enabled research into the impact this practice had on the babies’ health.
Babies born close to the turn of the year
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At the turn of the year 2010-2011, coinciding with the qualifying deadline for the “baby cheque”, a subsidy worth €2,5000 per child, many more births took place at the end of December than at the beginning of January. Specifically it is estimated that some 2,000 deliveries were brought forward for non-medical reasons, representing approximately 6% of all the births in January. Families who brought delivery forward to the largest extent were characterised by a university education, women with Spanish nationality, and home provinces with a stronger presence of the private hospitals network.

The risks posed to babies’ health

Babies that were delivered preterm due to the cancellation of the baby cheque weighed less at birth (by between 130 and 300 grams) and suffered a considerable increase in hospitalisation rates during their first two months of life (approximately 20% more), fundamentally due to respiratory conditions. However, long-term effects on the health of these children were not observed.

Policy implications

Since individuals and families respond to economic incentives, it would have been more appropriate for the cancellation of the baby cheque to have been less abrupt, instead taking the form of a progressive reduction in the subsidy over the course of several months. Moreover, families and medical practitioners must be made aware that planned early delivery for non-medical reasons is not a neutral decision from a health perspective.

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