Gainesville, FL – The March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health, has recognized North Florida Regional Medical Center (NFRMC) for being among the hospitals in Florida who meet the goal of avoiding elective deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy in more than 95 percent of annual births. Doing so, the March of Dimes says, gives babies a healthy start in life.

“It is a long-standing practice at North Florida Regional to avoid scheduling inductions or caesarean deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy, except when medically necessary,” said Julie Samples, ARNP and Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at NFRMC. “The last weeks of pregnancy are very important to a baby’s development. Physicians and staff who are a part of our program have been committed for a very long time to giving babies the best chance to start life with good health.”

NFRMC is a partner in the March of Dimes pledge to help new mothers understand the importance of carrying their babies to full term. The hospital is demonstrating their partnership with the March of Dimes by participating in the 39 Weeks Banner program. The program recognizes hospitals committed to keeping the number of elective deliveries before 39 weeks under 5 percent annually.

The hospital began working to lower rate of early elective deliveries in 2011 and has had great success. For the period including the second quarter of 2013 through the first quarter of 2014, 99 percent of all healthy pregnancies were delivered full term.

The 39 Weeks Banner program highlights Strong Start, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Through the Strong Start campaign, the March of Dimes is sending the message that Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait and urging women to wait for labor to begin on its own if their pregnancy is healthy, rather than scheduling delivery before 39 completed weeks of pregnancy.

Worldwide, 15 million babies are born too soon each year and more than one million of those infants die as a result. Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifelong health challenges, such as breathing problems, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and others. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. Recent research by the March of Dimes, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration found that --although the overall threat is small — the risk of death more than doubles for infants born at 37 weeks of pregnancy when compared to babies born at 40 weeks, for all races and ethnicities.

“The last weeks of pregnancy are important. Babies aren’t just putting on weight. They are undergoing important development of the brain, lungs and other vital organs,” said Michael Cotter, MD, Chief of OBGYN at NFRMC. “This work we are doing to discourage early elective deliveries of babies is critical. We are very proud of our success, and we will continue our efforts because we believe in the difference it makes for the babies and the health of our entire community.”