More and more newborns are going to the neonatal intensive care unit. Between 2007 and 2012, NICU admission rates in the U.S. rose 23 percent, a new study has found.
In raw numbers, that means that NICUs in 2012 likely admitted about 58,000 more babies than they did in 2007. Intriguingly, most of the increase came from babies who were born full-term and at a normal weight, the researchers say.
“With an increase of this magnitude, over the course of just six years, it’s a signal that something’s happening here,” Wade Harrison, a research scholar at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and one of the study’s authors, told BuzzFeed News.
This NICU boom is almost certainly due to a combination of many factors. It could be because of an increase in mothers who are diabetic or addicted to opiates, for instance, or because doctors are simply getting better at identifying and treating babies with infections, feeding difficulties, and jaundice.
But Harrison and his colleagues worry that part of the increase comes from an overuse of expensive NICU facilities, which have been growing steadily over the past four decades.
“We may be admitting too many babies to NICUs who might be healthier than they previously were,” Harrison said.
And those admissions come with risks: Babies in NICUs get less bonding time with their parents, perhaps making it more difficult to learn to eat, and they will also go through potentially unnecessary medical procedures.
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