Hospital length of stay may not affect a newborn’s health

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Study challenges popular assumption that early hospital discharge after birth is harmful to newborns

Researcher Jeanne M. Madden and colleagues used seven-and-a-half years of data on 20,366 mother-infant pairs with normal vaginal deliveries within a large Massachusetts health maintenance organization to determine the effects of reductions by the HMO in the postpartum length of stay and a subsequent state law establishing a minimum stay. The investigators measured the effects on lengths of hospital stay, follow-up care for newborns, use of outpatient care and hospital-based services during the first 10 days of life, and expenditures for hospital and home-based maternity services. “Several studies have suggested that short stays are associated with an increased risk of death or readmission of the infant, whereas others have found no effect,” Madden said. “In the setting we studied, we found neither policy appeared to affect the health outcomes of newborns. But after coverage for longer stays was guaranteed by law, newborns were less likely to be examined as recommended on day 3 or 4.” Funding for this study was provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.