“Healthy babies are worth the wait.” This is the message from the March of Dimes and a new public health campaign announced this week that aims to encourage parents to let a problem-free pregnancy run it’s course and allow labor to start spontaneously rather than via an induction or c-section.
Coinciding with the kick-off of this new campaign is the release of a new study showing increased (and potentially serious) respiratory problems in small babies born via c-section.
This most recent study looked at babies who had intrauterine growth restriction– not growing properly in utero– and required early delivery. The conventional thinking has been that c-section would be the safest option for a very small baby but the new research shows that small babies born vaginally (from an induced labor) were less likely to have respiratory problems. The babies delivered via C-section were 30 % more likely to develop a serious breathing disorder.
Dr. Diane M. Ashton, deputy medical director of the March of Dimes, said this is true for older babies, too: “This is consistent with what is seen in infants even at 37 weeks,” she said. “They, too, have better respiratory outcomes when delivered vaginally versus C-delivery.”
There are a couple things thought to contribute to respiratory distress in babies born via c-section: During pregnancy a baby is “breathing” amniotic fluid the whole time. Then, in a vaginal birth the lungs are squeezed and emptied of all that fluid so that when the baby’s body (not just head, but body) emerges, those lungs automatically expand and voila! it’s the first breath. In a vaginal birth, the baby is also exposed to a healthy bacteria found in the mother’s vagina– this bacteria has been proved helpful for colonizing the gut and helping prevent infections. These naturally occurring benefits are missing in a surgical birth.
The March of Dimes has really been getting tough with doctors about the increase, in recent years, of babies being born– via planned c-sections or inductions– before the pregnancy has run it’s course. (Full term extends all the way to 42 weeks, not just 40 weeks, which is given as the “estimated due date.”)
Studies have clearly demonstrated that a baby’s lungs and brain undergo a final and important growth period during the last weeks of pregnancy. Babies born a week or two before their due date will very likely be fine but there are problems that can come up and possibly have lasting repercussions. Hence the campaign.
I hope it’s effective in educating parents but also influencing the recommendations given by doctors. I find there can be some confusing information out there on this topic.
What have your heard about due dates, risks and letting the “baby decide” when to be born?
photo credit: davhor/flickr