Friday, August 22, 2008
C-sections increasing infant mortality
In the June entry, we examined how c-sections could be increasing maternal mortality in the United States. Now let’s examine the other half of the equation – the baby. As of 2006 our infant mortality rates fall all the way to the second worst in the modern world, according to reports published in an article by CNN (www.cnn.co m/2006/HEALTH/parenting/05/08/mothers.index./). Most of the European nations rank better, and several studies and reports have noted that the United States offers inferior health care regardless seemingly better supply of medical resources. It is also noted that those same countries regularly employ midwives as care providers while our society seems to shun these women – treating them as nothing more than relics. However, midwives are excellent assets to good prenatal care and have lower rates of c-sections.
Studies have shown that c-section babies have poorer outcomes than their vaginally born peers. One such study published in Birth looked at a group of babies born in uncomplicated vaginal births and a group of babies born by planned, uncomplicated c-section births (www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/118622106/HTMLSTART). When the two groups were compared, it was found that babies born via c-section had higher mortality rates. Another such study published in BMJ also concluded that infants in the occipital anterior position faired better during vaginal delivery than a c-section – either planned or not (www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSSAT17412420071031). Why would this be? As previously discussed, there are risks involved with a c-section, such as a potential for injury to the baby during the incision process. Also, babies born via c-section do not have the benefit of passing through the birth canal where some of the fluid in their lungs is pushed out, leading to higher rates of respiratory distress. Of course, there are many more risks involved, but these are just two examples of what could go wrong during a c-section.
Another factor in this epidemic would be the number of elective c-sections being performed prior to 40 weeks. Because each baby is different, we run the risk of extracting a baby from=2 0the womb before s/he is fully developed and ready to be born. The March of Dimes discusses the risks associated with being born prematurely as difficulties in breathing, feeding, temperature regulation, and jaundice (www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/240_19673.asp). With the increase of non-medically needed, elective c-sections comes the increase of babies being born prematurely. Prematurity increases mortality. The CDC lists prematurity as being the second leading cause of death in infants (www.cdc.gov/MMWR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5642a8.htm). A study published in Pediatrics also found that preterm births account for a little over one third of infant deaths. This is alarming in a country where we seem to have so many neonatal intensive care units.
So what should we do to decrease the infant mortality rate? First of all, we should look to our peers in Europe and Japan to see what type of care they provide. As previously stated, those countries tend to treat midwives more like competent care providers and trust the thousands of years of collective experience midwives have accumulated throughout the history of humankind. Secondly, we should seek to increase educational outlets for women aspiring to become midwives and teach our doctors, doctoral students, patients, and others involved in patient care about the risks involved with ro utine medical interventions. We want healthy families – that means both healthy mothers AND healthy babies!