By Christina Elston
Babies born to mothers who opt for Cesarean deliveries are nearly four times more likely to be admitted to advanced-care nurseries than those born vaginally, according to a recent study.
The simple reason is that babies born vaginally are more ready to breathe than those delivered by C-section, says Nicholas Fogelson, M.D., the study's co-author and a former resident at the Medical University of Southern Carolina, where the study was conducted. "There's an effect of being squeezed by the uterus, and then squeezed through the vaginal canal, that prepares the lungs for breathing," Fogelson explains, noting that the process helps remove fluid from the lungs.
The study, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, included 3,134 mothers who had never had C-sections and had intended to deliver vaginally, and 117 mothers who had previous C-sections and opted to repeat the procedure. The effect at birth was short-term, and did not likely impact the long-term health of the babies, says Fogelson, currently an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Hawaii.
A C-section can be either a medical necessity - due to complications during labor - or a choice. Women choose to have C-sections for a host of reasons, including having had one with a previous birth. But a VBAC (vaginal birth after a Cesarean) carries a slight risk of uterine rupture and serious consequences for mother and baby. Acknowledging this, Fogelson notes that while his study shows that babies are initially healthier when born vaginally, women should discuss all factors related to their specific needs with their OB-GYN.
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Christina Elston is a writer and editor who specializes in family health issues.