Say It Again: Cesareans, a Cause of Prematurity

My roommate came in to tell me about a news report on ABC about cesareans leading to premature deliveries. Knowing that I work at Midwifery Today, he was sure I would be interested and reported that prematurity causes a number of problems for babies, because various functions such as immune system, lungs and brain have not had time to develop.

Then he went on to repeat the woman-blaming mantra about how cesareans are being requested--by them for convenience--something that undoubtedly occurs, but not at the level that the media would have us believe. Of course, that sent me off on a rant. Aren't obstetricians the professionals? If a person requested any other surgery that was not necessary and caused a risk to life, would the doctor just merrily go about it? Surely, the obstetricians don't go to their patients for advice on how to do their job?

But I digress. My point regarding this news report is: How is this news?

I went to the New York Times Web site to try to find the article/study that had led to this shocking conclusion, but instead I found many other articles, going back at least 30 years. That's right. On March 8, 1978, Jane Brody's well-known column was about how cesareans increase the rate of prematurity because often the baby is born too early. And intermittently, throughout the intervening years, the same news has been repeated again and again. Yet we all know that the cesarean rate continued to climb anyway, to the point that it is now 1/3 of births in the US!

All of this proves the point that I recently read in a submission to Midwifery Today: Once an obstetric procedure becomes usual practice, it is often hard to stop, even when research proves that it is ineffective or even dangerous.

I hope that obstetricians will take heed of this latest study and change their practice of doing cesareans before the babies are ready to be born. It undoubtedly will reduce health care costs--by keeping babies out of the NICU, decrease the number of cesareans--when babies come of their own volition before an operation can be scheduled, and prevent some cases of postpartum depression and failure to bond--by causing the natural release of oxytocin that labor brings.

Guest post by Cheryl K. Smith, Midwifery Today Managing Editor


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