C-Section Too Early Risks Baby's Health

Patient Pressure Figures Big

Approximately 30 percent of all babies born in the United States are delivered by C-section. A study published in April 2005 in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that elective C-sections accounted for about 28 percent of all C-sections performed in the U.S. in 2001.

However, many experts report a growing trend toward encouraging women not to schedule an elective C-section before 39 weeks at hospitals all over the country.

"The recommendations for years have been to avoid elective delivery of any kind until after 39 weeks," said Dr. Lisa Jones, a gynecologist at the New Bedford Community Health Center in New Bedford, Mass. "So all this study really does is reinforce what we already knew."

Still, some experts say that the power of maternal insistence in scheduling an early C-section is enough to convince many doctors to go along with their patient's wishes.

"I think the practice of early [C-section delivery] will only end if hospitals ban the practice," Holzman said. "There is little reason for [obstetricians] to stop since they are often pressured by patients."

The study also outlines some of the risks women must consider when opting to deliver by C-section after 39 weeks.

According to Tita, one such risk is having an unexplained stillbirth while waiting for the 39-week-mark to deliver. This risk is very small, but Tita said that it is still best for women to follow ACOG recommendations by waiting the full 39 weeks before delivering by C-section.

Early Surgical Delivery Sometimes Appropriate

There are, however, certain instances in which an early delivery is appropriate.

"If there [are] firm medical indications of risk to the mother's or fetus's ... health [such as] worsening maternal high blood pressure [or] lack of fetal responsiveness ... then delivery is indicated," Cole explained. "However, the risks of these conditions should be weighed against the risks described by this study."

Moreover, Holzman said, "For most of these [conditions], the risks to the fetus in delaying [delivery] are well known and predictable."

Many experts ultimately hope that this study will prove to the public that the risks of early C-section delivery greatly outweigh the benefits in most cases.

"Hopefully articles like this will help educate the general public and fewer babies will be placed at risk in the future," said Dr. Patricia Chess, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

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