Do Labor Interventions Influence Outcomes?

Due in part to the choices of high-profile celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer, elective inductions and cesarean deliveries have become increasingly popular options for American women. As these planned procedures have gained visibility, many hospitals have been happy to routinely intervene in the birthing process. However, this "more is better" approach to labor interventions, especially when no medical reason exists that requires these procedures, may not benefit patients and may ultimately harm them by exposing mothers and infants to unnecessary risks.

A study recently published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine examines whether more intervention (induced labor and non-emergency cesarean sections) determines how newborns fare in the hospital. As part of the study, nearly 30,000 birth records were reviewed from 10 upstate New York community hospitals.

Medical and surgical interventions are often assumed to improve outcomes, but no difference was noted in outcomes for babies born in hospitals with the highest and lowest rates of intervention. The result indicates that routine reliance on the risky procedures does little to influence the outcome for infants. The study author, Dr. J. Christopher Glantz stated, "When you see the difference in rates of these interventions with no difference in outcome, it leads me to believe that we can get by with fewer of them."

A physician must balance multiple factors on a case-by-case basis before deciding whether a cesarean delivery is necessary. A cesarean delivery might be required depending on the size of the baby, its unusual position or certain risks to the mother or infant if natural labor is attempted. If a physician fails to recognize these factors and the mother or infant is injured during delivery, the physician may be held liable for medical malpractice. If a natural delivery progresses too slowly, an emergency cesarean may be required or the health of the mother or baby could be put at risk. For example, the infant could be deprived of oxygen. Effects of oxygen deprivation are severe and may include brain damage, Cerebral Palsy or death. A physician who fails to perform an emergency cesarean may also be held liable for negligence.

However, except in cases where it is medically necessary, cesarean delivery should not be used routinely due to high risks of potential complications for the mother, including: infections, increased blood loss, extended hospital stays and recovery time, reaction to medicines and possible need for additional surgery. Risks also exist for the baby, such as low birth weight if delivered too early and a higher likelihood of respiratory problems. The findings of the Glantz study confirm that interventions should likely be avoided when not medically necessary, as the procedures are risky and do not ultimately benefit infants who are not already high-risk.

Regardless of whether your cesarean section was planned or performed on an emergency basis, you may wonder whether your care providers made the correct decisions. If you or your infant sustained injuries during delivery, please contact an experienced birth injury lawyer.