Medical Malpractice

Head-First Births Safe Before 32 Weeks

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Head-First Births Safe Before 32 Weeks

On September 21, 2012, the National Institutes of Health reported that infants delivered head-first in standard deliveries before the 32nd term are just as likely to survive as infants delivered by a planned cesarean. 

Infants born before the 32nd week face an increased risk of “death, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, infections and vision and hearing problems.”  Many studies have argued that infants delivered vaginally before the 32nd week face an increased risk of injury or other health risks once passing through the birth canal, and many of the same studies have promoted cesarean deliveries in such situations. 

However, the NIH argues otherwise.  In the recent study, the NIH compared results between about 3,000 women who underwent a head-first, standard delivery and those who chose a planned cesarean delivery. 

The NIH reports, “Nearly 80 percent of the women with a fetus positioned head-first attempted a vaginal delivery, and 84 percent of them were successful.  The remainder ultimately delivered by cesarean.”  The success rate was the same for planned cesareans. 

The survival rate for breached infants under 32 weeks is significantly higher during a planned cesarean.  Uma M. Reddy, M.D., M.P.H., of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states, “The decision to deliver vaginally or by cesarean is an individual one, and must be made carefully by the woman, in close consultation with her physician” 

The NICHD conducted the study, and their next goal is to understand the results from “extremely preterm” deliveries and the neurological and physical disabilities associated with such deliveries. 

The study presents several challenges in medical malpractice law.  A doctor is now less liable if they suggest a head-first, standard delivery before the 32nd week.  Still, the link between preterm deliveries and neurological disabilities needs studied further. 

Source: National Institutes of Health

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