The widely held belief that a caesarean delivery has no health risks for the baby has been challenged in a new study.
The study found that the procedure did not help some preterm babies who were small for gestational age, and may even have contributed to their breathing problems.
The research showed that small for gestational age babies delivered early by C-section had higher rates of respiratory distress syndrome than similar preterm babies who were born vaginally.
"These findings overturn conventional wisdom that C-sections have few or no risks for the baby and are consistent with the March of Dimes effort to end medically unnecessary deliveries before 39 weeks of pregnancy," said Diane Ashton, MD, MPH, March of Dimes deputy medical director.
"Although in many instances, a C-section is medically necessary for the health of the baby or the mother, this research shows that in some cases the surgery may not be beneficial for some infants."
Led by Erika F Werner, MD, MS, assistant professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who performed the work with Heather S Lipkind, MD, MS, assistant professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, the researchers reviewed birth certificate and hospital discharge information for 2,560 small for gestational age babies who were delivered preterm.
C-sections often are performed for babies diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction who are not growing adequately in the womb.
Dr Werner and her team found that small for gestational age babies delivered by a c-section before 34 weeks of pregnancy had a 30 percent higher odds of developing respiratory distress syndrome than babies born vaginally at a similar gestational age.
The research was presented at the 32nd Annual Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Meeting called "The Pregnancy Meeting".