Infants who are delivered by elective cesarean section are up to four times more likely to have breathing problems than babies born vaginally or by emergency C-section, says a Danish study published in the British Medical Journal.

The Study

Researchers analyzed data on 34,000 births and found the 2,687 infants delivered by elective cesarean section had a nearly fourfold increased risk for breathing problems if they were delivered at 37 weeks' gestation, a threefold increased risk at 38 weeks' gestation and twice the risk at 39 weeks' gestation.

For example, 2.8% of infants delivered by intended vaginal delivery (which includes both vaginal delivery and emergency cesarean) at 37 weeks gestation had general respiratory problems, compared with 10% of infants delivered by elective cesarean section.

At 38 weeks, the rates were 1.7% versus 5.1%, and at 39 weeks, 1.1% versus 2.1%.

Possible Explanation

The reasons why elective cesarean increases the risk for respiratory problems aren't clear. The study authors suggested that certain hormonal and physiological changes associated with labor are necessary for an infant's lungs to mature. These changes may not occur in infants delivered by elective C-section.

What To Do

Postponing elective cesarean section until 39 weeks gestation may greatly reduce the risk for breathing problems in infants, the researchers noted.

Unnecessary Cesarean Births Are Risky to Infants

Babies delivered via cesarean sections to women who did not require C-sections for medical reasons have twice the risk of dying within the first month as those born vaginally.

Safer: Have a C-section only if your doctor thinks it is necessary-not for convenience or to avoid the pain of vaginal delivery.

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