Early Planned C-Sections Put Baby at Risk
Study Shows 36% of Planned C-Sections Are Performed Before 39 Weeks of Gestation
Jan. 7, 2009 -- More than a third of babies born by planned, repeat
C-section in the U.S. are delivered before 39 weeks gestation, and these babies
are at increased risk for birth-related health problems as a result, a study
These days, nearly one in three births in the U.S. is a cesarean delivery,
up from around one in five births in the mid-1990s. The increase is largely
because far fewer women who have had C-sections are attempting vaginal births
for subsequent pregnancies.
National figures show that 40% of the 1.3 million cesarean deliveries
performed each year in the U.S. are repeat procedures and the majority of these
In the absence of medical need, planned, elective C-section before 39 weeks
gestation is not recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and
Gynecology (ACOG), unless testing shows that the baby's lungs are mature enough
Due Date Minus 7
The new study shows that 36% of planned cesarean births were performed
before 39 weeks.
Researchers tracked more than 24,000 repeat C-section deliveries performed
at 19 of the nation's top teaching hospitals.
They found that:
- Just under one in three deliveries (29.5%) was performed at 38 weeks and 6%
were performed at 37 weeks.
- Babies delivered in their 37th or 38th week had a higher incidence of
birth-related adverse outcomes, including respiratory problems and sepsis
(serious infection), than babies delivered in their 39th week.
- Compared to babies delivered during their 39th week, babies born between 38
and 39 weeks gestation had up to double the risk of adverse birth-related
complications; babies born between their 37th and 38th weeks had up to a
fourfold increase in risk.
The study appears in the Jan. 8 issue of the New England Journal of
"There appears to be a window of safety that is smaller than has
generally been thought," obstetrics professor and study co-author John M.
Thorp, MD, of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill tells WebMD. "A
woman's due date minus seven days seems to be the optimal time
for a planned C-section."
Alan Tita, MD, PhD, who led the research team, tells WebMD that the number
of women in the U.S. who are having early, planned C-sections may be even
higher than the study suggests.
That's because the women in the study gave birth between 1999 and 2002, and
the rate of cesarean deliveries has increased since then.
Convenience Driving Early Delivery
Why are so many women having C-sections before 39 weeks of gestation?
Women who were insured, older, and married were the most likely to have
early, planned deliveries, the study shows. In an editorial accompanying the
study, Massachusetts General Hospital director of obstetrics Michael Greene,
MD, wrote that these women are more likely to place a premium on their own
doctor delivering their babies.