Vaginal birth: Does it increase the risk of infant brain hemorrhage?

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Vaginal birth: Does it increase the risk of infant brain hemorrhage?

Question

I heard that vaginal births may cause brain bleeding in newborns. Would a C-section be a safer option?

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Answer

Not necessarily. A study published in January 2007 reported that about 25 percent of babies delivered vaginally had a small amount of bleeding (hemorrhage) in their brains, while none delivered by Caesarean section did. Pressure on the baby's skull as it squeezes through the birth canal is the likely cause of bleeding. The study involved 88 newborns — 65 delivered vaginally and 23 delivered by C-section.

Although these results are intriguing, previous studies have also found brain bleeding in children born by C-section. In either case, there's no evidence that these findings have any impact on a baby's health or well-being.

The ability to see very small areas of bleeding is a product of the newest imaging technology. Although small bleeds usually heal harmlessly, larger bleeds could lead to learning problems, developmental delays or seizures later in life. However, there's no evidence at this time that a C-section protects against such problems. Also, a C-section is a surgical procedure that presents many potential, serious risks to both mother and baby.

Last Updated: 02/14/2007
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