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babies with breathing problems

Last week’s news that c-sections aren’t always the best way for small babies to be delivered caught my eye. The report was presented at the 32nd annual Maternal-Fetal Medicine Meeting in Dallas, where researchers reported that babies who are small for their gestational age, aka, smaller than they “should be,” and who are delivered by c-section, are more likely to have breathing problems than if they are born vaginally.

Lots of babies are delivered early just because they are small for their gestational age (two of mine were born at 36 weeks due to their size). But a c-section delivery  “actually increases the risk of respiratory problems,” said Diane Ashton, MD, MPH, medical director of the March of Dimes, in a press release.

(Photo: March of Dimes).

My girls were both delivered on the verge of prematurity at 36 weeks because they had stopped growing. My OB put me on bed rest at 35 weeks during my second pregnancy because my belly suddenly started to measure smaller.

After three nonstress tests in less than a week, the doc decided the baby was in distress and so Julia was delivered weighing 4 lb. 14 oz. She was t-e-e-n-y but thankfully she didn’t have any issues with her breathing when she was born. (She does have bronchial asthma that flares up with seasonal allergies and when she has a cold — and now I wonder if it’s linked to her birth…)  She stayed in the NICU for a week because she wouldn’t nurse or take a bottle — a whole separate story!

When my 3rd pregnancy was heading in the same direction, my doctor again opted for bed rest. This time at 32 weeks — and with much protest from me  as I had two small kids at home! I delivered at 36 weeks again. Coco weighed an entire pound more than her sister, perhaps thanks to that inconvenient bed rest. She is the only one of my three kids who came home from the hospital with me, entirely healthy. The bed rest was worth it. (Here is my little Coco, weighing in at a healthy 5 lb. 14. oz.)

How big were your babies? If they were on the small side, did they  have breathing problems?

Yes, it’s 2012, but a few weeks ago the 2009 birth statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics came out. The stat that caught my eye was the number of Cesarean section births in the United States. In 2009 32.9 of the babies born were delivered by by c-section. These stats always get me thinking about my first baby’s birth. It was full of unexpected drama and a far bit of trauma.

“Don’t cut her open, she’s not numb!” I heard the anesthesiologist yell to my OB as a team of nurses rushed me down the hall toward an operating room. “Wait, wait, wait!” was all I could think, so stunned that I couldn’t even speak. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.  “But I’m barely in labor,” I managed to say before the anesthesiologist placed a mask over my face and instructed me to breath.  He counted to three and the lights went out. When I awakened later, it was to the news that my newborn son was on life support.

That was how my perfect and perfectly uneventful pregnancy ended. In a matter of minutes, labor shifted from ordinary to potentially disastrous and an emergency Cesarean became necessary. I had never even considered the possibility that I would have a Cesarean. And for weeks after my son Liam’s birth, when I was home and well on the road to recovery following the surgery, I felt an overwhelming sense of failure. “Why me?” and “What did I do wrong?” were questions that I asked myself for months.

My story has a happy ending: Liam is totally healthy. And with the benefit of hindsight, I know that my c-section wasn’t the result of anything I did, or didn’t do. But very few pregnant women–at least those who are not carrying multiples or have certain medical conditions–plan even for the possibility that they will experience birth via c-section. More of us should — just look at that 32.9% statistic.

During the past few years, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the number of c-section deliveries in the U.S. A number of healthcare providers, including some OB/GYNs, believe that the Cesarean birth rate in the United States is too high and that, in many cases, surgical deliveries are unnecessary. “We have turned childbirth into a medical procedure,” is a frequent refrain. While I certainly don’t believe that a Cesarean is the ideal way to give birth–and I would never encourage anyone to request a c-section for the sake of convenience–neither should women who have this experience feel like their birth experience is anything but extraordinary. Childbirth by Cesarean is still childbirth. It’s also worth noting one issue that is rarely brought up by the media: medical advances during the last several decades have made c-section surgery much safer, so today many physicians will opt for a Cesarean birth before the situation becomes desperate.

I hope you’ll find both solace and helpful information here. If there is a topic you’d like me to write about, please ask. I’m blessed to have amazingly generous physicians in my list of contacts who are always willing to talk to me about this topic.

Did your baby’s birth go as planned? Was there something you wish you had done differently when you were pregnant to prepare for the birth?