Cesarean Section on Request at 39 Weeks: Impact on Shoulder Dystocia, Fetal Trauma, Neonatal Encephalopathy, and Intrauterine Fetal Demise

The University of Texas Medical Branch, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Galveston, TX 77555-0587, USA.
Seminars in Perinatology (Impact Factor: 2.68). 10/2006; 30(5):276-87. DOI: 10.1053/j.semperi.2006.07.009
Source: PubMed


The purpose of this analysis was to determine the impact on specific forms of neonatal morbidity and mortality by allowing women to opt for delivery by elective cesarean section at 39 weeks of gestation (EGA). According to the National Vital Statistics Reports, over 70% of deliveries in the U.S. annually are at gestational ages>or=39 weeks EGA. Estimating that over 4 million deliveries occur annually in the United States, this would yield approximately 3 million pregnancies wherein the woman may exercise her choice for either primary or repeat cesarean section at 39 weeks EGA or at the point when labor is established.
A search was conducted using Ovid Medline spanning the past 10 years using the following key words: fetal trauma, shoulder dystocia, brachial plexus palsy, neonatal skull fracture, obstetrical trauma, traumatic delivery, intrauterine fetal demise, stillbirth, fetal demise, and neonatal encephalopathy. Using this search technique, over 2100 articles were identified. The abstracts were reviewed and pertinent articles were chosen for further consideration. The identified articles and their applicable references were obtained for inclusion in this review. Preference was given to publications on or after the year 2000 with the exception of classical or sentinel articles, which were included without regard to year of publication.
Four major categories of neonatal morbidity and mortality are discussed: Shoulder dystocia: Accepting that we do not have a successful method for the prediction or prevention of shoulder dystocia, the question becomes, "What is the chance that a baby will sustain a permanent brachial plexus injury at delivery?" Additionally, is there a significant protective effect of cesarean section in reducing the risk of such injury? Currently, the occurrence rate of brachial plexus palsy at the time of vaginal delivery ranges from 0.047% to 0.6% and for cesarean section from 0.0042% to 0.095%. Using a composite estimate of the risk of 0.15% for vaginal deliveries and applying it to the 3 million deliveries>or=39 weeks EGA, approximately 4500 cases of brachial plexus palsy would occur. If only 15% of these injuries were permanent, 675 permanent brachial plexus palsies would occur annually. If the risk of permanent injury is 1 in 10,000 as reported by Chauhan, 300 permanent brachial plexus palsies would occur annually in the United States. The range then for permanent brachial plexus injury that could be avoided with cesarean section on request would appear to vary between 1 in 5000 and 1 in 10,000 vaginal births. Fetal trauma: The incidence of significant birth trauma varies from 0.2 to 1 to 2 per 1000 births. The use of sequential instruments, for example, vacuum followed by forceps or vice versa, is specifically associated with an unacceptably high injury rate. Intrapartum-related neonatal deaths of vertex singleton fetuses with birthweights>2500 g from traumatic cranial or cervical spine injury secondary to vacuum- or forceps-assisted vaginal delivery are still occurring. Overall, the frequency of significant fetal injury is significantly greater with vaginal delivery, especially operative vaginal delivery, than with cesarean section for the nonlaboring woman at 39 weeks EGA or near term when early labor has been established. Neonatal encephalopathy: The prevalence of moderate to severe neonatal encephalopathy is 3.8/1000 term live births with a neonatal fatality rate of 9.1%. In 4% to 10% of cases, the etiology appears to be pure intrapartum hypoxia. Intrapartum hypoxia superimposed on antepartum risk factors may account for up to 25% of the moderate to severe encephalopathies, according to one cohort. A paradox in the data thus far is that infants born to nonlaboring women delivered by cesarean section had an 83% reduction in the occurrence of moderate or severe encephalopathy. Considering a prevalence of moderate or severe neonatal encephalopathy of 0.38% and applying it to the 3 million deliveries occurring at >or=39 weeks EGA in the United States annually, 11,400 cases of moderate to severe encephalopathy would occur. The rate of encephalopathy observed in infants delivered by cesarean section would yield approximately 1938 cases. This net difference in moderate to severe encephalopathy would represent 9462 cases annually in the United States that could be prevented with elective cesarean section. Although cesarean delivery may be protective for the development of neonatal encephalopathy, to date it has not proven to be protective of long-term neurologic injury in the form of cerebral palsy with or without mental retardation and/or seizure disorders. Intrauterine fetal demise: Copper reported that the rate of stillbirth is consistent from 23 to 40 weeks EGA with about 5% of all stillbirths occurring at each week of gestation. Yudkin reported a rate of 0.6 stillbirths per 1000 live births from 33 to 39 weeks EGA. After 39 weeks EGA, a significant increase in the stillbirth rate was reported (1.9 per 1000 live births). Fretts reported on fetal deaths per 1000 live births from 37 to 41 weeks of gestational age, showing that the rate progressively increased from 1.3 to 4.6 with each week of gestation. It can be estimated that delivery at 39 weeks EGA would prevent 2 fetal deaths per 1000 living fetuses. This would translate into the prevention of as many as 6000 intrauterine fetal demises in the United States annually-an impact that far exceeds any other strategy implemented for stillbirth reduction thus far.
It is reasonable to inform the pregnant woman of the risk of each of the above categories, in addition to counseling her regarding the potential risks of a cesarean section for the current and any subsequent pregnancies. The clinician's role should be to provide the best evidence-based counseling possible to the pregnant woman and to respect her autonomy and decision-making capabilities when considering route of delivery.

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    • "A policy of cesarean delivery was studied but appears inappropriate as it would increase the cesarean rate and would not be cost-effective [31,32]. For Kankins et al., “The range … for permanent brachial plexus injury that could be avoided with cesarean section on request would appear to vary between 1 in 5000 and 1 in 10,000 vaginal births” [33]. Moreover, we know that the risk of maternal mortality after a cesarean is higher than after vaginal delivery [34]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background The number of infants with a birth weight > 97th percentile for gestational age has increased over the years. Although some studies have examined the interest of inducing labor for fetuses with macrosomia suspected in utero, only a few have analyzed this suspected macrosomia according to estimated weight at each gestational age. Most studies have focused principally on neonatal rather than on maternal (and still less on perineal) outcomes. The principal aim of this study was to assess whether a policy of induction of labor for women with a constitutionally large-for-gestational-age fetus might reduce the occurrence of severe perineal tears; the secondary aims of this work were to assess whether this policy would reduce either recourse to cesarean delivery during labor or neonatal complications. Methods This historical cohort study (n = 3077) analyzed records from a French perinatal database. Women without diabetes and with a cephalic singleton term pregnancy were eligible for the study. We excluded medically indicated terminations of pregnancy and in utero fetal deaths. Among the pregnancies with fetuses suspected, before birth, of being large-for-gestational-age, we compared those for whom labor was induced from ≥ 37 weeks to ≤ 38 weeks+ 6 days (n = 199) to those with expectant obstetrical management (n = 2878). In this intention-to-treat analysis, results were expressed as crude and adjusted relative risks. Results The mean birth weight was 4012 g ± 421 g. The rate of perineal lesions did not differ between the two groups in either primiparas (aRR: 1.06; 95% CI: 0.86-1.31) or multiparas (aRR: 0.94; 95% CI: 0.84-1.05). Similarly, neither the cesarean rate (aRR: 1.11; 95% CI: 0.82-1.50) nor the risks of resuscitation in the delivery room or of death in the delivery room or in the immediate postpartum or of neonatal transfer to the NICU (aRR = 0.94; 95% CI: 0.59-1.50) differed between the two groups. Conclusions A policy of induction of labor for women with a constitutionally large-for-gestational-age fetus among women without diabetes does not reduce maternal morbidity.
    BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 05/2014; 14(1):156. DOI:10.1186/1471-2393-14-156 · 2.19 Impact Factor
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    • "The findings point to multiple deficits in the quality of care, which no doubt contributed to the large number of maternal and fetal deaths in this sample of CS deliveries. The vast majority (87%) of CS deliveries were performed on an emergency basis, which carries greater risks for maternal complications than planned CS deliveries [27-29]. Quality care, including the timely diagnosis of complications, can prevent medically necessary CS deliveries from becoming emergency cases. "
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    ABSTRACT: Increasing appropriate use and documentation of caesarean section (CS) has the potential to decrease maternal and perinatal mortality in settings with low CS rates. We analyzed data collected as part of a comprehensive needs assessment of emergency obstetric and newborn care (EmONC) facilities in Afghanistan to gain a greater understanding of the clinical indications, timeliness, and outcomes of CS deliveries. Records were reviewed at 78 government health facilities expected to function as EmONC providers that were located in secure areas of the country. Information was collected on the three most recent CS deliveries in the preceding 12 months at facilities with at least one CS delivery in the preceding three months. After excluding 16 facilities with no recent CS deliveries, the sample includes 173 CS deliveries at 62 facilities. No CS deliveries were performed in the previous three months at 21% of facilities surveyed; all of these were lower-level facilities. Most CS deliveries (88%) were classified as emergencies, and only 12% were referrals from another facility. General anesthesia was used in 62% of cases, and spinal or epidural anesthesia in 34%. Only 28% of cases were managed with a partograph. Surgery began less than one hour after the decision for a CS delivery in just 30% of emergency cases. Among the 173 cases, 27 maternal deaths, 28 stillbirths, and 3 early neonatal deaths were documented. In cases of maternal and fetal death, the most common indications for CS delivery were placenta praevia or abruption and malpresentation. In 62% of maternal deaths, the fetus was stillborn or died shortly after birth. In 48% of stillbirths, the fetus had a normal heart rate at the last check. Information on partograph use was missing in 38% of cases, information on parity missing in 23% of cases and indications for cesareans missing in 9%. Timely referral within and to EmONC facilities would decrease the proportion of CS deliveries that develop to emergency status. While the substantial mortality associated with CS in Afghanistan may be partly due to women coming late for obstetric care, efforts to increase the availability and utilization of CS must also focus on improving the quality of care to reduce mortality. Key goals should be encouraging use of partographs and improving decision-making and documentation around CS deliveries.
    BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 03/2012; 12(1):14. DOI:10.1186/1471-2393-12-14 · 2.19 Impact Factor
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    • "These include lack of surgical experience, labor with thinning of the lower uterine segment exposing the fetus to injury with the scalpel, and a lack of amniotic fluid secondary to rupture of the membranes making the underlying fetal parts more accessible [5,6]. Fetal lacerations, finger injuries and amputations, penetrating brain injuries, skull fractures and long bone fractures have all been reported from the use of the scalpel or scissors at the time of cesarean delivery [3]. Although traumatic delivery is still associated with cesarean delivery, it is almost unheard of with elective cesarean delivery of the vertex fetus at term [3]. "
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    ABSTRACT: The literature is nearly unanimous in recommending elective cesarean delivery at 39 weeks of gestation because of the lower rates of neonatal respiratory complications compared to 38 weeks. However, elective cesarean delivery at 39 weeks or more may have maternal and other fetal consequences compared to delivery at 38 weeks, which are not always addressed in these studies. Between 38 and 39 weeks of gestation, approximately 10% - 14% of women go into spontaneous labor; meaning that a considerable number of women scheduled for an elective cesarean delivery at 39 weeks will deliver earlier in an unscheduled, frequently emergency, cesarean delivery. The incidence of maternal morbidity and mortality is higher among women undergoing non-elective cesarean deliveries than among those undergoing elective ones. Complications may be greater among women after numerous repeat cesarean deliveries and among older women. Other than reducing the frequency of non-elective cesarean deliveries, bringing forward the timing of elective cesarean delivery to 38 weeks, may occasionally prevent intrauterine fetal demise which has been shown to increase with increasing gestational age and to avoid other fetal consequences related to the emergency delivery. All these considerations need to be weighed against the medical and the economic impact of the increase in neonatal morbidity resulting from births at 38 weeks compared to 39 weeks. Until prospective randomized trials are conducted, we are unlikely to be able to precisely answer all risk:benefit questions as to the best timing of scheduled elective cesarean delivery. Older women, and women with numerous prior cesarean deliveries, are of particular concern. It is reasonable to inform the pregnant women of the risk of each of the above options and to respect her autonomy and decision-making.
    Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 06/2010; 8(1):68. DOI:10.1186/1477-7827-8-68 · 2.23 Impact Factor
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