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Study: C-Sections Don’t Lessen Cerebral Palsy Risk

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Contrary to long-held beliefs, new research suggests that delivering babies by cesarean section does not lower their risk for cerebral palsy.

In the largest study to date, researchers reviewed findings from published studies looking at more than 3,800 children with cerebral palsy and nearly 1.7 million typically-developing kids.

They found that children delivered by cesarean section — either elective or in emergency situations — were no less likely than those delivered naturally to develop cerebral palsy.

“For over a century it was assumed, without good evidence, that most cases of cerebral palsy were due to low oxygen levels or trauma at birth,” said Alastair MacLennan of the University of Adelaide in Australia who led the review being published in the December issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“This systematic review of the literature clearly shows that the causes of cerebral palsy have little to do with mode of delivery. Therefore, the actual causes of cerebral palsy must lie elsewhere,” MacLennan said.

The researchers said their findings suggest that genetic vulnerabilities or environmental triggers like infection may be responsible for the developmental disability, and indicated that further study is needed to pinpoint causes.

What’s more, the findings could have implications for litigation, MacLennan said, since medical malpractice claims surrounding the birth of children with cerebral palsy often suggest that earlier cesarean delivery could have prevented the condition.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. david snow says:

    Physician error is physician error. If my son, breach presentation, had been born using C-Section, he would not have CP. The OB/GYN used forceps and fractured his skull during the birth extraction process. Perhaps a more skillful doctor would not have fractured my son’s skull with the forceps. Had I know more, I would have insisted on a C-Section. This study is flawed in my opinion.

  2. rosy gallica says:

    Or perhaps more studies are needed?

  3. Stephanie Torreno says:

    My CP resulted from birth complications after a normal pregnancy, but induced labor. I wonder if my mom had a C-Section, would I have emerged blue and not breathing? More research is required for the answer.

  4. Amy says:

    I wonder if the researchers took into account the gestational age of the infants in the study? My own twins were born by emergency C-section at 24 weeks. Both have cerebral palsy. However, I have always understood that it was the insult to their brains from being born so early that led to their CP, not the circumstances of their birth. The C-section was the gentlest way to get them out quickly once it became apparent that they weren’t staying in.
    My hunch is that there are too many confounding factors to easily control for them all. Multiple gestations carry different risks than singletons. Does a 24-weeker preemie develop CP because of a problem before birth or after? Did that problem cause the prematurity or is the prematurity the cause of their problems? And in the end, does it matter?
    I do think this study may have impact on litigation, simply because it broadens our ideas of what *might* have caused the CP in a particular case. I wish that our system were set up in a way that affixing blame in order to collect a monetary award was not so prevalent. If everyone knew that these children would always get the medical care and lifetime supports that they need, there would be less incentive to find someone to blame in order to collect monetary “damages.”

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