- Additional administration of oxygen during labor has been recommended since the 1960s.
- Hospitals often provide oxygen to regulate the baby’s heart rate and prevent complications.
- A recent study points out that it is not necessary.
Women receive extra oxygen during labor for more than 50 years, a practice recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to help an endangered fetus. A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics questions the usefulness of this practice. .
The analysis looked at existing oxygen studies and found no significant benefits for children born with oxygen compared to those born without it.
The researchers analyzed data from 16 studies that took place between 1982 and 2020. The analysis of 2,052 births included an assessment of pH level, ICU admissions and Apgar scores, a measure that assesses the health of the newborn in the first minutes after birth. Babies are evaluated according to their heart rate, breathing and anything else that may indicate poor health.
Although two-thirds of women receive oxygen, it benefits some, but not all. According to the study’s lead investigator, Nandini Raghuraman, MD, «In general, the studies produced mixed results. Fetal monitoring may indicate a possible abnormal problem, such as lack of oxygen, but about 80% of the time, women who give birth fall into an intermediate category, in which cases are not completely benign but not at high risk either. And in such cases, oxygen supplementation does not offer additional benefits. «
Comparing the health status of children whose mothers received oxygen and those whose mothers did not, we found that the differences were essentially zero.
– NANDINI RAGHURAMAN, MD
Not only is extra oxygen potentially useless, but it can add another expense to the exorbitant fees associated with birth. Raghuraman considers the findings of the study in his own paper at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he gives birth to children. She explains: «We are smarter to provide extra oxygen to women during labor.»
While this practice increases oxygen transfer to infants, it is not «significant,» which leads Raghuraman and another researcher to conclude that it is safe to discontinue it. For women undergoing C-sections, more research is needed to determine if oxygen is needed, as well as whether using oxygen for a long time can be harmful.
What’s the point of extra oxygen?
Renee Wellenstein , DO, an obstetrician / gynecologist and functional physician in New York, explains that he strongly believes in the use of oxygen. «Oxygen for women in labor can be very beneficial and certainly not harmful if a non-calming pattern of fetal heart rhythm is present,» says Wellenstein.
While several factors may cause the fetal heart rate to slow during labor, the basic concept is that there is a problem with adequate blood supply to the fetus, which can be corrected simply by giving oxygen to the working woman.
– RENEE WELLENSTEIN, OBSTETRIC / GYN
Wellenstein continues: «Although several factors may cause the fetal heart rate to slow during labor, the basic concept is that there is a problem with proper blood supply to the fetus that can be corrected simply by giving the woman oxygen to give birth and increase concentration. of oxygen in the maternal blood supply to the fetus «.
During labor, the baby’s heart rate and mother’s contractions are monitored. If the baby’s heart rate appears to be irregular or disturbed, oxygen is administered in an attempt to correct it. Mothers are also equipped with a mask to correct hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the blood that can be fatal and / or can lead to complications in the development of children.
Wellenstein believes that oxygen can make birth less traumatic. «It is a worthwhile approach if the problem that causes a non-calming fetal heart rhythm pattern is resolved and saves the mother from assisted vaginal birth, using a vacuum, forceps or cesarean section.»
What does this mean for you?
While researchers have found no significant benefit attributed to the use of oxygen during labor, there are very few studies that indicate any harm in having a mother breathe with a mask instead of «room air.» This information should not discourage you from using extra oxygen, you just need to know that it is not medically necessary.