Method of delivery for the preterm infant


Correspondence: Professor J. Lumley, Centre for the Study of Mothers' and Children's Health, La Trobe University, 251 Faraday St, Carlton, Vic 3053, Australia.


The principal issue concerning the mode of delivery is that while elective caesarean births may reduce the chances of fetal or neonatal death, this method of delivery might also increase maternal morbidity. Six trials with a total of 122 women investigated the effects of a policy of elective caesarean delivery (ECD) versus expectant management for small babies. A meta-analysis of these six trials also included additional unpublished data from several of the authors. Babies in the ‘elective’ group were less likely to develop respiratory distress syndrome and were more likely to have a low pH after birth. They were also less likely to have neonatal seizures and there were fewer perinatal deaths, although the studies were too small to detect even very large differences. However, there was significantly more serious maternal morbidity. There is insufficient evidence to evaluate a policy of ECD. All trials described major problems in recruitment and no subsequent trials have been identified. Changes in population-based data suggest that ECD of very preterm infants has increased markedly in the last 20 years. Given these changes, it seems unlikely that recruitment for future trials will be any easier than it was in the recent past.