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Even Before Pregnancy, Your Health Matters: Mom’s Obesity Linked To Higher Risk Of Baby’s Death

(Ernesto Andrade/Flickr)

(Ernesto Andrade/Flickr)

You know how it goes: The moment the pregnancy test is positive, you give up alcohol, you cut out coffee, you try to make every bite count and limit your weight gain to healthy norms. You’re suddenly responsible for two.

That’s the usual strategy. But new data suggest that perhaps it’s time to rethink that logic — it could be, by the time you get that pregnancy test result, you’re already late for the train.

Why? According to a recent study based on a sweeping analysis of more than 6 million births, there appears to be a robust link between a woman’s weight even before she gets pregnant and her baby’s risk of dying in her first year.

The numbers are small, but the researchers say they are significant:

Among normal-weight moms, about four in 1,000 babies die after birth; among moderately obese moms, that rises to nearly six babies per 1,000 and among morbidly obese moms, it’s more than eight babies per 1,000 live births.

(To be precise, “normal weight” for a 5-foot-4 tall woman before she’s pregnant is defined from 110-144 pounds; moderately obese is considered 175-204 pounds, and morbidly obese is 235 pounds or more.)

Obesity And Infant Deaths

Eugene Declercq, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, puts it this way: If you are truly obese, with a Body Mass Index of 40 or above before pregnancy, your baby has a 70 percent higher mortality risk compared with a normal weight woman. (This holds true even after controlling for a wide array of risk factors in the study, including race, ethnicity, education, insurance coverage, diabetes and hypertension, he said.)

“Since this involves pre-pregnancy obesity it emphasizes the importance of thinking of women’s health in general and not just when they’re pregnant, which has too often been the case.”

– Eugene Declercq

It’s the persistent association between BMI and infant mortality that makes the research compelling, Declercq said: As BMI increases above normal, the infant death rate increases consistently too.

“This links up women’s health and kids’ health in a really important way,” Declercq said in an interview. What it suggests, he adds, is that pre-pregnancy BMI still had a pretty strong relationship to both neonatal mortality (death in the first 28 days) and post-neonatal mortality (death in the first 28-365 days). “No matter how you cut it, that relationship is robust.”

The researchers also wondered whether pre-pregnancy obesity was related to a specific cause of death: notably, prematurity, congenital abnormalities or SIDS. As it turned out, obesity was a problem in all of those categories.

“The really powerful finding would have been if all of the higher rates of infant mortality were explained by a single cause of death, but that wasn’t the case here,” Declercq said. “The implication, essentially, is it’s not one thing we have to worry about — obesity is a multifaceted problem in terms of outcomes.”

An ‘Alarming’ Rise In Obese Women

And clearly, the implications are broad. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently reported an “alarming” increase in the number of obese women of reproductive age in the U.S.: More than half are overweight or obese.

“A major hope in initiating this project was to get the focus on women’s health throughout her life course and not just when she’s pregnant,” Declercq said.

Lizzie, a 32-year-old chiropractor in Medford, Massachusetts, who asked that her last name not be used, says although she’s not obese, she’s definitely above her ideal weight.

Recently, Lizzie’s ob-gyn told her that if she wants to get pregnant (which she does), losing 10 to 20 pounds would be a good idea. “Even though I knew it intellectually, it was very hard to hear,” Lizzie said in an interview. “What bothered me the most was she said it but didn’t give me anything else, she didn’t talk about what I should do, no specifics about exercise or nutrition.”

With a family history of diabetes and a sister who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, Lizzie says she’s trying to lose weight before conceiving, but it’s not easy.

“I desperately don’t want to repeat what my sister went through,” she said. “But it’s been a challenge … I’m a big sugar person — that’s my downfall, and a daily struggle.”

A Fraught Discussion

Actually getting women to lose weight before they’re pregnant is far easier said than done, says Dr. Naomi Stotland, a co-author of the recent Declercq study, and an ob-gyn at University of California San Francisco.

About half of pregnancies are unplanned, she says, which makes it hard to get the message across at the right time.

In addition, says Stotland, also on the faculty at San Francisco General Hospital, pressuring women to lose weight can be tricky for both doctors and patients. “Even if a physician is motivated to talk about it, the woman might not be in the right place to hear it.” she said.

For example: If a patient has an appointment to get birth control, it may not feel appropriate for the gynecologist to say, ‘Hey, maybe think about losing weight for that future, theoretical birth you’re not planning to have any time soon,’ she said. Also, doctors’ own issues about weight complicate the matter: Thin doctors often feel awkward and non-compassionate urging patients to slim down, and overweight doctors feel they have little credibility, Stotland said.

A small 2010 study of pregnant overweight and obese women, called “What My Doctor Didn’t Tell Me,” concluded that women often don’t feel their doctors are providing appropriate or helpful (or any) information on weight.

A Too-Accessible McDonald’s

And the complications only increase when poverty is also in the mix, says Dr. Nidhi Lal, a primary care doctor at Boston Medical Center. She says in her practice, which includes hundreds of reproductive age women, with about 30 to 40 percent who are overweight or obese, access to healthy food is a major obstacle because many live in so-called “food deserts” where nutritious food is scarce and fast food and convenience stores proliferate.

“McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts and 7-11’s are more accessible and affordable than shopping at Stop and Shop or Market Basket,” Lal said.

She said there are often deep misconceptions about food and pregnancy. For instance, some women assume that they need to start eating for two as soon as they start planning a pregnancy. “And these are women who are already overweight to begin with,” she said.

And there are cultural issues too.

“Women who are raised in the U.S. want to be thin, but they don’t always have the resources to get there and so they’re reluctant to talk about body weight,” Lal said. “They think I’m judging them or not being empathetic.” Women from certain other cultures, she says, prefer being heavy: “It’s a sign of attractiveness and prosperity.”

For doctors, then, it’s a tough path to navigate.

“It really requires a relationship of trust, a very non-judgmental kind of communication,” Lal said. “I try to make my patients well informed, tell them as many facts as I can: ‘This is why I want them to do this and how it can effect their pregnancy outcomes’ — a mother will do anything for the her baby. I try not to be negative, and say, ‘Oh no, you gained weight.’ It takes a lot pre-visit planning.”

Lal also tries to get her whole medical team involved, including consults with a nutritionist and prenatal nurse. Still, she adds: “It is hard to do everything in an empathetic manner in 15 to 20 minutes because despite what you say, they have their own sense of success and failure. Some are very discouraged because they are doing what they can but some things they can’t control.”

But the problem isn’t going away. A slew of recent studies suggest that obesity before and during pregnancy can cause enduring health woes.

A study published in January found that children born to mothers with a combination of obesity and diabetes before and during pregnancy may have up to four times the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder compared to children of women without the two conditions.

And late last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, calling obesity the “the most common health care problem in women of reproductive age,” issued new recommendations on obesity and exercise during pregnancy. It cited a list of problems associated with obesity mainly during pregnancy, including a higher risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, birth defects, cardiac problems, sleep apnea, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and venous thromboembolism, or blood clotting in the veins.

‘I’m Just A Fried Clams Girl’

But telling women to change their personal behavior in an across-the-board manner sometimes gets public health officials in trouble.

For example, there was a massive backlash against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when, earlier this year, it issued a blanket warning that sexually active woman of childbearing age and not using birth control should stop drinking alcohol — completely.

So, hitting the right tone when it comes to talking to women about their weight is key.

“Conveying the message is tricky since I wouldn’t want it to be another case of blaming mothers,” Declercq, the researcher, said. “Since this involves pre-pregnancy obesity it emphasizes the importance of thinking of women’s health in general and not just when they’re pregnant, which has too often been the case.”

Interestingly, his study, published online last month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, also found that established recommendations from the Institute of Medicine on weight gain during pregnancy were largely not being followed. Those recommendations suggest that obese women limit weight gain to between 11 and 20 pounds during pregnancy, regardless of the severity of the obesity. However, there was essentially the same infant mortality risk among obese women who followed those guidelines compared to those who didn’t, the study found.

That finding raises several questions: Do the guidelines need rethinking? Or is there something about the genetics of obese women that persists through pregnancy even if some amount of weight is lost?

This study didn’t address those issues, but one thing is clear for any future public health efforts: Women remain far more motivated if they think they’re doing something for their babies, Declercq said. The trick is to get them to think about their own health as deeply as their kids’ — and well in advance.

Take Amy, a mom from Arlington, Massachusetts, who gave birth to three children through IVF (and also asked for confidentiality). Between pregnancies, she says, it got harder to lose the weight. Now, while considering a fourth child, she says she should lose about 22 pounds.

Like many moms, Amy is vigilant about feeding her children healthy meals, but when it comes to her own diet: “I can’t overcome my cravings for meatball subs…I don’t really enjoy eating a salad.” She said that while some people find pleasure in “racing cars or smoking” her downfall is high calorie foods. “You know what you’re supposed to do, but actually doing it is the hardest part,” she said. “If I have the choice between romaine lettuce and fried clams? I’m just a fried clams girl.”

CDC Warns Of Fetal Alcohol Exposure, Says Drinking Any Time In Pregnancy Is Risky

(Source: “Vital Signs: Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies — United States, 2011–2013")

(Source: “Vital Signs: Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies — United States, 2011–2013″)

If you’re a sexually active woman of childbearing age and not using birth control, public health officials say you should stop drinking alcohol — completely. That includes beer, wine or any other alcoholic beverage you might be considering.

In a report out Tuesday,  the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that exposure to alcohol, even in the first weeks of pregnancy, puts developing babies at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, “characterized by lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities.” Because these disorders are completely preventable by abstaining from alcohol, and because officials say there is “no known safe amount of alcohol” that women can drink at any time during pregnancy, their basic message is: “Why take the risk?”

“Women wanting a pregnancy should be advised to stop drinking at the same time contraception is discontinued,” the report concludes. “Health care providers should advise women not to drink at all if they are pregnant or there is any chance they might be pregnant.”

Here’s more from the CDC news release:

An estimated 3.3 million U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44 years are at risk for exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy, according to a new CDC Vital Signs report. The report also found that 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant as soon as possible do not stop drinking alcohol.

Alcohol use during pregnancy, even within the first few weeks and before a woman knows she is pregnant, can cause lasting physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). There is no known safe amount of alcohol – even beer or wine – that is safe for a woman to drink at any stage of pregnancy.

About half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned and, even if planned, most women will not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy when they still might be drinking.

During a telephone briefing with reporters, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s deputy director, said:

What we’re recommending is women who are not trying to get pregnant make sure they have a conversation about birth control and how to avoid becoming pregnant. If they are not using contraception and are fertile and are drinking they could be at risk… One in two deliveries in this country occurs to someone who wasn’t actually trying to get pregnant when they got pregnant. So we do think that fertile woman that are not using contraception ought to be aware that they may become pregnant and that drinking during even that first couple of weeks of pregnancy can be risky.

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Study: Maternal Obesity And Diabetes Bring ‘Multiple Hits,’ May Raise Autism Risk In Children

A provocative new study finds that children born to mothers with a combination of obesity and diabetes before and during pregnancy may have up to four times the risk of developing autism spectrum disorder.

On their own, obesity as well as pre-pregnancy diabetes or gestational diabetes increase the risk of autism slightly, researchers report. But the study suggests that co-occurring obesity and diabetes may bring “multiple hits” to the developing fetal brain, conferring an even higher risk of autism in the offspring than either condition on its own.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 68 children has autism spectrum disorder, which also includes Asperger syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders.

This new study — led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the journal Pediatrics — was based on analyzing the medical records of 2,734 children who have been followed from birth at the Boston Medical Center between 1998 and 2014. (Of that group, 102 of the children had a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. )

So what might be leading to this increased autism risk? Researchers don’t really know, but they raise several theories in the paper. In general, the possible mechanisms relate to immune and metabolic system disturbances associated with maternal obesity and diabetes that might cause inflammation and other problems for the developing fetus.

One of the study authors, Daniele Fallin, an epidemiologist and chair of the Department of Mental Health at Hopkins’ public health school, said in an interview: “We know that both diabetes and obesity create stress on the body, generally, and a lot of that stress manifests in disruption of immune processes and inflammation. Once you have the disruption in the mom, that may lead to inflammation problems in the developing fetus, and inflammation during neurodevelopment can create problems that manifest as autism.” Continue reading

Panel Recommends Depression Screening For Women During And After Pregnancy

(Chris Martino/Flickr)

(Chris Martino/Flickr)

On Tuesday the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new recommendations on screening for depression in adults, notably calling for depression screening in women both during and after pregnancy.

The recommendations, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest: “All adults older than 18 years should be routinely screened for depression. This includes pregnant women and new mothers as well as elderly adults.”

Why?

“Depression is among the leading causes of disability in persons 15 years and older,” the task force statement said. “It affects individuals, families, businesses, and society and is common in patients seeking care in the primary care setting. Depression is also common in postpartum and pregnant women and affects not only the woman but her child as well. …The [task force] found convincing evidence that screening improves the accurate identification of adult patients with depression in primary care settings, including pregnant and postpartum women.”

The government-appointed panel found that the harms from such screening are “small to none,” though it did cite potential harm related to drugs frequently prescribed for depression:

The USPSTF found that second-generation antidepressants (mostly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs]) are associated with some harms, such as an increase in suicidal behaviors in adults aged 18 to 29 years and an increased risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding in adults older than 70 years, with risk increasing with age; however, the magnitude of these risks is, on average, small. The USPSTF found evidence of potential serious fetal harms from pharmacologic treatment of depression in pregnant women, but the likelihood of these serious harms is low. Therefore, the USPSTF concludes that the overall magnitude of harms is small to moderate.

Nancy Byatt, medical director at the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project for Moms (MCPAP for Moms) and an assistant professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at UMass Medical School, said the new recommendations “are an incredibly important step to have depression care become a routine part of obstetrical care.”

She added: “Depression in pregnancy is twice as common as diabetes in pregnancy and obstetric providers always screen for diabetes and they have a clear treatment plan. The goal [here] is that women are screened for depression [during pregnancy and postpartum] and they are assessed and treated and this becomes a routine part of care just like diabetes.”

Dr. Ruta Nonacs, who’s in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital and editor-in-chief at the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, sent her thoughts via email:

In that the USPSTF recommendation recognizes pregnant and postpartum women as a group at high risk for depression, this represents a step in the right direction in terms of ensuring that psychiatric illness in this vulnerable population is identified and appropriately treated. However, there remain significant obstacles to overcome. Research and clinical experience indicate that while pregnant and postpartum women with mood and anxiety disorders can be identified through screening, many women identified in this manner do not seek or are not able to find treatment.

While screening is important, we must also make sure we tend to the construction of a system that provides appropriate follow-up and treatment. Because stigma continues to be significant with regard to mental health issues in mothers and mothers-to-be and because there are concerns regarding the use of medication in pregnant and nursing women, we must make sure that after screening, we help women to access appropriate resources and treaters who have expertise in the treatment of women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

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Childbirth As An Extreme Sport — And Why Its Injuries Can Take So Long To Heal

A study finds some childbirth-related injuries are surprisingly like sports injuries. (popularpatty/Flickr)

A study finds some childbirth-related injuries are surprisingly like sports injuries. (popularpatty/Flickr)

Childbirth, as anyone who’s been through it knows, can feel very much like an extreme sport. And, it turns out, some childbirth-related injuries are surprisingly like sports injuries, including the very long time they need to heal.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study that tracked 68 pregnant women at risk for pelvic injuries and followed up using diagnostic imaging techniques more typically used in sports medicine.

The report by a team of researchers at the University of Michigan found that some women sustain long-lasting pelvic injuries after childbirth — and these aren’t the kinds of injuries that Kegel exercises alone can fix. (For the uninitiated, Kegels are pelvic floor strengthening exercises that involve squeezing and releasing certain muscles.) The research team also found that some childbirth-related injuries may take longer to heal, but ultimately do.

Janis Miller, an associate professor at Michigan’s School of Nursing, and the study’s lead author, says just like elite athletes, new mothers should acknowledge what their bodies have been through.

“If you’ve just run a marathon, it may take longer to heal than if you’ve just run a mile,” Miller said in an interview. “Some women’s birthing experiences are more strenuous than others, so one of the main points is to let women know their bodies will recover…but it can take a long time.”

And while many doctors give new moms the green light to resume normal activities — from sex to exercise — after the standard six-week postpartum exam, the reality is that it can take far longer to feel “normal” again. (I remember dragging my still-sore, depleted body in to that six week follow-up exam, and feeling I was decidedly not good to go.)

Indeed Miller calls the six-week marker for postpartum recovery “arbitrary.” “There is no rationale for that six-week time frame in terms of the body’s responses and healing,” she said.

The study, published earlier this year in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, concludes that a clinical examination alone may not be able to detect the range of pelvic injuries from childbirth; and in certain women, specialized MRI scans may be warranted if there is “unexplained or prolonged pain after delivery,” or other complications, Miller says.

One surprising new finding was related to the types of injuries sustained by the women, who were all at higher risk for pelvic muscle tears because they had a long pushing phase during delivery or they were older women.

Miller said that the conventional wisdom at the start of the study was that postpartum pelvic injuries were primarily nerve-to-muscle or muscle-stretch related, but the researchers discovered that in this higher risk group of women, “one-quarter of them showed fluid in the pubic bone marrow or sustained fractures similar to a sports-related stress fracture, and two-thirds showed excess fluid in the muscle, which indicates injury similar to a severe muscle strain. Forty-one percent sustained pelvic muscle tears, with the muscle detaching partially or fully from the pubic bone.” Continue reading

Why To Exercise (During Pregnancy) Today: Ob-Gyns Say It's Best Time To Boost Health

il-young ko/Flickr

il-young ko/Flickr

Yes, they’ve told us this before: If you’re pregnant, you needn’t refrain from exercise. But now, the influential (and fairly conservative) professional group of U.S. obstetricians and gynecologists is saying it even more forcefully: If you’re pregnant and facing no complications, you really should exercise — it’s the ideal time to improve your health, including your weight.

In an updated committee opinion, the group, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)says: “Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in physical activities before, during, and after pregnancy.”

The list of recommended activities includes: walking, swimming, stationary cycling, low-impact aerobics, yoga (modified and not hot), pilates (also modified), running, jogging, racket sports and strength training, and all with the usual caveats to check with your doctor first.

Importantly, the opinion says: “Some patients, obstetrician–gynecologists, and other obstetric care providers are concerned that regular physical activity during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, poor fetal growth, musculoskeletal injury, or premature delivery. For uncomplicated pregnancies, these concerns have not been substantiated…” Continue reading

Docs In Training Confide Their Feelings On Performing Abortions

Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs outside the Texas Capitol on July 9 in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)

Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs outside the Texas Capitol July 9 in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)

Abortion can be hard for the patient. But it can also cause turmoil for the doctor performing the procedure.

Janet Singer, a nurse midwife on the faculty of Brown University’s obstetrics-gynecology residency program, found herself acting as a confidant in many discussions with residents about abortion.

“Over the years, when a resident felt confused, overwhelmed or thrilled about something to do with abortion care, they often came to me to discuss it,” she says.

Tricky questions continued to arise: Where does life actually begin? How do doctors’ personal beliefs play out in their clinical care? And, what’s really best for mothers?

(KateLMills/Flickr)

(KateLMills/Flickr)

Singer thought the general public would benefit from hearing more about the complexities of the young doctors’ experiences. So she asked four residents to write about their feelings about abortion training and services, or as one resident characterized it: “one of the most life-changing interventions we can offer.”

These personal stories are published in the July issue of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, headlined: “Four Residents’ Narratives on Abortion Training: A Residency Climate of Reflection, Support, and Mutual Respect.”

I asked Singer to offer a bit more background on the project, and here, edited, is her response, followed by some excerpts from the residents’ narratives:

Janet Singer: The abortion debate in the U.S. is so divisive, making everything seem black and white; but the real life experiences of doctors and women are much more complex. I am a nurse midwife and though personally committed to increasing access to abortion services, I believe that abortion is not a black and white issue. I speak openly about my personal beliefs with the obstetric residents I work with.

My thinking about the grey areas surrounding abortion care are the result of many conversations with colleagues and residents. One came to me overwhelmed on a day when she had done a late-term abortion and then been called to an emergency C-section for a fetus/baby just a week further along.

She needed to talk about how overwhelming it felt to try to decide where the cusp of life was, why it was OK to take one fetus/baby out of the womb so it wouldn’t live and one out so it might.  Continue reading

CDC: Certain Antidepressants, But Not All, Taken During Pregnancy May Raise Birth Defect Risk

The debate over whether or not it’s safe to take antidepressants during pregnancy is heated, with extreme emotions — and conflicting research studies — on both sides.

But a broad new analysis led by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to a fairly measured conclusion when comparing pregnant women who took SSRIs — a class of antidepressants — to women who did not take those medications during pregnancy.

The analysis suggests that certain serious birth defects occur 2 to 3.5 times more frequently among babies born to mothers taking the antidepressants Prozac or Paxil early in pregnancy. But the researchers also conclude that for pregnant women taking other SSRIs, such as Zoloft, the data “provide some reassuring evidence” that earlier studies linking the drug with specific birth defects could not be replicated.

The analysis of 17,952 mothers of infants with birth defects and 9,857 mothers of infants without birth defects was published in The BMJ.

“What our paper really adds, is that we can now offer women more options,” said Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and the study’s lead author. Reefhuis said that since Zoloft (sertraline) was the most common SSRI taken among the women, “it was reassuring that we could not replicate the five earlier links with birth defects.”

In an interview, Reefhuis said: “The main message is that depression and other mental health conditions can be very serious and many women need to take medication to manage their symptoms. So women who are pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant, shouldn’t stop or start any antidepressants without speaking to a health care provider.”

The issue, she added, isn’t clear cut, but highly dependent on each individual woman and a very personal calculation of risks versus benefits. “We are trying to find the nuance here,” Reefhuis said. “It is really important that women get treated during pregnancy. Their illness doesn’t stop the moment they get pregnant. Women need options.”

It’s also important to retain perspective when evaluating risk, Reefhuis said, noting that in every pregnancy there is already a 3 percent risk of a birth defect. Continue reading

Having A Baby? Big Differences In Hospital Quality Across Massachusetts

If you’re one of the roughly 70,000 women who will give birth in Massachusetts this year, you may be planning to deliver at a hospital close to home or where your OB practices. But what you might not realize is that when it comes to childbirth, there are big differences in hospital quality across the state.

For example:

  • Your chance of having a Cesarean section is almost three times higher at some hospitals
  • While some hospitals allow you to schedule an early delivery even when it’s not medically necessary, other hospitals have stopped this practice because a baby’s brain, lungs and liver need the full 39 weeks to develop
  • Your chance of having an episiotomy — a surgical cut to enlarge the vaginal opening — ranges from 0 to 31 percent
  • Trying for a natural delivery after having had a C-section is encouraged at some hospitals but not offered at others
  • Three times as many women breastfeed their babies at some hospitals as compared to others

“The door you walk in will have a big impact” on what happens during and after childbirth, says Carol Sakala, director of programs at the nonprofit maternity quality group Childbirth Connection.

The hospital where women choose to deliver “absolutely matters,” says Dr. Neel Shah, an assistant professor of obstetrics at Harvard Medical School. Take C-section rates, Shah says. “In many ways, which hospital you go to is a bigger predictor of whether or not you’re going to get a C-section than your own risk or your own preferences.”

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