1 in 10 caesareans lead to infection, says study

The Royal College of Midwives warns against unnecessary caesareans as research highlights risk of infection

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A new study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology suggests 1 in 10 women who have a caesarian in England will suffer an infection afterwards.

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With 1 in 4 women in the UK having a caesarean birth, experts are concerned about the increased strain on the NHS plus the extra pressure on new mums a postnatal infection could bring.

The study, lead by Dr Catherine Wloch, Department of Healthcare Associated Infection and Antimicrobial Resistance at the Health Protection Agency, took into account more than 4,000 caesarean births in 2009. They found mothers who are overweight or obese or those giving birth under the age of 20, are most at risk.

Just over 88% of the mums who experience an infection had ‘superficial incisional infections’, which affect the skin and surface layers. Almost 5% had ‘deep incisional’ infections, which affects deeper tissues, while almost 7% had resulting internal organ problems.

The results suggest women under 20 are twice as likely to have an infection and being overweight ups the chance of infection around the scar, too.

The Royal College of Midwives says the study gives weight to the argument that caesarians should be for those mums who medically need them. The RCM’s education and professional developer adviser Gail Johnson said, “Women who develop an infection postnatally are more likely to feel less able to provide care to their baby will take longer to recover from the birth.

Dr Elizabeth Sheridan, head of healthcare associated infections at the Health Protection Agency, said, “These infections represent a substantial burden. They will impact not only directly on the mother and her family but also are a significant cost in terms of antibiotic use, GP time and midwife care, and every effort should be made to avoid them.”

The Department of Health said, “Whether to have a caesarean or not remains a decision that a woman must reach with the health professionals providing her care.”

It adds, “Annually the numbers of MRSA and clostridium difficile infections are now at their lowest ever level since mandatory reporting for each was introduced. Hospitals should extend measures that have reduced the number of these infections across all areas.”

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