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Hospital Birth and Risk of Infection

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Dunno how many Lactivist readers caught the Dateline special on Sunday night. I rarely watch the show, but it was just coming on and the preview caught my eye, so we tuned in.

MSN has the story online if you missed it: A routine epidural turns deadly

(Note: The title of the article is a bit inflamatory, the epidural didn't kill her, the infection did, they think the infection was introduced via the epidural, but no one knows for sure. A better title would be..."a routine birth turns deadly.")

It's a long article, as it's basically the transcript of the show, but it's well worth a read. To summarize...

A woman went to the hospital for an induction, gets an epidural that seems to overmedicate her. They disconnect it, let it wear off and come back to place a second one. The second one works. She gives birth, but later that night starts to run a high fever and to have headaches, swelling and some other problems. Turns out that she has a staph infection which enters her brain, causes swelling, massive brain damage and eventually, kills her. All within about 24 hours of the birth of her son.

The story focuses on the risk of infections in hositals and cites the stat that about 2 million patients each year (1 in 20) will get an infection FROM the hospital during a hospital stay. Of those 2 million, around 90,000 will die. The problems exist on several levels...

1.) Because of the environment of the hospital, only the strongest bugs survive...that means that the infections that people get in the hospital tend to be more severe than what they would contract elsewhere and means that in some cases, regular antibiotics are not enough to do the trick.

2.) Studies show that only about half of all doctors and nurses actually wash their hands between patients. Obviously this can cause infections to spread quickly if a doctor comes in contact with one of these super bugs.

Watching the story made me think of two things that people really need to take away from this news...

1.) 1 in 20 is a pretty serious number. I know that I fell into that category. The hospital that I had Nora at insisted on a quick cath after she was born because I was not able to IMMEDIATELY pee on my own. They wouldn't even give me 30 minutes. I had 3 UTIs within a month after leaving the hospital, caused by something that got into my system via the cath.

Thankfully it was just a UTI and not something more serious. In the story, they believed that the staph infection entered her system via the epidural. That essentially put the infection on a fast track through her spine up to her brain, causing the damage to spread faster than they could contain it.

So how to keep yourself safe? Well for one, consider an intervention free birth. In the hospital, your risk of infection goes up every time something is "introduced" to a spot that it shouldn't be. A catheter, an epidural, an IV, vaginal exams, an internal monitor for baby...all of these interventions create opportunity for an infection to be introduced. The more of them you can avoid, the lower your risks of contracting an infection.

2.) It was another reason to feel good about my decision to plan a home birth. Despite the fact that my house is messy, and in some spots even a bit dirty, the reality is that my body is used to the "germs" that are in my home. They're common, garden variety germs and viruses and my body already has immunities to them. That means that my body will pass those same immunities to my child. The risk of infection with a home birth is microscopic compared to that of a hospital birth unless of course you like to smear your walls with raw meat. ;)

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  1. Blogger Meg | 10:02 PM |  

    PREaCH ON!
    former Labor & Delivery nurse,
    Three time Homebirther

  2. Anonymous dawn rich | 2:30 AM |  

    Meg,I am a 33 year old mother of 3 I have had 3 c-sections and have had 2 infections.My most recent child was born on 4/18/08.I have been hospitalized for 6 days twice in the month of june and it is the end of August and recently stopped draining.I am disgusted with my treatment and of the attitudes of the doctors that treated me.I live in a small town in pa.and within this small town there has been at least 5 people of which I know personally that have had infections from there c section.Cant something be done?Why do so many of us have to suffer like this? sincerely,Dawn Rich Dingmans Ferry Pa.

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