Anaesthesia not harmful for babies during birth
Jul 28, 2009 - 1:08:33 PM

Babies exposed to anaesthesia during caesarean deliveries are not at any higher risk of developing learning disabilities than children delivered normally.

'We found that the incidence of learning disabilities was equal between children who were delivered vaginally and those who were delivered via C-section but with general anaesthesia,' says Juraj Sprung, Mayo Clinic anaesthesiologist who led the study.

'It's reassuring that the anaesthetics required for caesarean delivery do not appear to cause long-term brain problems,' Sprung adds.

The study was conducted with data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project. Researchers analysed the medical records of 5,320 children born between 1976 and 1982 to mothers living in Olmsted County.

They compared birth records with scholastic achievement and IQ tests administered to the children later in life as part of their schooling.

The study builds on a previous project, reported in March, which found that children exposed to a single dose of anaesthesia during the first three years of life had no increased risk for learning disabilities, but those exposed multiple times had an almost doubled risk of learning disabilities.

Prolonged exposure to anaesthetics has been shown to cause brain abnormalities in young animals, which was the impetus behind these two studies.

Not only did the researchers find that the use of anaesthesia during delivery was not harmful to the baby, they found that babies delivered by caesarean using an epidural anaesthetic - had a substantially reduced risk for learning disabilities later in life.

'The risk was reduced by about 40 percent compared to children delivered vaginally and those delivered via caesarean section but with general anaesthesia,' says Sprung, according to a Mayo Clinic release.

Study co-author and Mayo Clinic anaesthesiologist Randall Flick cautions that because

this study is preliminary, changes to medical practice should not be considered at this point. 'What we've found is an association between two things,' he says.

These findings are reported in the current issue of Anaesthesiology.

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