A study of 700 000 low-risk births published in the British Medical Journal found that as many as 5% of babies in private healthcare facilities suffered trauma at birth.
Babies born under low-risk conditions, meaning the mother is healthy and had proper pre-natal care and the baby was considered healthy in-utero, were more likely to be re-admitted to hospital with in the first 28 days after birth.
Reports of scalp injuries and broken bones were attributed to medical intervention during the delivery which included the use of foreceps and suction.
Babies were also likely to be delivered too early resulting in the development of jaundice, feeding problems and under developed lungs — resulting in the need for resuscitation and potentially harmful oxygen supplementation.
According to the UK website babycentre.co.uk “Jaundice happens when the liver can’t keep up with the rate of bilirubin build-up. Very high levels of bilirubin can be harmful to a baby’s brain. “
“Exposure to concentrated oxygen might be part of the problem [damaged eye sight and even blindness]. This is one reason why the level of oxygen given to babies in the neonatal care unit is carefully controlled. “
The study conducted by the University of Western Sydney found that babies born in the public sector suffered fewer of the problems than their peers born in private facilities with 3.6% re-admittance to hospital during the first 28 days.
University of Western Sydney midwifery professor and lead author of the study, Hannah Dahlen said that birth interventions were employed 20% more often in private facilities than in state facilities. These included delivery by forceps, induced labour, caesarean sections and epidurals. Professor Dahlen said she felt that this was the reason for the increased incidents of trauma suffered by new-borns in private care.
She added, “It is this intervention that’s causing that morbidity. The more times, for example, you put implements or a suction cap on a baby’s head, the more likely you are to cause some trauma.”
“The bottom line is, if you’re paying more for health in Australia, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better outcome for low-risk babies and women.”
Dahlen said the study has greater significance when the federal and state government’s agenda regarding privatisation of health services are considered.
“Giving birth at home, or giving birth in a midwife-led unit that’s not even connected to a hospital, you have better outcomes,” she said.