Suctioning the Newborn: Worthwhile or Not?

Randall Neustaedter OMD, LAc, CCH

It is standard procedure at hospital births to vigorously suction newborns’ respiratory passages if the amniotic fluid is stained with meconium. This is done to prevent meconium aspiration syndrome, a condition where meconium that enters the lungs may result in pneumonia, a collapsed lung, or various types of lung dysfunction. The procedure is accomplished when the head has emerged from the birth canal prior to delivery of the shoulders. Like many medical interventions, suctioning the newborn is based on theory and not on the basis of any studies that show its effectiveness. A study was instituted to determine if this procedure is warranted.

Researchers studied 2,514 full-term newborns with meconium-stained amniotic fluid at 12 different sites. One group was suctioned prior to delivery of the shoulders, the other group was not. Resuscitation was performed as needed after birth. The incidence of meconium aspiration symptoms was exactly the same (4 percent) in both groups.

This study shows no benefit from a routine procedure performed on newborn babies and defies conventional wisdom. Now one more unnecessary intervention in neonatal care should be abandoned.


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