Babies who suffer oxygen deficiencies during birth are at risk of brain damage that can lead to developmental delays, cerebral palsy and even death. To prevent this, most women in labor undergo continuous monitoring of the baby’s heart rate and receive supplemental oxygen if the heart rate is abnormal, with the thought that this common practice increases oxygen delivery to the baby. However, there is conflicting evidence about whether the long-recommended practice improves infant health.
Now, a comprehensive analysis — led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — looking at 16 previous trials of the practice has found no benefit in providing supplemental oxygen to mothers during labor and delivery. Infants born to women who received supplemental oxygen fared no better or no worse than those born to women who had similar labor experiences but breathed room air.