Health
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Jesusí birth different from modern delivery

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital


We often take our health for granted. We expect that things are going to be neat and clean and free of disease in most of the things we do. It is not that way all around the world. It has not always been that way here. For example, we often stop at hotels or motels and sleep for the night. We expect a clean room. We expect to have running water. We expect to have clean towels in the bathroom and clean sheets on the bed. That is no different from what we expect in our own home. The days of outhouses are gone. We expect running water in the kitchen and a toilet that flushes. We expect that visitors to our house will come properly dressed. We expect them to be clean. We expect that they will not bring their pets with them unless they ask permission. In the 19th century we made great strides in medicine. These included making sure that we used antiseptic conditions for childbirth. Prior to that time, many women developed infections when delivering babies. The condition had a name. It was called puerperal fever. There was a significant mortality rate. It was common to hear that a woman had died in childbirth. The rate of puerperal infections decreased significantly once we found out how to prevent infection. Prevention was not 100 percent. It sometimes still occurred. With the discovery of antibiotics, we took the next step to prevent death in childbirth. Now the condition is almost unheard of. The same thing is true of our approach to healthy newborns. We have learned a lot over the years. Much of that has been aimed at preventing infections in newborns. An infection in a newborn is a serious matter. It can easily be fatal.
One of the most common infections that we see is something that is called Group B Strep. It is so common that we check all pregnant women for it between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. If they test positive, we give them antibiotics during labor. The goal is to prevent an infection in the newborn. Most of the time it works. Sometimes, waiting until labor is too late. The infant can be born with a serious infection. The infection can be fatal. For that reason, even if the mother has been treated, the recommendation is to keep the infant in the hospital a full 48 hours to make sure that there is no evidence of infection. Some mothers do not understand the reason for observing the infant an extra day to make sure there is no infection. However, that is the safest thing. That is how we practice medicine in our current world. We need to be thankful for how safe childbirth has become. We need to not take this for granted. The health of the mother delivering a baby and of newborn babies is much better than it used to be. As we go through the current Christmas season, we are reminded of a birth a long-time ago. The birth took place in a stable. The bed was a manger. The visitors were shepherds from the fields. They brought their flocks of sheep with them. Those things are all very different from what we would consider to be the best environment to deliver a new baby. We should take the time to think about the Christmas story and be grateful for the many things that now ensure the health and well-being of the mothers who deliver infants in our nationís hospitals every day.

Dr. Anthony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.