Objective: Severe respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) caused by surfactant deficiency is described not only in preterm infants but also in (near-) term babies after caesarean section (CS), especially when carried out before the onset of labour. The aim of the present study was to document the severity of this theoretically avoidable entity in order to improve obstetric and perinatal care.
Patients: All neonates admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit of the University Hospital of Bern between 1988 and 2000 with RDS on the basis of hyaline membrane disease (HMD) needing mechanical ventilation (MV) after CS and with a birthweight > or = 2500 g were analysed. HMD was diagnosed when respiratory distress and the typical radiological signs were present. Patients were grouped into elective CS before onset of labour and before rupture of membranes (group 1, n = 34) and patients delivered by emergency CS or CS after onset of labour or rupture of membranes (group 2, n = 22). Analysed indices for severity of illness were duration of stay in intensive care unit and MV, ventilation mode, worst oxygenation index (OI), presence of pulmonary air leak, and systemic hypotension.
Results: Mean gestational age (GA) was 37 2/7 weeks in group 1 and 36 2/7 weeks in group 2; no patient had a GA of > or = 39 0/7 weeks. Duration of MV was 4.4 days in group 1 and 3.9 days in group 2. Thirteen patients (38%) of group 1 and 7 (32%) of group 2 had to be managed by rescue high-frequency ventilation. A total of 7 patients had an OI>40. Eight patients (24%) in group 1 and 4 (18%) in group 2 developed a pulmonary air leak. Fourteen neonates (41%) in group 1 had to be supported by catecholamines versus 5 (22%) in group 2. There was one death in group 1.
Conclusion: Severe RDS on the basis of HMD can also occur in near-term babies after CS; even a fatal outcome can not be excluded. The severity of illness in elective CS without labour may be quite high and is comparable to newborns delivered by CS (after onset of labour and/or rupture of the membranes) who were 1 week younger. No case of HMD was found in our population when CS was carried out after completion of 39 post-menstrual weeks of gestation.