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Are babies who are born on the weekend more likely to die?

The “Weekend Effect” is not a new concept in medical circles.

Researchers and health professionals have long examined why the outcomes of patients admitted on weekends are not as great as those admitted on weekdays. Now these smart researchers have turned their attention to babies and asked does this “Weekend Effect” occur in maternity hospitals?

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: below.

In the largest study of its kind (it examined around 1 million patients admitted to English hospitals over a two year period) published in the British Medical Journal researchers found a significant increase across a range of areas such as perinatal mortality (stillborn or within a week of birth), infections, emergency readmissions, and injuries for babies born on the weekend.

“Performance across four of the seven measures was significantly worse for women admitted, and babies born, at weekends,” the study said. “In particular, the perinatal mortality rate was 7.3 per 1000 babies delivered at weekends, 0.9 per 1000 higher than for weekdays.”

Mothers giving birth on the weekend were also more likely to sustain injuries and illness.

But before anyone gets too stressed by the findings, President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Michael Permezel, says it’s a mistake to draw the conclusion that having babies on the weekend is not safe.

Around 40 per cent of births in Australia, he says, involve medical intervention such as inductions or elective caesarean section and the majority of these occur on weekdays.

“These account for nearly half of all births and they are particularly safe. Induction of labour is intensively supervised and monitored and the outcome is mostly exceptionally good,” Professor Permezel says. “But, saying that, it’s wrong to conclude that all women should be induced or have an elective caesarean as it’s still very, very safe having spontaneous labour.”

U.K. researchers couldn’t find a relationship between staffing levels and infant mortality. Staffing levels were the same as during the week and Professor Permezel says weekend staffing in Australia is also mostly very similar to during the week.

Watch the video below of two newborn twins talking to each other. Post continues after video.

Video via Mike Lasky

Researchers also looked at the numerous other variables and came up blank.

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What is known is that Australia has one of the lowest perinatal mortality rates in the world.

Shauna, 40, had her third child on the weekend in a private hospital with a private obstetrician and says she is glad she didn’t know about this study as there are enough worries to deal with when you are pregnant. 

As it was her third child she did notice a few differences surrounding her birth from that of her older children.

“Firstly it was quieter than it had been for my previous birth which was on a Tuesday, with less people around and the big thing was that two very essential people didn’t show up – despite it being an eight hour labor,” she says.

“I was super keen for an epidural and was all ready for the anaesthetist but despite him being called many, many, many times he was ‘not being currently contactable’. Finally after I began screaming get the ‘F-ing Man Now’ he walked in and I had my epidural five minutes before my daughter was born. So I felt every single bloody thing. And the second person who didn’t show was my obstetrician. He, too, wasn’t contactable and the very capable, wonderful midwife delivered my daughter.”

giving birth 'weekend effect'
Image: iStock.
Holly was induced on a Sunday morning in a hospital she felt was “very quiet”.
“It was a very intense labour, and there’s a lot of it that I don’t remember,” she recalls. “But what I DO remember is that when my son was born, I looked up, surfacing from my fog for the first time with a baby in my arms and there were all of these people at the end of the bed. Most of them were in white coats – two midwives, and a nurse or so. And then, at the back, there was a man in jeans and a leather jacket. Just standing there.”
The first thing Holly asked her partner after her son was born was who was the man in the corner.
“It was weird.”
Anne, now 57, had three babies all, coincidentally, born on a Sunday. Her weekend experience was as straightfoward as a birth can be.
“I was well-cared for, had no complications and went home within hours of the birth.”
Other interesting findings from the study include:
  • Thursdays saw the highest number of births and Sundays the lowest.
  • Monday and Tuesday saw the lowest risk.
  • Thursday births had the highest infant mortality risk.
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