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Sterile environments?, The labour & the baby

Sterile environments?, The labour & the baby


Up to about 20 years ago, there was a belief that birth should be a 'sterile procedure', similar to an operation. Sterile conditions in hospitals were strictly followed in the hope of preventing infections in the woman or her baby. Rooms were tiled, caregivers 'scrubbed up' and attended women wearing surgical gowns, caps and masks. Women's legs were draped with sterile sheeting so that only her vagina was visible, and her vulva was routinely shaved and washed down with antiseptic solution.

There is no evidence that any of these procedures prevent infections, although some of these outdated routines still continue in some hospitals. (Many caregivers will wear masks, gowns and plastic glasses these days, but this is to protect them from blood splashes from the birth, and not to protect the woman from infection). Also, be aware that partial shaving of the pubic hair is still required for a Caesarean operation.

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How will it affect the labour?

Having a fever in itself usually will not affect the labour. If the fever is due to dehydration, then the labour could slow down (and in some instances stop). This could lead to the labour needing to be augmented. If the temperature is high, then the baby may become distressed, and the woman will usually feel unwell. If the fever is due to an infection, the main concerns are for the health of the baby, and any uterine infections for the woman after the birth.

Will the fever affect my baby?

A high temperature in itself can have some short term effects on the baby's health. Babies born from women who have had a fever (over 38o Celsius) during labour or who have experienced 'epidural fever', but no infection, have been shown to have an increased chance of:

  • A lower Apgar score at birth.
  • Being 'floppy', or having less muscle tone at birth.
  • Needing oxygen and resuscitation at birth.
  • Needing transfer to the intensive care nursery soon after the birth.
  • Experiencing a seizure or fit.

Longer term effects have not been proven. Babies of mothers who have a fever due to infection of the amniotic fluid can be quite unwell, and have a higher risk of breathing difficulties due to pneumonia. In some cases, it can be life threatening for the baby.


Last revised: Saturday, 8 December 2012

This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.

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