April 10, 2019

In Israel the number of births goes up right before and during Passover. Of course, whenever a child is born it is a joyous event. Recent research has revealed a vital discovery regarding how the timing of a baby’s birth affects the child’s health.

Revolutionary research done by Dr. Asnat Walfisch, Head of the Obstetrics/Gynecology Department of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem (Mount Scopus), has revealed the relationship between a child’s long term health and early term birth. Dr. Walfisch specialises in high risk pregnancies, and treats women suffering from various placenta related pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, preterm delivery and fetal growth restriction. “I am specifically passionate about the relationship between gestational age at birth, even within ‘term pregnancy’ which is 37 to 42 weeks, and later child health,” says Dr. Walfisch.

Dr. Walfisch, 46, was motivated to conduct this research because she sees the impact of delivery timing and how it affects the baby’s health. “As doctors, delivery timing is a common dilemma we face every day when we are scheduling a date for a Cesarean section or labor induction,” she says. “Sometimes women ask for a certain date because of non-medical reasons such as the holidays, convenience, or just because they are tired from the pregnancy.”

Research Findings

Her research focused on how pregnancy complications, mode of delivery, and gestational age at birth each affect long term health of the baby.

The first finding is that “early term” (which is 37 to 39 weeks’ gestation) is not the perfect time to deliver, and delivery should be postponed to full term (39 to 41 weeks), if there is no medical indication to deliver earlier. In both the short term and the long term, children born “early” exhibit health issues that are similar to those typical of premature babies (those born before 37 weeks) but to a lesser extent.

The second finding revealed that children born “early” tend to be hospitalized more often due to respiratory, cardiac, and metabolic issues. Obstructive sleep apnea necessitating surgery (like tonsillectomy) and otitis media (ear infection) are also more common in these children. Other researchers have found higher risk of attention deficit disorders in early term babies.

Dr. Asnat Walfisch

Dr. Asnat Walfisch, Head of the Obstetrics/Gynecology Department of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem

Another aspect of the research relates to mode of delivery. Apparently, babies born via C-section are more likely associated with later health issues compared to babies born via vaginal delivery. This may be due to the benefits of passing through the birth canal and exposure to the different bacteria there, which helps the immune system to develop.

This research was conducted at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and The Soroka University Medical Center, Beersheva. “Our research group consisted of Professor Eyal Sheiner, Dr. Tamar Wainstock, Ruslan Sergienko and myself,” Dr. Walfisch says. “We worked on a unique and huge database of roughly a quarter of a million births occurring between 1991 and 2014 that combines perinatal data and later hospitalizations of the children.”

Dr. Walfisch is confident these research results will help women. “I think that when women are considering when and how to deliver their baby,” she says, “they need to have the full picture of how these decisions will affect the lives of their babies in the long run. If delivery can be postponed to full term and carried out the natural way, within medical safety limits of course, the better.”

I am always looking for ‘perfect timing’ to deliver, both in the short as well as the long term perspective.

This research is just the beginning. Dr. Walfisch explains, “There is so much more we need to study and understand. A combined database of several regions within Israel and maybe the entire country can give us a more comprehensive picture of the health of offspring in the long run and the association with different pregnancy and delivery characteristics.”

Each year the number of babies delivered at Hadassah Medical Organization increases. Nearly 14,000 babies were delivered at Hadassah’s Mount Scopus and Ein Kerem hospitals this year, which is 5 percent more than last year. Dr. Walfisch said she feels blessed to be part of this historic hospital in Jerusalem. “The newly opened delivery rooms (in Mount Scopus) are a combination of great design and cutting edge technology,” she explains, “so that women can feel at home while the team has everything needed to provide a safe and healthy delivery.” Her goals at Mount Scopus? “I want the woman to feel she is getting the delivery experience she dreamt of, ‘custom made’ for her.”