Management of Extremely Low Birth Weight Infants: Perceptions of Viability and Parental Counseling Practices

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Abstract

Objective

To determine physician opinions, parental counseling, and medical practices for extremely low birth weight (LBW) infants.

Methods

A retrospective survey was sent in August 1996 to 450 California physicians practicing obstetrics.

Results

There was a 41% response rate. The mean thresholds for antenatal steroid administration, cesarean delivery for fetal distress and delivery room resuscitation were gestational age between 23 and 24 weeks and weight close to 500 g. Most obstetricians counsel parents regarding survival, resuscitation, and possible death in the delivery room before delivery of an extremely LBW infant. Just over 60% of obstetricians believe that parents have a role in deciding not to resuscitate an infant born at 22 weeks' gestation, this decreases to less than 50% at 24 weeks, and decreases further to less than 30% by 26 weeks' gestation. Just over 40% of obstetricians report their counseling is affected by pediatric opinion, 33% by previous maternal perinatal losses, and less than 20% by maternal drug use or lack of prenatal care, and young maternal age. Language barriers, parental education level, and family insurance affect treatment options in less than 10% of obstetricians.

Conclusion

Obstetric opinions about delivery room resuscitation of extremely LBW infants are influenced by birth weight and gestational age thresholds, infant, and parental factors. There is a limited willingness by physicians to allow a parental role in decision making in the delivery room for extremely LBW infants.

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