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Four side effects of routine suctioning of newborn's airways

Are you considering to include routine suctioning of your newborns’ airways in your birth plan? It seems harmless and it can be harmless if done when necessary, and in a gentle way.

Four potential side effects of routine suctioning:

1. Suctioning can stimulate the vagus nerve, causing baby’s heart rate to drop, called bradycardia (Evans et al., 2016).

2. The device can damage the mucous membranes which increases the risk of an infection (Evans et al., 2016).

3. It can interfere with the initiation of breastfeeding (Widstrom et al., 2019).

4. Babies who are suctioned take a longer time to reach appropriate oxygenation levels (Evans et al., 2016).

Newborn's can clear fluids on their own

So is routine suctioning of the newborn's airways necessary? Babies have an innate ability to clear fluids on their own through crying and breathing (Evans et al., 2016). Instead of using devices and tools to help babies to clear amniotic fluid it comes back again to physiology and trusting the unfoldment of natural processes. The first hour after birth is crucial for the mother-infant bonding and the suctioning can take away the time of this initial skin to skin contact which can affect the breastfeeding (Widstrom et al., 2019). If you prefer this natural approach it is highly recommended to mention it in your birth plan.

What are the exceptions?

In which cases could a newborn benefit from this procedure? It is recommended in cases when there is an obvious obstruction in their way and they have trouble breathing. Also when positive pressure ventilation is conducted suctioning is necessary (Neumann, et al., 2014). Some care providers would prefer to do it when there is meconium present in the amniotic fluid. However, even a large scale study (2000 neonates) showed that suctioning of the airways didn’t make a difference in case of meconium-stained fluid in order to prevent meconium aspiration syndrome (Vain et al. 2004).

More information on newborn procedures can be found in my childbirth education class.

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