Rural and urban babies fare equally at birth, study suggests

Babies born to rural and urban mothers tend to fare equally well despite differences in birthing experiences such as travel times to hospital, a new Canadian report suggests.

Canadian babies tend to have similar outcomes regardless of where delivered

Babies born to rural and urban mothers tend to fare equally well despite differences in birthing experiences such as travel times to hospital, a new Canadian report suggests.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information's report on giving birth in rural Canada showed women in rural areas were more likely than urban women to have their babies delivered by a family physician and less likely to have the birth attended by an obstetrician/gynecologist or midwife.

An Inuit baby is carried in the northern Labrador community of Nain, N.L. A majority, 67 per cent, of rural women gave birth in urban hospitals. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

While babies born to rural women were more likely to be large for gestational age, which can lead to longer labour times and increased chances of needing a C-section, those born in rural areas were also less likely to be small for gestational age, which can also lead to complications for the newborn.

Cecile Hunt is the CEO of Prince Albert Parkland Health Region in north, central Saskatchewan, where about 1,500 babies are born each year. The region provides a range of specialty services to neighbouring areas.

Hunt said CIHI's findings are consistent with the reality in her region.

For "women who live in both rural and remote Canada, how do we ensure that we can support a connection back to the community, provide continuity of care and ensure that this important time is as joyful as possible?"

From 2007–2008 to 2011–2012, there were 242,550 in-hospital deliveries for women from rural areas in Canada (excluding Quebec), which represented 18 per cent of all hospital deliveries.

Most rural women (67 per cent) gave birth in urban hospitals, and 17 per cent travelled more than two hours to deliver.

"Rural women who delivered in urban hospitals had markedly higher rates of preterm birth than those delivering in rural hospitals (9.7 per cent versus 3.1 per cent)," the report's authors concluded.

Many rural women are not delivering in their home communities, Hunt said.

"A higher number of moms and neonates at risk are travelling from their rural or remote communities to urban hospitals. I think that reflects appropriate triaging, consultation with correct specialists and most of those specialists work in urban centres where they have access to staff and equipment that ensures wherever possible the best possible outcome," said Hunt.

Also today, the institute released a related report with information on pregnancy, childbirth and newborns.

The number of babies born in Canadian hospitals has been relatively stable for the past five years. Almost 373,000 babies were born in hospital in 2011-12.

C-section rates were also stable at 18 per cent, with British Columbia showing the highest rate at 22 per cent and Quebec the lowest at 15 per cent.

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar