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The carbon footprint of different modes of birth in the UK and the Netherlands: An exploratory study using life cycle assessment

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  • Nienke A. Spil
  • Kim E. van Nieuwenhuizen
  • Rachel Rowe
  • Jim G. Thornton
  • Elizabeth Murphy
  • Evelyn Verheijen
  • Clifford L. Shelton
  • Alexander E. P. Heazell
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/04/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Issue number5
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)568-578
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date25/01/24
<mark>Original language</mark>English


AbstractObjectiveTo compare the carbon footprint of caesarean and vaginal birth.DesignLife cycle assessment (LCA).SettingTertiary maternity units and home births in the UK and the Netherlands.PopulationBirthing women.MethodsA cradle‐to‐grave LCA using openLCA software to model the carbon footprint of different modes of delivery in the UK and the Netherlands.Main Outcome Measures‘Carbon footprint’ (in kgCO2 equivalents [kgCO2e]).ResultsExcluding analgesia, the carbon footprint of a caesarean birth in the UK was 31.21 kgCO2e, compared with 12.47 kgCO2e for vaginal birth in hospital and 7.63 kgCO2e at home. In the Netherlands the carbon footprint of a caesarean was higher (32.96 kgCO2e), but lower for vaginal birth in hospital and home (10.74 and 6.27 kgCO2e, respectively). Emissions associated with analgesia for vaginal birth ranged from 0.08 kgCO2e (with opioid analgesia) to 237.33 kgCO2e (nitrous oxide with oxygen). Differences in analgesia use resulted in a lower average carbon footprint for vaginal birth in the Netherlands than the UK (11.64 versus 193.26 kgCO2e).ConclusionThe carbon footprint of a caesarean is higher than for a vaginal birth if analgesia is excluded, but this is very sensitive to the analgesia used; use of nitrous oxide with oxygen multiplies the carbon footprint of vaginal birth 25‐fold. Alternative methods of pain relief or nitrous oxide destruction systems would lead to a substantial improvement in carbon footprint. Although clinical need and maternal choice are paramount, protocols should consider the environmental impact of different choices.