A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh has taken a look at the childbirth procedures and delivery suites at Magee-Women's Hospital to understand and suggest ways to improve sustainability in the practice.
Melissa Bilec, an assistant professor in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, led the research that is considered the first of its kind. The researchers used a Life Cycle Assessment to determine environmental impacts of childbirth in a hospital setting.
She says this is the first foray into an anticipated long research relationship between Pitt and Magee. The research team examined the heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit in the hospital along with disposable materials like gowns and toiletries and the energy needs of equipment used during procedures. They found that the hospital could do a better job optimizing the HVAC system in addition to reducing reliance on disposable products.
The decision to study birthing was made by the team and wasn't influenced by public interest.
"Obviously if you're pregnant and you're having a child this may not be something that you're necessarily considering," Bilec said. "Obviously the health of you as the mom and then the health of the child is something that dominates in your decision."
The study examined both methods of childbirth, and while Bilec said the intensive nature of a Caesarean section had a larger impact, the study's goal wasn't to weigh regular delivery and C-section against each other.
"We really didn't want to look at a comparison between the two types of birth because there are so many different reasons why a person needs to have a vaginal delivery versus a cesarean delivery," Bilec said.
Some of the suggestions made by the team, like taking a closer look at the energy needed to run the HVAC system, are already happening according to Bilec. She said the leader of Magee's "green team," Judy Focareta, has been examining the findings and looking for ways to implement changes.