Researchers at the University of California School of Medicine recently released the findings of a study that indicate that babies born at night may be at greater risk of developing neonatal encephalopathy, a rare brain condition that can lead to epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or death. The researchers looked at almost 2 million California births over a 14-year period and found that newborns delivered between 10 pm and 4 am had a 22% increased risk of the brain condition.
Although the researchers admit that very little is known about the causes of neonatal encephalopathy, they note that “investigators have suggested that the level of medical care may decrease during the night, producing a ‘circadian rhythm of quality of care.’ That is, both fatigue, and decreased staffing during the night could potentially have a negative impact on level of care. In some instances, senior and highly experienced physicians may be less available during the night, also having a potential impact on quality of care.” This theory is further supported by the study’s findings that an increased risk of neonatal encephalopathy was also found in rural and teaching hospitals as compared to non-rural and non-teaching hospitals.
The researchers note that the brain condition currently afflicts more than 10,000 newborns in the United States each year and suggest further study to determine its cause.
Nighttime Delivery and Risk of Neonatal Encephalopathy, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Volume 204, Issue 1  , Pages 37.e1-37.e6, January 2011.