High risk: anti-vaxxers in the delivery ward

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What can a doctor say to a mother who refuses a potentially life-saving treatment for her newborn? By Rachel Pearson

For paediatric resident physicians, the newborn nursery at a high-risk delivery centre is a potent mix of the mundane and the terrifying. We spend most of our time teaching new parents how many wet nappies to expect in a day, making slight adjustments to breastfeeding positions, listening again and again to normal hearts. Most babies don’t need a paediatrician at delivery, and these kids simply arrive on our unit, swaddled and ready for life outside the womb.

Sometimes, though, birth is an emergency: the baby has no heartbeat; the baby is not breathing. I wear running shoes at work even though I’ve lost a pair to bloodstains, so that every time my pager sounds, I am ready to sprint upstairs to the labour and delivery floor.

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