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Remembering Doris Haire – A Great Leader in the Field of Maternal Infant Health

June 17th, 2014 by avatar

doris haireDoris Haire, a great leader in the campaign to improve maternal infant health in the USA has passed away.  Ms. Haire died on June 7, 2014.  She was 88 years old.  Doris was one of the first true proponents of evidence based maternity care. Throughout her professional life, Doris advocated and fought for a woman’s right to birth as the mother wanted, free of unnecessary interventions.  Doris led the way in bringing to light the conditions under which women were birthing in the USA with her 1972 essay “The Cultural Warping of Childbirth,” exposing the contemporary childbirth practices of the time.

Along with Drs. Kennell and Klauss and others, Doris sought to change the practice of isolating women from their support during labor and birth and keeping babies apart from their mothers after they were born.  Additionally, Doris also recognized the importance of professional midwives at a time when midwives barely were a blip on the radar after childbirth moved into the hospital at the beginning of the last century. Doris helped establish the first State Board of Midwifery in New York, the first of its kind in the United States which defined the practice of midwifery as a profession separate from nursing and medicine.

Doris traveled to 77 countries to learn about maternity care practices and meet with obstetric health care leaders around the world, in order to gather information that she could use to champion the cause of maternity rights and evidence based medicine here in her own country.  Doris was the Founder and President of the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health.  Additionally, she served on many boards and committees, such as the World Health Organization, various Perinatal Advisory Committees and others, testified in front of Congress on the topics of obstetrical care and presented at obstetrical conferences around the world.  Doris also spoke at Lamaze International conferences as well.

Doris also examined how drugs are tested and used and published her research in a paper, “How the F.D.A. Determines the ‘Safety’ of Drugs — Just How Safe Is ‘Safe’?”  As a result of this publication, Doris testified at Congress and her actions resulted in changes in FDA regulation and clinical practices. Obstetricians curtailed their use of sedatives and other risky drugs being used for pain relief and millions of childbearing women and their babies have been spared from unnecessary exposure to these risks.

 Doris was also responsible for the passage of the New York Maternity Information Act, which requires every hospital to provide the information and statistics about its childbirth practices and procedures including rates of cesarean section, forceps deliveries, induced labor, augmented labor, and epidurals.

Doris Haire also wrote the following:

The Pregnant Patient’s Bill of Rights

  1. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of any drug or procedure, to be informed by the health professional caring for her of any potential direct or indirect effects, risks or hazards to herself or her unborn or newborn infant which may result from the use of a drug or procedure prescribed for or administered to her during pregnancy, labor, birth or lactation.
  2. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the proposed therapy, to be informed, not only of the benefits, risks and hazards of the proposed therapy but also of known alternative therapy, such as available childbirth education classes which could help to prepare the Pregnant Patient physically and mentally to cope with the discomfort or stress of pregnancy and birth. Such classes have been shown to reduce or eliminate the Pregnant Patient’s need for drugs and obstetric intervention and should be offered to her early in her pregnancy in order that she may make a reasoned decisions.
  3. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of any drug, to be informed by the health professional who is prescribing or administering the drug to her that any drug which she receives during pregnancy, labor and birth, no matter how or when the drug is taken or administered, may adversely affect her unborn baby, directly or indirectly, and that there is no drug or chemical which has been proven safe for the unborn child.
  4. The Pregnant Patient has the right if Cesarean birth is anticipated, to be informed prior to the administration of any drug, and preferably prior to her hospitalization, that minimizing her intake of nonessential pre-operative medicine will benefit her baby.
  5. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of a drug or procedure, to be informed of the areas of uncertainty if there is NO properly controlled follow-up research which has established the safety of the drug or procedure with regard to its on the fetus and the later physiological, mental and neurological development of the child. This caution applies to virtually all drugs and the vast majority of obstetric procedures.
  6. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of any drug, to be informed of the brand name and generic name of the drug in order that she may advise the health professional of any past adverse reaction to the drug.
  7. The Pregnant Patient has the right to determine for herself, without pressure from her attendant, whether she will or will not accept the risks inherent in the proposed treatment.
  8. The Pregnant Patient has the right to know the name and qualifications of the individual administering a drug or procedure to her during labor or birth.
  9. The Pregnant Patient has the right to be informed, prior to the administration of any procedure, whether that procedure is being administered to her because a) it is medically indicated, b) it is an elective procedure (for convenience, c) or for teaching purposes or research).
  10. The Pregnant Patient has the right to be accompanied during the stress of labor and birth by someone she cares for, and to whom she looks for emotional comfort and encouragement.
  11. The Pregnant Patient has the right after appropriate medical consultation to choose a position for labor and birth which is least stressful for her and her baby.
  12. The Obstetric Patient has the right to have her baby cared for at her bedside if her baby is normal, and to feed her baby according to her baby’s needs rather than according to the hospital regimen.
  13. The Obstetric Patient has the right to be informed in writing of the name of the person who actually delivered her baby and the professional qualifications of that person. This information should also be on the birth certificate.
  14. The Obstetric Patient has the right to be informed if there is any known or indicated aspect of her or her baby’s care or condition which may cause her or her baby later difficulty or problems.
  15. The Obstetric Patient has the right to have her and her baby’s hospital- medical records complete, accurate and legible and to have their records, including nursing notes, retained by the hospital until the child reaches at least the age of majority, or, alternatively, to have the records offered to her before they are destroyed.
  16. The Obstetric Patient, both during and after her hospital stay, has the right to have access to her complete hospital-medical records, including nursing notes, and to receive a copy upon payment of a reasonable fee and without incurring the expense of retaining an attorney.

Comprehensive and forward thinking at the time of publication, unfortunately, many mothers are still finding it hard to have all 16 points complied with during a pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum period.

Well known, well loved and deeply respected, Doris Haines was a leader advocating for the rights of mothers and babies for more than 50 years.  She never faltered and provided unlimited energy and dedication to improving childbirth in the United States.  Doris Haire was a role model for all of us and she will be certainly missed.

Donations to celebrate her life may be made to the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health, P.O. BOX 555, Keswick, VA 22947.

A complete list of Doris Haire’s publications may be found here.

 

Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Infant Attachment, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Transforming Maternity Care , , ,

Home Birth In a Risk Society: A Commentary by Sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman

February 4th, 2014 by avatar

By Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD

Today, I am delighted to share with you an essay on risk written by sociologist and author Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD.  There has been much discussion and debate on two papers just published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, using the MANA Stats V2.0 data from the Midwives Alliance of North American. You can find these two papers and a research review by Judith Lothian published on January 30th on Science & Sensibility. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

We live in what Social Scientists called a ‘Risk Society.”[i] If you simply google “risk and birth,” you get over 402 million ‘hits.’  So no question, birth is understood as  having risks, creating risks, being risky business indeed.  But not the riskiest of businesses – Google “risk and food,” and you get almost twice as many hits – over 746 million. That doesn’t feel right somehow – pregnancy and birth are always and everywhere in our world understood as risky; food not so much.  I nibble some snacks as I write, sip some tea – are you worrying for me? Wishing me luck with that?  Thinking about the odds of food poisoning? Insecticide exposure?  the long term risks of diabetes, joint pain, heart troubles, cancers that might be flowing forth from the snack choices I am making?

image: www.thinknpc.org

image: www.thinknpc.org

 

And what about those snack choices?  Do they not carry much of the same moral weight that pregnancy choices make — if I tell you it’s green tea and carrots, or if I tell you it’s a honey chai latte and multigrain crackers with organic almond butter, or if I tell you it’s a Nestle Iced Tea and Oreo cookies – do I not create different images of myself as a risk-taking or risk-sparing person, even as a more or less ‘good’ and responsible person?  These are of course the arguments that Risk-society thinkers have been addressing: the risks we perceive and the risks we take are judged, by ourselves and by others.

In birth, few choices have been as freighted with the language of risk and responsibility as that of home birth.

The irony here is that birth moved into the hospital with all of the data showing us that move increased risk; and all of the research we have now still shows us that hospitals present unique and particular risks for birth. Birth moved into the hospital long before the era of Risk – that move was done in the era of Science.  The same science that covered our kitchens in white laboratory-style paint and tiles, that replaced local baking with packaged white bread made out of mass-milled white flour, that created industrialized systems to raise cheap meat at whatever costs to health of humans or animals, that moved fruits and vegetables from fresh to canned – that same science that created the industrial diet of the turn of the century, created the industrial birth.

image: sharon muza

image: sharon muza

When I wanted a home birth almost forty years ago, I knew nothing of midwifery. I just assumed that obstetricians had the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver babies (and yes, I called it ‘deliver’) and that those skills could be used in my bedroom as well as in a ‘delivery room.’  Over the course of my scholarly work in the years following, I learned how wrong that was.  Home birth involves a set of skills, practices and competencies that people trained in hospital birth most often never have learned.  Thus the MANA data is not merely a comparison of place: What we are seeing in this data set is a study of midwifery-led care, or as Ronnie Lichtman has called it[ii], midwifery-guided birth, birth in settings where midwives and the women they are guiding have control over practice.

MANA’s data and these articles are showing us that the United States, for all of its problems, is not exceptional:  Fully autonomous, informed midwifery care provides better birth outcomes than does care under Obstetrical management.  Obstetrics and Gynecology is a surgical specialty, magnificently equipped to manage particular illnesses and crises, but neither the discipline nor the hospital settings it has developed for its practice are appropriate for normal, physiologic birth.

Research on women who choose home birth, as well as midwives who provide it, show that their concerns go beyond the risks of what is often called the ‘cascade of interventions’ that follows medical management, leading as it so often does to cesarean section.  In addition to the well-documented iatrogenic risks, they address risks of the hospital itself, what are called when looking at infections, ‘nosocomial’ risks. They were concerned with errors that are made when people are managed in what is essentially a factory-like setting: risks of overcrowding; risks of exposure to others and exposure of self.[iii]

Hospital-industrialized births demand standardized care. Consider something as mundane and yet intrusive as the vaginal exam.  Medical guidelines, the medical story, is that such exams are necessary to determine labor and its stages.  That of course is absurd.  Do you really think that an experienced midwife, someone who has attended hundreds or thousands of births cannot tell if a labor is established without a vaginal exam? What a midwife needs that exam for is to document, not to establish the labor.  Those exams are not only intimate and intrusive, but for women with histories of sexual abuse especially, can be experienced as traumatic.[iv] For all women, raised with ideas of bodily privacy, integrity and what used to be called ‘modesty,’ such exams at a moment of vulnerable transition are problematic. Done for reasons of institutional management and control, they are one more interruption and create risks of their own. Particularly in hospital settings, vaginal exams are one more occasion for the introduction of nosocomial infection.

Managing the management thus becomes necessary in hospital settings: – midwives use the vaginal exam to create the story that will be most in the woman’s best interests, and occasionally in the midwives’ own best interest.  Midwives are thoughtful about when they measure because, for example, they are hesitant to start the clock too early.  In such care, what midwives are trying to minimize is not the risks of a prolonged labor, but the risks of intervening in a labor medically defined as prolonged.

It is reasonable to talk about how recent this language of ‘risk’ is in pregnancy and in birth – but the language of danger, that which we are in risk of, has long been an accepted part of birth.  Calling it “Risk” is adding the numbers – sure there are dangers, but precisely what are the odds? That there are dangers in pregnancy and in birth, and that they can be avoided or overcome, this is not news.  Dangers, disasters even, could happen in the best and healthiest of pregnancies and births.  The difference perhaps is that now there is no such thing as a healthy pregnancy and birth.  There still is an understanding of such a thing as a ‘healthy meal” and even a “healthy diet,’ but no longer, it seems to me, a healthy pregnancy – the best you can hope for is a low risk pregnancy.

It is not that midwives do not have understandings of danger and knowledge about ways to avoid danger, including the dangers of prolonged labors.  That is precisely what midwifery has been throughout time and across place: the development of a body of knowledge and skilled craftsmanship to navigate the dangers of childbirth.  All of that knowledge was discounted with medicalization.

Scientific or ‘Medical’ knowledge is accepted as real and authoritative; other knowledge is reduced to ‘intuition’ or ‘spiritual knowing,’ made all but laughable.   But when a baker adds a bit more flour because the dough is sticky, is that ‘intuition’?  Or is that knowledge based on craft, skill, deep knowledge of the hands?  When a violin-maker rejects a piece of wood in favor of one lying next to it that looks just the same to me or to you, is that ‘intuition’?  Or experience, skill and craft?  And when a leading neurosurgeon examines a dozen stroke patients who all present pretty much the same way on all of their tests and feels hopeful about some and concerned for others, is that ‘intuition’?  Or knowledge based on experience, using a range of senses and information that may not be captured in the tests?

In hospital settings, midwives do not have the authority to use their knowledge fully in the woman’s best interests.  And therein lie the risks.

And finally, it would be helpful to put these risks in contextIf safety were our real concern, if saving the lives of babies and of mothers were the driving force, then there are a number of changes we would make immediately.  We would require helmets for people in cars, something we know would save lives each week.  We would lower the speed limit in urban areas, and end driveway parking in suburbs. To suggest such things makes one look crazy – crazier than suggesting home birth.  But it most assuredly would protect children. If saving babies were our concern, we would invest in public housing, and in the food system.  These are large scale changes that would save far more people than anything that happens in those few hours of late labor to early neonatal period, the 24 or so hours of hospitalization that is now being debated.

Clearly something more or other than saving babies is at stake.

References

[i] Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity (Vol. 17). Sage.

[ii] Lichtman, R. (2013). Midwives Don’t Deliver or Catch: A Humble Vocabulary Suggestion. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

[iii] Katz Rothman, B., (2014) Risk, Pregnancy and Childbirth, Risk, Health and Society, edited by Alaszewski, Intro by Barbara Katz Rothman. Volume 16.1, forthcoming.

[iv]  Adult manifestations of childhood sexual abuse. Committee Opinion No. 498, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2011: 118:392-5.

About Barbara Katz Rothman

image: Barbara Katz Rothman

image: Barbara Katz Rothman

Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD, is Professor of Sociology, Public Health, Disability Studies and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York, and on the faculty of the Masters in Health and Society at the Charite in Berlin, the University of Plymouth in the UK, and the International Midwifery Preparation Program at Ryerson University in Toronto Canada. Her books include In Labor: Women and Power in the Birthplace, The Tentative Pregnancy: How Amniocentesis Changes the Experience of Motherhood, Recreating Motherhood, The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Human Gene Study,  Weaving A Family: Untangling Race and Adoption and Laboring On: Birth in Transition in the United States.  Dr. Katz Rothman is the proud recipient of an award for “Midwifing the Movement” from the Midwives Alliance of North America.

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery, New Research , , , , , , , , , ,

Can Moxibustion Help Turn Breech Babies?

November 5th, 2013 by avatar

By Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN

Occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Rebecca Dekker of www.EvidenceBasedBirth.com examines the practice of Moxibustion to help turn breech babies head down.  Rebecca looks at what the current research shows on this ancient treatment for turning babies and shares the results with Science & Sensibility readers in an article that can be easily shared with students, clients and patients. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

A mother tries moxibustion to turn her breech baby. © EvidenceBased Birth.com

About 3-4% of pregnant women end up with a baby who is in breech (bottom first) position at term. The vast majority of these babies (90%) are born by planned cesarean section. In order to avoid a cesarean section, many women try various ways to turn their babies into a head-down position. I have written in the past about using external cephalic version (ECV), also called the hands-to-belly procedure, for turning breech babies. However, although ECV is safe and frequently effective, it can be uncomfortable and women may want to try different options for turning a breech baby. One potential option is moxibustion.

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a type of Chinese medicine where you burn an herb (Artemesia vulgaria) close to the skin of the fifth toes of both feet. The fifth toe is a traditional acupuncture point called Bladder 67.

How do you use moxibustion?

There is no one recommended way to use moxibustion, but many women burn the moxa sticks close to their toes for about 15-20 minutes, from anywhere to 1-10 times per day, for up to two weeks. This treatment is usually started between 28 and 37 weeks of pregnancy.

How could moxibustion work?

The burning of the moxa stick stimulates heat receptors on the skin of the toe. It is thought that the heat encourages the release of two pregnancy hormones—placental estrogen and prostaglandins—which lead to uterine contractions. These contractions can then stimulate the baby to move (Cardini & Weixin, 1998).

So, does moxibustion work?

In 2012, researchers combined results from eight studies where 1,346 women with breech babies were randomly assigned to moxibustion, no treatment, or an alternative treatment (like acupuncture). The women in these studies lived in Italy, China, and Switzerland (Coyle et al., 2012).

For the women who were assigned to receive moxibustion, some used moxibustion alone, some had moxibustion plus acupuncture, and some used moxibustion plus posture techniques.

When moxibustion alone was compared to no treatment (3 studies, 594 women) there was:

• No difference in the percentage of babies who were breech at birth

• No difference in the need for external cephalic version

• No difference in cesarean section rates

• No difference in the risk of water breaking before labor began

• No difference in Apgar scores at birth

• A 72% decrease in the risk of using oxytocin for women in the moxibustion group who ended up with a vaginal birth

Side effects of the moxibustion included smelling an unpleasant odor, nausea, and abdominal pain from contractions.

When moxibustion alone was compared to acupuncture alone, fewer women in the moxibustion group had breech babies at birth compared to the acupuncture group. However, there were only 25 women in the single study that compared moxibustion alone to acupuncture alone, so this doesn’t really tell us that much.

When moxibustion plus acupuncture was compared to no treatment (1 study, 226 women), women who had moxibustion plus acupuncture had a:

• 27% decrease in the risk of having a breech baby at birth

• 21% decrease in the risk of having a cesarean section

When moxibustion plus acupuncture was compared to acupuncture alone, one study with only 24 women found no difference in the number of women who had breech babies at birth. Because this study was so small, it doesn’t really give us much meaningful information.

When moxibustion plus postural techniques was compared to postural techniques alone (3 studies, 470 women), women in the moxibustion plus postural group had:

• a 74% decrease in the risk of having a breech baby at birth

Are there any limitations to this evidence?

A homemade moxa stick holder helps a mother administer a moxibustion treatment. © EvidenceBasedBirth.com

Overall, the studies that were used in this review were good quality. However, some of the studies were very small, and sometimes researchers did not measure things that we would be interested in—for example, when moxibustion plus postural techniques was compared to postural techniques alone, we have no idea if it made a difference in cesarean section rates or any other health results. Also, all of the researchers used different methods of moxibustion. Some women may have had more frequent or longer sessions, and some women may have been more compliant with the therapy than others.

Is there any other good evidence on moxibustion?

After the review above was published, evidence from a new randomized controlled trial that took place in Spain came out in 2013. In this new study, 406 low-risk pregnant women who had a baby in breech position at 33-35 weeks were randomly assigned to true moxibustion, “fake” moxibustion, or regular care.

What kind of treatments did the women receive?

In the true moxibustion group, the women laid face up, and the hot moxa stick was held near the outside of the little toenail 20 minutes per day for two weeks, changing from one foot to the other when the heat became uncomfortable. The women did the moxibustion at home with the help of a family member. In the fake moxibustion group, the same treatment was carried out, except that the moxa stick was applied to the big toe, which is not a true acupuncture point. Women in all of the groups were educated on how to use a knee-chest posture to try and turn the baby.

Did the moxibustion work?

Women who did moxibustion plus postural techniques were 1.3 times more likely to have a baby in head-down position at birth when compared to both the fake moxibustion and the usual care groups. If you look at the exact numbers, 58% of the women who used moxibustion had a baby who was head-down at birth, compared to 43% of the fake moxibustion group and 45% of the usual care group. The number of women who would need to use moxibustion in order to successfully turn one baby is, on average, eight women.

There was no statistical difference in cesarean section rates among the three groups, but it looked like the numbers were trending in favor of true moxibustion: 51% of the women in the true moxibustion group had cesarean sections, compared to 62% of the fake moxibustion group and 59% of the usual care group.

Were there any safety concerns?

Overall, evidence showed that moxibustion treatment was safe. About 1 out of 3 women reported having contractions during the treatment, but there was no increase in the risk of preterm birth. Some women (14%) said they felt heart palpitations. One woman experienced a burn from the moxibustion. Other complaints from women in all three groups included heartburn, nausea and vomiting (2%), dizziness (1.7%), mild high blood pressure problems (1.7%), stomach pain (1.5%), and baby hiccups (1.2%). However, there were no differences among the three groups in the number of women who had these complaints. There were also no differences in newborn health issues or labor problems among the three groups. All of the babies had good Apgar scores five minutes after birth.

So what’s the bottom line?

• Evidence suggests that moxibustion—when combined with either acupuncture or postural techniques—is safe and increases your chances of turning a breech baby

• We still don’t know for sure which kind of moxibustion method (timing during pregnancy, number of sessions, length of sessions, etc.) works best for turning breech babies. However it appears that using moxibustion twice per day for two weeks (during 33-35 weeks of pregnancy) will work for 1 out of every 8 women.

• If women are interested in using Chinese medicine (moxibustion and acupuncture) to help turn a breech baby, they may want to consult a licensed acupuncturist who specializes in treatment of pregnant women.

Here is a video where an acupuncture physician shows how to use moxibustion to turn a breech baby:

Thank you to Kiné Fischler L.Ac. of Willow Tree Wellness Clinic, who provided feedback on this article.

As a childbirth educator or other birth professional, do you share information on moxibustion as a method that mothers might use to turn a breech baby?  How do you present this information?  How do the families you work with feel after learning about this option? If you did not cover this before, do you feel like you might start to include this information in your classes after reading Rebecca’s information here and on her blog? Are you aware of physicians who also encourage patients to try this treatment?  Please share your experiences in our comments section. I welcome your discussions. – SM

References

Cardini F. & Weixin H. (1998). Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 280(18), 1580-1584. Free full text: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=188144

Coyle ME, Smith CA, & Peat B. 2012. Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 5. Art. No: CD003928. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22592693

Vas J, Aranda-Regules JM, Modesto M, et al. (2013). Acupuncture Medicine 31: 31-38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23249535

About Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at a research-intensive university and the founder and author of EvidenceBasedBirth.com.  Rebecca’s vision is to promote evidence-based birth practices among consumers and clinicians worldwide. She publishes summaries of birth evidence using a Question and Answer style. The mission of Evidence Based Birth is to get birth evidence out of medical journals and into the hands of the public. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, Twitter or follow the Evidence Based Birth newsletter to get free printable handouts and other news.

 

 

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Guest Posts, New Research, Research , , , , , , , , , ,

Does the Hospital “Admission Strip” Conducted on Women in Labor Work as Hoped?

October 3rd, 2013 by avatar

The 20 minute electronic fetal monitoring strip is a “right of passage” for any woman being admitted to the hospital in labor.  But is this automatic 20 minute strip evidence based?  Regular Science & Sensibility contributor Henci Goer takes a look at a recent Cochrane systematic review and lets us know what the research says.  Do you discuss this with your students?  Do you share about this practice  in your classes and with your patients and students?  What do you tell them? Will it change after reading Henci’s review below? – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

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© http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcarter

Some weeks ago, I did a Science and Sensibility post summarizing the latest version of the Cochrane systematic review of continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM)—AKA cardiotocography (CTG)—in labor versus intermittent listening. A couple of commenters on that post asked if I would tackle the “admission strip,” the common practice of doing EFM for 20 minutes or so at hospital admission in labor to see whether ongoing continuous monitoring is warranted.

I was in luck because the Cochrane Library has a recent systematic review of randomized controlled trials of this practice versus intermittent listening in women at low risk for fetal hypoxia (Devane 2012). The rationale for the admission strip, as the reviewers explain, is that pregnancy risk factors don’t predict all babies who will experience morbidity or mortality in labor. The admission strip is an attempt to identify women free of risk factors whose babies nevertheless might benefit from closer monitoring. Let’s see whether the admission strip succeeds at identifying those babies and improving their outcomes.

As to whether the admission strip identifies babies believed to be in need of closer surveillance, the answer is “yes.” Pooled analysis (meta-analysis) of the trials found that 15 more women per 100 allocated to the admission strip group went on to have continuous EFM (3 trials, 10,753 women), and 3 more babies per 100 underwent fetal blood sampling (3 trials, 10,757 babies).

Furthermore, women almost certainly underwent more cesareans as well (4 trials, 11,338 women). All four trials reported more cesareans in the admission strip group. The pooled increased risk of 20% just missed achieving statistical significance, but this is probably because cesarean rates were so low, only 3 to 4% in by far the biggest trial, which contributed 8056 participants. Because of the lack of heterogeneity among trials, the reviewers think the difference is likely to be real. If it is, then using an admission strip in low-risk women results in 1 additional cesarean for every 136 women monitored continuously (number needed to harm). I would add that not separating out first-time mothers, who are at greater risk for cesarean delivery, probably masked a bigger effect in this subgroup. How big an effect might this be?  Let’s assume a 9% cesarean rate in low-risk first-time mothers, that being the rate found  in first-time mothers still eligible for home birth at labor onset in the Birthplace in England study (2011). At this cesarean rate, a 20% increase over baseline would calculate to 1 additional cesarean for every 55 first-time mothers monitored continuously.

The crucial question, though, is whether increased monitoring and surgical deliveries produced better perinatal outcomes. To that, the answer is “no.” Combined fetal and neonatal death rates in infants free of congenital anomalies were identical at 1 per 1000 in both groups (4 trials, 11,339 babies). The reviewers acknowledge that their meta-analysis of over 11,000 babies is still “underpowered,” i.e., too small to detect a difference in outcomes. However, they continue, the event is so rare in low-risk women that no trial or meta-analysis would likely be big enough to do so. Additionally, no differences were found for cases of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (1 trial, 2367 babies), admissions to neonatal intensive care (4 trials, 11,331 babies), neonatal seizure (1 trial, 8056 babies), evidence of multi-organ compromise within the first 24 hours (1 trial, 8056 babies), or even 5-minute Apgar scores less than 7 (4 trials, 11,324 babies).

The reviewers therefore conclude:

We found no evidence of benefit for the use of the admission CTG for low-risk women on admission in labour. Furthermore, the probability is that admission CTG increases the caesarean section rate by approximately 20%. . . . The findings of this review support recommendations that the admission CTG not be used for women who are low risk on admission in labour. Women should be informed that admission CTG is likely associated with an increase in the incidence of caesarean section without evidence of benefit (Devane 2012, p. 2). [Emphasis mine.]

Conclusion

According to the best evidence, the admission strip isn’t just ineffective, it’s harmful, and its use should be abandoned

References

Birthplace in England Collaborative Group. (2011). Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study. BMJ, 343, d7400.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22117057?dopt=Citation

Devane, D., Lalor, J. G., Daly, S., McGuire, W., & Smith, V. (2012). Cardiotocography versus intermittent auscultation of fetal heart on admission to labour ward for assessment of fetal wellbeing. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2, CD005122. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005122.pub4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22336808

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Continuous Electronic Fetal Monitoring (Cardiotocography) in Labor: Should It Be Routine?

September 3rd, 2013 by avatar

Regular Science & Sensibility contributor and author Henci Goer takes a look at the recent Cochrane review “Continuous cardiotocography (CTG) as a form of electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) for fetal assessment during labour” to determine if the researchers found any new information on the benefits or risks of CTG for normal, low risk labors.  Read on to see if things might have changed and are the hospitals in your area conforming with recommendations of ACOG, SCOG and RCOG?  Are these recommendations based on the evidence?  - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

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http://flic.kr/p/o43Lw

Almost all women laboring in U.S. hospitals undergo continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) (Declercq 2006), but should they? A new iteration of the Cochrane systematic review of randomized controlled trials of EFM versus intermittent auscultation (listening) can answer that question (Alfirevic 2013).

The rationale behind continuous EFM was that insufficient oxygen (hypoxia) in labor was a major cause of intrapartum fetal death and permanent brain injury. It was thought that enhanced ability to pick up changes in fetal heart rate (FHR) patterns signaling distress would enable doctors to rescue the fetus in time to prevent perinatal death and cerebral palsy. Does that theory hold up in practice?

According to the Cochrane review, not so much—nor, I might add, is this news since all prior versions have reported the same results. Continuous EFM fails to decrease perinatal mortality, whether in women overall (11 trials, 33,513 participants) or in the subgroups of high-risk women (5 trials, 1974 participants), mixed-risk/risk not specified populations (3 trials, 15,490 participants), or low-risk women (3 trials, 16,049 participants). Neither does it reduce incidence of cerebral palsy whether in women overall (2 trials, 13,252 women) or in high-risk women (1 trial, 173 participants) or in a mixed-risk/risk not specified population (1 trial, 13,079). (No trial reported comparative cerebral palsy rates in low-risk women.) In fact, cerebral palsy rates were increased more than two-fold (risk ratio: 2.54) in the EFM group in the sole high-risk trial reporting this outcome, although with only 173 women and one trial, it is unclear what, if anything, should be made of this. The authors, noting that the delay between diagnosis and taking action was longer in the EFM group, speculated that EFM may have been providing a false sense of feeling in control of the situation (Shy 1990). So it turns out more information isn’t necessarily better information.

Continuous EFM isn’t a total washout. It reduces the incidence of neonatal seizure, which is of some benefit since neonatal seizure can indicate permanent brain injury, the likelihood of which depends on the severity of seizure and whether it is accompanied by other symptoms. Among women overall (9 trials, 32,386 participants), it halved seizure rates (risk ratio: 0.50). In high-risk populations (5 trials, 4805 participants), it reduced seizure rates (risk ratio: 0.67), but the difference failed to achieve statistical significance while in low-risk populations (3 trials, 25,175 participants), the reduction was by nearly two-thirds (risk ratio: 0.36), and in mixed-risk/risk not specified populations (2 trials, 2406 participants), the reduction approached 80% (risk ratio: 0.18). The reviewers calculate that with a baseline seizure risk of 3.0 per 1000 labors among women overall in the intermittent auscultation group, 667 women  would have to have continuous EFM in order to prevent 1 neonatal seizure. In low-risk women, in whom the baseline risk was 1.2 per 1000 labors with intermittent auscultation, my calculation raised that to 833 women.

Although continuous EFM fails in achieving its original goal of preventing perinatal death and cerebral palsy, the reduction in incidence of neonatal seizure would seem to argue for universal continuous EFM, were it not that this benefit comes at a price: continuous EFM increases the likelihood of cesarean surgery, and to a lesser degree, instrumental vaginal delivery, which increased among women overall by 15% (risk ratio: 1.15). Among women overall (11 trials, 18,861 participants), continuous EFM increased likelihood of cesarean by nearly two-thirds (risk ratio: 1.63); among high-risk women (6 trials, 2069 women), it doubled the risk (risk ratio: 1.91); it did the same (risk ratio: 2.06) among low-risk women (2 trials, 1431 participants) while among mixed-risk/risk not specified populations (3 trials, 15,361 participants), the rate was increased (risk ratio: 1.14), but the difference wasn’t statistically significant. The reviewers calculate that assuming a 15% cesarean rate with intermittent auscultation, one additional cesarean would be performed for every 11 women monitored, and 61 additional cesareans would be performed to prevent 1 seizure. In low-risk women, my calculation found that 1 additional cesarean would be performed for every 6 women monitored, and 76 additional cesareans would be performed to prevent 1 seizure.

The Cochrane reviewers conclude that women should be informed that EFM neither reduces perinatal mortality nor cerebral palsy and that while it reduces incidence of neonatal seizures, it does so at the cost of increased cesarean and instrumental vaginal deliveries. Cesarean and instrumental deliveries, I hardly need point out, have their own associated harms, some of them quite serious, and these must be set against the reduction in seizures (Childbirth Connection 2012; Goer 2012). The reviewers write:

Given the perceived conflict between the risk for the mother . . . and benefit for the baby . . . , it is difficult to make quality judgments as to which effect is more important. . . . The real challenge is how best to convey this uncertainty to women and help them to make an informed choice without compromising the normality of labour.

That gives us our marching orders, but how best might we carry them out? One reasonable course would be to see what obstetric guidelines advise.

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The least decisive recommendation comes from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2009), whose guidelines state: “Given that the available data do not show a clear benefit for the use of EFM over intermittent auscultation, either option is acceptable in a patient without complications” (p. 196). This suggests equivalency between the two, but, of course, they aren’t equivalent because continuous EFM increases likelihood of cesarean and instrumental vaginal delivery. ACOG further recommends that “the labor of women with high-risk conditions (eg, suspected fetal growth restriction, preeclampsia, and type 1 diabetes) should be monitored with continuous FHR monitoring” (p. 196), although they later acknowledge that this recommendation is based on “Level C” evidence, “expert opinion.”

The U.K. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists takes a stronger stance: “Intermittent auscultation of the FHR is recommended for low-risk women in established labour in any birth setting” (p.155) (National Collaborating Center for Women’s and Children’s Health 2007). The Royal College advises switching to continuous EFM in low-risk women for these reasons:

  • significant meconium, with consideration for making the switch with light meconium
  • abnormal FHR is detected by intermittent auscultation
  • maternal fever
  • fresh bleeding developing in labor
  • oxytocin use for augmentation [I would assume this would also cover oxytocin induction.]
  • the woman’s request

The Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provides the most detailed advice of all (Liston 2007). SOGC guidelines state: “Intermittent auscultation . . . is the recommended method of fetal surveillance [in healthy term women in spontaneous term labor who are free of risk factors for adverse perinatal outcome]” (p. S6). In women with risk factors for adverse perinatal outcome, the SOGC, like ACOG, recommends continuous EFM while acknowledging that “little scientific evidence” (p. S33) supports it. However, SOGC guidelines additionally state: “When a normal tracing is identified, it may be appropriate to interrupt the electronic fetal monitoring tracing for up to 30 minutes to facilitate periods of ambulation, bathing, or position change, providing that (1) the maternal-fetal condition is stable and (2) if oxytocin is being administered, the infusion rate is not increased” (p. S6).

The consistent recommendation that intermittent auscultation is preferable (in the case of RCOG and SOGC), or at least acceptable (in the case of ACOG), in low-risk women in spontaneous labor answers the question posed in the title. No, continuous EFM should not be routine, and we are on solid ground sharing this information and its sources with pregnant women.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help most low-risk women laboring in U.S. hospitals because they will have either an epidural, be receiving oxytocin, or both. The SOGC guidelines can serve us here. With epidural analgesia, the guidelines state: “Intermittent auscultation may be used to monitor the fetus when epidural analgesia is used during labour, provided that a protocol is in place for frequent intermittent auscultation assessment (e.g., every 5 minutes for 30 minutes after epidural initiation and after bolus top-ups as long as maternal vital signs are normal)” (p. S6), and the SOGC guidelines treat induction and augmentation the same as women with risk factors, that is, with continuous EFM but permitting breaks if mother, baby, and oxytocin dose are stable. Suggesting that women in these categories request that their caregivers follow SOGC guidelines seems a pragmatic approach to achieving any benefits continuous EFM may provide while potentially reducing harms.

I could end here, but I can’t help asking: Why stop with search and rescue of hypoxic babies? Why not look at prevention? Among the 10,053 low-risk women at the Dublin Maternity Hospital, the neonatal seizure rates were 10 times (14 per 10,000 continuous EFM vs. 38 per 10,000 intermittent auscultation) those in the 14,618 women in the Dallas trial (1 per 10,000 continuous EFM vs. 4 per 10,000 intermittent auscultation) (Alfirevic 2013). I doubt that it’s coincidental that the Dublin Maternity Hospital is the home of Active Management of Labor, which prescribes routine early rupture of membranes and high doses of oxytocin with a short interval between dose increases for any woman not progressing at a minimum 1 cm dilation per hour. Early rupture of membranes, induction, and high-dose/short interval oxytocin regimens all increase stress on the fetus (Goer 2012). I think educators and doulas have a role to play here too. We can point women to Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practices #1 and #4 to help them start a conversation with their care providers about labor induction and artificial rupture of membranes. And while women aren’t in a position to dictate oxytocin regimen, nurses and other hospital insiders can lobby for uniformly instituting the more physiologic oxytocin protocol found in Pitocin packaging if their hospital doesn’t mandate it already. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure not the least because prevention has no adverse effects.

References

ACOG. (2009). Intrapartum fetal heart rate monitoring: nomenclature, interpretation, and general management principles. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 106. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19546798

Alfirevic, Z., Devane, D., & Gyte, G. M. (2013). Continuous cardiotocography (CTG) as a form of electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) for fetal assessment during labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 5, CD006066. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006066.pub2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23728657

Childbirth Connection. (2012). Vaginal or Cesarean Birth: What Is at Stake for Women and Babies? New York. http://transform.childbirthconnection.org/reports/cesarean/

Declercq, E., Sakala, C., Corry, M. P., & Applebaum, S. (2006). Listening to Mothers II:  Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Childbirth Connection. http://childbirthconnection.org/pdfs/LTMII_report.pdf

Goer, H., & Romano, Amy. (2012). Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach. Seattle: Classic Day Publishing.

Liston, R., Sawchuck, D., & Young, D. (2007). Fetal health surveillance: antepartum and intrapartum consensus guideline. J Obstet Gynaecol Can, 29(9 Suppl 4), S3-56. http://www.sogc.org/guidelines/documents/gui197CPG0709r.pdf

National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health. (2007). Intrapartum care. Care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth. London: NICE. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/11837/36275/36275.pdf

Shy, K. K., Luthy, D. A., Bennett, F. C., Whitfield, M., Larson, E. B., van Belle, G., . . . Stenchever, M. A. (1990). Effects of electronic fetal-heart-rate monitoring, as compared with periodic auscultation, on the neurologic development of premature infants. N Engl J Med, 322(9), 588-593. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2406602?dopt=Citation

 

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