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Practice Variation in Cesarean Rates: Not Due to Maternal Complications

November 13th, 2014 by avatar

By Pam Vireday

Pam Vireday, an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility reviews the recent study by Katy Kozhimannil, PhD and colleagues that examined the differences in cesarean rates between over a thousand hospitals in the USA.  Consumers of maternity care quite possibly do not realize what a significant impact their choice of facility (and provider) may have on their birth outcome.  Can you think of hospitals in your own community serving similar populations of pregnant families that have drastically different cesarean rates.  Have you considered why that might be?  Do you think that the families you work with have explored this too?  Do they even have access to this information?  Read Pam’s discussion of this recent study below.  - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

© Patti Ramos Photography

© Patti Ramos Photography

There’s a new study out that discusses the variation in cesarean rates between hospitals in the United States. “Maternal clinical diagnoses and hospital variation in the risk of cesarean delivery: Analyses of a national US hospital discharge database“ was released late last month and has received a lot of press and discussion ever since.

Practice variation is a serious problem in obstetrics (Arcia 2013). Women are often far more at risk for a cesarean in certain hospitals than in others, even when the hospitals serve the same geographical area and population (Arnold, January 2013 and August 2012).

Of course, care providers protest that some hospitals have higher cesarean rates because they serve higher-risk patients. This is a valid point, but it still doesn’t explain the wide variation in rates between many hospitals (Clark 2007).

For example, in a press release about the new study, the mother’s risk status and diagnoses did not explain the variation in cesarean rates between hospitals:

“We found that the variability in hospital cesarean rates was not driven by differences in maternal diagnoses or pregnancy complexity,” said [lead study author] Kozhimannil. “This means there was significantly higher variation in hospital rates than would be expected based on women’s health conditions. On average, the likelihood of cesarean delivery for an individual woman varied between 19 and 48 percent across hospitals.”

Other key points highlighted included:

  • Among lower risk women, likelihood of cesarean delivery varied between 8 and 32 percent across hospitals.
  • Among higher risk women, likelihood of cesarean delivery varied between 56 and 92 percent across hospitals.
  • Hospital variability did not decrease after adjusting for patient diagnoses, socio-demographics, and hospital characteristics.

This shows that practice variation in cesarean rates is real, substantive, and not just a reflection of the mother’s risk level. 

Perhaps now we can stop playing the mother blame-game when we talk about cesarean rates? (Declerq 2006, Oganowski 2011)

This study is not the first to show that the culture of a hospital, its policies, and its routine practices all help determine how likely a woman is to “need” a cesarean in that hospital.

For example, Cáceres 2013 found that even after adjusting for socio-demographic and clinical factors and including only NTSV (Nulliparous, Term, Singleton, Vertex) pregnancies, the cesarean rate varied significantly between Massachusetts hospitals, “suggesting the importance of hospital practices and culture in determining a hospital’s cesarean rate.”

In addition, a 2014 consensus statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine notes, “Variation in the rates of nulliparous, term, singleton, vertex cesarean births also indicates that clinical practice patterns affect the number of cesarean births performed.”

Preventing cesareans when possible is important because while cesareans can be life-saving at times, they present more risk for maternal infection, bleeding and blood clots, and more neonatal breathing problems (Liu 2007, Visser 2014).

Notably, a large case-control study in U.K. maternity units found that delivery by cesarean was a strong risk factor for severe sepsis (Acosta 2014). Other research has found a high rate of maternal complications (Pallasmaa 2010) and poorer neonatal outcomes (Kolås 2006) associated with cesareans.

In addition, a cesarean’s potential negative effect on future pregnancies is important (Silver 2012). One American study found that the rate of an abnormal placental attachment increased in conjunction with the rise in cesarean delivery rate (Wu 2005), while a Canadian study found that a prior cesarean was associated with an increased risk for adverse neonatal outcomes in subsequent pregnancies (Abenhaim and Benjamin 2011).

Bottom line, it matters where and with whom a woman gives birth in order to lessen the risk for complications, both now and in the future.

But many women naively choose their care provider for pregnancy based mostly on convenience and location, not realizing that their chances of surgical birth may vary greatly depending on which hospital and caregiver they use (Arnold 2014, Arnold January 9 2013).

Childbirth Connection, a leading consumer education site, points out:

Research suggests that the same woman might have a c-section at one hospital but a vaginal birth if she gave birth at another, just because of the different policies and practices of those hospitals. One of the most effective ways to lower your chance of having a c-section is to have your baby in a setting with a low c-section rate.

Yet it is not always easy to find out the cesarean rates of local hospitals in some areas. For example, the health departments of Missouri, South Carolina, and Washington D.C. do not make hospital-level cesarean rates available to consumers.

Hospitals remain largely unaccountable for high cesarean rates, although we are beginning to see marginal progress in some places towards more accountability (Gentry 2014 and Dekker 2014). In the meantime, however, thousands of women are undergoing cesareans, many of which might be preventable with changes in clinical practices (Boyle 2013).

And even when a cesarean is truly necessary, there can be large discrepancies in complications afterwards between hospitals (Alonso-Zaldivar 2014). It’s not just about how many cesareans are done, but also about which hospitals have the best outcomes when a cesarean is done. Without more information, how is a woman to know which hospital to choose?

Bottom line, more transparency and accountability are needed. As the lead author of the study states:

Women deserve evidence-based, consistent, high-quality maternity care, regardless of the hospital where they give birth…and these results indicate that we have a long way to go toward reaching this goal in the U.S.

*To search for hospital-level cesarean rates in your area, see www.cesareanrates.com or the 2014 Consumer Reports article (subscription required) rating hospitals in 22 states.

Do you ever encourage your students and clients to look at the cesarean rates (and rates of other interventions which may lead to cesareans) of the hospitals they are considering birthing in.  Please share your experience in our comments section. – SM

References

Abenhaim, H. A., & Benjamin, A. (2011). Effect of prior cesarean delivery on neonatal outcomes. Journal of perinatal medicine39(3), 241-244. PMID: 21426242

Acosta, C. D., Kurinczuk, J. J., Lucas, D. N., Tuffnell, D. J., Sellers, S., & Knight, M. (2014). Severe Maternal Sepsis in the UK, 2011–2012: A National Case-Control Study. PLoS medicine11(7), e1001672. PMID: 25003759

Alonso-Zaldivar, R (2014, August 27). Study: Wide hospital quality gap on maternity care. Retrieved from http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140827/GJLIFESTYLES/140809539/0/SEARCH.

Arcia, A (2013, February 3). What is practice variation in obstetrics and why should I care? Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2013/2/3/what-is-practice-variation-in-obstetrics-and-why-should-i-ca.html.

Arnold, J (2012, August 22). Practice variation in New Jersey: 27 miles and 28 percentage points. Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2012/8/22/practice-variation-in-new-jersey-27-miles-and-28-percentage.html.

Arnold, J (2013, January 9). Practice variation in East Los Angeles cesarean rates. Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2013/1/9/practice-variation-in-east-los-angeles-cesarean-rates.html.

Arnold, J (2013, January 7). Practice variation in West Virginia: 60 miles and 54 percentage points. Retireved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2013/1/7/practice-variation-in-west-virginia-60-miles-and-54-percenta.html.

Arnold, J (2014, March 13). Three miles/Cinco Kilometros. Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2014/3/13/three-miles-cinco-kilometros.html.

Boyle, A., Reddy, U. M., Landy, H. J., Huang, C. C., Driggers, R. W., & Laughon, S. K. (2013). Primary cesarean delivery in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology122(1), 33-40. PMID: 23743454

Cáceres IA, Arcaya M, Declercq E, Belanoff CM, Janakiraman V, Dohen B, Ecker J, Smith LA, Subramanian SV (2013). Hospital differences in cesarean deliveries in Massachusetts (US) 2004-2006: the case against case-mix artifact. PLOS One, 8(3):e57817. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057817. PMID:23526952

Clark SL, Belfort MA, Hankins GD, Meyers JA, Houser FM (2007). Variation in the rates of operative delivery in the United States. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 196(6):526.e1-526.e5.  PMID: 17547880

Caughey, A. B., Cahill, A. G., Guise, J. M., & Rouse, D. J. (2014). Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology,210(3), 179-193. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2014.01.026. PMID:24565430

Declercq, E., Menacker, F., & MacDorman, M. (2006). Maternal risk profiles and the primary cesarean rate in the United States, 1991–2002. American journal of public health, 96(5), 867. PMID: 16571712

Dekker, R (2014, October 29). U.S. hospitals held accountable for C-section rates. Retrieved from http://www.birthbythenumbers.org/?p=1731

DePoint, M (2014, October 22). Maternal diagnoses doesn’t explain variation in cesarean rates across US hospitals. University of Minnesota, School of Public Health. Retrieved from http://sph.umn.edu/maternal-diagnoses-doesnt-explain-variation-cesarean-rates-across-us-hospitals/.

Gentry, C (2014, May 14). FL still C-section hotspot. Retrieved from http://health.wusf.usf.edu/post/fl-still-c-section-hotspot.

Kolås, T., Saugstad, O. D., Daltveit, A. K., Nilsen, S. T., & Øian, P. (2006). Planned cesarean versus planned vaginal delivery at term: comparison of newborn infant outcomes. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology,195(6), 1538-1543. PMID: 16846577

Kozhimannil KB, Arcaya MC, Subramanian SV (2014). Maternal clinical diagnoses and hospital variation in the risk of cesarean delivery: Analyses of a national US hospital discharge database.  PLoS medicine, 11(10):e1001745. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001745. PMID: 25333943

Liu, S., Liston, R. M., Joseph, K. S., Heaman, M., Sauve, R., & Kramer, M. S. (2007). Maternal mortality and severe morbidity associated with low-risk planned cesarean delivery versus planned vaginal delivery at term. Canadian medical association journal176(4), 455-460. PMID: 17296957

Oganowski, K (2010, January 13). The C-section blame game: I’ve reached my boiling point. Retrieved from http://birthingbeautifulideas.com/?p=1245.

Pallasmaa, N., Ekblad, U., AITOKALLIO‐TALLBERG, A. N. S. A., Uotila, J., Raudaskoski, T., ULANDER, V., & Hurme, S. (2010). Cesarean delivery in Finland: maternal complications and obstetric risk factors. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica89(7), 896-902. PMID: 20583935

Phend, C (2013, March 5). C-Section rates vary widely between hospitals, study finds. MedPage Today. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/section-rates-vary-widely-hospitals-study-finds/story?id=18656847.

Silver, R. M. (2012, October). Implications of the first cesarean: perinatal and future reproductive health and subsequent cesareans, placentation issues, uterine rupture risk, morbidity, and mortality. In Seminars in perinatology (Vol. 36, No. 5, pp. 315-323). WB Saunders. PMID: 23009962

Visser GH (2014). Women are designed to deliver vaginally and not by Cesarean section: An obstetrician’s view. Neonatology, 107(1):8-13. PMID: 25301178

What every pregnant woman needs to know about Cesarean section (2012). Childbirth Connection. Retrieved from http://www.childbirthconnection.org/pdfs/cesareanbooklet.pdf.

What hospitals don’t want you to know about C-sections (2014, May). Consumer Reports. Retrieved from http://consumerreports.org/cro/2014/05/what-hospitals-do-not-want-you-to-know-about-c-sections/index.htm.

Wu, S., Kocherginsky, M., & Hibbard, J. U. (2005). Abnormal placentation: twenty-year analysis. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology192(5), 1458-1461. PMID: 15902137

A version of this post originally appeared on www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com

About Pam Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pam Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 17 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.

 

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Medical Interventions, New Research, Research , , , , ,

Ebola, Fearbola, and the Childbirth Educator

November 6th, 2014 by avatar

By Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN

ebola infographic cc cdcMany news outlets and social media venues have been disseminating information on the Ebola virus and the impact on populations both in West Africa as well as the potential impact on developed nations, including the USA.  The expectant families that you work with may have shared concerns for themselves, their children and their unborn baby with you?  How have you responded?  Did you feel like you had the information that you needed to provide them with facts to calm their concerns?  Occaisonal contributor Rebecca Dekker of EvidenceBasedBirth.com takes a look at the facts about the Ebola virus and shares resources and information applicable to pregnant and breastfeeding families that you can share. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

What’s the childbirth educator got to fear about Ebola? How do you address your students and clients’ fears?

Well, if you live in the U.S. or in any other country other than Africa—right now, there’s really not much to actually fear. That is, if you’re only worried about yourself and your own community.

The truth is, here in the U.S., there are so many more things that are more likely to kill you than Ebola—other infectious diseases such as influenza, motor vehicle accidents, smoking, secondhand smoke exposure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, even radon—an odorless, colorless gas that exists in many of our homes in the Southeast and can cause lung cancer—you name it, and it’s probably more likely to harm you than Ebola.

So why all the fear here in the U.S.? 

Ebola is a rare but deadly disease, and it has been ravaging West Africa. In developed countries, we feel fear because cases of the disease have finally reached our own shores, when in fact we should have paid attention much sooner to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

Does all this fear of Ebola do any good?

Personally, I believe that the fact that so much attention has been drawn to Ebola in developed countries may be a good thing. Fear here means that our governments have finally begun to put energy and resources into stopping the epidemic in Africa– not necessarily for humanitarian reasons– but to prevent the spread of this disease to us.

The Ebola epidemic that has affected parts of West Africa has been a fast-moving event that is only just now showing signs of slowing down. Researchers have conclusive evidence that this is the largest, most severe and most complex Ebola epidemic that we have witnessed since Ebola was first discovered nearly 40 years ago. The number of cases and deaths in this epidemic is many times larger than all past Ebola outbreaks combined.

Before the current epidemic, the Ebola virus had mostly been contained to small outbreaks in rural communities. This time, all of the capital cities in in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have experienced large outbreaks.

For the first time, Ebola has entered communities like West Point, in Monrovia, Liberia. According to the World Health Organization, “West Point is West Africa’s largest and most notorious slum: more than 70,000 people crowded together on a peninsula, with no running water, sanitation or garbage collection. The number of Ebola deaths in that slum will likely never be known, as bodies have simply been thrown into the two nearby rivers.”

Ebola has been especially hard-hitting on health care workers. Health workers on the front lines are often exposed to very infectious bodily fluids—blood, vomit, and diarrhea. The fact that health care workers can be at high risk for catching and dying from Ebola was first discovered during the very first Ebola outbreaks that took place in Zaire and Sudan in 1978. Fortunately, researchers have found that proper use and training with personal protective equipment can drastically lower health care workers’ chances of catching the virus. It’s probable that the cases we saw in the U.S. among nurses were due to improper training, inadequate protection equipment, or both.

Interestingly, Ebola actually isn’t as contagious as many other infectious diseases. Measles is an airborne disease, and it is highly contagious. Someone with measles can walk through a room, and another person can walk through that same room two hours later and catch the same measles infection. For every one person who has measles and lives among an unvaccinated population, they will—on average—infect 18 more people.

© CDC

© CDC

In contrast, one person with Ebola infects two other people on average, usually people who have had close, prolonged contact with that person. And the research we have on humans so far shows that Ebola is not airborne—although there have been a few primate studies that suggested otherwise (but some researchers think that maybe the monkeys were spitting on each other!)

One reason Ebola has spread so widely in West Africa – in spite of the fact that this virus is relatively hard to catch compared to other infectious diseases—is that the countries affected are extremely poor. Many people lack running water and soap in their homes.

This means that in West Africa, if one family member comes down with Ebola, there’s a good chance that others in the home will become infected, especially if patients bleed and vomit profusely. Families without modern toilets and washing machines have trouble cleaning up after patients who lose control of their bowels and produce huge amounts of diarrhea. Even burying the dead can spread Ebola in these countries, because common burial rites involve washing the dead and preparing the bodies. However, news organizations are reporting that communities have begun adhering to recommendations to refrain from traditional burial practices that expose more people to the disease.

So, it makes sense that we would fear for our fellow humans in West Africa. They are experiencing what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis. What’s even more concerning is that the virus has—at least for now—crippled an already weak health care infrastructure. This has created what the World Health Organization calls, “an emergency within an emergency.” A great example of this is that pregnant women and infants cannot receive emergency care while resources are drained by the Ebola virus epidemic.

So why are some people panicking about Ebola in the U.S., where the chances of an infection are completely remote? How do we make sense of this?

Well, when it comes to understanding how people perceive risk, and why some people are panicking about Ebola in the U.S., it may be helpful to understand some basic scientific principles behind how people perceive risk.

First of all, risk is subjective. And emotions and our mood change how we interpret risk. So facts matter less when emotions take over.

Also, many people also have an inherent lack of trust in scientists and the government– both here in the U.S. and in West Africa. People often believe their own senses and own experiences more than what scientists say. Many people don’t really understand the scientific process, and have doubts about what they hear. They confuse the research evidence on Ebola with the legal system, and they think there is lots of room for reasonable doubt about whether or not Ebola is airborne, for example.

Also, it’s really important to understand that people perceive a higher risk from rare events with really severe outcomes than they do for common outcomes with less severe or delayed outcomes.

[Does this sound familiar? Just take that sentence above and think about the concept of VBAC and repeat Cesarean. Obstetricians perceive a higher risk from rare events with really severe outcomes—such as uterine rupture—than they do for common outcomes with less severe or delayed outcomes—such as serious maternal infections after a planned repeat Cesarean, or placental abnormalities in future pregnancies].

People also tend to worry more over things that we can’t control. We can control our driving, and getting a flu vaccine, and our diet, and cigarette smoking. But we can’t control Ebola, so that scares us more.

So when we bring fear and emotion into the mix, people’s risk perceptions can end up looking like they do for some people in the U.S. right now– paranoia about Ebola.

It is unfortunate that we have overblown fears of contracting Ebola in the U.S., but if we could redirect our thoughts and channel our efforts into containing the outbreak in West Africa, this is where we will make the biggest difference.

So, in summary:

  • Ebola is a rare but deadly viral infection
  • We are currently witnessing the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
  • The chances of any one of us contracting the virus in the U.S. are extremely remote
  • Fear of Ebola will hopefully trigger people in developed countries to reach out to our fellow humans in West Africa and help them fight the virus

Items of interest related to childbirth and breastfeeding

How can we help?

If you’re worried about Ebola, don’t panic but do put your concern into action. Many health and relief organizations in West Africa are in need of resources, and you can help. This blog article has a comprehensive list of charities working in West Africa right now.

Have your clients and students asked you about Ebola?  Have they expressed concern for themselves or their baby?  Have families discussed the fear of entering the hospital to birth, due to their perceived risk of the hospital as being a potential source of exposure to the Ebola virus?  Hopefully after reading this blog post by Rebecca, you can help provide the facts.  You can also direct them to the Evidence Based Birth online class “Ebola, Fearbola: Separating Facts from Paranoia” and the About.com article “Five Things Pregnant Women Need to Know about Ebola” written by Robin E. Weiss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides a wealth of information that you can access and share with the families you work with. – SM

About Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, is the founder of Evidence Based Birth and teaches pathophysiology at a research university. She has taught continuing education classes on HIV and recently developed an in-depth class on the pathophysiology and epidemiology of Ebola (2 nursing contact hours). To learn about how Ebola is transmitted, prevented, diagnosed, and treated, check out Rebecca’s class on “Ebola or Fearbola? Separating Facts from Paranoia,” here.

Childbirth Education, Continuing Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Maternal Mortality, Maternity Care, Newborns, Research , , , ,

Epidural Analgesia: To Delay or Not to Delay, That Is the Question

October 23rd, 2014 by avatar

By Henci Goer

Unless you have been “off the grid” on a solitary trek, surely you have read and heard the recent flurry of discussion surrounding the just released study making the claim that the timing of when a woman receives an epidural (“early” or “late” in labor) made no difference in the rate of cesarean delivery.  Your students and clients may have been asking questions and wondering if the information is accurate.  Award winning author and occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Henci Goer reviews the 9 studies that made up the Cochrane systematic review: Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia for labour to determine what they actually said.  Read her review here and share if you agree with all the spin in the media about this new research review. Additionally, head on over to the professional and parent Lamaze International sites to check out the new infographic on epidurals to share with your students and clients.- Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Manager. 

Epidural infographic oneArticles have been popping up all over the internet in recent weeks citing a new Cochrane systematic review- Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia for labour, concluding that epidural analgesia for labor needn’t be delayed because early initiation doesn’t increase the likelihood of cesarean delivery, or, for that matter, instrumental vaginal delivery (Sng 2014). The New York Times ran this piece. Some older studies have found that early initiation appeared to increase likelihood of cesarean (Lieberman 1996; Nageotte 1997; Thorp 1991), which is plausible on theoretical grounds. Labor progress might be more vulnerable to disruption in latent than active phase. Persistent occiput posterior might be more frequent if the woman isn’t moving around, and fetal malposition greatly increases the likelihood of cesarean and instrumental delivery. Which is right? Let’s dig into the review.

The review includes 9 randomized controlled trials of “early” versus “late” initiation of epidural analgesia. Participants in all trials were limited to healthy first-time mothers at term with one head-down baby. Five trials further limited participants to women who began labor spontaneously, three mixed women being induced with women beginning labor spontaneously, and in one, all women were induced. Analgesia protocols varied, but all epidural regimens were of modern, low-dose epidurals. So far, so good.

Examining the individual trials, though, we see a major problem. You would think that the reviewers would have rejected trials that failed to divide participants into distinct groups, one having epidural initiation in early labor and the other in more advanced labor, since the point of the review is to determine whether early or late initiation makes a difference. You would think wrong. Of the nine included trials, six failed to do this.

cc photo bryanrmason http://flickr.com/photos/b-may/397189835

cc photo bryanrmason http://flickr.com/photos/b-may/397189835

The two Chestnut trials (1994a; 1994b) had the same design, differing only in that one was of women who were laboring spontaneously at trial entry and the other included women receiving oxytocin for induction or augmentation. Women were admitted to the trial if they were dilated between 3 and 5 cm. Women in the early group got their epidural immediately while women in the late group could have an epidural only if they were dilated to 5 cm or more. If late-group women were not dilated to 5 cm, they were given systemic opioids and could have a second dose of opioid one hour later. They could have an epidural when they attained 5 cm dilation or regardless of dilation, an hour after the second opioid dose. Let’s see how that worked out.

Among the 149 women in the trial that included women receiving oxytocin (Chestnut 1994b), median dilation in the early group at time of epidural initiation was 3.5 cm, meaning that half the women were dilated more and half less than this amount. The interquartile deviation was 0.5 cm, which means that values were fairly tightly clustered around the median. The authors state, however, that cervical dilation was assessed using 0.5 increments which meant that dilation of 3-4 cm was recorded as 3.5. In other words, women in the early group might have been dilated to as much as 4 cm. The median dilation in the late group was 5.0 cm, again with a 0.5 cm interquartile deviation. Some women in the late group, therefore, were not yet dilated to 5 cm when their epidural began, and, in fact, the authors report that 26 of the 75 women (35%) in the late group were given their epidural after the second dose of opioid but before attaining 5 cm dilation. The small interquartile deviation in the late group tells us that few, if any, women would have been dilated much more than 5 cm. Add in that assessing dilation isn’t exact, so women might have been a bit more or less dilated than they were thought to be, and it becomes clear that the “early” and “late” groups must have overlapped considerably. Furthermore, pretty much all of them were dilated between 3 and 5 cm when they got their epidurals, which means that few of these first-time mothers would have been in active labor, as defined by the new ACOG standards.

Overlap between early and late groups must have been even greater in Chestnut et al.’s (1994a) trial of 334 women laboring spontaneously at trial entry because median dilation in the early group was greater than in the other trial (4 cm, rather than 3.5) while median dilation in the late group was the same (5.0 cm), and interquartile deviation was even tighter in the late group (0.25 cm, rather than 0.5 cm). As before, dilation was measured in 0.5 cm increments, which presumably means that women in the early group dilated to 4-5 cm would have been recorded as “4.5,” thereby qualifying them for the “early” group even though they might have been as much as 5 cm dilated.

Based on my analysis, I would argue that there was no clinically meaningful difference in dilation between early and late groups in either trial.

A second pair of trials, one a mixed trial of spontaneous labor onset and induction and the other all induced, also had the same design in both trials (Wong 2005; Wong 2009). All women were less than 4 cm dilated at first request for pain medication. In the early group, women had an opioid injected intrathecally, i.e. the “spinal” part of a combined spinal-epidural, and an epidural catheter was set. At the second request, an epidural was initiated. In the late group, women were given a systemic opioid. At second request, they were given a second dose of systemic opioid if they hadn’t reached 4 cm dilation and an epidural if they had dilated to 4 cm or more. At third request, they were given an epidural regardless of dilation. Women who had no vaginal exam at second request and were given an epidural were “assumed,” in the authors’ words, to be dilated to at least 4 cm. What were the results?

Wong (2005) included 728 women, some beginning labor spontaneously and some induced. You may already have noticed the flaw in the trials’ design: Wong and colleagues confused the issue by considering intrathecal opioid to be equivalent to epidural anesthetic in the early group, although women didn’t actually receive anesthetic until their second request for pain medication some unknown time later. So far as I know we have no evidence that opiods, spinal or epidural, have any effect on labor progress. As to dilation at the time of epidural initiation, 63% of women in the so-called “early” group were either determined or assumed to be at 4 cm dilation or more while in the late group, some unknown proportion were less than 4 cm dilated either because they got their epidural at third pain medication request regardless of dilation or they were assumed to be at 4 or more cm dilation at second request, but weren’t assessed.

Wong (2009), a study of 806 induced women, was set up the same way but reported data somewhat differently. Early-group women were administered a spinal opioid at a median of 2 cm dilation and an interquartile range of 1.5 to 3 cm, which means that values in the middle 50% of the dataset ranged from 1.5 to 3 cm. We have no information on dilation at the time they received their epidural. The median dilation at which late-group women had their epidural initiated was 4 cm with an interquartile range of 3 to 4 cm, that is, in the middle 50% of the dataset ranged from 3 to 4 cm dilation.

As with the Chestnut trials, dilation at time of epidural initiation in the two Wong trials must have overlapped considerably between groups. And, again, few women in the late epidural group would have been in active labor. The Wong trials, however, muddy the waters even further by considering spinal opioid to be the same thing as epidural anesthetic, and while the authors were careful to use the term “neuraxial analgesia,” the Cochrane reviewers made no such distinction.

This brings us to Parameswara (2012), a trial of 120 women that included both spontaneous onset and induced labors. This trial defined the early group as women less than 2 cm dilated at time of epidural initiation and the late group as women more than 2 cm dilated. That’s all the information they provide on group allocation.

Last of the six, we have Wang (2011), a trial of 60 women in spontaneous labor. All women were given intrathecal anesthetic plus opioid. The early group was started on epidural anesthetic plus opioid 20 minutes later whereas the late group had their epidural initiated when they requested additional pain relief. No information is given on dilation at time of epidural initiation. Not only do we have no idea whether early and late groups differed from one another, women in both groups received neuraxial anesthetic at the same time.

In summary, “garbage in, garbage out.” No conclusions can be drawn about the effect of early versus late epidural administration from these six studies.

The other three studies are a different story. They achieve a reasonable separation between groups. Luxman (1998) studied 60 women with spontaneous labor onset. The early group had a mean, i.e., average, dilation of 2.3 cm with a standard deviation of + or – 0.6 cm while the late group had a mean dilation of 4.5 cm + or – 0.2 cm. Ohel (2006) studied a mixed spontaneous onset and induced group of 449 women. The mean dilation at initiation in the early group was 2.4 cm with a standard deviation of 0.7 cm, and the late group had a mean dilation of 4.6 cm with a standard deviation of 1.1 cm. Wang (2009), the behemoth of the trials, included 12,629 women who began labor spontaneously. The early epidural group had a median dilation of 1.6 cm with an interquartile range of 1.1 to 2.8 and the late group a median of 5.1 cm dilation with an interquartile range of 4.2 to 5.7. Cesarean and instrumental delivery rates were similar between early and late groups in all three trials, so had reviewers included only these three trials, they would still have arrived at the same conclusion: early epidural initiation doesn’t increase likelihood of cesarean and instrumental delivery.

We’re not done, though. Wang (2009) points us to a second, even bigger issue.

The Wang (2009) trial, as did all of the trials, limited participants to healthy first-time mothers with no factors that would predispose them to need a cesarean. The Wang trial further excluded women who didn’t begin labor spontaneously. Nevertheless, the cesarean rate in these ultra-low-risk women was an astonishing 23%. Comparing the trials side-by-side reveals wildly varying cesarean and instrumental vaginal delivery rates in what are essentially homogeneous populations.

© Henci Goer

© Henci Goer

© Henci Goer

© Henci Goer

Comparing the trials uncovers that epidural timing doesn’t matter because any effect will be swamped by the much stronger effect of practice variation.

Analysis of the trials teaches us two lessons: First, systematic reviews can’t always be taken at face value because results depend on the beliefs and biases that the reviewers bring to the table. In this case, they blinded reviewers from seeing that two-thirds of the trials they included weren’t measuring two groups of women, one in early- and one in active-phase labor. Second, practice variation can be an unacknowledged and potent confounding factor for any outcome that depends on care provider judgment.

Conclusion

So what’s our take home? Women need to know that with a judicious care provider who strives for spontaneous vaginal birth whenever possible, early epidural administration won’t increase odds of cesarean or instrumental delivery. With an injudicious one, late initiation won’t decrease them. That being said, there are other reasons to delay an epidural. Maternal fever is associated with epidural duration. Running a fever in a slowly progressing labor could tip the balance toward cesarean delivery as well as have consequences for the baby such as keeping the baby in the nursery for observation, testing for infection, or administering prophylactic IV antibiotics. Then too, a woman just might find she can do very well without one. Epidurals can have adverse effects, some of them serious. Comfort measures, cognitive strategies, and all around good emotionally and physically supportive care don’t. Hospitals, therefore, should make available and encourage use of a wide range of non-pharmacologic alternatives and refrain from routine practices that increase discomfort and hinder women from making use of them. Only then can women truly make a free choice about whether and when to have an epidural.

After reading Henci’s review and the study, what information do you feel is important for women to be aware of regarding epidural use in labor?  What will you say when asked about the study and timing of an epidural?  You may want to reference a previous Science & Sensibility article by Andrea Lythgoe, LCCE, on the use of the peanut ball to promote labor progress when a woman has an epidural. – SM 

References

Caughey, A. B., Cahill, A. G., Guise, J. M., & Rouse, D. J. (2014). Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology210(3), 179-193.

Chestnut, D. H., McGrath, J. M., Vincent, R. D., Jr., Penning, D. H., Choi, W. W., Bates, J. N., & McFarlane, C. (1994a). Does early administration of epidural analgesia affect obstetric outcome in nulliparous women who are in spontaneous labor? Anesthesiology, 80(6), 1201-1208. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8010466?dopt=Citation

Chestnut, D. H., Vincent, R. D., Jr., McGrath, J. M., Choi, W. W., & Bates, J. N. (1994b). Does early administration of epidural analgesia affect obstetric outcome in nulliparous women who are receiving intravenous oxytocin? Anesthesiology, 80(6), 1193-1200. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8010465?dopt=Citation

Lieberman, E., Lang, J. M., Cohen, A., D’Agostino, R., Jr., Datta, S., & Frigoletto, F. D., Jr. (1996). Association of epidural analgesia with cesarean delivery in nulliparas. Obstet Gynecol, 88(6), 993-1000. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8942841

Luxman, D., Wolman, I., Groutz, A., Cohen, J. R., Lottan, M., Pauzner, D., & David, M. P. (1998). The effect of early epidural block administration on the progression and outcome of labor. Int J Obstet Anesth, 7(3), 161-164. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15321209?dopt=Citation

Nageotte, M. P., Larson, D., Rumney, P. J., Sidhu, M., & Hollenbach, K. (1997). Epidural analgesia compared with combined spinal-epidural analgesia during labor in nulliparous women. N Engl J Med, 337(24), 1715-1719. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9392696?dopt=Citation

Ohel, G., Gonen, R., Vaida, S., Barak, S., & Gaitini, L. (2006). Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia in labor: does it increase the risk of cesarean section? A randomized trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 194(3), 600-605. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522386?dopt=Citation

Parameswara, G., Kshama, K., Murthy, H. K., Jalaja, K., Venkat, S. (2012). Early epidural labour analgesia: Does it increase the chances of operative delivery? British Journal of Anaesthesia 108(Suppl 2):ii213–ii214. Note: This is an abstract only so all data from it come from the Cochrane review.

Sng, B. L., Leong, W. L., Zeng, Y., Siddiqui, F. J., Assam, P. N., Lim, Y., . . . Sia, A. T. (2014). Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia for labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 10, CD007238. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007238.pub2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25300169

Thorp, J. A., Eckert, L. O., Ang, M. S., Johnston, D. A., Peaceman, A. M., & Parisi, V. M. (1991). Epidural analgesia and cesarean section for dystocia: risk factors in nulliparas. Am J Perinatol, 8(6), 402-410. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1814306?dopt=Citation

Wang, F., Shen, X., Guo, X., Peng, Y., & Gu, X. (2009). Epidural analgesia in the latent phase of labor and the risk of cesarean delivery: a five-year randomized controlled trial. Anesthesiology, 111(4), 871-880. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19741492?dopt=Citation

Wang, L. Z., Chang, X. Y., Hu, X. X., Tang, B. L., & Xia, F. (2011). The effect on maternal temperature of delaying initiation of the epidural component of combined spinal-epidural analgesia for labor: a pilot study. Int J Obstet Anesth, 20(4), 312-317. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21840705

Wong, C. A., McCarthy, R. J., Sullivan, J. T., Scavone, B. M., Gerber, S. E., & Yaghmour, E. A. (2009). Early compared with late neuraxial analgesia in nulliparous labor induction: a randomized controlled trial. Obstet Gynecol, 113(5), 1066-1074. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19384122?dopt=Citation

Wong, C. A., Scavone, B. M., Peaceman, A. M., McCarthy, R. J., Sullivan, J. T., Diaz, N. T., . . . Grouper, S. (2005). The risk of cesarean delivery with neuraxial analgesia given early versus late in labor. N Engl J Med, 352(7), 655-665. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15716559?dopt=Citation

About Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer, award-winning medical writer and internationally known speaker, is the author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach She is the winner of the American College of Nurse-Midwives “Best Book of the Year” award. An independent scholar, she is an acknowledged expert on evidence-based maternity care.  

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Epidural Analgesia, Guest Posts, informed Consent, Medical Interventions, New Research, Systematic Review , , , , , , ,

Ideas for Commemorating Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

October 9th, 2014 by avatar

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhDc, MPH, CPH, LCCE

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and Lamaze International President Robin Elise Weiss challenges all of us to make some time this month to recognize this somber topic.  Robin provides some creative ideas about how you can honor and remember those families and babies who were separated too soon in your community. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

© Vicki Zoller

© Vicki Zoller

October has been identified as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. There are also several other pregnancy and infant groups who have specific memorials and functions that occur this month, but I’m going to focus on this as a general topic.

The beauty of being a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator is that I have the joy and pleasure of working with happy pregnant families the vast majority of the time. Though what most people don’t think about when they talk to a Lamaze Childbirth Educator is that we can also be a resource when pregnancy is not going perfectly, and that includes the very devastating death of a baby at any point in pregnancy or as a young baby.

This is not something that most parents-to-be want to hear about. It is something that the vast majority will try to avoid thinking about, even though it is a common fear in pregnancy and beyond. Our job as a Lamaze Childbirth Educator is not to scare them but to give matter of fact, honest information without dwelling on the negative. That said, I know that many childbirth educators do not cover this in childbirth class for a variety of reasons. 

My challenge to you this month is to consider doing any or all of the following, depending on where you are in your journey as an educator, parent, human:

  • Read a Book: There are many good books written about pregnancy loss. The vast majority are written from the view point of the parents involved, but these first hand accounts are extremely poignant and important. It can often be helpful in figuring out how to best help someone who is experiencing the death of their baby. You can also create a reading list of books for parents and one for children. If you can, consider donating a book to your local hospital or library.
  • Take a Class: Often you can find classes available, offered often by hospitals, hospice, or perinatal loss groups, during the month of October. They may be focused on birth workers, or be an in general offering. This is a great way to help build your resource list. One geared towards those who work in birth are going to be your best bet.
  • Take a Tour: Call your local hospital and ask to talk to the Labor & Delivery Nurse Manager. Tell her that you are a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator in the area and that you are trying to learn more about how they handle pregnancy loss and stillbirth. Ask if they will share their protocols, and talk to you about local resources. They often support groups that you may not see listed when looking locally.
  • Host a Circle: This can be a very touching but difficult thing to do. I would recommend that you find a local chaplain or counselor to co-host this with you unless you are qualified to handle various issues that may arise. Sometimes this might just be with local birth workers who need to talk about their own losses or the losses within their students or clients.
  • Host a Training: If you have a special talent, consider sharing it with others. For example, many years ago, I learned how to make foot molds and then casts from these molds. I’m the only person in town who does this and that means I go whenever someone asks me to go. There may be times I’m not available, but if I pass that information on to others, then it makes it more available to the community. You could also host a training of other sorts, like having someone come talk to a birth network about how to deal with grief and grieving in class or with your clients.
  • Host a Craft Night: This is something we are trying this year as a way to connect with the labor and delivery nurses on the front lines. A group of local doulas and childbirth educators are meeting at the hospital for a night of knitting and crocheting tiny baby hats to be given to the families who have experienced the death of their baby. It is a way for use to share and work together to make a really horrible experience a bit more personal. We are offering patterns for baby hats from very small gestation sizes through infant sizes, some basic instruction on crochet and knitting, and the hospital is providing a room and snacks.
  • Create Your Own Hats: If you need something to do that is tangible but can’t commit to being with others, you can use the patterns below to create your own stash of hats to donate to your local hospital.

I would invite you to share in the comments what’s on your reading list, other ideas you have for this month or even ideas you have that I may have missed.

Useful Links and Resources

 

 

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Intrapartum Antibiotics for GBS Positive Mothers – Still Clear as Mud

September 30th, 2014 by avatar

 In July, 2009, former blog community manager Amy Romano wrote about the Cochrane systematic review of intrapartum antibiotics for mothers with GBS colonization.  The researchers recently went back and did another review of for new literature and updated their research.  Melissa Garvey of the American College of Nurse-Midwives updated the original article with recent information from the June 2014 review and I wanted to share that with you now.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

iv line

© Wikipedia

But sometimes Cochrane reviews leave us with more questions than answers.

Last June, the Cochrane Library released a systematic review evaluating the effectiveness of intrapartum antibiotics for known maternal group B streptococcal (GBS) colonization. And it’s a hot mess.

The 4 included trials that compared IV antibiotics with no treatment in labor collectively had only 852 participants, which we automatically know is far too small to find statistically significant differences in a condition that affects 1 in 2000 newborns, and results in death or long-term complications even less frequently. But small sample sizes were the least of the problems here. The reviewers noted several other problems with the trials:

  • In one study, researchers tracked their findings and halted the trial as soon as a significant difference was found (favoring treatment with antibiotics). This is a blatant form of bias – it is like flipping a penny until you get heads 5% more often than you got tails. If you keep flipping long enough (or stop flipping soon enough) you’ll be able to find that 5% difference simply by chance.
  • In the same study, researchers changed to a different statistical test that allowed them to achieve statistical significance with their data, when the originally planned (and more appropriate) test would have produced a nonsignificant finding.
  • None of the studies used placebos, so women, care providers, and hospital staff knew which women received antibiotics and which did not. This may have altered treatment of the women or the babies, possibly in ways that would make no antibiotics appear safer (for instance, avoiding or delaying membrane rupture in a woman who is GBS+ but not getting antibiotics).
  • One study excluded women who developed fevers in labor. GBS colonization can cause maternal fever and newborn sepsis, so excluding these cases makes no sense.
  • Some women included in the studies were likely GBS negative because methods used to determine GBS status were inadequate.
  • Outcomes were poorly defined.
  • Data on a substantial proportion of women and babies were missing.
  • Groups were mysteriously differently sized.
  • Need I go on?

The Cochrane reviewers, in my opinion, did a respectable job with what they had, but what they had was garbage and as the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t make reliable conclusions out of a bunch of bad research, even if you’re a Cochrane reviewer.

So what were the findings? Three trials, which were more than 20 years old, compared ampicillin or penicillin to no treatment and found no clear differences in newborn deaths although the occurrence of early GBS infection in the newborn was reduced with antibiotics.

More, better research is needed, but the Cochrane reviewers are not optimistic:

Ideally the effectiveness of IAP to reduce neonatal GBS infections should be studied in adequately sized double-blind controlled trials. The opportunity to conduct such trials has likely been lost, as practice guidelines (albeit without good evidence) have been introduced in many jurisdictions.

In the meantime, women should be aware that other evidence, albeit not from randomized controlled trials, suggests that antibiotic treatment reduces deaths from early onset GBS disease in newborns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a steady decline in GBS disease has been seen in individual institutions, in the whole US population, and in other countries as antibiotic use has risen. But these population-level data cannot tell us whether antibiotics or some other factor caused the decline.

What other advice can we share with women?

  1. Be aware that antibiotics are not harmless. Severe allergic reactions are possible, and antibiotic use in labor can result in thrush (candida infection) which causes painful breastfeeding and sometimes early weaning. We do not know other possible harmful effects because they have never been studied adequately or at all.
  2. No study confirms the effect of labor practices on GBS infection in newborns, but here we can use our common sense. Care providers should avoid or minimize sweeping/stripping membranes before labor, breaking the bag of waters, vaginal exams, and other internal procedures, especially those that break the baby’s skin and can be a route for infection. These include internal fetal scalp electrodes for fetal heart rate monitoring and fetal blood sampling.
  3. Keep mothers and babies skin-to-skin after birth. This exposes the baby to beneficial bacteria on the mother’s skin, facilitates early breastfeeding, and lowers the likelihood that the baby will exhibit signs or symptoms that mimic infection, such as low temperature or low blood sugar, which could cause the need for blood tests or spinal taps to rule out infection.

If you would like additional information about GBS treatment, check out Science & Sensibility’s interview with Rebecca Dekker of EvidenceBasedBirth.com and Rebecca’s article “Group B Strep in Pregnancy: Evidence for Antibiotics and Alternatives.”

Reference

Ohlsson A, Shah VS. Intrapartum antibiotics for known maternal Group B streptococcal colonization. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD007467. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007467.pub4

Thank  you to Melissa Garvey of ACNM for her reworking of the original article.

 

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