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The Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Home Birth to Hospital – Collaboration Can Improve Outcomes

April 17th, 2014 by avatar

 By Lawrence Leeman, MD, MPH and Diane Holzer, LM, CPM, PA-C

© http://www.mybirth.com.au/

© http://www.mybirth.com.au/

On Tuesday, readers learned about the history and objectives of the Home Birth Consensus Summit, a collective of stakeholders, whose goal is to improve maternal infant health outcomes and increase collaboration between all those involved in serving women who are planning home births.  The interdisciplinary collaboration that occurs during the Summits brings representatives from many different perspectives to the table in order to improve the birth process for women and babies. You may want to start with the post “Finding Common Ground: The Home Birth Consensus Summit“ and then enjoy today’s post on the Home Birth Consensus Summit’s just released “The Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Home Birth to Hospital.”  Today’s post was written by Dr. Lawrence Leeman and Midwife Diane Holzer, two of the members on the HBCS Collaboration Task Force, a subgroup tasked with developing these transfer guidelines.  Share your thoughts on these new guidelines and your opinion on if you feel that they will improve safety and outcomes for mothers and babies. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Leea Brady was a second-time mother whose first baby was born at home. One day past her due date, an ultrasound revealed high levels of amniotic fluid, which can pose a risk during delivery. Although she planned to have her baby at home, on the advice of her midwife, Leea transferred to her local hospital.

“I knew that we needed to be in the hospital in case anything went wrong,” said Brady. “I was really surprised when I arrived and the hospital staff told me they had read my birth plan, and they would do everything they could to honor our intentions for the birth. My midwife was able to stay throughout the birth, which meant a lot, because I had a trusting relationship with her. She clearly had good relationships with the hospital staff, and they worked together as a team.”

A recent descriptive study (Cheyney, 2014) reports that about ten percent of women who plan home births transfer to the hospital after the onset of labor. The reason for the overwhelming majority of transfers are the need for labor augmentation and other non-emergent issues. Brady’s transfer from a planned home birth to the hospital represents the ideal: good communication and coordination between providers in different settings, minimizing the potential for negative outcomes.

However, in some communities, lack of trust and poor communication between clinicians during the transfer have jeopardized the physical and emotional well being of the family, and been frustrating for both transferring and receiving providers. Lack of role clarity and poor communication across disciplines have been linked to preventable adverse neonatal and maternal outcomes, including death.(Guise, 2013,Cornthwaite, 2008) With optimal communication and cooperation among health care providers, though, families often report high satisfaction, despite not being in the location of their choice.

Recent national initiatives have been directed at improving interprofessional collaboration in maternity care.(Vedam, 2014) This is why a multi-disciplinary working group of leaders from obstetrics, family medicine, pediatrics, midwifery, and consumer groups came together to form a set of guidelines for transfer from home to hospital. The Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Planned Home Birth to Hospital are being officially launched today by the Home Birth Consensus Summit and will be highlighted at a series of upcoming presentations at conferences and health care facilities.

The authors of the guidelines, known as the Home Birth Summit Collaboration Task Force, formed as a result of their work together at the Home Birth Summits.

© http://flic.kr/p/3mcESR

© http://flic.kr/p/3mcESR

“Some hospital based providers are fearful of liability concerns, or they are unfamiliar with the credentials and the training of home birth providers,” said Dr. Timothy Fisher, MD, MS, at the Hubbard Center for Women’s Health in Keene, NH and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dartmouth Medical School. “But families are going to choose home birth, for a variety of cultural and personal beliefs. These guidelines are the first of their kind to provide a template for hospitals and home birth providers to come together with clearly defined expectations.”

The guidelines provide a roadmap for maternity care organizations developing policies around the transfer from home to hospital. They are also appropriate for transfer from a free-standing birth center to hospital.

The guidelines include model practices for the midwife and the hospital staff. Some guidelines include the efficient transfer of records and information, a shared-decision making process among hospital staff and the transferring family, and ongoing involvement of the transferring midwife as appropriate.

“When the family sees that their midwife trusts and respects the doctor receiving care, that trust is transferred to the new provider,” said Dr. Ali Lewis, a member of the HBCS Collaboration Task Force. She became involved with the work of the committee in part because of her experiences with a transfer that was not handled optimally. “It is rare that transfers come in as true emergency. But when they do, if the midwife can tell the family she trusts my decisions, then I can get consent much more quickly, which results in better care and higher patient satisfaction.”

The guidelines also encourage hospital providers and staff to be sensitive to the psychosocial needs of the woman that result from the change of birth setting.

“When families enter into the hospital and feel as if things are being done to them as opposed to with them, they feel like a victim in the process,” said Diane Holzer, LM, CPM, PA-C, and the chair of the HBCS Collaboration Task Force. “When families are incorporated in the decision-making process, and feel as if their baby and their body is being respected, they leave the hospital describing a positive experience, even though it wasn’t what they had planned.”

The guidelines are open source, meaning that hospitals and practices can use or adapt any part of the guidelines. The Home Birth Summit delegates welcome endorsements of the guidelines from organizations, institutions, health care providers, and other stakeholders.

References

Cornthwaite, K., Edwards, S., & Siassakos, D. (2013). Reducing risk in maternity by optimising teamwork and leadership: an evidence-based approach to save mothers and babies. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 27(4), 571-581.

Cheyney, M., Bovbjerg, M., Everson, C., Gordon, W., Hannibal, D., & Vedam, S. (2014). Outcomes of Care for 16,924 Planned Home Births in the United States: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

Guise, J. M., & Segel, S. (2008). Teamwork in obstetric critical care. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 22(5), 937-951.

Vedam S, Leeman L, Cheyney M, Fisher T, Myers S, Low L, Ruhl C. Transfer from planned home birth to hospital: inter-professional collaboration leads to quality improvement . Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, November 2014, In Press.

About the Authors:

leeman larry headshotDr. Lawrence Leeman, MD, MPH/Medical Director, Maternal Child Health, received his degree from University of California, San Francisco in 1988 and completed residency training in Family Medicine at UNM. He practiced rural Family Medicine at the Zuni/Ramah Indian Health Service Hospital for six years. He subsequently earned a fellowship in Obstetrics. He is board certified in Family Medicine. He directs the Family Medicine Maternal and Child Health service and fellowship and co-medical director of the UNM Hospital Mother-Baby Unit. Dr. Leeman practices the family medicine with a special interest in the care of pregnant women and newborns. He is Medical Director of the Milagro Program that provides prenatal care and maternity care services to women with substance abuse problems. Dr. Leeman is a Professor in the Departments of Family & Community Medicine, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is currently the Managing Editor for the nationwide Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics (ALSO) program. Areas of research include rural maternity care, pelvic floor outcomes after childbirth, family planning, and vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Clinic: Family Medicine Center

Diane Holzer head shotDiane Holzer, LM, CPM, PA-C, has been a practicing midwife for over 30 years with experience in both home and birth center. She was one of the founding women who passionately created an infrastructure for the integration of home birth midwifery into the system. She sat on the Certification Task Force which led to the CPM credential and also was a board member of the Midwifery Education and Accreditation council for 13 years. She served the Midwives Alliance of North America on the board for 20 years and is the chair of the International Section being the liaison to the International Confederation of Midwives. Diane is the Chair of the Collaboration Task Force of the Home Birth Summit and currently has a home birth practice and works as a Physician Assistant doing primary health care in a rural Family Practice clinic.

Babies, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery, Newborns, Practice Guidelines, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , ,

Why Pediatricians Fear Waterbirth – Barbara Harper Reviews the Research on Waterbirth Safety

March 27th, 2014 by avatar

By Barbara Harper, RN, CLD, CCE, DEM, CKC, CCCE

On March 20th, 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Obstetric Practice released a joint clinical report entitled Immersion in Water During Labor and Delivery in the journal Pediatrics.  While not substantially different than previous statements released by the AAP, quite a stir was created.  Today, Barbara Harper, RN, CLD, CCE, DEM, CKC, CCCE, of Waterbirth International provides a research summary that supports waterbirth as a safe and reasonable option for mothers and babies.  Barbara Harper has been researching and teaching about safe waterbirth protocols for several decades and is considered an expert on the practice.  I am glad Barbara was able to share her knowledge with Science & Sensibility readers all the way from China, where she just finished another waterbirth workshop for Chinese hospital programs. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

In a candle lit room in Santa Barbara, California, in October of 1984, my second baby came swimming out of me in a homemade tub at the foot of my bed.  As soon as he was on my chest, I turned to my midwife and exclaimed, “We have got to tell women how easy this is!”

Earlier that month I sat in my obstetrician’s office with my husband discussing our plans, which had changed from an unmedicated hospital birth to a home waterbirth.  The OB shook with anger and accused me of potential child abuse, stating that if I did anything so selfish, stupid and reprehensible he would have no choice but to report me to the Department of Child Welfare.  I never stepped foot in his office again, but I did call his office and share the news of my successful home waterbirth.

Before setting up my homemade 300 gallon tub, I had researched through medical libraries for any published data on waterbirth, but could not find a single article, until a librarian called me and said she was mailing an article that came in from a French medical journal.  The only problem was that it was quite old. It had been published in 1803!  The next article would not come out until 1983, the very year that I was searching.[i]

The objections to waterbirth have always come from pediatricians, some with vehement opinions similar to those expressed by my former obstetrician.  The current opinion of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn is nothing new.  It was issued in 2005, restated in November 2012 and it is showing up again now.  There are many obstetricians and pediatricians who are perplexed and angered over the issuing of this statement.  Especially, doctors like Duncan Neilson of the Legacy Health Systems in Portland, Oregon. [ii]  Dr. Neilson is chair of the Perinatology Department and VP of both Women’s Services and Surgical Services at the Legacy Emanuel Hospital in downtown Portland.

In 2006, Dr. Neilson did an independent review of all the literature on waterbirth, including in obstetric, nursing, midwifery and pediatric journals. He concluded, “there is no credible evidence that waterbirth is a potential harm for either mothers or babies.” He reported that the majority of the waterbirth studies have been done and published in Europe with large numbers in retrospective analyses.[iii], [iv], [v], [vi] What has been published in the US is largely anecdotal and has involved very small numbers of case reports from home birth or birth center transfers into NICU. [vii], [viii], [ix] Dr. Neilson even pointed out that Jerold Lucy, M.D., the editor of the American Journal of Pediatrics put the following commentary in a sidebar in a 2002 issue of this respected research journal, “I’ve always considered underwater birth a bad joke, useless and a fad, which was so idiotic that it would go away. It hasn’t! It should!” [x]

The publication of such prejudicial statements makes it difficult for pediatricians to look at the European research without skepticism. Dr. Neilson concluded that American doctors were not getting the complete picture.  After this comprehensive review of waterbirth literature, Dr. Neilson believed that waterbirth is a safe birth option that provides other positive obstetric outcomes. He helped set up a Legacy research committee and the parameters for waterbirth selection were created, using current recommended selection criteria followed by other Portland hospitals offering waterbirth.

Upon Dr. Neilson’s recommendations, the entire Legacy system has adopted waterbirth. The most recent hospital to begin waterbirth was Good Samaritan in Portland, which conducted their first waterbirth in February of 2014.

Women seeking waterbirth and undisturbed birth have usually considered the consequences of interference with the birth process on the development, neurology and epigenetics of the baby.  The goal of the pediatrician and the goal of mothers who choose undisturbed birth is really exactly the same.  The use of warm water immersion aids and assists the mother in feeling calm, relaxed, nurtured, protected, and in control, with the ability to easily move as her body and her baby dictate.  From the mother’s perspective, using water becomes the best way to enhance the natural process without any evidence of increased risk.  A joint statement of the Royal College of Obstetricians, the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust in 2006 agreed.  They sat down together to explore what would increase the normalcy of birth without increasing risk and the very first agreement was that access to water for labor and birth would accomplish that task.[xi]

Framework for Maternity Services Protocol

The UK National Health Service and the National Childbirth Trusts formed a Framework for Maternity Services that includes the following statements:

  • Women have a choice of methods of pain relief during labour, including non pharmacological options.
  • All staff must have up-to-date skills and knowledge to support women who choose to labour without pharmacological intervention, including the use of birthing pools.
  • Wherever possible women should be allowed access to a birthing pool in all facilities, with staff competent in facilitating waterbirths.

There is a concerted effort to educate midwives and physicians in all hospitals in the UK on the proper uses of birthing pools and safe waterbirth practices. [xii]

The baby benefits equally from an unmedicated mother who labors in water and has a full complement of natural brain oxytocin, endorphins and catecholamines flowing through her blood supply. The mother’s relaxed state aids his physiologic imperative to be born.  The descent and birth of the baby is easier when the mother can move into any upright position where she can control her own perineum, ease the baby out and allow the baby to express its primitive reflexes without anyone actually touching the baby’s head.  The birth process is restored to its essential mammalian nature.

The true belief in the safety of waterbirth is a complete understanding of the mechanisms which prevent the baby from initiating respirations while it is still submerged in the water as the head is born and then after the full body has been expelled.  When Paul Johnson, M.D., of Oxford University, explained these mechanisms at the First World Congress on Waterbirth at Wimbledon Hall, in 1995, there was a collective nod of understanding from more than 1100 participants.  With this information, more waterbirth practices were established all over the UK and Europe.  Dr. Johnson went on to publish his explanations in the British Medical Journal in 1996.[xiii]

Johnson’s 1996 review of respiratory physiology suggests that, in a non-stressed fetus, it is unlikely that breathing will commence in the short time that the baby’s head is underwater. Johnson sees no reason to prevent this option being offered to women.

A Cochrane Review[xiv] of women laboring in water or having a waterbirth gives no evidence of increased adverse affects to the fetus, neonate, or woman.

American Academy of Pediatrics’ Misleading Committee Commentary

Despite this review, the 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics committee on Fetus and Newborn commentary raised concerns regarding the safety of hospital waterbirth. The committee commentary was not a study itself, but rather an opinion generated upon the review of research.

A review of the commentary and the sources cited, revealed irregularities. The commentary often paraphrased text from the references, redacted crucial words and sentences from the texts, and sometimes re-interpreted the authors’ conclusions.  Anecdotal case studies were referenced without being part of an empirical study.

Example:

Committee text: “All mothers used water immersion during labor, but only a limited and unspecified number of births occurred under water.” 2 infants required positive pressure support, but little additional data were provided.

From cited reference: 100 births occurred under water. Only 2 infants out of 100 needed suction of the upper respiratory tract and a short period of manual ventilatory support. [xv]

Committee text: “Alderdice et al performed a retrospective survey of 4494 underwater deliveries by midwives in England and Wales. They reported 12 stillbirths or neonatal deaths”

From cited reference: “Twelve babies who died after their mothers laboured or gave birth in water, or both, in 1992 and 1993 were reported. None of these cases was reported to be directly related to labour or birth in water.”[xvi]

Committee text: “In a subsequent survey of 4032 underwater births in England and Wales, the perinatal mortality rate was 1.2 per 1000 live births (95% confidence interval: 0.4–2.9) and the rate of admission to a special care nursery was 8.4 per 1000 live births (95% CI: 5.8–11.8) The author of this survey suggested that these rates may be higher than expected for a term, low-risk, vaginally delivered population.”

From cited reference: “4032 deliveries (0.6% of all deliveries) in England and Wales occurred in water. Perinatal mortality was 1.2/1000 (95% confidence interval 0.4 to 2.9) live births; 8.4/1000 (THEY LEFT OUT THE 2ND CI 5.8 to 11.8) live births were admitted for special care. No deaths were directly attributable to delivery in water….”

The reference also provides that the UK perinatal mortality and special care admission rates for conventional birth ranged from 0.8 to 4.6/1000 for perinatal mortality, and 9.2 to 64/1000 for special care admission—significantly higher than those utilizing waterbirth.

Nowhere in the cited reference can the statement be found that “these rates may be higher than expected for a term, low-risk, vaginally delivered population.” In fact, the study results reflect no effect on fetal outcomes and certainly not an increase in fetal mortality and special-care admissions.[xvii]

Finally, the committee commentary acknowledges the findings of the Geissbühler study[xviii]:

“A prospective observational study compared underwater birth with births using Maia-birthing stools and beds. Although underwater birth was associated with a decreased need for episiotomies and pain medication as well as higher APGAR scores and less cord blood acidosis in newborns, the birthing method was determined by maternal preference, and potential confounding variables were not analyzed.”

The committee does not elaborate on which confounding variables they feel are of concern. It appears this supportive study was automatically discredited without a reason.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics is committed to patient safety and evidence-based medicine, this commentary’s conclusions that hospital waterbirths are of greater risk than other hospital birth options for low risk and carefully screened patients are completely unfounded.

Waterbirth Studies

In 1998, I copied all the medical journal articles about waterbirth that had been published to date and sent the labeled and categorized studies to the Practice Committee of ACOG.  In the cover letter accompanying the rather weighty binders, I asked the Committee if they would review the literature and issue an opinion about actual birth in water.  The letter that arrived a few months later from Stanley Zinberg, MD, then head of the Practice Committee, stated, “until there are randomized controlled trials of large numbers of women undergoing birth in water, published in peer reviewed journals in the US, the committee is not able to issue an opinion.”

Randomized studies of waterbirth are difficult to design and implement for one major reason: women want to choose their own method of delivery and should be able to change their mind at any point of labor. Because of this, it is difficult to design a randomized controlled study without crossover between control and study group. A 2005 randomized trial which was set up in a Shanghai, China hospital was abandoned because the hospital director realized after only 45 births that the study was unethical.  The original goal was to study 500 births, but the results of those first 45 were so good they abandoned the research project, yet continued their commitment to offering waterbirth to any woman who wanted one.  The latest communication from the Changning Hospital in Shanghai indicates that they have facilitated well over 5000 waterbirths since then.

Randomized controlled trials may be few, however, many retrospective and prospective case-controlled studies have been performed, primarily in European countries with a long history of waterbirth. In reviewing published studies, a comparison of the safety of waterbirth to conventional births among low-risk patients can be made. The evidence reveals the option of waterbirth is safe and, looking at certain parameters, has superior outcomes.

European Research

Highlights of the literature:

  • APGAR scores were found to be unaffected by water birth.[xix] One study found a decrease in 1-minute APGAR scores exclusively in a subgroup of women who were in water after membranes were ruptured longer than 24 hours.[xx]
  • A consensus of researchers found that waterbirth had either no effect or reduced cesarean section and operative delivery rates.[xxi]
  • No studies have found an effect on rates of maternal or fetal infection.[xxii]
  • Statistically, waterbirth leads to increased relaxation and maternal satisfaction, decreased perineal trauma, decreased pain and use of pharmaceuticals, and decreased labor time.[xxiii]

Cochrane Collaboration Findings

A Cochrane Collaboration review of waterbirth in three randomized controlled studies (RCTs) show no research that demonstrates adverse effects to the fetus or neonate.[xxiv] Other studies that were not RCTs were included in the conclusion:

“There is no evidence of increased adverse affects to the fetus or neonate or woman from laboring in water or waterbirth. However, the studies are variable and considerable heterogeneity was detected for some outcomes. Further research is needed.”

Conclusion

Waterbirth is an option for birth all over the world. World-renowned hospitals, as well as small hospitals and birthing centers, offer waterbirth as an option to low risk patients. Though some members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists feel otherwise, the Cochrane Review and many other studies find no data that supports safety concerns over waterbirth.

Women increasingly are seeking settings for birth and providers that honor their ability to birth without intervention. Waterbirth increases their chances of attaining the goal of a calm intervention free birth.

Physicians and midwives are skilled providers who are being trained in waterbirth techniques, safety concerns, the ability to handle complications and infection control procedures.

Carefully managed, waterbirth is both an attractive and low-risk birth option that can provide healthy patients with non-pharmacological options in hospital facilities while not compromising their safety.

In contrast to Dr. Lucy’s statement, waterbirth is not a fad and it is not going away, especially when it is mandated as an available option for all women in the UK and practiced worldwide in over ninety countries. The first hospital that began a waterbirth practice in 1991, Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is still offering this service to low risk women 23 years later.  They have been joined since then by just under 10% of all US hospitals including large teaching universities and the majority of all free standing birth centers.  Hospitals have invested in equipment, staff training and are collating data to present to the medical community.  Dr. Duncan Neilson in Portland, Oregon is working on a summary of the data on over 800 waterbirths at only one hospital in the Legacy Health System.

I have dedicated my entire life to changing the way we welcome babies into the world since that October night in 1984, when I told my midwife that we have to tell women about the wonders of waterbirth. Since that night, I have traversed the planet to 55 countries and helped hundreds of hospitals start waterbirth practices.  Birth in water is safe, economical, effective and is here to stay, despite the AAP’s recent statement.

References


[i] Odent, M.,1983. The Lancet, December 24/31, p 1476

[ii] Medical Plaza Bldg. 300 N. Graham St., Suite 100 Portland, OR 97227, (503) 413-3622 dneilson@lhs.org

[iii] Alderdice, F., R., Mary, Marchant, S., Ashiurst, H., Hughes, P., Gerridge, G., and Garcia, J. (April 1995). Labour and birth in water in England and Wales. British Journal of Medicine, 310: 837.

[iv] Geissbuehler, V., Stein, S., & Eberhard, J. (2004). Waterbirths compared with landbirths: An observational study of nine years. Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 32, 308-314

[v] Gilbert, Ruth E., Tookey, Pat A. (1999) Perinatal mortality and morbidity among babies delivered in water: surveillance study and postal survey. British Medical Journal ;319:483-487 (21 August)

[vi] Zanetti-Dallenback, R., Lapaire, O., Maertens, A., Frei, F., Holzgreve, W., & Hoslit, I. (2006). Waterbirth:, more than a trendy alternative: A prospective, observational study. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 274, 355-365

[vii] Bowden, K., Kessler, D., Pinette, M., Wilson, D Underwater Birth: Missing the Evidence or Missing the Point? Pediatrics, Oct 2003; 112: 972 – 973.

[viii] Nguyen S, Kuschel C, Reele R, Spooner C. Water birth—a near –drowning experience. Pediatrics. 2002; 110:411-413

[ix] Schroeter, K., (2004). Waterbirths: A naked emperor (commentary) American Journal of Pediatrics, 114 (3) Sept, 855-858

[x] Neilson, Duncan  Presentation at the Gentle Birth World Congress, Portland, Oregon, Setpember 27, 2007

[xi] RCOG/The Royal College of Midwives (2006) Joint Statement no 1: Immersion in Water During Labour and Birth. London: RCOG

[xii] Johnson P (1996) Birth under water – to breathe or not to breathe. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 103(3): 202-8

[xiii] ibid

[xiv] Cluett, E.R., Burns, E. Water in Labor and Birth(review) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 2 Art. No.: CD000111.DOI: 10:1002/14651858.CD000111.pub3

[xv] Odent, M.,1983. The Lancet, December 24/31, p 1476

[xvi] Alderdice, F. et.al.1995. British Journal of Midwifery 3(7), 375-382

[xvii] ibid

[xviii] Geissbühler V, Eberhard J, 2000

[xix] Aird, et al, 1997; Cammu, et al, 1994; Eriksson, et al, 1996; Lenstrup et al, 1987; Ohlsson et al, 2001, Otigbah et al, 2000; Rush, et al, 1996, Waldenstrom & Nilsson, 1992.

[xx] Waldenstrom & Nillson, 1992

[xxi] Aird, Luckas, Buckett, & Bousfield, 1997; Cammu et al, 1994; Cluett, Pickering, Getliffe, & St. George, 2004; Eckert, Turnbull, & MacLennon, 2001; Lenstrup, et al, 1987, Ohlsson, et al, 2001, Rush, et al, 1996)

[xxii] Cammu, Clasen, Wettere, & Derde, 1994; Eriksson, Lafors, Mattson, & Fall, 1996; Eldering, 2005; Lenstrup, Schantz, Feder, Rosene, & Hertel, 1987; Geissbuhler & Eberhard, 2000; Rush, et al, 1996; Schorn, McAllister, & Blanco, 1993, Thöni A, Mussner K, Ploner F, 2010; Waldenstrom & Nilsson, 1992.

[xxiii] Mackey,2001; Benfield et al, 2001

[xxiv] Cluett, E.R., Burns, E. 2012

About Barbara Harper

© Barbara Harper

© Barbara Harper

Barbara Harper, RN, CLD, CCE, DEM, CKC, CCCE,  loves babies and has been a childbirth reform activist since her first day at nursing school over 42 years ago. She is an internationally recognized expert on waterbirth, a published author and she founded Waterbirth International in 1988, with one goal in mind – to insure that waterbirth is an available option for all women. During the past four decades, Barbara has worked as a pediatric nurse, a childbirth educator, home birth midwife, midwifery and doula instructor and has used her vast experience to develop unique seminars which she teaches within hospitals, nursing schools, midwifery and medical schools and community groups worldwide. She was recognized in 2002 by Lamaze International for her contributions in promoting normal birth on an international level. Her best selling book and DVD, ‘Gentle Birth Choices’ book has been translated into 9 languages so far. Her next book ‘Birth, Bath & Beyond: A Practical Guide for Parents and Providers,’ will be ready for publication at the end of 2014. Barbara has dedicated her life to changing the way we welcome babies into the world. She considers her greatest achievement, though, her three adult children, two of whom were born at home in water. She lives in Boca Raton, Florida, where she is active in her Jewish community as a volunteer and as a local midwifery and doula mentor and teacher. Barbara can be reached through her website, Waterbirth International.

ACOG, American Academy of Pediatrics, Babies, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Midwifery, New Research, Newborns, Research, Second Stage, Uncategorized , , , , , , , ,

Evidence for the Vitamin K Shot in Newborns – Exclusive Q&A with Rebecca Dekker on her New Research

March 18th, 2014 by avatar

 Evidence Based Birth , a popular blog written by occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, has just published a new article, “Evidence for the Vitamin K Shot in Newborns that examines Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB)- a rare but serious consequence of insufficient Vitamin K in a newborn or infant that can be prevented by administering an injection of Vitamin K at birth.  I had the opportunity to ask Rebecca some questions about her research into the evidence and some of her conclusions after writing her review. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

Note:  Evidence Based Birth website may be temporarily unavailable due to high volume loads on their server.  Please be patient with the site, I know the EBB team is working on it.

Sharon Muza: Why was the topic of Vitamin K an important one for you to cover and why now?

Rebecca Dekker: Well, I try to pick my articles based on what my audience wants me to cover. I heard over and over again that people were confused and concerned about Vitamin K. A lot of parents told me they weren’t sure if they should consent to the injection or not. There was just so much confusion, and even I didn’t understand what the Vitamin K shot was all about. I didn’t know what I was going to do at the birth of my own child last December. It seemed like there was a need for an evidence-based blog article to clear up all the confusion once and for all.

So as usual, I dove in head first into the research, with no up-front biases one way or the other. I just wanted to get to the bottom of this mess!

SM: Were you surprised by what the current research showed about the rates of VKDB, and the apparent significant protection offered by the Vitamin K shot?

RD: I knew that Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) was rare, but I didn’t realize—until I started reading the research—how effective the shot is at basically eliminating this life-threatening problem.

I was surprised by how low the rates of VKDB are in European studies, and by how VKDB is more common in Asian populations. I was also surprised by the fact that we don’t track VKDB in the U.S. and we have no idea how many infants in the U.S. would develop VKDB if we stopped giving the shot.

The number of infants in Tennessee last year who developed VKDB is very concerning to me. They had 5 cases of life-threatening VKDB in Nashville during an 8 month period—7 if you count the infants who were found to have severe Vitamin K deficiencies but didn’t bleed. None of these infants received Vitamin K, mostly because their parents thought it was unnecessary and weren’t accurately informed about the risks of declining the shot.

So the Tennessee situation makes me worry that maybe there is something about our diets in America, or our genetics, that makes us at higher risk for VKDB if we decline the Vitamin K shot for our newborns. But we don’t know our underlying risk, because we don’t track these numbers on a nationwide scale.

SM: What was the most surprising finding to you in writing this article?

RD: That the research on Vitamin K for newborns goes back as far as the 1930’s and 1940’s… that we have literally eight or nine decades of research backing up the use of Vitamin K for newborns. I was under the impression that we were using the shot without any supporting evidence. That turned out not to be the case.

I even forked out the money to buy the landmark 1944 study in which a Swedish researcher gave Vitamin K to more than 13,000 newborns. He observed a drastic decrease in deaths from bleeding during the first week of life. I am usually able to read all of my articles through my various subscriptions, but this article was so old the only way I could read it was to buy it. It was pretty eye-opening. There was some really good research going on back then on Vitamin K. About 15 years later, the American Academy of Pediatrics finally recommended giving Vitamin K at birth. We know that it takes about 15 years for research to make its way into practice. It looks like the same was true back then.

But there is this misconception that “Vitamin K doesn’t have any evidence supporting its use,” and I found that belief is totally untrue. There is a lot of evidence out there. People have just forgotten about it or not realized it was there.

SM: What was the most interesting finding to you in writing this article?

RD: That the two main risk factors for late Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (the most dangerous kind of VKDB that usually involves brain bleeding) are exclusive breastfeeding and not giving the Vitamin K shot.

Parents who have been declining the shot are the ones who are probably exclusively breastfeeding. So their infants are at highest risk for VKDB.

SM: What do you think is the biggest misconception around the Vitamin K shot?

RD: How do I choose which one? There are so many misconceptions and myths. I’ve heard them all. The scary thing is, I’ve heard these misconceptions from doulas and childbirth educators—the very people that parents are often getting their information from. I’ve heard: “You don’t need Vitamin K if you aren’t going to circumcise.” “Getting the shot isn’t necessary.” “Getting the shot causes childhood cancer.” “Getting the shot is unnatural and it’s full of toxins that will harm your baby.” “You don’t need the shot as long as you have delayed cord clamping.” “You don’t need the shot if you had a gentle birth.”

Informed consent and refusal isn’t truly informed if you’re giving parents inaccurate information.

SM: What do you think are the sources of information that families are using to make the Vitamin K decision and where are they getting this information from? Do you think families trust the evidence around this?

RD: This is what I did—I googled “Vitamin K for newborns” and read some of the blog articles that pop up on the front page of results. It is truly alarming the things that parents are reading. “Vitamin K leads to a 1 in 500 chance of leukemia.” “Vitamin K is full of toxins.” Most of the articles on the front page of results are written by people who have no healthcare or research background and did not do any reference checking to see if what they were saying was accurate. It’s appalling to me that some bloggers are putting such bad information out there.

If parents don’t trust the evidence, it may be because they have read so many of these bad articles that it’s hard to overcome the bias against Vitamin K. All I can say is, given the number of bad articles on the internet about Vitamin K, I can totally understand the confusion people have.

I mean, even I was confused before I started diving into the research! I truly went into this experience with no pre-existing biases. I just wanted to figure out the truth. If even I—the founder of Evidence Based Birth—didn’t know all the facts about Vitamin K, then I think that’s a pretty good sign that most other people don’t know the facts, either!

To help remedy the amount of misinformation out there, I’d like for the new Evidence Based Birth article to make it towards the top of the Google results so that parents can read evidence-based information on Vitamin K and check out the references for themselves.

SM: In your article, you state “The official cause of classical VKDB is listed as “unknown,” but breastfeeding and poor feeding (<100 mL milk/day) are major risk factors.” – Why, if breastmilk offers little to no protection against VKBD, is “poor feeding” seen as a risk factor?  What should it matter?

RD: Poor feeding is a risk factor for classical VKDB, which happens in the first week of life. There are limited amounts of Vitamin K in breastmilk overall, but there is more Vitamin K in colostrum than in mature milk. So infants who don’t receive enough milk in those first few days may be at higher risk. This connection was first observed by Dr. Townsend in Boston in the 1890’s. He figured out that he could help some infants with early bleeding by getting them to a wet nurse. These infants weren’t getting enough milk from their biological mothers, for whatever reasons.

SM: Are families in the USA receiving proper informed consent around the issue of Vitamin K and the risks and benefits of the different options available to their children at birth (injection, oral,  or declination of both?)

RD: I’m not sure, but my gut reaction is that I don’t think parents are giving informed consent. In my case, when my first child received the shot, I wasn’t even told that she got it! They just did it in the nursery when they separated me from my daughter after birth. It would have been nice to receive some education on it and be given the chance to consent. Maybe if healthcare providers had been properly consenting parents all along, we wouldn’t have so much misinformation out there! By taking parents out of the equation and doing the shot in the nursery without their knowledge, that certainly doesn’t help educate the public!

I don’t think we are doing a very good job with the parents who decline the shot, either. If you read the part of my article where I wrote about the epidemic in Nashville, all of the parents refused the shot, but none of the parents gave informed refusal. All of them had been given inaccurate information about the shot, so they couldn’t make a truly informed decision. Can you imagine what it must be like for the people who gave them the inaccurate information? That would be so terrible to know that your misinformation may have led to the parents making the choice that they did. 

SM: What should the information look like during the consent process so that families can make informed decisions about having their newborns receive Vitamin K in injection or oral form.

RD: I think the CDC has a really great handout that can be used for informed consent. If parents want more detailed information and references, or if they have concerns that the CDC handout doesn’t answer, then the Evidence Based Birth blog article covers most of the research out there. 

Also, here is a link to a peer-reviewed manuscript that is free full-text, and although it is written at a higher level, it does a good job addressing the myths about the Vitamin K shot.

SM: Are you aware of any adverse effects from either the injection or the oral administration of Vitamin K, other than bruising, pain and bleeding at the injection site if an injection pathway is chosen?

RD: Not if given via the intramuscular method. Some bloggers out there look at the medication information sheet and immediately start pointing out some scary sounding side effects. It’s important to realize that those side effects refer to intravenous administration. Giving a medication intravenously (IV) is a whole different ballgame than giving an intramuscular shot (IM). In general, medications have the potential to be a lot more dangerous if they are given IV—because when medications are given IV they go straight to the heart and all throughout the circulation in potent quantities. For newborns, the Vitamin K is given IM, not IV, which is a much safer method of giving medications in general.

SM: In a childbirth education class, with limited time and a lot of material to cover, what message do you think educators should be sharing about the Vitamin K options.

RD: If I had to sum it up in a minute or less, I would share that babies are born with limited amounts of Vitamin K, and Vitamin K is necessary for clotting. Although bleeding from not having enough Vitamin K is rare, when it happens it can be deadly and strike without warning, and half of all cases involve bleeding in the baby’s brain.

Breastfed babies are at higher risk for Vitamin K bleeding because there are very low levels of Vitamin K in breastmilk. Giving a breastfed infant a Vitamin K shot virtually eliminates the chance of life-threatening Vitamin K deficiency bleeding. The only known adverse effects of the shot are pain, bleeding, and bruising at the site of the injection.

Right now there is no FDA-approved version of oral Vitamin K, although you can buy a non-regulated Vitamin K supplement online. A regimen of three doses of oral Vitamin K1 at birth, 1 week, and 1 month reduces the risk of bleeding. Although oral Vitamin K1 is better than nothing, it is not 100% effective. It is important for parents to administer all 3 doses in order for this regimen to help lower the risk of late Vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

If parents want to use the oral method, or decline the Vitamin K altogether, I would encourage them to do their research and talk with their healthcare provider so that they truly understand the risks of declining the injection. I would tell them to take caution when reading materials online because there is a lot of misinformation out there and you don’t want them making important healthcare decisions based on faulty information.

 SM: How should a childbirth educator (or other professional who works with birthing women) respond when asked  by parents “Why does breastmilk, the perfect food for babies, not offer the protection that babies need? It doesn’t make sense?”

RD: Breastmilk is the perfect food for babies! But for some reason—we don’t know why—Vitamin K doesn’t do a very good job of going from the mom to the baby through breastmilk. Our diets today are probably low in Vitamin K (green leafy vegetables), which doesn’t help matters, either.

It’s possible that maybe there is some reason we don’t know of that could explain why Vitamin K doesn’t cross the placenta or get into breastmilk very well. Maybe the same mechanism that keeps Vitamin K out of breastmilk is protecting our babies from some other environmental toxin. Who knows?

If it helps, look at it this way—don’t blame it on the breastmilk! Blame it on the Vitamin K! That pesky little molecule doesn’t do a good job of getting from one place to the other. So we have to give our infants a little boost at the beginning of life to help them out until they start eating Vitamin K on their own at around 6 months.

SM: If formula feeding is protective, because of the addition of Vitamin K in the formula, why wouldn’t oral dosing of Vitamin K be effective for the exclusively breastfed infant  – is it just a compliance issue?

RD: Part of the failure of oral Vitamin K is compliance—not all parents will give the full regimen of oral doses, no matter how well-intentioned they are. But research from Germany shows that half of the cases of late VKDB occur in infants who completed all 3 doses. It’s thought that maybe some infants don’t absorb the Vitamin K as well orally. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, and it needs to be eaten with fatty foods or fatty acids in order for it to be absorbed. So maybe some of those infants had the Vitamin K on an empty stomach. Or maybe they spit it up!

SM: Do you expect a strong reaction from any particular segment of professionals or consumers about your findings?

RD: No more so than when I published the Group B Strep article!

I anticipate that some people may think that the shot is too painful for newborns, and they may theorize that this pain will cause life-long psychological distress. Unfortunately there really isn’t any evidence to back that claim up, and so I can’t really address this theory. But I have spoken with parents and nurses, and they say that having the baby breastfeed while the shot is administered can drastically reduce the pain of the shot.

I would encourage parents who are worried about pain to weigh these two things: the chance of your infant experiencing temporary pain with an injection, versus the possibility of a brain bleed if you don’t get the shot.

 SM: Any last thoughts that you  would like to share with Science & Sensibility readers on this topic?

RD: You can be a natural-minded parent… interested in natural birth and naturally healthy living, and still consent to your newborn having a shot with a Vitamin K to prevent bleeding. These things are not mutually exclusive. One hundred years ago, infants with Vitamin K deficiency bleeding would have died with no known cause. But today, we have the chance to prevent these deaths and brain injuries using a very simple remedy. The discovery of Vitamin K and its ability to prevent deadly bleeds is a pretty amazing gift. I am thankful to all of the researchers and scientists who used their talents and gifts and got us to this point, where we now have the power to prevent these tragedies 100% of the time.

I want to thank Rebecca Dekker for taking the time to answer my questions  I always look forward to Rebecca’s new articles, and appreciate the effort she puts into preparing them,  Have you had a chance to read Rebecca Dekker’s new post on the Evidence for Vitamin K Shots in Newborns?  Will you be changing what you say to your clients or patients based on what you read or based on this interview with Rebecca?  What are your thoughts on this information?  Are you surprised by anything you learned?  I am very interested in your thoughts – please share in our comments section. – SM

Babies, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, informed Consent, New Research, Newborns, Research, Vaccinations , , , , , , , ,

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 , , , , , , , , , ,

A Tale of Two Cities from a Childbirth Educator’s Perspective

January 16th, 2014 by avatar

Today on Science & Sensibility, Laurie Levy, LMP, MA, CD(DONA, PALS), CBE, shares her experiences as a childbirth educator and doula recently relocated to a new state.  Her exposures to a new birth culture and method of doing things has taken her breath away, as she settles in to supporting families in her new home.  Learn more about Laurie’s experiences below.  Have you moved around the country and been surprised at the differences in practice you found?  Why do you think there is this difference?  Please discuss with us in the comments section. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibilityimage: http://screnews.com/greer/

hospital-signI moved from Seattle to Northern California this past September.  In Seattle, I was privileged to train and teach with leaders in the birth community for many years. Couple this with the 1998 passage of the WA Every Category of Health Care Provider Statute which compelled insurance agencies in WA state to cover licensed midwives and you can see why I would use the word ‘spoiled’ to describe my experience with birth in Seattle.

At a meeting with some of my new colleagues, I joked that I sound like I am saying, “And one time, at band camp…” when I talk about typical Seattle birth practices.  In the seven hospitals in the metro Seattle area, it was common to see moms moving about the halls with telemetry units.  Occasionally you would even see a woman out of bed and moving with an epidural in place. Vaginal exams were limited after the amniotic sac had ruptured. Babies were not routinely separated from their mothers.  The NICU came to the birth room if needed in most cases.  Mothers were encouraged to hand express colostrum to help a baby with unstable blood sugar. Babies were born directly on to their mother’s chest in some cesarean births. Hospitals competed for patient’s maternity care dollar offering ever improving birth suites with each remodel. Tubs, showers, mood lighting and comfortable spaces for partners to rest were expected in birth spaces. VBACs were encouraged. Mother-baby friendly hospitals were the rule not the exception.

Births in my new community

I recently attended my first series of births near my new home and, while these experiences are only a thumbnail of a much bigger picture, I found the differences in environment to be very stark indeed.  In fact, few of the practices I saw lined up with Lamaze International’s Six Healthy Birth Practices.  I am not a Pollyanna. I know that Archie Cochrane awarded obstetrics the “wooden spoon” in 1979 for being the least evidence based medical speciality.  I have talked with nurses from other states who tell stories about mothers being confined to bed after their water breaks for fear of a cord injury or other such superstitious practices. Still I was surprised at what I saw and have been thinking about the challenges that will face me here as I start teaching childbirth education in my new home.

My intent is not to malign any of the practitioners who I met.  In fact, I found that virtually every staff member that I observed wanted the best for their clients and were trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. To protect confidentiality, I have combined information from several births and changed insignificant details, though I have not fictionalized any of the practices.

Healthy Birth Practice 1: Let labor begin on its own & Healthy Birth Practice 4: Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary

My client had some complications and I believe most practitioners would agree that the benefits of an induction outweighed the potential drawbacks. While I have no issue with that, I question why a provider would offer to break a mother’s amniotic sac when she was only 3cm and clearly not in labor.  There was no discussion of possible complications, no discussion that this practice sometimes slows labor or does nothing rather than speeds it up (Smith, et al 2013.)  AROM did nothing to progress my client’s labor and after 9 hours and 5 vaginal exams, she spiked a fever. This led to antibiotics, Tylenol and a spiral of other outcomes that I will address later.

Healthy Birth Practice 2: Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor

My client wanted to move around in labor but was being continuously monitored.  Her window-less room measured 10’ by 8’. She and her family spent a full 24 hours in this room. No one offered a telemetry unit which would allow her greater mobility and when she asked, was told that the L&D floor had one telemetry unit, but the cord to connect the device to the EFM machine was missing. My client requested to shower, and the only shower on the floor was down the hall, none of the rooms had their own.  Showers were also not allowed when Pitocin was being used.

Healthy Birth Practice 3: Bring a loved one, friend or doula for continuous support

I have to say on this point the facility did pretty well. Like most hospitals, they had a practice of only allowing one support person in the room when an epidural is being administered and during cesarean birth.  My client had her epidural reinserted repeatedly.  I was only asked to leave the room once and was allowed into the surgery after much pleading and crying by the mom.

Healthy Birth Practice 5: Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push

My client was asked to do a “pushing trial” to see if the physician could reduce the anterior lip that seemed to be holding up progress.  She pushed on her back as that was the only position her provider was comfortable with and, as you will see below, she was unable to support herself in other positions.

After 24 hours, we did end up in a room that had its own toilet.  Few other rooms did.  None of the rooms had a tub and clients were not allowed to bring one in.  The standard was communal bathrooms for women in labor, one shower for the entire unit and no refrigerators anywhere to store patient food for use during labor.

It was my client’s intention to hold off on pain medications until after six centimeters (active labor.)  We were creative but a 24 inch movement radius, lack of access to a tub or shower and continuous pitocin led to an epidural earlier than planned. There were some complications with the block and it needed to be replaced several times, and the final medication level was so significant that the mother had absolutely no ability to move her legs on her own at at all.

Healthy Birth Practice 6: Keep mother and baby together – It’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding

I already gave away the ending – this mother gave birth by cesarean section.  The operating suite was a fairly good size and I was allowed in the operating room as a doula.  Baby was born immediately yelling and pinking up.  Mom got to see her newborn over the blue screen but baby was immediately brought to the warmer.  I heard the pediatrician say “This baby looks so great I am going to leave!” Even with all of that, routine procedure was for baby to be recovered in a separate room.  Staff would give baby all of her injections, weigh and measure her and bathe the baby before returning the baby to mom’s recovery room.  Standard procedure.  Baby was away from her for a full hour before they had any more than a cursory hello.

After the birth, my client asked that I let her family know that she and the baby were healthy.  The extended family seemed very calm when I told them the good news.  They were unconcerned because they had already seen the baby.  I turned around to see into the nursery where one of the grandmothers was cuddling the baby in a rocking chair.  The extended family was holding the baby before the mother.

Thoughts for the future

Upon leaving, the attending physician told my client, “There is no reason for you not to have a vaginal birth next time.  Just not here.”  Apparently, there has been no change in policy about VBACs even with the recent change to the ACOG guidelines (ACOG, 2010).  This hospital has a VBAC ban.

I am not trying to demonize the health care providers or nurses.  I don’t believe that anyone enters maternity work with the idea of oppressing women.  I do believe they were doing the best they could within this system.  This hospital does have plans to address the facility issues but those will take quite some time and hundreds more women will labor and birth before those changes are made.  Probably more important, I wonder how long it will take for a cultural shift even with floor plan improvements.

Jerome Groopman, M.D. in his book How Doctors Think discusses at length how medical providers – and really all of us – make the same errors of logic and repeat them over and over.  So, while I am all for cheerleading and encouraging parents to advocate for themselves, ask for change in the system, understand the evidence for various practices, I also know that most people have a hard time hanging onto their personal power in a medical setting having been socialized to defer (see another Jerome Groopman book, Your Medical Mind) to their provider.

I am much more interested in preparing parents with real world expectations about what practices actually take place in their local birth community. The childbirth classes that I teach here will by necessity be different from what I taught in Seattle. Best practices are just that, but navigating the realities of what is and still having a positive birth experience vary from locale to locale.

To truly prepare parents, it is imperative that I include curriculum about what really makes up informed consent.  Research may tell us one thing, but choice of provider, provider’s preferences and the personal values of the birthing woman all figure into what makes up this slippery thing called “informed consent.” I have found that many expecting parents have never made a health care decision together and have never discussed their values around health care.  Exploring values and how they relate to medical decision making must also be included in childbirth classes to adequately prepare parents. This self-knowledge is not limited to the labor as it will serve parents well as together they navigate future medical decisions for their child.

And finally, parents need concrete tools and classroom practice talking to providers about their wants and desires.  ‘What the brain fires it wires,’ neuroscience tells us. By tools, I mean a concrete list of conversation starters. For example, “I hear what you are suggesting.  I would like to tell you a bit more about where we are coming from.  We would like delayed cord cutting because we value an unrushed separation)” (James, et al, 2012). The role play speaking values and truth in a safe classroom environment can help make parents more likely to actually do this during the stress of prenatal visits and labor ( Arrien, 1993).

I am so grateful that I get to work as both a doula and a childbirth educator.  I gain so much information from each role that helps improve my work when I am wearing the other hat. I know that not every childbirth educator can attend births but I would encourage educators who can, to do so, and also to work in concert with doulas and other childbirth professionals to find out what is really happening in their area.  Additionally, surveying past students to find out if our presented curriculum addressed the real needs of parents as they progressed through labor can help educators to adapt what we teach to meet those needs.

I am confident that the families that I work with both as a childbirth educator and a doula will benefit from my experiences of what is possible and together we can encourage change to practices that are more in line with best practices in obstetrical care.

References

Arrien, A. (1993). The four-fold way: walking the paths of the warrior, teacher, healer, and visionary. New York, NY: Harper.

James, K., Levy, L. (2012, October). Doubters, believers and choices, oh my. Concurrent session presented at the Lamaze International Annual Conference, Nashville, TN.

Smyth RMD, Markham C, Dowswell T. Amniotomy for shortening spontaneous labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD006167. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006167.pub4.

Vaginal birth after previous cesarean delivery. Practice Bulletin No. 115. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2010;116:450–63.

About Laurie Levy

Laurie LevyLaurie Levy, LMP, MA, CD(DONA), CD(PALS), CBE is a licensed massage practitioner, birth doula and childbirth educator, human anatomy and physiology instructor, and mother of three rambunctious boys.  Laurie has presented at the 2011 Lamaze InternationalConference and hopes to sit for the LCCE exam in 2014.  She can be reached through her website, laurielevy.net

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, informed Consent, Maternity Care , , , , ,