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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 , , , , , , , ,

Lamaze International Webinar- Six is the New Four: A Review of the Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery Consensus Report

March 24th, 2014 by avatar

Lamaze International is delighted to be offering a continuing education opportunity for all interested professionals.  ”Six is the New Four: A Review of the Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery Consensus Report” is being facilitated by Richard Waldman, M.D. and Peggy DeZinno, BSN, RN, LCCE from OB-Consult on Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 at 4 PM EDT.

A few weeks ago, Science & Sensibility’s Judith Lothian highlighted and reviewed the just released joint ACOG/SMFM report “Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery” and many agreed it was a game changer.  Many of the recommendations listed in the report appeared to be shifting away from current, but outdated practices and encouraging more evidence based care that promotes patience, expectant management and acknowledges that protocols need to be changed if there is to be a reduction in cesareans, particularly that primary (first) cesarean.
In this upcoming webinar, Dr. Richard Waldman and Peggy DeZinno will discuss the gap between current practice and the opinion paper’s recommendations.  What will it take to get us there?  What needs to change and where are the challenges?
Dr. Waldman is the former president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a keynote speaker at the 2013 Lamaze International Annual Conference that was held in New Orleans, LA.  You can read an interview I did with Dr. Waldman last summer and also read his article, “Birth as the Ultimate Collaboration” that he wrote for Science & Sensibility in advance of his keynote presentation.
Co-presenter Peggy DeZinno, BSN, RN, LCCE provides OB-Gyn-specific risk management services at OB- Consult. She has over 35 years of experience in the healthcare industry, specifically as a coordinator and instructor of women’s health and education programs.
At the end of this webinar, learners will be able to:
  • List two reasons why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine developed a Consensus for the safe prevention of primary Cesarean Delivery.
  • Describe the definition and management of abnormally progressing first-stage labor.
  • Describe the definition and management of abnormal second-stage labor
  • Discuss the role of continuous labor support in decreasing primary Cesarean births.

Participants in the full hour of the webinar will be able to receive 1.0 Lamaze Contact Hour and 1.0 Nursing Contact Hour after completion of a post-webinar evaluation. Lamaze International is an approved provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center Commission on Accreditation.

This webinar and the associated continuing education hour is provide free as a benefit of Lamaze International membership.  Non-Lamaze members are invited to participate for the reasonable fee of $20, which includes the continuing ed contact hour.  Register for the webinar now to reserve your place at this exciting event scheduled for April 8th, 2014 ag 4:00 PM EDT.

ACOG, Childbirth Education, Continuing Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Maternal Quality Improvement, New Research, Webinars , , , , , , ,

Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery: ACOG and SMFM Change the Game

February 19th, 2014 by avatar

I hope that readers of Science & Sensibility (and anyone working in the field of maternal infant health) are sitting down.  Be prepared to be blown away.  ACOG and SMFM have just released a joint Obstetric Care Consensus statement that has the potential to turn maternity care in the USA on its end.  I feel like this blog post title could be “ACOG and SMFM adopt Lamaze International’s Six Healthy Birth Practices.”  (Okay, that may be a little overenthusiastic!)  I could not be more pleased at the contents of this statement and cannot wait to see some of these new practice guidelines implemented.  Judith Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE summarizes the statement and shares highlights of this stunning announcement. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

Today, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine issued a joint Obstetric Care Consensus statement: Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery. It is being published concurrently in Obstetrics and Gynecology, (the Green Journal).  The ACOG press release is here, with much more detail of the study, not behind a firewall. There is no doubt about it-  this just released statement is a game changer.

acog wordlThe alarming and sustained increase in the cesarean rate in the United States has not improved either maternal or neonatal outcomes. In fact, data suggest that there is increased maternal mortality and morbidity associated with cesarean delivery. This statement describes the myriad of complications associated with cesarean and the increased risks associated with cesarean for mother and baby. The authors suggest that potentially modifiable factors, such as patient preferences and practice variation among hospitals, systems, and health care providers are likely to contribute to the escalating cesarean rates. There is a need to prevent overuse of cesarean, particularly the primary cesarean.

Table 1 acog

source: ACOG

The most common reasons for cesarean include labor dystocia, abnormal or indeterminate fetal heart rate tracing, fetal malpresentation, multiple gestation, and suspected fetal macrosomia. The authors revisited the definition of labor dystocia in light of the fact that labor progresses at a rate that is slower than what we had thought previously. They also reviewed research related to interpretation of fetal heart rate patterns, and access to nonmedical interventions during labor that may reduce cesarean rates. External cephalic version for breech presentation and a trial of labor for women with twin gestations when the first twin is in a cephalic presentation can lower the cesarean rate. The authors analyzed the research using a rubric that rated the quality of the available evidence. The result is a set of guidelines that have the potential to substantially decrease the cesarean rate.

acog logo  These guidelines change the rules of the labor management game.

These are some of the new recommended guidelines:

  • The Consortium on Safe Labor data rather than the Friedman standards should inform labor management. Slow but progressive labor in the first stage of labor should not be an indication for cesarean. With a few exceptions, prolonged latent phase (greater than 20 hours in a first time mother and greater than 14 hours in multiparous women) should not be an indication for cesarean. As long as mother and baby are doing well, cervical dilation of 6 cm should be the threshold for the active phase of labor. Active phase arrest is defined as women at or beyond 6 cm dilatation with ruptured membranes who fail to progress despite 4 hours of adequate uterine activity, or at least 6 hours of oxytocin administration with inadequate uterine activity and no cervical change.
  • Adverse neonatal outcomes have not been associated with the duration of the second stage of labor. The absolute risks of adverse fetal and neonatal outcomes of increasing second stage duration appear to be, at worst, low and incremental. Therefore, at least 2 hours of pushing in a multiparous woman and at least 3 hours of pushing in a first time mother should be allowed. An additional hour of pushing is expected with the use of an epidural, as there is progress.  Interestingly, there is no discussion of position change during second stage, including the upright position, to facilitate rotation and descent of the baby. Also, the authors note that second stage starts at full dilatation rather than when the mother has spontaneous bearing down efforts. Research suggests it is beneficial to consider the start of second stage when spontaneous bearing down by the mother  begins. (Enkin et al, 2000; Goer & Romano, 2013). Using this definition might also decrease the incidence of cesarean.
  • Instrument delivery can reduce the need for cesarean. The authors note concern that many obstetric residents do not feel competent to do a forceps delivery.
  • Recurrent variable decelerations appear to be physiologic response to repetitive compressions of the umbilical cord and are not pathologic. There is an in depth discussion of fetal heart rate patterns and interventions other than cesarean to deal with this clinically. Amnioinfusion for variable fetal heart rate decelerations may safely reduce the rate of cesarean delivery.
  • Neither chorioamnionitis nor its duration should be an indication for cesarean.
  • Induction of labor can increase the risk of cesarean. Before 41 0/7 weeks induction should not be done unless there are maternal or fetal indications. Cervical ripening with induction can decrease the risk of cesarean. An induction should only be considered “a failure” after 24 hours of oxytocin administration and ruptured membranes.
  • Ultrasound done late in pregnancy is associated with an increase in cesareans with no evidence of neonatal benefit. Macrosomia is not an indication for cesarean.
  • Continuous labor support, including support provided by doulas, is one of the most effective ways to decrease the cesarean rate. The authors note that this resource is probably underutilized.
  • Before a vaginal breech birth is considered, women need to be informed that there is an increased risk of perinatal or neonatal mortality and morbidity and provide informed consent for the procedure.
  • Perinatal outcomes for twin gestations in which the first twin is in cephalic presentation are not improved by cesarean delivery (even if the second twin is a noncephalic presentation).

smfm logo

These guidelines offer great promise in lowering the cesarean rate and making labor and birth safer for mothers and babies. They also suggest an emerging respect for and understanding of women’s ability to give birth and a more hands off approach to the management of labor. Women will be allowed to have longer labors. Obstetricians will need to be patient as nature guides the process of birth. Hospitals will have to plan for longer stays in labor and delivery. And women will need to have more confidence in their ability to give birth. Childbirth educators can play a key role here. The prize will be safer birth and healthier mothers and babies.

The authors rightly note that changing local cultures and obstetricians’ attitudes about labor management will be challenging. They also note that tort reform will be necessary if practice is to change. It’s interesting to consider whether standards of practice based on best evidence (as these guidelines are) rather than on fear of malpractice might make tort reform more likely.

The American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine are to be applauded for their careful research and willingness to make recommendations for labor management based on best evidence. These guidelines provide direction for health care providers and women and will make a difference in not just the cesarean rate but women’s experiences. The game has changed. It is a most welcome change.

What are your first impressions after learning of the elements of this new ACOG/SMFM statement?  What impact do you think these changes will have on the care that women receive during labor and birth?  Are you considering what barriers to change might exist in the hospitals you serve?  How will you share this new information with the families that you work with? As a side note, I found it interesting that this Consensus statement did not suggest using midwives for normal, low risk women.  Research has consistently shown that midwives working with low risk populations can reduce the cesarean rate. – SM

Further press information -

Lamaze International Statement – New Consensus Statement Important Step to Reduce Unnecessary Cesareans

Guidelines to Reduce C-Section Births Urge Waiting

Group Calls for Safe Reduction In Cesareans

ACOG Press Release

References

Enkin, M.,  Keirse, M., Neilson, J., Crowther, C., et al (2000). A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth. New York: Oxford Press.

Goer, H. &  Romano, A. (2013). Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach.  Seattle: Classic Day Publishing (Chapter 13).

Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. Obstetric Care Consensus No. 1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet. Gynecol. 2014; 123: 693-711.

About Judith Lothian

@ Judith Lothian

@ Judith Lothian

Judith Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE is a nurse and childbirth educator. She is an Associate Professor at the College of Nursing, Seton Hall University and the current Chairperson of the Lamaze Certification Council Governing Body. Judith is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of Perinatal Education and writes a regular column for the journal. Judith is the co-author of The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. Her research focus is planned home birth and her most recent publication is Being Safe: Making the Decision to Have a Planned Home Birth in the US published in the Journal of Clinical Ethics (Fall 2013).

ACOG, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Healthy Birth Practices, Maternal Quality Improvement, Medical Interventions, New Research, Practice Guidelines, Uncategorized , , , ,

The Straight Scoop On Inductions – Lamaze International Releases New Infographic

November 21st, 2013 by avatar

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The health concerns that affect preterm babies are well documented and much is known about the impact of an early birth on the long term health of children.  Some of these issues were discussed in a recent post on Science & Sensibility highlighting World Prematurity Day.  The issue of babies being born too soon was highlighted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in a new committee opinion recently published in the November issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

In a joint committee opinion, “The Definition of Term Pregnancy” released by ACOG and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, these organizations acknowledge that previously it was believed that ”the period from 3 weeks before until 2 weeks after the estimated date of delivery was considered ‘term’ with the expectation that neonatal outcomes from deliveries in this interval were uniform and good.”  More recent research has demonstrated that this is not the case.  The likelihood of neonatal problems, in particular issues related to respiratory morbidity, has a wide variability based on when during this five week “term” window baby is born.

ACOG has released four new definitions that clinicians and others can use when referring to gestational age; early term, full term, late term and postterm.

  1. Early term shall be used to describe all deliveries between 37 0/7 and 38 6/7 weeks of gestation.
  2. Term shall indicate deliveries from 39 0/7 and 40 6/7 weeks of gestation.
  3. Late term refers to all delivers rom 41 0/7 to 41 6/7 weeks of gestation.
  4. Postterm indicates all births from 42 0/7 weeks of gestation and beyond.

These new definitions should be put into practice by all those who work with birthing women, including researchers, clinicians, public health officials and organizations AND childbirth educators. We can and should be teaching and using these terms with our students.

As we move forward, we can expect to see these terms applied and research defined by the new categories, which will yield rich and useful information for those working in the field of maternal-infant health.

Lamaze International has long been focused on evidence based care during the childbearing year and continues to support childbirth educators, consumers and others by providing useful and fact based information that women and their families can use to make informed choices about their maternity care.  As part of this continued effort, Lamaze is pleased to share a new induction infographic created by the Lamaze Institute for Safe & Healthy Birth committee. This easy to read infographic is designed to highlight the facts about induction and encourage women to carefully consider all the information before choosing a non-medically indicated induction.  More than one in four women undergo an induction using medical means, and 19% of those inductions had no medical basis.

Since many women are pressured by providers or well-meaning but misguided friends and family to be induced, Lamaze encourages women to learn what are the important questions to ask during conversations with their providers and to get the facts about their own personal situation.  It is also recognized that a quality Lamaze childbirth education class can provide a good foundation for understanding safe and healthy birth practices.

Lamaze International is proud of their Six Healthy Birth Practices for safe and healthy birth, and this infographic supports the first birth practice; let labor begin on its own.  Women need to be able to gather information to discern between a medically indicated induction, which protects the baby, the mother or both from those induction that are done for a social or nonmedical reason which increases the risk of further interventions, including cesarean surgery for mothers and NICU stays for babies who were not ready to be born. This infographic can be shared with students, clients and patients.  It can be hung in classrooms and offices.  Educators can use it in creative ways during teaching sessions, when discussing the topics of inductions, informed consent and birth planning.

As the benefits of a term baby are more clearly understood, and research is revealing how critical those last days are for a baby’s final growth and development, it is perfect timing for Lamaze to share this infographic.  This tool will reduce unneeded inductions and help women learn how important it is to allow their babies to receive the full benefit of coming when the baby is ready.  There has been a huge push to stop inductions before at least 39 weeks.  March of Dimes has their “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait” campaign. The new induction infographic provides an accessible and easy to use information sheet to help families reduce non-medical inductions. Many organizations, including Lamaze are joining together to make sure that babies are born as healthy as possible and women go into labor naturally when baby is ready.

You can find and download the full version of the Induction infographic on the Let’s Talk Induction page of Lamaze’s Push for Your Baby campaign website.  Alternately, if you are a Lamaze member, you can also download the infographic and many other useful handouts from the Teaching Handouts Professional Resource Page from Lamaze International.

Please take a moment to read over this great, new infographic and share in the comments below, both your thoughts on the finished product and how you might use this to help mothers to push for the best care. Lamaze International and its members are doing their part to help reduce the number of early term babies who arrive before they are ready.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and your ideas for classroom use.

References

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Obstetric Practice Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Committee Opinion No 579: Definition of Term Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 2013; 122:1139.

Declercq, E. R., & Sakala, C. (2013). Listening to mothers III: Pregnancy and childbirth.”. 

 

ACOG, Babies, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, informed Consent, Maternal Quality Improvement, Medical Interventions, New Research, Newborns, NICU, Practice Guidelines, Pre-term Birth, Push for Your Baby, Research , , , , , , , , , , ,

Flaws In Recent Home Birth Research May Mislead Parents, Providers

September 26th, 2013 by avatar

by Wendy Gordon, CPM, LM, MPH, MANA Division of Research, Assistant Professor, Bastyr University Dept of Midwifery

Midwife Wendy Gordon shares with Science & Sensibility readers why the recent home birth research using 5 minute Apgar scores does not produce reliable data that consumers can use to make a decision on where they would like to give birth.  Have you had a chance to read the study?  What were your conclusions? See if you agree with Wendy or had some different thoughts.  Share your opinion and thoughts with us in the comments section.  Thank you Wendy for providing information that can help us to assess the study and understand it better. Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

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© http://www.mybirth.com.au/

A recent press release by the authors of a new study raised alarming headlines in a few media outlets, suggesting that babies born at home had a 10-fold higher death rate than babies born in the hospital. I’ve written previously about reliability concerns with the use of birth certificates in this study. In this post, we’ll go more in-depth with some of its other flaws. Let’s start with the fact that the authors did not examine stillbirths.

Apgar scores and stillbirth

The new study by Grunebaum et al. (2013), in press with the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, examined birth certificate data for almost 14 million births between 2007 and 2010 looking for differences in outcomes between home and hospital births. They did not look at “stillbirths,” perinatal, intrapartum or neonatal deaths. They looked at 5-minute Apgar scores of zero, and led the readers of their press release to believe that this meant that the babies died during or shortly after labor, due entirely to their choice of birthing at home.

When we examine a little more closely what it means to have a 5-minute Apgar score of zero, we might find that it does include some babies who died shortly after birth. We might also find a number of babies who had lethal congenital anomalies, who would not have survived no matter where they were born or who attended the birth; there may be important differences between home and hospital populations with regard to whether these anomalies were detected prenatally and whether parents changed their birth plans because of it. There may also be some babies who were successfully resuscitated after the 5-minute Apgar score was assessed. While the authors conceded in the study that their analysis could have included these births, as well as babies who died before labor even began, the terminology used in their press release is highly misleading.

A rigorous study that actually examined deaths would have excluded births with outcomes that had nothing to do with place of birth or attendant. Several well-designed studies have done just that and have found no differences in mortality rates between planned home and hospital births, and often fewer low 5-minute Apgar scores among planned home births attended by midwives (Ackermann-Liebrich et al., 1996; Olsen, 1997; Janssen et al., 2002; Hutton et al., 2009; Janssen et al., 2009). Grunebaum does not mention that their findings are actually the opposite of what several rigorous studies have already determined.

Absolute vs relative risk

I’ve also written previously about the dangers of reporting relative risks (“ten times higher!”) without acknowledging that the absolute risk of the complication is actually very, very low. Even if Grunebaum’s study had appropriately excluded outcomes that had nothing to do with place of birth, and even if their source of data was reliably accurate — no one is served by omitting the fact that 5-minute Apgar scores of zero are exceedingly rare.

Some of the raw numbers that Grunebaum reports in the study are so low — less than a dozen events within tens of thousands of births, in some cases — that it is hard to imagine how practitioners could use this information to draw any meaningful conclusions whatsoever about clinical practice.

Even with all of the flaws in this study, the rate of zero Apgars in the “home midwife” category in this study was 1.6/1000. This is a very low number. If these results were valid, it would be these absolute risks that mothers and families should be informed about, and honest discussions should be had regarding why there might be a higher risk in the home setting so that families can make the best decisions for themselves about all of the risks and benefits that come with location of birth.

Transfers not accounted for in “planned” home births

A concern that is often raised by anti-homebirth activists is that births that start out as planned home births but transfer to the hospital in labor are actually counted as hospital statistics in birth certificate data. To be fair, these births likely do have worse outcomes. Although most transfers are for non-urgent reasons such as stalled labor or desire for pain relief (Johnson & Daviss, 2005), some transfers occur because medical assistance is needed and the appropriate place to be is in the hospital.

But let’s look at the real impact of these transports. U.S. data shows that about 10% of planned home births result in transport to the hospital during labor (Johnson & Daviss, 2005). Even if Grunebaum was able to accurately capture planned home births and that number truly was 67,429, we could reasonably assume that about 10% of those babies (6743) were born in the hospital. Those babies account for less than 0.05% of the 14 million babies born in the hospital. Even if every single one of those babies had a 5-minute Apgar score of zero, Grunebaum’s rate of zero Apgars in the hospital would increase from 0.25/1000 to 0.49/1000. In reality, only a very small proportion of home birth transports actually do result in such an adverse outcome, and thus essentially have a negligible effect on hospital outcomes.

On the other hand, even a small percentage of misclassified outcomes in the home birth category have a dramatic impact. Because the number of home births in the U.S. is small, the inclusion of prenatal stillbirths, congenital anomalies and unplanned, unattended home births in the “home midwife” category is likely to have an appreciable effect on the negative outcomes examined here. Furthermore, the 10% of home birthers who transport to the hospital and have positive outcomes there are not appropriately attributed to the planned home birth group either. The truth about the safety of home birth simply cannot be determined in this way.

Reliability of birth certificates

I wrote my initial reaction to Grunebaum et al’s study last week when their press release came out. I expressed concerns about the low reliability and validity of birth certificates for drawing conclusions about rare outcomes. Grunebaum’s own data shows that over 10% of “home midwife” deliveries had no information on the birth certificate about the mother’s parity and had to be excluded from their calculations, while only 0.2-0.5% of hospital or birth center deliveries were missing parity data; this strongly suggests that something is amiss with the “home midwife” data.

Epidemiologists and birth certificate scholars have made their concerns about reliability and validity exceedingly clear in an enormous body of literature over the last few decades, and in fact, expressed these concerns directly to Frank Chervenak (co-author on this study) earlier this year when he presented this very data at the Institute of Medicine’s workshop on Research Issues in the Assessment of Birth Settings (IOM & NRC, 2013, p.143). The fact that these authors were clearly warned about the low quality of their data regarding both low Apgar scores — and especially seizures — but chose to push ahead with publication without addressing them, suggests other motivations.

Summary

Families deserve to have the best possible information with which to make decisions about where to have their babies. Grunebaum and co-authors miss the mark by a wide margin with the methodology and conclusions of this study.

To learn more about existing, well-designed home birth studies, read here. To learn more about the MANA Stats Project, which provides researchers with a dataset of more than 24,000 planned home birth and birth center births, read here. And watch for new research based on the MANA Stats dataset 2004-2009. Two articles are in press and two more are under review in peer-reviewed journals.

References:

Ackermann-Liebrich, U., Voegeli, T., Gunter-Witt, K., Kunz, I., Zullig, M., Schindler, C., Maurer, M. & Zurich Study Team. (1996). Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedures and outcome. BMJ 313:1313-1318.

Declercq, E., MacDorman, M. F., Menacker, F., & Stotland, N. (2010). Characteristics of planned and unplanned home births in 19 states. Obstetrics & Gynecology 116(1):93-99.

Grunebaum, A., McCullough, L. B., Sapra, K. J., Brent, R. L., Levene, M. I., Arabin, B., & Chervenak, F. A. (2013). Apgar score of 0 at 5 minutes and neonatal seizures or serious neurologic dysfunction in relation to birth setting. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 209:x-ex x-ex.

Hutton, E. K., Reitsma, A. H., & Kaufman, K. (2009). Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: a retrospective cohort study. BIRTH 36(3):180-189.

IOM (Institute of Medicine) and NRC (National Research Council). (2013). An Update on Research Issues in the Assessment of Birth Settings: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Janssen, P. A., Lee, S. K., Ryan, E. M., Etches, D. J., Farquharson, D. F., Peacock, D., & Klein, M. C. (2002). Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia. CMAJ 166(3):315-323.

Janssen, P. A., Saxell, L., Page, L. A., Klein, M. C., Liston, R. M., & Lee, S. K. (2009). Outcomes of planned home birth with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician. CMAJ 181(6-7):377-383.

Johnson, K. C. & Daviss, B. A. (2005). Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives: large prospective study in North America. BMJ 330:1416-

Olsen, O. (1997). Meta-analysis of the safety of home birth. BIRTH 24(1):4-13.

About Wendy Gordon

Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH is a midwife, mother and educator in the Seattle area.  She helped to build a busy, blended homebirth practice of nurse-midwives and direct-entry midwives in Portland, Oregon for eight years before recently transitioning to Seattle.  She is a Coordinating Council member of the Midwives Alliance Division of Research, a board member of the Association of Midwifery Educators, and teaches at the Bastyr University Department of Midwifery.

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