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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 , , , ,

Safe at Home? New Home Vs. Hospital Birth Study Reviewed by Henci Goer

November 26th, 2013 by avatar

 Regular contributor Henci Goer examines the most recent study on the safety of home birth in the United States.  When taking a closer look at the data analysis done by the authors, there are concerns not addressed in the study, that raise issues that cause the study’s conclusions to be questioned. Henci shares some other studies that do not reach the same results about the safety of home birth. Have you read this study?  If you had read this study too, did you find more questions than answers when you were done? – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

“Researchers have already cast much darkness on the subject, and if they continue their investigation, we shall soon know nothing at all.” – Mark Twain

flickr.com/photos/vestfamily/2591899412/

The latest contender in the long list of studies attempting to compare the safety of home and hospital birth, “Selected perinatal outcomes associated with planned home births in the United States,” was published last month (Cheng 2013). Let’s start by summarizing the study:

Using data compiled from the U.S. birth certificate, Cheng and colleagues compared outcomes between 12,039 women “planning” home births with 2,081,753 women having hospital births. All women were at term (between 37 and 43 weeks) and carrying one head-down baby. Women with prior cesarean were not excluded. After adjustment for numerous factors including number of prior births, medical conditions (hypertension, diabetes), risk factors (smoking), and social and demographic factors (race/ethnicity, age, marital status), women having home births were much less likely to have an instrumental vaginal delivery (0.1% vs. 6.2%; odds ratio 0.1), induced labor (1.4% vs. 25.7%; odds ratio 0.2), or labor augmentation (2.1% vs. 22.2%; odds ratio 0.3). They were also, however, twice as likely to have a baby with a 5-minute Apgar less than 4 (0.24% vs. 0.37%; odds ratio 1.9), three times as likely to have a baby experience neonatal seizure (0.06% vs. 0.02%; odds ratio 3.1), and more than twice as likely to have a baby with 5-minute Apgar less than 7 (2.42% vs. 1.17%; odds ratio 2.4). On the other hand, similar percentages of babies needed more than 6 hours of ventilator support, and babies born at home were much less likely to be admitted to intensive care (0.57% vs. 3.03%; odds ratio 0.2). In the discussion, the investigators note that removing the 489 women with previous cesareans who had planned home birth and women with medical or obstetric conditions did not alter that infants of women with prior births who planned home birth were more likely to have a low Apgar score. They don’t specify whether this was 5-minute Apgar less than 4 or less than 7 nor do they report the occurrence rate in this higher-risk subgroup.

There is more. To evaluate the effect of birth attendant qualifications, the investigators excluded births attended by doctors or unknown birth attendant and stratified the remaining home birth population into those attended by professional midwives and those attended by “other midwives.” (Confusingly, study authors state that Certified Professional Midwives [CPMs] were categorized as Certified Nurse-Midwives in the birth certificate data yet go on to refer solely to “CNMs” in the rest of the analysis.) In the subset attended by professional midwives, newborn outcomes were similar except that hospital-born infants were more likely to be admitted to intensive care (0.37% vs. 3.03%; odds ratio 0.1).

Cheng and colleagues conclude that while women planning home births are less likely to experience obstetric intervention, their babies are more likely to be born in poor condition. Do their data warrant that conclusion?

To begin with, the relevant question isn’t the tradeoffs between planned home birth per se and hospital birth. It is: “What are the excess risks for healthy women at low risk of urgent complications who plan home birth with qualified home birth attendants compared with similar women planning hospital birth?” This study can’t answer that question. Here’s why:

The study only includes women actually delivering at home, but you can’t make a meaningful comparison unless you have the outcomes of women transferred to hospital. “Planning” in this study meant only that birth at home wasn’t accidental, not the more usual meaning that birth may be planned at home but problems during labor may alter that plan. I discovered this when I wrote the lead author to request cesarean rates, which, oddly, to me, were not reported in the study. She responded that this was because cesareans aren’t performed at home. Puzzled by this explanation, I wrote back that neither are instrumental vaginal delivery, induction, nor labor augmentation, which were reported. She responded that birth certificate data don’t state how labor was induced or augmented but that perhaps at home births it was by rupturing membranes and that “apparently some midwives or birth attendants do perform vacuum extraction at home,” but it is rare since only 10 were reported.

Not all women planning home birth were low-risk. For one thing, women with prior cesareans were included. For another, the methods section states that the analysis adjusted for medical risk, and the discussion notes that women with prior children in the home birth group were more likely to have babies with low Apgar scores even after removing women with medical risk, which implies that some of them had medical problems.

Not all women in the home birth group had qualified home birth attendants. Outcome data on the overall population came from women recorded as being attended by MDs, DOs, “other midwife,” “others,” and “unknown/not stated” as well as by professional midwives.

Rates of neonatal seizure and 5-minute Apgar less than 4 were very low, and the study doesn’t report on perinatal death or permanent disability. As concerning as an excess in low Apgar scores and seizures may be, the real question is excess incidence of permanent harm. Even without limiting the population to low-risk women with qualified care providers, only 1 more baby per 1000 born at home experienced very low 5-minute Apgar, and only 4 more babies per 10,000 experienced neonatal seizure, and while babies born in poor condition are more likely to incur permanent neurologic damage or die, most will recover. Also, as we saw, differences in rates of these adverse outcomes disappeared with a qualified provider.

The proof of the pudding lies in studies free of these weaknesses. A study of 530,000 low-risk Dutch women found no difference in deaths during labor or newborn death rates between women planning, but not necessarily having, home birth and those planning hospital birth (de Jonge 2009). A Canadian study comparing outcomes of 2900 women eligible for home birth with women equally eligible but planning hospital birth reported worse newborn outcomes (more required resuscitation at birth or oxygen for more than 24 hrs and more birth injuries), worse maternal outcomes (more anal sphincter tears and postpartum hemorrhage), and more use of instrumental and cesarean delivery in the hospital population (Janssen 2009).

What can we take away from Cheng and colleagues analysis? First, care provider qualifications matter. Women desiring home birth should have access to professional midwifery care, which argues for making CPMs legal in all 50 states. Second, less than optimal candidates are birthing at home, and some women may be continuing labor at home who shouldn’t. Why might that be? Women may choose home birth because they want control over what happens to them, they have had a prior negative hospital experience, or they want to avoid unnecessary medical intervention (Boucher 2009), the last of which will include women denied hospital VBAC. Women may resist hospital transfer for the same reasons or because they know that at best, hospital transfer means losing the care and advice of the care provider they trust and at worst, they will be treated badly by disapproving hospital staff. If we want to reduce their numbers, hospital-based practitioners need to address the behaviors, practices, and policies that drive women away from hospital birth. This would have the added benefit of improving care for the 99% of American women who would never consider birthing at home.

References

Boucher, D., Bennett, C., McFarlin, B., & Freeze, R. (2009). Staying home to give birth: why women in the United States choose home birth. J Midwifery Womens Health, 54(2), 119-126. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=boucher+2009+home+birth

Cheng, Y. W., Snowden, J. M., King, T. L., & Caughey, A. B. (2013). Selected perinatal outcomes associated with planned home births in the United States. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 209(4), 325 e321-328. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2013.06.022 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23791564

de Jonge, A., van der Goes, B. Y., Ravelli, A. C., Amelink-Verburg, M. P., Mol, B. W., Nijhuis, J. G., . . . Buitendijk, S. E. (2009). Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births. BJOG 116(9), 1177-1184. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=de+jonge+2009+planned+home

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. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19720688

 

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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 , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lamaze International Releases Valuable Cesarean Infographic For You To Share!

October 10th, 2013 by avatar

Lamaze International has long been a leader in providing resources for both parents and birth professionals that promote safe and healthy birth for women and babies.  Evidence based information, appealing handouts, useful webinars for both parents and professionals, continuing education opportunities and more can all be found within the Lamaze International structure.  In May, 2012, Lamaze International released  (and later went on to be a co-winner for the 2013 Nonprofit PR Award for Digital PR and Marketing) the Push For Your Baby campaign, which encouraged families to “push for better” and “spot the best care,” providing resources to help parents wade through the overabundance of often inaccurate information swimming past them, and make choices that support a healthy pregnancy, a healthy birth and a healthy mother and baby.

Today, as I make my way to New Orleans, to join other professionals at the 2013 Annual Lamaze International Conference, “Let the Good Times Roll for Safe and Healthy Birth,” Lamaze International is pleased to announce the release of a useful and appealing infographic titled “What’s the Deal with Cesareans?” In the USA today, 1 in 3 mothers will give birth by cesarean section.  While, many cesareans are necessary, others are often a result of interventions performed at the end of pregnancy or during labor for no medical reason.  For many families, easy to understand, accurate information is hard to find and they feel pressure to follow their health care provider’s suggestions, even if it is not evidence based or following best practice guidelines.

Families taking Lamaze classes are learning about the Six Healthy Birth Practices, which can help them to avoid unnecessary interventions. Now, Lamaze childbirth educators and others can share (and post in their classrooms) this attractive infographic that highlights the situation of too many unneeded cesareans in our country.  Parents and educators alike can easily see what the risks of cesarean surgery to mother and baby are, and learn how to reduce the likelihood of having a cesarean in the absence of medical need.

In this infographic, women are encouraged to take Lamaze childbirth classes, work with a doula, select a provider with a low rate of cesarean births, advocate for vaginal birth after cesarean and follow the Six Healthy Care Practices, to set themselves up for the best birth possible.  This infographic clearly states the problem of unneeded cesareans, the risks to mother and baby, and provides do-able actions steps.

It is time for women to become the best advocate possible for their birth and their baby.  With this appealing, useful and informative infographic poster, families can and will make better choices and know to seek out additional information and resources.

Educators and other birth professionals, you can find a high resolution infographic to download and print here.

Send your families to the Lamaze International site for parents, to find the infographic and other useful information on cesarean surgery.

For Lamaze members, log in to our professional site to access this infographic and a whole slew of other useful classroom activities, handouts and information sheets.

I am proud to say that I am a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and that my organization, Lamaze International, is leading the way in advocating for healthier births for mothers and babies through sources such as the “What’s the Deal with Cesareans?” infographic and other evidence based information and resources.  Thank you Lamaze!

What do you think of this infographic?  How are you going to use it with the families you work with?  Can you think of how you might incorporate this into your childbirth classes or discuss with clients and patients?  Let us know in the comments section, we would love your feedback!  And, see you at the conference!

 

 

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, informed Consent, Lamaze International, Lamaze International 2013 Annual Conference, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Newborns, Patient Advocacy, Push for Your Baby , , , , , , , , ,

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

October 3rd, 2013 by avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reviewers therefore conclude:

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

Conclusion

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

References

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

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

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