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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 , , , , , , ,

Childbirth Connection Joins with the National Partnership for Women & Families – Everyone Benefits

March 20th, 2014 by avatar

national partnership women family logoA favorite resource for both myself as a childbirth educator and one that I share frequently with families in my classes has long been Childbirth Connection. Since 1918, when this organization was founded and known as the Maternity Center Association, they have been a “national voice for safe, effective and satisfying evidence based maternity care.”  Childbirth Connection accomplishes this by highlighting current issues and obstacles in maternity care, sharing evidence based information in easy to read and understand downloadable handouts and partnering with other organizations, including Lamaze International to lobby for and promote evidence based care for women and their families in the childbearing year.

You may be familiar with Childbirth Connection as the organization that has been conducting and publishing the landmark Listening to Mothers Surveys and Reports since the first of the LTM reports was published in 2002.  These comprehensive reports questioned mothers about their experiences from preconception through the postpartum period and shed light on many issues – including how much of the care women are receiving is not based on evidence and how limited many of the choices women are given for options while receiving care.  Information discovered through the surveys and published in the LTM reports has been enlightening and sometime shocking, as it highlighted the “real life” experiences of women around the country – who are experiencing maternity care currently in the USA.

Earlier this year, Childbirth Connection announced that they are becoming a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington DC based organization founded in 1971, whose mission is to improve health for women and families, and make the nation’s workplaces more fair and family friendly.  Each organization brings different strengths to the collaboration. Childbirth Connection has a long history of clinical and research focus programs based on evidence based care, while the National Partnership has long established relationships with policy makers.  The fit is a natural one that will benefit American women and mothers and improve maternity care in the USA.

One of the first publications released by Childbirth Connection, under the umbrella of the National Partnership for Women & Families, was a report; “Listening to Mothers: The Experiences of Expecting and New Mothers in the Workplace.” This report was prepared from information gathered during the most recent LTM III survey.

Some key findings from this report include:

  • Holding a job during pregnancy is the new normal.  In fact, women are the primary or sole breadwinner in over 40% of families with children.
  • Women often need minor adjustments on the job to protect their health during pregnancy. 71% of women needed more frequent bathroom break and 61% of women needed some schedule modification or time off in order to attend crticial prenatal health care appointments.
  • Pregnant women’s need for accommodation often goes unspoken and may be unmet, or are often denied.  Many women do not speak up out of fear of repercussions, refusal or uncertainty about how their request will be viewed.
  • Less economically advantaged women are in greater need of accommodation than more advantaged women. Women of color, lower educated women and women who held part time jobs needed more accomodation.
  • Upon returning to work, new mothers experience bias, lost pay, loss of responsibilities and other actions, including losing their job altogether. More than one in four women reported experiencing bias from their employers due to perceptions of their “desire, ability, or commitment” to doing their jobs.
  • Breastfeeding remains a challenge for employed new mothers.  58% of women reported that breastfeeding while employed presented obstacles, including employers not providing an appropriate clean and private location or adequate breaks in which to express milk.

childbirth connectionAs childbirth educators, the women in our classes most likely are working outside the home and many will return to work after having their children.  These are issues that they will face no matter where they are located in the USA, and as educators we can sympathize with their situation and provide concrete resources to help them problem solve solutions.  The National Partnership for Women & Families/Childbirth Connection should be on the short list as a great resource for these women.  We can also share our own tips, encourage discussion amongst the families and help prepare them for some of the above challenges that they may face.

Congratulations to Childbirth Connection on this new opportunity!  I am looking forward to reading and sharing future work done by your organization and in cooperation with the National Partnership for Women & Families.  Educators and others – what information do you feel is important to share with your families about working while pregnant, returning to work after birth and maintaining the breastfeeding relationship once your students are working again.  Comment with your suggestions, advice and resources, so that we can all offer the best information to all families.

References

Declercq, E. R., Sakala, C., Corry, M. P., Applebaum, S., & Herrlich, A. (2013). Listening to Mothers III: New Mothers Speak Out. New York, NY: Childbirth Connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babies, Childbirth Education, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Transforming Maternity Care , , , ,

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 , , , , , , , ,

Is Your Favorite in the Top Five? – Science & Sensibility’s Five Most Popular Posts

March 13th, 2014 by avatar

I have been working as Science & Sensibility’s Community Manager for a few weeks shy of two years.  The past two years have been one of great growth for me personally, as I have stretched myself to explore and more clearly understand research related to maternal infant health. I have “labored” to choose topics that are of interest, current and relevant to our readers. I have deeply enjoyed supporting and collaborating with the many gifted writers who have been kind enough to share their wisdom and their words with all of us. I have welcomed and enjoyed the reader comments and shared discussions with many readers, as they made their opinions, thoughts and viewpoints known.  I have learned along with all of you, as readers asked questions of the blog writers and clarified their understanding of topics.  It has, to put it simply, been a fantastic and fun time.

As I reflected on the past two years , I wondered what have been the most popular posts on the blog, since Amy Romano wrote the first post on Science & Sensibility back in Spring of 2009.  I took a look and found some surprises.  I thought it would be interesting to share the top five posts and ask you, the reader – what posts have been your favorites?  The ones you share with students, clients and patients over and over? The ones you most enjoyed reading?

Top Five Posts on Science & Sensibility

#5. Research Review: Facilitating Autonomous Infant Hand Use During Breastfeeding

© Raphael Goetter

© Raphael Goetter

This post reviewed research by Catherine Watson Genna, BS, IBCLC, RLC and Diklah Barak, BOT that demonstrated that babies use their hands at the breast for many purposes, including stabilizing their neck and head for feeding, causing the nipple to become erect and increasing maternal oxytocin which facilitates delivery of milk to the infant.  The research paper included great photographs and links to videos documenting this behavior.  All the more reason to encourage mothers to unswaddle babies prior to feeding to allow them to do what they do best.

 

 

#4. Help New Mothers Breastfeed in Comfort: Nordstrom Converts Any Bra Into A Nursing Bra for a $10 Fee

Creative Commons Photo: Children's Bureau Centennial.  WPA Project 1938

© Children’s Bureau Centennial. WPA Project 1938

This post shared the little known fact that some Nordstrom stores in the USA would convert a woman’s favorite bra into a nursing bra for a small fee.  Many women find it difficult to find a comfortable nursing bra and are sad to need to stop wearing their favorites.  Now they may not have to.  We heard from lots of readers that not all stores offer this service and the price may vary. Updates would be welcome.

 

 

 

 

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

acog wordlThis recent post by Judy Lothian, Phd, RN, LCCE, FACCE, highlighted the newly released ACOG and SMFM Consensus statement discussing 18 points that these organizations stated would help to reduce the number of primary cesareans being performed.  This statement was groundbreaking in its language, suggestions and proposed modifications to current obstetrical practice, backed up by evidence and certainly in line with much of the research behind Lamaze International’s Six Healthy Birth Practices.

 

#2. What Is the Evidence for Induction for Low Amniotic Fluid in a Healthy Pregnancy?

“It is standard of care in the U.S. to induce women with isolated oligohydramnios at term.” Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewesque/2608674753/sizes/l/in/set-72157605814668384/

© drewesque

This post by Rebecca Dekker, Phd, RN, APRN of Evidence Based Birth was a comprehensive research review looking at outcomes of expectant management vs active management of low amniotic fluid in a healthy term pregnancy, as well as the reliability of the most common methods for assessing amniotic fluid volume.  Lots of great information to help women understand the risks and benefits and determine how they would like to proceed if they are faced with this decision at the end of their pregnancy.

 

 

#1 .  The Red/Purple Line: An Alternate Method For Assessing Cervical Dilation Using Visual Cues

marked purple lineThis post, written by Mindy Cockeram, LCCE is the most popular post ever published on Science & Sensibility.  Mindy reviewed and discussed the research on the the red/purple line that may be seen between the butt cheeks/natal cleft and the changes to this line as cervical dilation changes during labor.  This topic was simply fascinating to readers – and shared widely.  Professionals and consumers sent in pictures and discussed in the comments section their own observations.

 

Are you surprised by the top five posts on Science & Sensibility?  Do you have different favorites?  What else would you like to see covered in the future on this blog?  We welcome your input, your comments, suggestions and are interested in your favorite all time posts!  Share your thoughts and suggestions in our comments section below.

Childbirth Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Science & Sensibility , , ,