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The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion: A Book Review

September 10th, 2013 by avatar

I recently had the opportunity to review a book published in January, 2013, written for birthing families. The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion; A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Birthing Plan for a Safe, Less Painful, and Successful Delivery for You and Your Baby.  This book is authored by a diverse team of experts, Amanda French, M.D., an OB/Gyn, Susan Thomforde, CNM, Jeanne Faulkner, RN and Dana Rousmaniere, author of pregnancy and birth topics. I wanted to share my review with Science & Sensibility readers so you can consider if you want to add this book to your recommended reading list for expecting families. The book is available on Amazon for 14.29 and a Kindle version is available as well.

This book is marketed as a large 8 1/2 by 11 inch paperback with an attractive cover.  Inside is easy to read print, a pleasant amount of white space on semi-glossy paper, along with full color photographs and illustrations.  There are some beautiful photographs in there, clearly taken by talented photographers, but some of the photos seemed too unnatural, women posed in the perfect position, wearing make-up with hair just so.  The pictures are all completely modest, with the exception of just one woman in a birth tub, which surprised me in a book about birth.  In my experience, birth is a bit more “gritty” than represented by the pictures chosen for this book.  I really appreciated the diversity of images of the women and their families, women of color and their families are well represented throughout. I also appreciated the choice of language, women have partners and those partners can be men or women.

Who is this book for?

This book for is for women who are still deciding on a birth along the spectrum of options, from a home birth to a planned cesarean. It also makes sense for women who are not quite sure what type of birth they want; they can read about all the choices as they settle on what feels good to themselves and their families.  The book is written in easy to understand language, and when medical vocabulary is introduced, a definition is provided so that readers can be clearly understand what is being discussed.  The book is best used for determining what type of birth a woman is interested in having.  If the mother has already determined where and how she would like to birth,  then this book, which is in large part a comparison of the different options, would be less useful.

Jeanne Faulkner, RN

What will families find inside?

The book starts off by asking women to imagine their perfect birth, encouraging them to hold this in their minds, but to also remember that birth requires flexibility as things can change during a pregnancy or labor that will require a deviation from what a mother was planning.  A brief but accurate overview of provider types (and a good list of questions to ask providers to determine who is right for each mother) and childbirth education options are covered, and states Lamaze includes a “good, comprehensive overview of childbirth.”  The chapters are then divided into options by birth location as well as pain medication choices, and then goes on to cover induction, planned and unplanned cesarean. Natural coping techniques and pharmacological pain medication options are covered in a chapter toward the end, along with a guideline for writing a birth plan.

“Unmedicated Vaginal Birth at Home” or “Epidural, Vaginal Birth in the Hospital” are some of the chapter titles and for each section the authors take the time to explain what this option is, why it may or may not be right for any particular woman (in the case of home birth, why a woman  might risk out of this option prenatally or in labor), the pros and cons of each option and how to best prepare if this is the choice a woman has made.  Throughout the book, the authors take care to state that women should be flexible and things may change. Desiring an epidural but not having time for one is a possibility that women need to consider.  I really appreciate this gentle reminder throughout the book, as I too believe that being flexible and being able to deviate from what a woman originally planned will help as the labor unfolds.

For each type of birth, women are given suggestions to help them achieve the birth they want and are encouraged to have a variety of coping techniques lined up for dealing with labor pain if they are choosing to go unmedicated.  Realistic and useful advice is given, even when the birth is highly managed, so that the mother and her partner can have a positive experience.

Amanda French, M.D.

What families won’t find inside?

This is not a book about pregnancy, breastfeeding, postpartum care or newborn care and it doesn’t claim to be.  This is a book about birth and the choices surrounding birth.  Families who want to read about prenatal testing, or learn about breastfeeding techniques will want to have other books in their collection that cover those topics.  While this book does a nice job covering the different options, birth locations and provider choices available to them,  it does so in a very matter of fact way.  There is not a lot of “rah-rah you can do it” language or encouragement for women to stretch for a low intervention option.  On one hand, it is nice to have the facts. On the other hand, evidence shows that for normal, low risk women, the less interventions the better for both mother and baby.  I am not sure that parents will walk away with that message after reading this book.

Would I recommend this book?

While providing a nice general overview of birth choices, I felt like there were several times that the authors wrote that women should trust their care provider’s expert recommendations versus becoming more informed and discussing all options, including the right to informed refusal.

For example, in the small section on episiotomy, it reads “How do I decide whether I want an episiotomy or a tear?  The short answer is this: You don’t make that decision, your provider does…If your provider decides an episiotomy is absolutely necessary, for example, to get the baby out more quickly, then so be it.  Your provider makes that decision based on the medical situation at hand.”  No mention of informing the woman, seeking consent or alternatives to cutting, for example changing position or waiting.

One of the authors, Dr. Amanda French also states several times that she stands with ACOG’s statement on homebirth (which is that birth should occur in a hospital or birth center attached to a hospital) and does not believe that having a baby at home is safe. She does acknowledge a woman’s right to make the decision on birth location for herself.  In reading the chapter on home birth, this bias does come through.

Dana Rousmaniere

In my opinion, the book is written through the health care provider’s lens.  Doulas are promoted- but readers are warned to watch out for those doulas who may have a “strong personal agenda” and parents are encouraged to work with experienced doulas, instead of doulas-in-training or those just starting out.  Birthing women are asked to let the anesthesiologist attempt two epidural placements, (if the first one does not work due to the mother having a “challenging back” or “not being in the ideal position”) before asking for another doctor to try.  Women are told to follow the recommendations of health staff in several places in the book.  Families are told that their newborn will have antibiotic eye ointment and hepatitis B vaccines administered.

In the chapter on VBACs, women are told that a con of VBAC-ing is that ”Vaginal delivery can result in tears in the vagina, which can be repaired immediately after delivery but may result in pain for several weeks after birth.”  Isn’t this a risk of any vaginal delivery?  For the families that I work with, I try to have mothers (and their partners) view themselves as a more equal partner in the decisions that are being made during labor and birth.

In summary

Overall, this book does a fair job of representing what to expect in eight different labor and birth scenarios, who might be a good candidate for each option and how best to be prepared.  Women can read and get assistance in choosing what might be the best option for them. Information on coping techniques and even pictures of good labor positions to try are well organized for easy reference.  For a woman who is undecided about where she wants to birth, this book will help her to understand the differences and the pros and cons of each location and type of birth, along with who attends births in each location.  For women who are have more clarity on what type of birth they want, I might make a different birth book recommendation.

Have you read this book?  Can you share your thoughts and opinion in our comments section?

 

Book Reviews, Epidural Analgesia, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, Pain Management, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consider the Source: An Interview with Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM, co-author of The National Birth Center Study II

January 31st, 2013 by avatar

http://flic.kr/p/v7Wse

The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health has just published the results of the National Birth Center Study II. As the name suggests, this is the second time researchers have undertaken a multi-site study of U.S. birth centers to understand the process and outcomes of care in these settings. The first appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989, and concluded that “birth centers offer a safe and acceptable alternative to hospital confinement for selected pregnant women, particularly those who have previously had children, and that such care leads to relatively few cesarean sections.”

The current study describes birth centers as a “durable model” of care because, again, outcomes were excellent. 

Here are the key findings of the National Birth Center Study II:

  • Of more than 15,000 women eligible for birth center care when labor started, 93% had spontaneous vaginal births, and 6% had cesareans.
  • 16% of women transferred during labor, and approximately 2.5% of mothers or newborns required transfer to the hospital after birth. Emergent transfer before or after birth was required for 1.9% of women in labor or for their newborns. Most women who transferred in labor had vaginal births.
  • There were no maternal deaths. The intrapartum stillbirth rate was 0.47/1000, and the neonatal mortality rate was 0.40/1000 excluding anomalies.

I had an opportunity to interview one of the study authors, Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM. Dr. Osborne is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Nursing, a perinatal epidemiologist, and co-founder of Maternity Centers of America. I asked her what the study findings mean for women and families and what it will take to scale up the birth center model and expand access.

AR: Thanks for participating in this interview. First and foremost, what should expectant parents know about this study?

CO: The take away messages from this study for expectant parents are that birth center care is safe and minimizes the likelihood that their baby will need to be born by cesarean, and that if hospital care becomes necessary, that transfer is very unlikely (1.9%) to be an emergency.

(Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN of Evidence Based Birth has prepared an excellent summary that appears at the American Association of Birth Centers web site with more about the study findings and their implications for women and families.)

The study is based on the AABC Uniform Data Set. What are the strengths and limitations of the UDS? 

CO: The UDS data were collected prospectively, which means women were enrolled in the study before the outcome of the pregnancy was known. This is an important strength because it means that the ultimate outcome could not bias the data that were collected during the pregnancy. Also, the UDS is used across dozens of birth centers, so it also enables us to get much more data than would be possible from a single birth center site.

Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM

A primary limitation is that the UDS does not capture information that describes the family’s experience of birth center care, which makes correlating the clinical findings with experiential information impossible. Also, the UDS isn’t used by physicians practicing in hospitals, so we could not compare our findings to typical hospital-based care.

AR: The first National Birth Center Study reported outcomes of births from 1985 to 1987. Even though this study took place two decades later, the results are strikingly similar. If we’ve known for decades that birth centers are safe and effective, and they provide high quality care without costly hospital overhead, why isn’t there one in every community?

CO: You’re right, the results were very similar. For example the c-section rate in birth centers remained stable, going from 4% in the first study to 6% in the current study, while the national c-section rate during the same period has increased dramatically from 18% to 33%. We’ve known all along that greater use of birth centers could curb or reverse this trend, but there are several obstacles that have prevented a broad expansion of the model. They fall into three categories: systems obstacles, business obstacles, and professional obstacles.

Systems obstacles:

  • Hospitals have been predominant place of birth in the U.S. for so long that associated processes such as payment by commercial insurers and state Medicaid, the filing of birth certificates, and administration of state required newborn screening tests have all been developed based on hospital timelines and protocols. Therefore, changing the place of birth requires changes in all the associated systems as well, which can be difficult.

Business obstacles:

  • The skill set that it takes to be a good care provider and the skill set that it takes to start and run an efficient business have very little overlap, and it’s the rare provider that has both.
  • It takes a considerable capital investment to get a birth center up and running, and that’s not something most providers can access.
  • Equitable reimbursement for provider fees to midwives and facility fees to birth centers from commercial insurers and state Medicaid plans has not been available in most areas of the U.S., so the return on investment has been low.

Professional obstacles: 

  • Many physicians have opposed the independent practice of midwives while also refusing to enter in to collaborative practice agreements, which are required for midwives to provide intrapartum care in many states.
  • Birth center regulations in many states require that a physician be the medical director of the center, and recruiting physicians to fill this role can be difficult.
  • Hospitals have seen birth centers as competition and thus have not offered access to referral and transport.

AR: You are part of an effort to change things so that we do one day have a birth center in every community. Can you tell us about that effort, and why you think you will succeed?

CO: My co-founder Shannon Bedore and I formed Maternity Centers of America (MCA) in order to create a vehicle for addressing the barriers described above. As you pointed out, birth centers are a good thing and there should be more, so we built MCA to bring together professionals from a variety of backgrounds including business, real estate, construction, and health policy to look at the big picture of how maternity care works and find new ways to make birth centers a part of the healthcare system. If our efforts are successful, I believe that this broad range of perspectives will be the reason.

Credit: Center for Birth http://centerforbirth.com

As our first step, we established a demonstration site in northwest Arkansas which will allow us to try new management strategies and find ways to leverage technology while staying true to the birth center model of care. From this flagship site, we hope to develop a replicable, scalable model for the development of birth centers around the U.S. This is not a new idea, nor one that only we are working to implement. Our colleagues at New Birth Company in Kansas City and at the Minnesota Birth Center in Minneapolis are also building replicable birth center models. Each of us has a slightly different approach, and all of us need to succeed in order to or build enough scale to have measureable impact on national outcomes.

AR: The American Association of Birth Centers and the American College of Nurse-Midwives are hosting a congressional briefing next month in Washington to share the study results. Why does this study matter to policy makers?

CO: This study is of particular interest to policy makers because of both its content and its timing. Maternity care makes up the largest proportion of the national hospital bill from a single condition, and a large proportion (45%) of that is paid by government programs. A recent report from the consumer advocacy organization Childbirth Connection entitled The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States highlights the striking cost of U.S. maternity care and its inverse relationship with clinical outcomes. The report showed that almost two-thirds (59-66% depending on payer and type of birth) of the total costs of maternity care went to cover facility fees charged by hospitals. Birth centers charge facility fees too, but they are a fraction of the typical hospital fee. In addition, c-sections cost commercial payers $19,000 more than vaginal births, and they cost Medicaid programs $9,500 more than vaginal births. Multiplied by the estimated number of excess cesareans in the United States, this means about $5 billion dollars could be saved each year by improving our ability to safely get babies born vaginally.

The low value of maternity care is coming into sharper focus for policy makers at the moment due to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which adds maternity care to the list of essential health benefits and increases the number of pregnancies that will be covered by the government through the expansion of state Medicaid programs. As policymakers attempt to realign costs and outcomes, they are looking for strategies that address the “triple aim” of healthcare championed by Don Berwick and his colleagues: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care. Birth centers are a viable, evidenced-based option for meeting all three aims, which is rare, particularly in maternity care. 

Are you surprised by the results of this new study?  Will  you share this information with your clients and students?  Do you think this study will have an impact on the choices that women make about their birth location? Do you believe that more birth centers can help solve many of the problems facing birthing women and maternity care today? Share your thoughts in our comment section. I’d like to hear from you.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager.

Cesarean Birth, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Home Birth, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research, Research, Uncategorized , , , , , , , ,