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Evidence on Water Birth Safety – Exclusive Q&A with Rebecca Dekker on her New Research

July 10th, 2014 by avatar

 

Evidence Based Birth , a popular blog written by occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, has just today published a new article, “Evidence on Water Birth Safety“ that looks at the current research on the safety of water birth for mothers and newborns.  Rebecca researched and wrote that article in response to the joint Opinion Statement “Immersion in Water During Labor and Delivery” released in March, 2014 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  I had the opportunity to ask Rebecca some questions about her research into the evidence available on water birth, her thoughts on the Opinion Statement and her conclusions after writing her review. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

Sharon Muza: First off, is it waterbirth or water birth?

Rebecca Dekker: That’s actually good question! Research experts tend to use the term “waterbirth.” Google prefers “water birth.” So I used both terms in my article to satisfy everyone!

SM: Have you heard or been told of stories of existing water birth programs shutting down or being modified as a result of the recent AAP/ACOG opinion?

RD: Yes, definitely. There was a mother in my state who contacted me this spring because she was 34 weeks pregnant and her hospital decided not to offer waterbirth anymore. She had given birth to her daughter in a waterbirth at the same hospital two years earlier. With her current pregnancy, she had been planning another hospital waterbirth. She had the support of her nurse midwife, the hospital obstetricians, and hospital policy. However, immediately after the release of the ACOG/AAP opinion, the hospital CEO put an immediate stop to waterbirth. This particular mother ended up switching providers at 36 weeks to a home birth midwife. A few weeks ago, she gave birth to her second baby, at home in the water. This mother told me how disheartening it was that an administrator in an office had decided limit her birth options, even though physicians and midwives at the same hospital were supportive of her informed decision to have a waterbirth.

In another hospital in my hometown, they were gearing up to start a waterbirth program this year—it was going to be the first hospital where waterbirth would be available in our city—and it was put on hold because of the ACOG/AAP Opinion.

Then of course, there were a lot of media reports about various hospital systems that suspended their waterbirth programs. One hospital system in particular, in Minnesota, got a lot of media coverage.

SM: Did you attempt to contact ACOG/AAP with questions and if so, did they respond?

RD: Yes. As soon as I realized that the ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement had so many major scientific errors, I contacted ImprovingBirth.org and together we wrote two letters. I wrote a letter regarding the scientific problems with the Opinion Statement, and ImprovingBirth.org wrote a letter asking ACOG/AAP to suspend the statement until further review. The letters were received by the President and President-Elect of ACOG, and they were forwarded to the Practice Committee. We were told that the Practice Committee would review the contents of our letters at their meeting in mid-June, and that was the last update that we have received.

SM: What is the difference between an “Opinion Statement” and other types of policy recommendations or guidelines that these organizations release? Does it carry as much weight as practice bulletins?

RD: That’s an interesting question. At the very top of the Opinion Statement, there are two sentences that read: “This document reflects emerging clinical and scientific advances as of the date issued and is subject to change. The information should not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure to be followed.” But, as you will see, some hospitals do see this statement as dictating an exclusive course of treatment, and others don’t.

I have heard that “opinions” do not carry as much weight as “practice bulletins,” but it really depends on who the audience is and who is listening. In other words, some hospitals may take the Opinion Statement word-for-word and feel that they must follow it to the letter, and other hospitals may ignore it. A lot of it probably depends on the advice of their risk management lawyers.

For example, a nurse midwife at a hospital in Illinois sent me a letter that their risk-management attorneys had put together to advise them on this issue. (She had the attorney’s permission to share the letter with me). These lawyers basically said that when a committee of two highly-respected organizations says that the practice of waterbirth should be considered an experimental procedure, both health care providers and hospitals are “charged with a duty to heed that statement,” unless they find research evidence that waterbirth has benefits for the mother or fetus, and that the evidence can override the Committee’s conclusions.

On the other hand, another risk management lawyer for a large hospital system told me that of course hospitals are not under any obligation to follow an ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement. It’s simply just that—an opinion.

So as to how much weight the Opinion Statement carries—I guess it is really dependent on who is reading it!

SM: How would you suggest a well-designed research study be conducted to examine the efficacy and safety of waterbirth? Or would you say that satisfactory research already exists.

RD: First of all, I want to say that I’m really looking forward to the publication of the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) data on nearly 4,000 waterbirths that occurred in birth centers in the U.S., to see what kind of methods they used. From what I hear, they had really fantastic outcomes.

And it’s also really exciting that anyone can join the AABC research registry, whether you practice in a hospital, birth center, or at home. The more people who join the registry, the bigger the data set will be for future research and analysis. Visit the AABC PDR website to find out more.

I think it’s pretty clear that a randomized trial would be difficult to do, because we would need at least 2,000 women in the overall sample in order to tell differences in rare outcomes. So instead we need well-designed observational studies.

My dream study on waterbirth would be this: A large, prospective, multi-center registry that follows women who are interested in waterbirth and compares three groups: 1) women who have a waterbirth, 2) women who want a waterbirth and are eligible for a waterbirth but the tub is not available—so they had a conventional land birth, 3) women who labored in water but got out of the tub for the birth. The researchers would measure an extensive list of both maternal and fetal outcomes.

It would also be interesting to do an additional analysis to compare women from group 2 who had an epidural with women from group 1 who had a waterbirth. To my knowledge, only one study has specifically compared women who had waterbirths with women who had epidurals. Since these are two very different forms of pain relief, it would be nice to have a side-by-side comparison to help inform mothers’ decision making.

SM: What was the most surprising finding to you in researching your article on the evidence on water birth safety?

RD: I guess I was most surprised by how poorly the ACOG/AAP literature review was done in their Opinion Statement. During my initial read of it, I instantly recognized multiple scientific problems.

A glance at the references they cited was so surprising to me—when discussing the fetal risks of waterbirth, they referenced a laboratory study of pregnant rats that were randomized to exercise swimming in cold or warm water! There weren’t even any rat waterbirths! It was both hilarious and sad, at the same time! And it’s not like you have to read the entire rat article to figure out that they were talking about pregnant rats—it was right there in their list of references, in the title of the article, “Effect of water temperature on exercise-induced maternal hyperthermia on fetal development in rats.”

These kind of mistakes were very surprising, and incredibly disappointing. I expect a lot higher standards from such important professional organizations. These organizations have a huge influence on the care of women in the U.S., and even around the world, as other countries look to their recommendations for guidance. The fact that they were making a sweeping statement about the availability of a pain relief option during labor, based on an ill-researched and substandard literature review—was very surprising indeed.

SM: What was the most interesting fact you discovered during your research?

RD: With all this talk from ACOG and the AAP about how there are “no maternal benefits,” I was fascinated as I dug into the research to almost immediately find that waterbirth has a strong negative effect on the use of episiotomy during childbirth.

Every single study on this topic has shown that waterbirth drastically reduces and in some cases completely eliminates the use of episiotomy. Many women are eager to avoid episiotomies, and to have intact perineums, and waterbirth is associated with both lower episiotomy rates and higher intact perineum rates. That is a substantial maternal benefit. It’s kind of sad to see leading professional organizations not even give the slightest nod to waterbirth’s ability to keep women’s perineums intact.

In fact, I’m puzzled as to why keeping women’s perineums intact and uncut is not perceived as a benefit by anyone other than the women themselves. And here is the heart of declaring waterbirth as “not having enough benefits” to justify its use: Who decides the benefits? Who decides what a benefit is, if not the person benefitting? Who should be weighing the potential harms and the potential benefits of waterbirth, and making an informed decision about their options? Should it be the mother? Or should it be the obstetrician?

SM: What can families do if they want waterbirth to be an option in their local hospital or birth center and it has been taken away or not even ever been offered before?

RD: That’s a hard question. It’s a big problem.

Basically what it boils down to is this—there are a lot of restraining forces that keep waterbirth from being a pain relief option for many women. But there are also some positive driving forces. According to change theory, if you want to see a behavior change at the healthcare organization level, it is a matter of decreasing the restraining forces, while increasing the driving forces. Debunking the ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement is an important piece of decreasing restraining forces. On the other side, increasing consumer pressure can help drive positive change.

SM: Do you think that consumers will be responding with their health dollars in changing providers and facilities in order to have a waterbirth?

RD: I think that if a hospital offered waterbirth as an option to low-risk women, that this could be a huge marketing tool and would put that hospital at an advantage in their community, especially if the other hospitals did not offer waterbirth.

SM: The ACOG/AAP opinion sounded very reactionary, but to what I am not sure. What do you think are the biggest concerns these organizations have and why was this topic even addressed? Weren’t things sailing along smoothly in the many facilities already offering a water birth option?

RD: I don’t know if you saw the interview with Medscape, but one of the authors of the Opinion Statement suggested that they were partially motivated to come out with this statement because of the increase in home birth, and they perceive that women are having a lot of waterbirths at home.

I also wonder if they are hoping to leverage their influence as the FDA considers regulation of birthing pools. You may remember that in 2012, the FDA temporarily prohibited birthing pools from coming into the U.S. Then the FDA held a big meeting with the different midwifery and physician organizations. At that meeting, AAP and ACOG had a united front against waterbirth. So I guess it’s no surprise for them to come out with a joint opinion statement shortly afterwards.

My sincere hope is that the FDA is able to recognize the seriously flawed methods of the literature review in this Opinion Statement, before they come out with any new regulations.

SM: How should childbirth educators be addressing the topic of waterbirth and waterbirth options in our classes in light of the recent ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement and what you have written about in your research review on the Evidence on Water Birth Safety?

RD: It’s not an easy subject. There are both pros and cons to waterbirth, and it’s important for women to discuss waterbirth with their providers so that they can make an informed decision. At the same time, there are a lot of obstetricians who cannot or will not support waterbirth because of ACOG’s position. So if a woman is really interested in waterbirth, she will need to a) find a supportive care provider, b) find a birth setting that encourages and supports waterbirth.

You can’t really have a waterbirth with an unwilling provider or unwilling facility. Well, let me take that back… you can have an “accidental” waterbirth… but unplanned waterbirths have not been included in the research studies on waterbirth, so the evidence on the safety of waterbirth does not generalize to unplanned waterbirths. Also, you have to ask yourself, is your care provider knowledgeable and capable of facilitating a waterbirth? It might not be safe to try to have an “accidental” waterbirth if your care provider and setting have no idea how to handle one. Do they follow infection control policies? Do they know how to handle a shoulder dystocia in the water?

SM: What kind of response do you think there will be from medical organizations and facilities as well as consumers about your research findings?

RD: I hope that it is positive! I would love to see some media coverage of this issue. I hope that the Evidence Based Birth® article inspires discussion among care providers and women, and among colleagues at medical organizations, about the quality of evidence in guidelines, and their role in providing quality information to help guide informed decision-making.

SM: Based on your research, you conclude that the evidence does not support universal bans on waterbirth. Is there anything you would suggest be done or changed to improve waterbirth outcomes for mothers or babies?

RD: The conclusion that I came to in my article—that waterbirth should not be “banned,” is basically what several other respected organization have already said. The American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Association of Birth Centers, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives have all said basically the same thing.

How can we improve waterbirth outcomes? I think continuing to be involved in clinical research studies (such as the AABC registry) is an important way to advance the science and provide evidence on which we can base practice and make more informed decisions with. Also, conducting clinical audits (tracking outcomes) in facilities that provide waterbirth would be important for quality control.

SM: Let’s look into the future. What is next on your plate to write about?

RD: I recently had a writing retreat with several amazing clinicians and researchers who flew from across the country to conduct literature reviews with me. We made an awesome team!! The topics that we have started looking at are: induction for post-dates, induction for ruptured membranes, and evidence-based care for women of advanced maternal age. I can’t decide which one we will publish first! The Evidence Based Birth readers have requested AMA next, but the induction for ruptured membranes article is probably further along than that one. We shall see!!

SM: Is there anything else you would like to share with Science & Sensibility readers on this topic?

RD: Thanks for being so patient with me! I know a lot of people were eagerly awaiting this article, and I wish it could have come out sooner, but these kinds of reviews take a lot of time. Time is my most precious commodity right now!

Has the recent Opinion Statement released by ACOG/AAP impacted birth options in your communities?  Do you discuss this with your clients, students and patients?  What has been the reaction of the families you work with? Let us know below in the comments section! – SM.

ACOG, American Academy of Pediatrics, Babies, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternity Care, New Research, Newborns, Research , , , , , , , ,

Can Moxibustion Help Turn Breech Babies?

November 5th, 2013 by avatar

By Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN

Occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Rebecca Dekker of www.EvidenceBasedBirth.com examines the practice of Moxibustion to help turn breech babies head down.  Rebecca looks at what the current research shows on this ancient treatment for turning babies and shares the results with Science & Sensibility readers in an article that can be easily shared with students, clients and patients. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

A mother tries moxibustion to turn her breech baby. © EvidenceBased Birth.com

About 3-4% of pregnant women end up with a baby who is in breech (bottom first) position at term. The vast majority of these babies (90%) are born by planned cesarean section. In order to avoid a cesarean section, many women try various ways to turn their babies into a head-down position. I have written in the past about using external cephalic version (ECV), also called the hands-to-belly procedure, for turning breech babies. However, although ECV is safe and frequently effective, it can be uncomfortable and women may want to try different options for turning a breech baby. One potential option is moxibustion.

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a type of Chinese medicine where you burn an herb (Artemesia vulgaria) close to the skin of the fifth toes of both feet. The fifth toe is a traditional acupuncture point called Bladder 67.

How do you use moxibustion?

There is no one recommended way to use moxibustion, but many women burn the moxa sticks close to their toes for about 15-20 minutes, from anywhere to 1-10 times per day, for up to two weeks. This treatment is usually started between 28 and 37 weeks of pregnancy.

How could moxibustion work?

The burning of the moxa stick stimulates heat receptors on the skin of the toe. It is thought that the heat encourages the release of two pregnancy hormones—placental estrogen and prostaglandins—which lead to uterine contractions. These contractions can then stimulate the baby to move (Cardini & Weixin, 1998).

So, does moxibustion work?

In 2012, researchers combined results from eight studies where 1,346 women with breech babies were randomly assigned to moxibustion, no treatment, or an alternative treatment (like acupuncture). The women in these studies lived in Italy, China, and Switzerland (Coyle et al., 2012).

For the women who were assigned to receive moxibustion, some used moxibustion alone, some had moxibustion plus acupuncture, and some used moxibustion plus posture techniques.

When moxibustion alone was compared to no treatment (3 studies, 594 women) there was:

• No difference in the percentage of babies who were breech at birth

• No difference in the need for external cephalic version

• No difference in cesarean section rates

• No difference in the risk of water breaking before labor began

• No difference in Apgar scores at birth

• A 72% decrease in the risk of using oxytocin for women in the moxibustion group who ended up with a vaginal birth

Side effects of the moxibustion included smelling an unpleasant odor, nausea, and abdominal pain from contractions.

When moxibustion alone was compared to acupuncture alone, fewer women in the moxibustion group had breech babies at birth compared to the acupuncture group. However, there were only 25 women in the single study that compared moxibustion alone to acupuncture alone, so this doesn’t really tell us that much.

When moxibustion plus acupuncture was compared to no treatment (1 study, 226 women), women who had moxibustion plus acupuncture had a:

• 27% decrease in the risk of having a breech baby at birth

• 21% decrease in the risk of having a cesarean section

When moxibustion plus acupuncture was compared to acupuncture alone, one study with only 24 women found no difference in the number of women who had breech babies at birth. Because this study was so small, it doesn’t really give us much meaningful information.

When moxibustion plus postural techniques was compared to postural techniques alone (3 studies, 470 women), women in the moxibustion plus postural group had:

• a 74% decrease in the risk of having a breech baby at birth

Are there any limitations to this evidence?

A homemade moxa stick holder helps a mother administer a moxibustion treatment. © EvidenceBasedBirth.com

Overall, the studies that were used in this review were good quality. However, some of the studies were very small, and sometimes researchers did not measure things that we would be interested in—for example, when moxibustion plus postural techniques was compared to postural techniques alone, we have no idea if it made a difference in cesarean section rates or any other health results. Also, all of the researchers used different methods of moxibustion. Some women may have had more frequent or longer sessions, and some women may have been more compliant with the therapy than others.

Is there any other good evidence on moxibustion?

After the review above was published, evidence from a new randomized controlled trial that took place in Spain came out in 2013. In this new study, 406 low-risk pregnant women who had a baby in breech position at 33-35 weeks were randomly assigned to true moxibustion, “fake” moxibustion, or regular care.

What kind of treatments did the women receive?

In the true moxibustion group, the women laid face up, and the hot moxa stick was held near the outside of the little toenail 20 minutes per day for two weeks, changing from one foot to the other when the heat became uncomfortable. The women did the moxibustion at home with the help of a family member. In the fake moxibustion group, the same treatment was carried out, except that the moxa stick was applied to the big toe, which is not a true acupuncture point. Women in all of the groups were educated on how to use a knee-chest posture to try and turn the baby.

Did the moxibustion work?

Women who did moxibustion plus postural techniques were 1.3 times more likely to have a baby in head-down position at birth when compared to both the fake moxibustion and the usual care groups. If you look at the exact numbers, 58% of the women who used moxibustion had a baby who was head-down at birth, compared to 43% of the fake moxibustion group and 45% of the usual care group. The number of women who would need to use moxibustion in order to successfully turn one baby is, on average, eight women.

There was no statistical difference in cesarean section rates among the three groups, but it looked like the numbers were trending in favor of true moxibustion: 51% of the women in the true moxibustion group had cesarean sections, compared to 62% of the fake moxibustion group and 59% of the usual care group.

Were there any safety concerns?

Overall, evidence showed that moxibustion treatment was safe. About 1 out of 3 women reported having contractions during the treatment, but there was no increase in the risk of preterm birth. Some women (14%) said they felt heart palpitations. One woman experienced a burn from the moxibustion. Other complaints from women in all three groups included heartburn, nausea and vomiting (2%), dizziness (1.7%), mild high blood pressure problems (1.7%), stomach pain (1.5%), and baby hiccups (1.2%). However, there were no differences among the three groups in the number of women who had these complaints. There were also no differences in newborn health issues or labor problems among the three groups. All of the babies had good Apgar scores five minutes after birth.

So what’s the bottom line?

• Evidence suggests that moxibustion—when combined with either acupuncture or postural techniques—is safe and increases your chances of turning a breech baby

• We still don’t know for sure which kind of moxibustion method (timing during pregnancy, number of sessions, length of sessions, etc.) works best for turning breech babies. However it appears that using moxibustion twice per day for two weeks (during 33-35 weeks of pregnancy) will work for 1 out of every 8 women.

• If women are interested in using Chinese medicine (moxibustion and acupuncture) to help turn a breech baby, they may want to consult a licensed acupuncturist who specializes in treatment of pregnant women.

Here is a video where an acupuncture physician shows how to use moxibustion to turn a breech baby:

Thank you to Kiné Fischler L.Ac. of Willow Tree Wellness Clinic, who provided feedback on this article.

As a childbirth educator or other birth professional, do you share information on moxibustion as a method that mothers might use to turn a breech baby?  How do you present this information?  How do the families you work with feel after learning about this option? If you did not cover this before, do you feel like you might start to include this information in your classes after reading Rebecca’s information here and on her blog? Are you aware of physicians who also encourage patients to try this treatment?  Please share your experiences in our comments section. I welcome your discussions. – SM

References

Cardini F. & Weixin H. (1998). Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 280(18), 1580-1584. Free full text: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=188144

Coyle ME, Smith CA, & Peat B. 2012. Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 5. Art. No: CD003928. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22592693

Vas J, Aranda-Regules JM, Modesto M, et al. (2013). Acupuncture Medicine 31: 31-38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23249535

About Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at a research-intensive university and the founder and author of EvidenceBasedBirth.com.  Rebecca’s vision is to promote evidence-based birth practices among consumers and clinicians worldwide. She publishes summaries of birth evidence using a Question and Answer style. The mission of Evidence Based Birth is to get birth evidence out of medical journals and into the hands of the public. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, Twitter or follow the Evidence Based Birth newsletter to get free printable handouts and other news.

 

 

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Guest Posts, New Research, Research , , , , , , , , , ,

Six Birth Blogs Every Childbirth Educator Should Be Reading

September 17th, 2013 by avatar

Today on Science & Sensibility, I wanted to share with readers some of my favorite birth related blogs, after Science & Sensibility of course! I subscribe to over 400 blogs, on a variety of topics, not just birth. I hope that someone has a larger blog list then I do, otherwise I will start to worry about how this might be an obsession.

I really enjoy reading what experts in the field of maternal and infant health have to say on their blogs and frequently find myself sharing information in my classes and with the families that I work with as well as with other professionals. I appreciate the effort, the research, the time and the energy that goes into making my favorite blogs so rich and useful for me, and so relevant to the work I do as an LCCE. 

Here are six of my favorite blogs, in no particular order:

1. Spinning Babies Blog

Midwife Gail Tully has long been well known for her website, Spinning Babies and her blog is an added bonus!  Gail frequently answers questions from readers, describes some new research she came across or shares a new technique to help babies move easier through the pelvis.  Here you can frequently find a video snippet you can use in your childbirth class, a book review or an inspiring birth story usually related to babies who chose to do things their way, as they work to be born.  

2. Evidence Based Birth

This blog burst onto the scene in mid-2012, and has been a fantastic resource ever since.  Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN is an assistant professor of nursing at a research university in the U.S. She teaches pathophysiology and pharmacology, but has a strong personal interest in birth, and hence the blog was created.  The mission of Evidence Based Birth is to “promote evidence-based practice during childbirth by providing research evidence directly to women and families.”  Rebecca takes a look at the big issues (failure to progress, big babies, low AFI, for example) that face women during their pregnancy and birth, and does a thorough job of evaluating all the research and explaining it in a logical, easy to understand post.  Rebecca sums up her posts with recommendations based on the evidence and gives readers the bottom line and take-away.  Additionally, there are “printables” that are concise versions of some of her blog posts that families can print out and take to appointments with their healthcare providers in order to help facilitate discussions about best practice.

3.  VBAC Facts

Jennifer Kamel has created a plethora of useful information on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) facts and statistics.  She founded her blog after doing a huge amount of research on the benefits and risks of VBAC, after her first birth ended in a Cesarean and she prepared for her second.   The amount of information, statistics, research summaries and discussion found on her blog is amazing.  Jen is a “numbers gal” and does a great job of explaining risks and numbers in an easy to understand presentation.  I frequently find myself going to her blog when I want to know the risk of placental complications after a cesarean or to better understand some of the new research and policy statements from ACOG and other professional organizations.  When 1 in 3 women in the US will give birth by Cesarean, it is good to have a resource such as VBACFacts.com to go to that can help me understand and explain options to families birthing after a cesarean.

4. The Well-Rounded Mama

Pamela Vireday has written “The Well-Rounded Mama” blog since 2008 and it has been a valuable resource for women of all sizes, when they are looking for answers and facts about options for birth.  The mission of the blog is “to provide general information about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, to discuss how to improve care for women of size, to raise awareness about the impact of weight stigma and discrimination on people of size, and to promote health by focusing on positive habits instead of numbers on a scale.” Pamela does an awesome job of gathering, explaining and summarizing research, particularly related to women of size, but in all honestly, extremely relevant to all birthing women.  I appreciate her plus size photo galleries of pregnant and breastfeeding women of size. If you might be a  woman who is larger than many of the models in today’s pregnancy magazines, seeing the gallery of women who look beautiful pregnant and breastfeeding, with a wide range of body shapes, can be comforting.  In addition to providing evidence based information,  Pamela answers some of the questions that plus sized mothers might have, but are hesitant to ask their healthcare provider, such as concerns about about whether fetal movement will be noticeable if they are larger sized.  A great blog, with relevant articles for all women!

5. Midwife Thinking

This blog is written by Rachel Reed, an Australian PhD midwife, who enjoys taking a look at the research and sharing her thoughts on how well the research is applied to application.  I enjoy reading her blog for that reason, and often find myself amazed that she chooses to write about the very topics that I wonder about and want to learn more on.  Rachel’s aim is to “stimulate thinking and share knowledge, evidence and views on birth and midwifery. ”  I also appreciate her “Down Under” perspective and celebrating the commonalities of birth across the many miles.  Rachel is not afraid to agree when the science backs up the “less popular” treatment and care amongst childbirth advocates, allowing the evidence to speak for itself and carefully explaining why.   Rachel does a great job of normalizing many of the topics that bog women down during labor and birth, such as the “anterior cervical lip” or “early labor and mixed messages.”  I like to share Rachel’s posts with families who are experiencing the very situation she is writing about.

6. ACOG President’s Blog

Every week, the current president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) writes a blog post on a matter of importance to women.  Not all the posts are on birth related topics, but I find it very interesting to see what Dr. Jeanne A. Conry, M.D. PhD shares with readers.  While some of her blogs are directed at her fellow physicians, many of the posts highlight information and resources directly related to women’s health, especially during the reproductive years.  I enjoy learning more about what Dr. Conry feels is important, and especially what messages and information she is directing to her colleagues. I appreciate her middle of the road approach and look forward to a new post every week.

I hope that you might consider following some of the blogs I mentioned here, if you are not already doing so.  I would also love if you shared your favorite blogs with myself and our Science & Sensibility readers.  I always have room for more good birth related blogs in my blog reader!  What blogs do you read?

ACOG, Authoritative Knowledge, Breastfeeding, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Continuing Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Maternity Care, Midwifery, Research, Science & Sensibility , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Evidence Based Birth Takes on Group B Strep: An Interview with Rebecca Dekker

April 9th, 2013 by avatar

http://flic.kr/p/KCS5

Occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Rebecca Dekker of Evidence Based Birth has spent the last month writing a blog article about Group B Strep and it is finally here! In her painstaking but clear review of the evidence on GBS in pregnancy, Rebecca came to the conclusion that universal screening and treatment for GBS is more effective than treating with antibiotics based on risk factors alone. She also found that although “probiotics, chlorhexadine, and garlic have the potential to reduce vaginal and newborn colonization with GBS, we do not have evidence yet to show that these strategies can prevent early GBS infections, since GBS infection usually occurs when GBS gains access to the amniotic fluid and gets into the fetus’s lungs during labor.”

To read Rebecca’s just released article, Group B Strep in Pregnancy: Evidence for Antibiotics and Alternatives in its entirety, click here.

Today, Rebecca joins us on Science & Sensibility to talk about her latest addition to Evidence Based Birth.

Sharon Muza: What inspired you to write this article?

Rebecca Dekker: I received more requests to write about Group B strep than any other topic! Over the past few months, I had weekly, sometimes daily emails and Facebook messages from women—all asking me to provide them with evidence about antibiotics, hibiclens, or garlic for preventing GBS infections. After about the 50th request, I figured I better set aside my other plans and focus on this topic, because it was clearly weighing heavily on many women’s minds! 

SM: What was the most difficult thing about writing this article?

RD: Probably the most difficult thing was sorting through the stacks and stacks of research articles that have been published about Group B strep in pregnancy. This was one of the reasons it took me almost a year of blogging before I decided to dive into group B strep. I knew it would be a monumental task. And it was. But I was fortunate enough to have an expert in GBS who helped point me to the most important or “landmark” studies.

SM: Who was this expert?

RD: I met Dr. Jessica Illuzzi via email earlier this year. She and I had corresponded about a different blog article, and at that time I found her to be incredibly helpful. I knew that in addition to being an OB, Dr. Illuzzi was a research expert in GBS. So I asked her if she would review my article for me. To be honest, I could not have written this article without her guidance. She read my first draft and basically told me that I needed to go back to the drawing board. She encouraged me to dig deeper into the evidence so that I would really understand it. Whenever I had questions about something, she sent me research articles that immediately answered my question. In the end, I knew the article was ready when she said it was a great summary of the state of the science of GBS. 

I was also lucky enough to have 2 other GBS experts give me feedback on the article—a GBS researcher and a microbiologist. And then I have several physicians who faithfully review all of my articles and give great suggestions. I am very grateful to all of them as well!

SM: I know that you usually begin your articles with an exploration of your own biases, in order to tease the bias out of your writing. Did you have any pre-existing biases about GBS? 

RD: To be honest, I actually had no biases up front. I was fortunate to always test negative for GBS myself, and so I never had to struggle with this issue before. I was pretty open-minded to the entire issue. I was open-minded to antibiotics. I was open-minded to hibiclens or other alternatives. I had no personal agenda. I simply wanted to get to the facts. Hopefully this lack of bias will shine through and help people respect the article even more.

 SM: What surprised you most as you wrote this article?

RD: One of the things that surprised me was how people have such different reactions when they read the evidence about GBS. I had several friends preview the article for me. Some of them instantly said, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a really high risk. I’d definitely take the antibiotics to prevent an infection in my newborn.” Others would say, “Really? That’s all? That’s not a very high risk at all. I wouldn’t take antibiotics for that level of risk.” This is a great example of how everyone perceives risk differently. But at least in this article I have been able to put some evidence-based facts out there. Let people interpret the risks as they may. I only ask that they talk with their health care provider before making any decisions!!

 SM: What do you think is the future of GBS evidence?

RD: Ten years from now I am guessing that I could write a very different article. I would like to think that by then we may have a vaccine on the horizon that could prevent both early GBS infections and GBS-related preterm birth. It would also be nice if the rapid test was affordable and widely available by then. I would also LOVE to see some solid research evidence on the use of probiotics for decreasing GBS colonization rates in pregnant women. As far as I know, probiotics for decreasing GBS hasn’t been studied yet in pregnant women, and I think it deserves further inquiry.  

SM:What makes your blog article about GBS different than all the other blog articles out there on this topic?

Rebecca Dekker

RD: I purposefully didn’t look at any of the other GBS blog articles out there until I finished my article. Yesterday, I read through a variety of blog articles (there are a lot!). Most of them were about 90-95% accurate in their facts. A couple of them had serious errors (in particular, I found one blog article that had inaccurate information about hibiclens). Most didn’t list any references, and I could tell that most of the blog authors had used secondary sources (other blogs or summary articles) instead of looking at the research evidence themselves. This can be fine, but sometimes it’s a bit like playing telephone: You just keep repeating the same facts over and over without checking to see if the evidence has changed or if the summary you are parroting was accurate in the first place. I’d like to think that my blog article is a very accurate assessment of the research evidence on GBS in pregnancy—translated into regular language so that women and their family members can understand the evidence. 

SM: What are you going to write about next?

RD: I don’t know!! What would YOU like to see me write about?

SM: I want to thank you Rebecca, for your contributions to Science & Sensibility and for sharing Evidence Based Birth with the world!  I know that these articles take a huge amount of time and you are very diligent and conscientious about researching the literature and providing only the best analysis possible,  and seeking out experts on the topic to help you really be sure that you are offering the best of the best of information.  I always enjoy reading your blog and find it a great source of information for my doula and CBE students and my birth doula clients as well. I know that I speak for all the readers here on Science & Sensibility when I say, keep on keeping on!  Do please let Rebecca know what you would like her to write about next!   

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What Is the Evidence for Perineal Massage During Pregnancy to Prevent Tearing?

December 18th, 2012 by avatar

By Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN of Evidence Based Birth

Do you talk about perineal massage with your students, clients and patients and state that perineal massage during pregnancy will/will not reduce tearing during birth?  today, Rebecca Dekker, of Evidence Based Birth takes a look at the research on perineal massage during pregnancy and provides information on the outcomes for women who practiced this and those who didn’t.  Does the research support what you have been saying? – Sharon Muza, Community Manager

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http://flic.kr/p/5XmJtL

Tearing during childbirth is a common occurrence among women who have a vaginal birth. In studies where the use of episiotomies was restricted, the rate of spontaneous tearing was recorded to be anywhere from 44-79% (Soong and Barnes 2005; Dahlen, Homer et al. 2007). Studies have consistently shown that women are more likely to experience tearing during a first vaginal birth and with forceps and vacuum assistance (Aasheim, Nilsen et al. 2011).

Spontaneous tears can be classified as first, second, third, or fourth degree tears. First degree tears involve only the perineal skin, while second degree tears involve both the skin and the perineal muscle. Third degree tears involve the anal sphincter, while fourth degree tears involve the anal sphincter and tissues. Third and fourth degree tears happen at 0.25% to 2.5% of spontaneous vaginal births (Byrd, Hobbiss et al. 2005; Groutz, Hasson et al. 2011).

Women are more likely to have a third or fourth degree tear if they are giving birth vaginally for the first time, if a baby is in the posterior position or has a heavier birth weight, and if forceps, vacuum, or episiotomy are used (Christianson, Bovbjerg et al. 2003; Groutz, Hasson et al. 2011; Hirayama, Koyanagi et al. 2012).

What is perineal massage?

It is thought that massaging the perineum during pregnancy can increase muscle and tissue elasticity and make it easier for a mother to avoid tearing during a vaginal birth. Typically, women are taught to spend about 10 minutes per day doing perineal massage, starting at about 34-35 weeks of pregnancy. Women are taught to insert 1-2 lubricated fingers about 2 inches into the vagina and apply pressure, first downward for 2 minutes, and then sideways for 2 minutes. The massage can be done by the woman or her partner, and sweet almond oil is sometimes used for lubrication (Labrecque, Eason et al. 1999).

What is the evidence for perineal massage?

In 2006, Beckmann and Garrett combined the results from four randomized, controlled trials that enrolled 2,497 pregnant women. Three of these studies involved only women without a previous vaginal birth (mostly first-time moms). One study enrolled women with and without a previous vaginal birth. All four of the studies were of very good quality.

Beckmann and Garrett found that women who were randomly assigned to do perineal massage had a 10% decrease in the risk of tears that required stitches (aka “perineal trauma”), and a 16% decrease in the risk of episiotomy—but these findings were only true for first-time moms.

It is important for you to understand that this is a 10% reduction in relative risk, and relative risk is different than absolute risk. Let me give you an example. Say you are a first-time mom, and let’s pretend your absolute risk of perineal trauma is 50%. A 10% decrease in relative risk means that your absolute risk decreases by 5% (because .5 X .1 = .05). So for you, doing perineal massage reduces your absolute risk of perineal trauma from 50% to 45%.

*As a side note, all of the numbers I am reporting below are changes in relative risk.

Importantly, for second-time moms who had already had a vaginal birth, prenatal perineal massage did not reduce the risk of perineal trauma (any tearing requiring stitches). However, second-time moms who massaged did report a 32% decrease in the risk of ongoing perineal pain at 3 months post-partum.

Surprisingly, Beckmann and Garrett found that the more frequently women used perineal massage, the less likely they were to see any benefits. Women who massaged an average of 1.5 times per week had a 17% reduced risk of perineal trauma and a 17% reduced risk of episiotomy. Women who massaged between 1.5-3.4 times per week had an 8% reduced risk of perineal trauma.

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Interestingly, women who massaged > 3.5 times per week experienced NO benefits and had a longer pushing phase of labor by an average of 10 minutes. So basically the finding was: the less frequent the massage, the better off the outcomes. However, this finding was unexpected, and the researchers had a hard time explaining it. I think we should interpret this result with caution, because in the largest clinical trial on perineal massage (included in Beckmann and Garrett’s review), Labrecque et al. (1999) found that the more often women did the massage, the more likely they were to avoid any tears.

Other results: 

There were no differences between women who did prenatal perineal massage and those who did not with regard to:

  • • First degree tears
  • • Second degree tears
  • • Third or fourth degree trauma
  • • Use of forceps or vacuum during delivery
  • • Sexual satisfaction 3 months post-partum
  • • Pain with sexual intercourse 3 months post-partum
  • • Uncontrolled loss of urine or bowel movements 3 months postpartum

Wait, I’m confused. You say that there was a significant decrease in perineal trauma requiring suturing. But there was no difference in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th degree tears. How can this be?

It’s important for you to understand that perineal trauma is an “umbrella” category that means all types of trauma requiring stitches, including episiotomies. Perineal massage during pregnancy decreased the overall risk of perineal trauma (the umbrella outcome), but the effect was too weak to see any difference with each of the individual outcomes (first degree, second degree, etc.). Also, the researchers think that the overall decrease in perineal trauma may have been due to the decreased episiotomy rate in the perineal massage group.

Why would perineal massage during pregnancy reduce the rate of episiotomies, but not tears?

The researchers guess that the women who were trained in perineal massage were highly motivated to birth with an intact perineum, so maybe they were more likely to refuse an episiotomy. Fewer episiotomies would then mean fewer incidents of trauma requiring stitches.

So what can we learn from the evidence?

During pregnancy, massage of the perineum can reduce the risk of tearing requiring stitches, but this benefit is only seen in moms giving birth vaginally for the first time. It is thought that most of the decreased risk of perineal trauma was due to a decrease in the episiotomy rate. In the largest study included in this review (Labrecque et al., 1999), there was an overall episiotomy rate of 38%. In the U.S., 25% of women have an episiotomy during a vaginal birth (Declercq, Sakala et al. 2007), and rates are even lower for some providers.  It is possible that these research findings might not apply to birth settings where episiotomies are extremely rare.

Second time moms who use perineal massage will not see any decrease in their risk of tearing, but they may reduce their risk of ongoing perineal pain at 3 months postpartum.

So in summary, for first-time moms only:

Perineal massage during pregnancy

Decreased risk of episiotomy

Decreased risk of trauma requiring stitches

If women choose to use perineal massage during pregnancy, there is no consensus on the amount of massage needed to reduce the risk of tearing.

Questions for discussion: Do you recommend prenatal perineal massage to others? Have your thoughts about this intervention changed after reading this article? 

References

Aasheim, V., A. B. Nilsen, et al. (2011). “Perineal techniques during the second stage of labour for reducing perineal trauma.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(12): CD006672.

Beckmann, M. M. and A. J. Garrett (2006). “Antenatal perineal massage for reducing perineal trauma.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev(1): CD005123.

Byrd, L. M., J. Hobbiss, et al. (2005). “Is it possible to predict or prevent third degree tears?” Colorectal Dis 7(4): 311-318.

Christianson, L. M., V. E. Bovbjerg, et al. (2003). “Risk factors for perineal injury during delivery.” Am J Obstet Gynecol 189(1): 255-260.

Dahlen, H. G., C. S. Homer, et al. (2007). “Perineal outcomes and maternal comfort related to the application of perineal warm packs in the second stage of labor: a randomized controlled trial.” Birth 34(4): 282-290.

Declercq, E. R., C. Sakala, et al. (2007). “Listening to Mothers II: Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences: Conducted January-February 2006 for Childbirth Connection by Harris Interactive(R) in partnership with Lamaze International.” J Perinat Educ 16(4): 9-14.

Groutz, A., J. Hasson, et al. (2011). “Third- and fourth-degree perineal tears: prevalence and risk factors in the third millennium.” Am J Obstet Gynecol 204(4): 347 e341-344.

Hirayama, F., A. Koyanagi, et al. (2012). “Prevalence and risk factors for third- and fourth-degree perineal lacerations during vaginal delivery: a multi-country study.” BJOG 119(3): 340-347.

Labrecque, M., E. Eason, et al. (1999). “Randomized controlled trial of prevention of perineal trauma by perineal massage during pregnancy.” Am J Obstet Gynecol 180(3 Pt 1): 593-600.

Soong, B. and M. Barnes (2005). “Maternal position at midwife-attended birth and perineal trauma: is there an association?” Birth 32(3): 164-169.

About Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at a research-intensive university and author of www.evidencebasedbirth.com. Rebecca’s vision is to promote evidence-based birth practices among consumers and clinicians worldwide. She publishes summaries of birth evidence using a Question and Answer style.

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