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

July 3rd, 2014 by avatar

By Mindy Cockeram, LCCE

Today’s blog post is a repost of one of the most popular posts ever shared on our blog. It is written by Mindy Cockeram, LCCE.  Mindy explores the “mystical” red/purple line that has been observed to provide information about cervical dilation without the need for a vaginal exam. Have you seen such a line.  Do you have other ways of identifying dilation that do not involve cervical exams?  Please share in the comments- Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

When couples in my classes are learning techniques for coping in labor, such as the Sacral Rub (sacrum counterpressure), Double Hip Squeeze and Bladder32 accupressure points,  I always talk about the great position the partner is in for spotting the red, purple or dark line (depending on skin color) that creeps up between the laboring woman’s buttocks and how – by ‘reading’ that line – he or she may be able to assess more accurately the woman’s cervical progress than the health care providers!  This empowering thought is often met with smiles and laughter especially when I translate ‘natal cleft’ into more recognizable words like ‘butt cleavage’.  Strangely, I’ve never had anyone in class mention having heard of this ‘thermometer’ for accessing cervical dilation by sight and I find this interesting considering the number of medical professionals that come through my classes.

Photo CC http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexyra/214829536/

I first came across this body of research as an Antenatal Student Teacher with the National Childbirth Trust in London.  The article I was reading was in Practising Midwife and was a ‘look back’ at the original article (Hobbs, 1998) published in the same magazine.  The original Practising Midwife article was based on a letter referencing a small study by Byrne DL & Edmonds DK published in The Lancet in 1990.

In the 1990 letter to The Lancet, Byrne and Edmonds outlined and graphed 102 observations from eighteen midwifes on 48 laboring women. It states “The red line was seen on 91 (89%) occasions, and was completely absent in five (10.4%) women and initially absent in three (6.25%).”  The report then goes on to talk about the “significant correlation between the station of the fetal head and the red line length.”  Later the authors write: “To our knowledge, this is the first report of this red line.  We believe that it represents a clinical sign which is easy to recognize and which may offer valuable information in obstetric management.”

So how does this line work?  And why does this it appear?  Practising Midwife Magazine presented a graphic which I have attempted to recreate here.  Basically as the baby descends, a red/purplish (or perhaps brown depending on skin color) line creeps up from the anus to the top of the natal cleft in between the bottom cheeks.  When the line reaches the top of the natal cleft, 2nd stage is probably a matter of minutes away.  A line sitting an inch below the natal cleft is probably in transition.  A line just above the anus probably signifies early labor.

Byrne DL & Edmonds DK, the authors of the original study, surmise that the cause of the line is “vasocongestion at the base of the sacrum.” Furthermore, the authors reason that “this congestion possibly occurs because of increasing intrapelvic pressure as the fetal head descends, which would account for the correlation between station of the fetal head and red line length.”  Fascinating and logical!

Interestingly, I came across a 2nd Scottish study from 2010 published by BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth: (Shepherd A, Cheyne H, Kennedy S, McIntosh C, Styles M & Niven C) which aimed to assess the  percentage of women in which a line appeared (76%. ) The study cited only 48-56% accuracy of vaginal examinations to determine cervix diameter and fetal station.  So why aren’t clinicians using this less invasive visual measure – especially considering how much some women may dread vaginal exams in labor??  Wouldn’t the thought of using a methodology to lower infection rate after rupture of membranes has occurred enthuse Health Care Providers instead of using higher risk techniques?  Or how about using the accuracy of the line at the natal cleft to know when a women using epidural should really be coached to push?

My educated guess is that this information has not yet reached Medical Textbooks and non-standard practices can take years to become mainstream (for example. delayed cord clamping) – and then only if or when women request them or media sensation activates them.  In addition, since laboring women are only intermittently attended by Labor & Delivery staff during early and active labor and often encouraged to “stay in bed,” Health Care Providers aren’t necessarily faced with a woman’s buttocks in labor.  Also vaginal examinations are considered “accurate” so staff have no need to peek between a woman’s natal cleft.   However both these studies, paired with the roughly 50% accuracy rate of manual vaginal exams, show that there is potentially a more accurate and less invasive way ahead.

In The Practising Midwife (Jan 2007, Vol 10 no 1, pg 27), Lesley Hobbs writes “Accurate reading would seem to the key to this practice.  I sometimes notice in myself a wish to see the line progressing more quickly than it actually does; when I do this – and check with a vaginal exam – only to find the line is right, I get annoyed with myself and wish I’d trusted my observations.”  Later she goes on to say “I can now envisage a time when I shall feel confident enough to use this as my formal measurement mechanism and abandon intrusive and superfluous vaginal exams.”

Licensed Midwife Karen Baker from Yucaipa, CA commented “The purple line is a curious thing.  It’s definitely not present on everybody but is more prominent on some than others – especially right before pushing.  It tells us when she’s in full swing if we are in a good position to spot it!”

I often urge couples to send me a picture of the so called ‘purple line’ which I promise I will use only for educational purposes but so far a picture is as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster.  So, as I say in class, ‘show me your purple line’!

Are you a midwife, doctor, nurse or doula who has observed this in a client or patient? Partners, have you seen this when your partner was in labor? Has anyone heard of it or witnessed it?  If you are a childbirth educator, do you feel this is something that you might mention in your classes?  Do you think that the families in your classes might be likely to ask for this type of assessment if they knew about it? Please comment and share your experiences.

References

Byrne DL, Edmonds DK. 1990, Clinical method for evaluating progress in first stage labour.Lancet. 1990 Jan 13;335(8681):122.

Downe S, Gyte GML, Dahlen HG, Singata M. Routine vaginal examinations for assessing progress of labour to improve outcomes for women and babies at term (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD010088. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010088.

Hobbs 1998. Assessing cervical dilatation without Vaginal Exams. Watching the purple line. The Practising Midwife 1(11):34-5.

About Mindy Cockeram

Mindy Cockeram is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator teaching for a large network of hospitals in Southern California.  She has a BA in Communications from Villanova University and qualified as an Antenatal Teacher through the United Kingdom’s National Childbirth Trust (NCT) in 2006.  A native of the Philadelphia area, she spent 20 years in London before relocating to Redlands, CA in 2010.

 

 

 

 

Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Midwifery, New Research , , , , ,

Childhood Sexual Abuse as a Risk Factor for Postpartum Depression- Part 2: The Educator’s Role

June 5th, 2014 by avatar
© CC Smoochi: http://flickr.com/photos/smadars/4758708634

© CC Smoochi: http://flickr.com/photos/smadars/4758708634

Kathy Morelli, perinatal mental health expert and S&S contributor is sharing information about the impact of childhood sexual abuse on women during the childbearing year.  Tuesday, in Part 1,  Kathy discussed the brain changes that can occur as a result of such abuse and today, Kathy shares the impact during the childbearing year and the role of the childbirth educator.  - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

How do these underlying biological changes affect a woman during the childbearing year?

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and a woman’s subsequent reproductive life, including menstruation, pregnancy, birth and ongoing sexuality, occur at different times, maybe even in different decades, in a woman’s life. Yet, in clinical practice and in the research, these issues are intertwined.

In general, the research indicates that women who experienced childhood sexual abuse have more emotional distress in pregnancy, which directly impacts their physical health, which then impacts their pregnancy and leads to more medical interventions (Lev-Weisel, Daphna- Tekoah, and Hallak, 2009).

The somatic, body-based feelings in pregnancy can be re-triggering to a woman who has deep, non-verbal somatic memories of childhood sexual abuse. It’s important that women receive sensitive reproductive care, both physically and emotionally. An unaccepting attitude from her healthcare providers can trigger deeply held feelings of helplessness, fear, low self-worth and shame and actual flashbacks, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Lev-Weisel, Daphna- Tekoah, and Hallak, 2009).

The obvious sexual themes resonate on multiple levels: body-based, emotional and psychological. Yet, there hasn’t been lot of research about how a history of childhood sexual abuse impacts a woman’s mental health during pregnancy and postpartum. However, what research exists, finds that women who suffered from childhood sexual abuse have an elevated risk of postpartum depression (Lev-Weisel, Daphna- Tekoah, and Hallak, 2009).

There are a lot of body-based feelings in pregnancy that could be re-triggering to a woman who has deep, non-verbal somatic memories of childhood sexual abuse, even if she is being treated with respect and kindness in the present day.

Pregnancy

Prenatally, simple things such as the position of a woman’s body as she lays on her to be checked vaginally can bring back non-verbal emotional memories of past abuse. The baby moving inside her body might cause intense joy, but might also create an underlying, non-verbal uneasiness.

Birth

Childbirth is an intense experience; a time of hormonal, physical and emotional exertion. Due to the pre-existing priming of early trauma memory networks – an intense distressful emotion, a particular scent, or a body position – can trigger flashbacks to earlier traumatic experiences. Feeling powerless, not heard, or disregarded by healthcare providers during childbirth, can activate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Her present day feelings of powerlessness and fear are amplified by pre-existing traumatic memories (Beck, Driscoll & Watson, 2013).

Remember the disregard by the medical professionals may just be due to the rush of the medical team as they attend professionally to a medical emergency. The medical protocol doesn’t have a person assigned to talking and listening to the mother during the event, so she feels disregarded (Beck, Driscoll & Watson, 2013).

However, even if she is being treated in a kind way, your client’s body positioning or a scent can recollect something from her past trauma. In an uncanny and timeless way, her body and mind remember the past and take her back to feelings of fear and helplessness. She may wordlessly freeze or panic, for what seems to be no present day reason.

Postpartum

Postpartum, there are physical, emotional and psychological factors feeding emotional health. As has been noted over and over again, a pre-existing personal depressive or anxiety disorder (PTSD is in the spectrum of anxiety disorders) will set up the body up for another episode postpartum. Drs. Deborah Sichel and Jeanne Driscoll (2000) say the brain chemistry “remembers” its previous old depressive pathway and finds its way back there. Plus, there’s a major swing in hormonal activity in your body as you adjust from high levels of pregnancy and birth hormones to pre-pregnancy levels. This adjustment is different for all women, depending on whether or not they are breastfeeding and on their individual differences in metabolism and individual sensitivity level to their own hormonal shifts (Sichel and Driscoll, 2000).

For new parents who grew up in an abusive home, there’s the added challenge of the emotional and psychological work required to examine and modify negative repetitive childhood patterns. It’s not an easy task for your client as she evaluates her past behavioral, emotional and psychological patterns and replaces them with new and more positive patterns about family life and parenting. This adds another level of complexity to parenting a newborn, itself a major lifestyle adjustment.

Adjusting to a new lifestyle with an infant and baby care is physically and emotionally challenging. Feelings of frustration emerge as your client adjusts her schedule yet again to accommodate her baby plus the endless touching and carrying may leave her feeling like her body isn’t her own anymore. Breastfeeding may feel triggering to some women if it invokes past experiences.

A Childbirth Educator Can Help

Childbirth educators can play a key role in helping a woman who has survived childhood sexual abuse to proactively manager her experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum.The good news is that, even with all these challenges, it’s important to realize that your client’s childhood sexual abusive does NOT define her. There are many aspects of the self that compose her constellation of self-definition.

The human mind and body are plastic, so the past isn’t destiny. Remember to factor in the resiliency of human nature. With patience and perseverance, human beings can move beyond survivorship, learn to bloom and move into the “thriving” phase.

However, learning to thrive is not an easy task. There are no “five steps” here! Managing the effects of an abusive childhood is an ongoing, deeply personal experience. It’s honorable life work, and highly individualized. As your client moves along her healing path, she’ll choose what feels right for her.

She can work positively on herself and experience post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is inner growth through personal development. It’s possible for her to experience this growth arising from her painful experience, with her own inner work.

Below are some positive ideas you may want to keep in mind as you teach your childbirth education curriculum to a diverse set of families. Your raised consciousness will help create an inclusive space for women survivors CSA to enhance her experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

Be sensitive to the emotional aspects of working with someone recovering from CSA.

Help her honor the importance of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood

  • Encourage women to honor their experience of childbirth as the important developmental life passage it is. CSA survivors may tend to dissociate and dismiss their experiences
  • Encourage women to interview some providers. Have a list of referrals of gynecologists/obstetricians/midwives that you know are open to and sensitive to working with women recovering from CSA
  • Encourage women to give themselves the respect of investigating the hospital or birth center where her provider practices
  • Allow women to have the freedom to have a personally honorable birth experience, in any manner that birth happens
  • Allow women to feel that they are not less of a woman or a mother, however the birth experience happens. Each woman gets to choose her path in childbirth. Not other people or the unseen, but felt, social pressures.
  • People heal individually at their own pace.
  • Don’t pressure women to use her childbirth experience as a healing ritual. Childbirth is a life-changing experience, and each woman gets to choose how to experience this. If she wants to explore the idea of birth as healing, encourage her to be open to many options. But birth is unpredictable, don’t put this out there as the only way to define healing. There are many paths to healing.
  • Help her by doing what you’re best at: demystify childbirth while accepting her choices. Don’t impose your personal agenda about what is right and wrong for her birth experience
  • If she has alot of anxiety about childbirth, honor her by encouraging her to put in the emotional work with a mental health professional. Childbirth education, while important, may not be enough to manage anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Prenatal fear of childbirth increases the likelihood of postpartum depression.
  • Encourage her to develop a daily, holistic relaxation practice to counteract the effects of stress imbalance

Discuss postpartum planning in your curriculum

  • Have a babymoon/postpartum plan in place
  • Encourage women to practice self-love by allowing time to rest
  • Encourage women to gentle with themselves – pregnancy and childbirth puts body and mind through a lot of hormonal changes!
  • Educate her about hormonal changes. Hormonal balance takes at least three months to come back to pre-pregnancy levels. The hormonal adjustments are individualized; it also depends on if the mother is breastfeeding or not.
  • Educate women to protect her fourth trimester, and help her body shift to-wards balance:
    • Rest; develop the mindset of being, not doing
    • Practice good nutrition with whole foods and good supplements
    • Get help: If she can afford it, time with a postpartum doula or a baby nurse will help her achieve balance and rest
    • Don’t underestimate the power of sleep; discuss sleep planning
    • Practice mindfulness and relaxation to counteract the inevitable chal-lenges of caring for a new born and the emotional change of identity in motherhood
  • Complementary care is nurturing, safe touch helps rebalance the body and mind
  • Social support is important. Have resources available. Women who “Tend and Befriend” in real life and online help mothers feel supported, Women and birth circles are important resources.
  • Expect emotional ups and downs
  • De-stigmatize professional help; there’s a lot of professional help available. If she feels very sad or anxious, it’s ok to seek help.

As a childbirth professional, you can positively affect your clients and their families. Know that childhood sexual abuse,  though prevalent, doesn’t define people, they can work through it to experience positive personal growth, through resilience and post-traumatic growth.

References

Beck, C. Driscoll, J., and S. Watson (2013). Traumatic childbirth. New York: Routledge Press.

Lev-Weisel, R., Daphna- Tekoah, S., Hallak, M. (2009). Childhood sexual abuse as a predictor of birth-related posttraumatic stress and postpartum posttraumatic stress. Child Abuse and Neglect, 33, 877-887.
Perez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S. & Blanco, C., (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: a national study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 5(1), 16-27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22854279

Plaza, A., Garcia-Estave, L., Ascaso, C., Navarro, P, et al. (2010). Childhood sex-ual abuse and hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis in postpartum major depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 122, 159-163.

Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J. (2000).Women’s Moods. New York: Harper Paperbacka.

Yampolsky, L., Lev-Wiesel, R., & Ben-Zion, I. Z. (2010). Child sexual abuse: is it a risk factor for pregnancy?. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66(9), 2025-2037. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05387.x

Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression , , , , , , , ,

Childhood Sexual Abuse as a Risk Factor for Postpartum Depression – Part 1

June 3rd, 2014 by avatar

Childhood sexual abuse can play a key role as a risk factor for postpartum depression.  Kathy Morelli takes a look at the impact of this horrible childhood event on a woman during her childbearing year.  Today, in Part 1 – we learn how the brain actually undergoes changes as a result of the trauma experienced.  On Thursday, Kathy Morelli will discuss how the woman who has experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and what affect that has on her during the childbearing year,(pregnancy, birth and postpartum)  along with information and tips  for what childbirth educators can do.  Join us on Thursday for Childhood Sexual Abuse as a Risk Factor for Postpartum Depression – Part 2. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

© CC Michelle Brea: http://flickr.com/photos/itsallaboutmich/451493421

© CC Michelle Brea: http://flickr.com/photos/itsallaboutmich/451493421

Woman to Woman Support

As I’ve said in my previous articles about Perinatal Mental Health, Lamaze childbirth professionals are very often the first point of contact for pregnant and new mothers. You’re an important resource in your community about pregnancy and childbirth, so becoming educated about the signs of perinatal mood/anxiety disorders and having an awareness about the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse (12% -20% of women) is an important aspect of your knowledge base. This article is meant to:

  • Increase awareness about the emotional aspects of surviving childhood sexual abuse (CSA)
  • Present a broad overview about the research regarding CSA
  • Present how CSA impacts a woman holistically, over her lifespan
  • Present how CSA impacts a woman specifically during childbearing
  • Discuss the complex recovery process from CSA
  • Generate ideas about whom to add to your community resource and referral list
  • Encourage being effective and supportive while preserving your own personal, certification and/or licensure boundaries

Remember, you may be the first person with whom she feels safe enough to discuss her personal history, even before her healthcare provider and sometimes even before her family. You can help out by being positively aware, being appropriately supportive and providing a list of contacts in the community and online.

Holistic View of a Woman’s Emotional History

Whenever a woman comes into my office for help for feelings of emotional and somatic distress during her pregnancy, childbirth experience and postpartum, I look at her life holistically, across her lifespan. I don’t assume, but I wonder, if she might be in that estimated 12% – 20% of women who have been sexually abused in their lifetime.

Is there a likelihood that past abuse affects how a woman feels about herself during pregnancy and childbirth and can be an underlying causative factor for antenatal depression or anxiety?

The research literature about the link between a woman’s past childhood sexual abuse and distress during pregnancy is scarce, but emergent research does show a connection.

How does a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) intersect with postpartum depression? This is a complicated question, but I’ll try to list some influential factors.

The HPA Axis is Modified: Fear and panic of CSA alters internal stress response

In general, research shows us that people who suffered from childhood sexual abuse (CSA) have a higher incidence of emotional, psychological and social distress, in addition to post-traumatic and physical, or somatic, symptoms. Specifically, research shows us that adult survivors of CSA suffer from higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular symptoms (Plaza et al, 2010).

Women who have suffered past childhood sexual abuse suffer more unexplained gynecological symptoms, such as recurrent pelvic pain and more painful periods and sexual dysfunction than women who don’t have a traumatic sexual history (Lev-Weisel, Daphna- Tekoah, and Hallak, 2009). The stress and fear from childhood abuse manifests later on in adult life on all levels: body, mind and spirit.

What are some of the physical processes underlying this distress on the body and mind levels?

Researchers believe that long-term negative emotions, such as fear, panic and pain, cause an over-activation of the neural pathways in the brain associated with these strong emotions. The internal production of neurotransmitters, which affect mood, is affected. So chronic emotional stress impacts brain health.

The brain communicates with the pituitary and adrenal glands via the feedback loop called the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Cortex Axis (HPA Axis). The pituitary and adrenal glands are responsible for hormone production, which, in turn, affects the brain and our emotional state (Plaza et al, 2010).

During long-term childhood sexual abuse, the HPA Axis is continually activated and, with overactivation, the stress response becomes chronic, persisting throughout a lifetime. Thus, the chronic over-activation of the fear and pain response underlies anxiety disorders and chronic pain syndromes across the lifespan (Plaza et al, 2010).

During pregnancy and postpartum, hormonal changes are very dramatic, so there’s an additional adjustment for the mind and body to cope with. Thus, the hormonal changes during pregnancy also impact brain health via the pituitary and adrenal glands feedback loop.

Brain Development is Modified: Fear and panic of CSA can inhibit encoding of memories

Research shows that chronic fear and stress in childhood can actually inhibit the growth of some brain structures. In fact, some parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, which is in charge of memory, are smaller in CSA survivors than people who were not abused in childhood. So, recollection of childhood memories is impaired.

In addition, brain imaging shows brain development is hindered in that there are less robust connections between the emotional part of the brain and the upper part of the brain (Plaza et al, 2010).

How do these underlying biological changes affect a person’s emotional health?

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse survivors are known to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which has a constellation of symptoms on many levels: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, somatic pain, flashbacks and dissociative episodes.

Events that occured long ago in a woman’s life can still play a large role in her mental and physical health when she is pregnant, birthing and in the postpartum period. Join us on Thursday for Childhood Sexual Abuse as a Risk Factor for Postpartum Depression- Part 2: The Childbirth Educator’s Role.- SM

References

Beck, C. Driscoll, J., and S. Watson (2013). Traumatic childbirth. New York: Routledge Press.

Lev-Weisel, R., Daphna- Tekoah, S., Hallak, M. (2009). Childhood sexual abuse as a predictor of birth-related posttraumatic stress and postpartum posttraumatic stress. Child Abuse and Neglect, 33, 877-887.
Perez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S. & Blanco, C., (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: a national study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 5(1), 16-27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22854279

Plaza, A., Garcia-Estave, L., Ascaso, C., Navarro, P, et al. (2010). Childhood sex-ual abuse and hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis in postpartum major depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 122, 159-163.

Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J. (2000).Women’s Moods. New York: Harper Paperbacka.

Yampolsky, L., Lev-Wiesel, R., & Ben-Zion, I. Z. (2010). Child sexual abuse: is it a risk factor for pregnancy?. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66(9), 2025-2037. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05387.x

Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, Uncategorized , , , , , , ,

“Break Time for Nursing Mothers” – It’s the Law!

May 8th, 2014 by avatar

By Kathleen Marinelli, M.D.

In honor of Mother’s Day, which is coming up this weekend, I thought it would be important to talk about a challenge that many mothers face after having a baby.  Returning to work and continuing to breastfeed their baby.  Many countries offer a generous leave for new mothers, but here in the USA, it is not uncommon for a new mother to find herself back at work 6 weeks after giving birth.  So many challenges face these women, and the added pressure of work environment that is unsupportive of the breastfeeding relationship and the mother’s need to have a private, appropriate place to pump and store her  milk while separated from her baby is not only critical, it’s the law.  Today on Science & Sensibility, Kathleen Marinelli, M.D, the Chairwoman of the United States Breastfeeding Committee updates us on the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law and shares resources for clients and students who are returning to work and breastfeeding.  While this day seems far away to families sitting in  a childbirth class, making space for this discussion and sharing resources can help women to continue to breastfeeding smoothly after returning to work. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

With more than half of women with infants employed, simple workplace accommodations are critical for breastfeeding success. By helping moms understand their rights as a breastfeeding employee and plan for their return to work, childbirth educators, doulas, health care providers and lactation care providers can support a successful transition so that working moms are supported to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.

The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day. The United States Breastfeeding Committee’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law compiles key information to ensure every family and provider has access to accurate and understandable information on this law.

Key Facts about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law:

Who is covered: The law applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Space: Employers are required to provide a place that is not a bathroom. It must be completely private so that no one can see inside. Employers are not required to create a permanent dedicated space for breastfeeding employees. As long as the space is available each time the employee needs it, the employer is meeting the space requirements.

Time: The law requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time, recognizing that how often and how much time it takes to pump is different for every mother. Employees should consider all the steps necessary to pump, including the time it will take to gather pumping supplies, get to the space, pump, clean up, and return to their workspace. Employers must provide time and space each time the employee needs it throughout her work day.

Enforcement: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. If an employer refuses to comply, employees can file a complaint by calling the toll-free WHD number 1-800-487-9243.

Small Businesses: All employers, regardless of their size or number of employees, must comply with the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. Following a complaint from a breastfeeding employee, businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to apply for an undue hardship exemption. To receive an exemption for that employee, the employer must prove that providing these accommodations would cause “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Until they are granted an exemption by the Department of Labor, they must comply with the law.

State laws: Employees who are not covered by the “Break Time” law may be covered by a state law. Contact your state breastfeeding coalition for help understanding the breastfeeding laws where you serve.

The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law was an important victory for families, but breastfeeding success shouldn’t depend on a mom’s job type. The Supporting Working Moms Act would expand the existing federal law to cover approximately 12 million additional salaried employees, including elementary and secondary school teachers. We can all help make this happen! Use USBC’s easy action tool to ask your legislators to cosponsor the Supporting Working Moms Act with just a few clicks. Twelve million employees are counting on us! As Surgeon General Regina Benjamin advised us, “Everyone can help make breastfeeding easier.”

We know that workplace lactation support is a “win-win”, benefiting families, employers, and the economy, yet one of the major causes for the drop-off in breastfeeding rates is the lack of effective, reasonable workplace accommodations when mothers return to work. Employers that provide lactation support experience an impressive return on investment, including lower healthcare costs, absenteeism, and turnover rates, with improved morale, job satisfaction, and productivity. The retention rate for employees of companies with lactation support programs is 94%, while the national average is only 59%!

Breastfeeding and working is not only possible, it’s good for business. Find additional information and resources in USBC’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law and help spread the word about this valuable new resource with your clients by sharing this link: www.usbreastfeeding.org/workplace-law.

Moms, babies and employers everywhere will be glad you did!!

Important links and information:

Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law
Action Alert: Supporting Working Moms Act
Directory of State, Territorial, and Tribal Breastfeeding Coalitions
United States Department of Labor Employee Rights Card
Wage and Hour Division Break Time for Nursing Mothers Webpage
The Business Case for Breastfeeding

Do you talk to patients, students and clients about tips for successful re-entry into the workforce while still breastfeeding a baby?  What are your favorite resources to offer women so they know their rights and understand the responsibilities of their employer to assist them in continuing to express breastmilk for their baby. If you are not mentioning this to your families, maybe you will consider how important this information is after reading today’s blogpost and consider passing on these resources.  - SM

About Kathleen Marinelli, M.D.

Marinellii-head shotDr. Kathleen Marinelli is the Chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee, an independent nonprofit coalition of almost 50 nationally influential professional, educational, and governmental organizations, that share a common mission to improve the Nation’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding, where she represents the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. She is also a Neonatologist and Breastfeeding Medicine Physician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, in the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

 

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Parenting an Infant , , , ,

Peanut Balls for Labor – A Valuable Tool for Promoting Progress?

April 8th, 2014 by avatar

 Today, Andrea Lythgoe, LCCE and doula, takes a look at the peanut ball as a tool for promoting labor progress for women resting in bed or with an epidural.  Many more facilities are making this new tool available to laboring women. Childbirth educators will benefit by understanding how to teach peanut ball use to families in the classroom and those professionals who attend births will want to know about the benefits and proper usage as well. Andrea shares the research that is available along with the personal perspectives of those who have used them firsthand. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

PeanutBall-measure

Most experienced peanut ball users recommend either the 45 cm or 55 cm sized peanut ball. The size is measured from the floor to the tallest point on one of the larger ends. Because it will be used between the legs to open up the pelvic outlet, you don’t want it to be as large as the balls that are used for sitting and swaying. As I learned about the peanut ball, I found that many moms who did not like the peanut ball in labor felt it was too big. For this reason, I chose to purchase and use the 45 cm sized ball, which is the size used in the photos that accompany this article.

The peanut ball is most commonly used when mom needs to remain in the bed, whether because of epidural use, complications, or simply because mom is exhausted. There are two main ways in which peanut balls are used, with plenty of room for variation. The first is with mom in a semi reclined position, one leg over the ball, one leg to the side of the ball. The ball is pushed as close to mom’s hips as is comfortable. As the ball can have a tendency to slide away from the mom, a rolled up towel can be used to hold it in place. This position seems to be most commonly used to promote dilation and descent with a well-positioned baby.

The second common use is with mom in a side-lying or semi-prone position, with the peanut ball being used to lift the upper leg and open the pelvic outlet. The ball can be angled so that the leg hooks around the narrower part, or aligned with both mom’s knee and ankle resting on the ball. Mom’s comfort level is key to knowing the right placement. Most women who used this position used it to help rotate a posterior baby to a more favorable position for delivery.

PeanutBallCollage

© Maternal Focus

The Research

There is not much research out there on the use of the peanut ball. In my search, I found one study, presented as a poster presentation at the 2011 AWHONN Convention. Tussey and Botsois (2011) randomized 200 women (uncomplicated labor with an epidural) into two groups. One group used the peanut ball in either the semi Fowler’s position (bottom photos) or the sidelying position (top photos), switching sides every 1-2 hours. The sample size was small, but the results were very promising. The first stage of labor was shorter by an average of 90 minutes, and second stage was roughly half as long (43.5 min in the control group, 21.3 min in the peanut ball group). The use of vacuum and forceps was also lower in the peanut ball group. There were no serious adverse events reported in the study. This looks very promising, and I will be watching for more studies on the peanut ball in future years.

Many have speculated that the more upright semi Fowler’s position might also be helpful in preventing the increase in operative deliveries seen with epidurals (Anim-Somuah (2011), but a recent Cochrane Review found insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear effect. (Kemp, 2013) A similar review looking at the benefits of upright positions in moms without an epidural did show some benefit. (Gupta, 2012)

Since it is known that babies in an Occiput Posterior (OP) position can increase the length of second stage and the rate of operative delivery (Lieberman, 2013; Caseldine, 2013) the reports of posterior babies turning when the peanut ball is used may be a big reason for its effectiveness.

The Mother’s Experience

Jennifer Padilla, a mom who used the peanut ball in labor, described to me her experience with using the ball to rotate her posterior baby after 20 hours of labor. She had an epidural that did not take as well as she would have liked, and still found the peanut ball in the side lying position to be comfortable enough to take short naps. She said it took 1-2 hours with the peanut ball to rotate her baby, but that once the baby rotated to an anterior position, she was ready to push.

In preparing for this article, I read through over 30 online birth stories that included the peanut ball and noticed a few common themes:

Maternal Preferences and Positioning

Moms who were unmedicated preferred upright positions to the peanut ball nearly every time. Even when they used it and felt it was beneficial, the comments were not very positive. For example, one mom described it like this:

Being positioned on the peanut ball was excruciating, I couldn’t see straight and was howling in agony. I wanted to push it away and jump up but I could feel it working.

Moms with an epidural liked the peanut ball almost universally, except for a few instances where moms complained it “made their butt go numb” when using it in the semi-Fowler’s position. Some commented that it was difficult to sleep when needing to switch the ball from side to side. Most moms described switching every 1-2 hours, some as frequently as every 20 minutes. (Women with epidurals usually switch side to side with the same frequency, even without the epidural.) One mom felt that using it semi-prone made her feel “undignified” and she wished her nurse had kept her covered with a sheet while lying in the position.
Some birth stories described moms leaning over the peanut ball, straddling the peanut ball, or using it in the shower in some capacity, but the vast majority used the ball in a side lying or semi prone position, with the reclined semi Fowlers a distant second.

Epidural Experiences

None of the moms who had an epidural reported any troubles with the epidurals losing effectiveness on one side while using the peanut ball, though several nurses I spoke with expressed concern that this would be a problem. More than a few moms who had an epidural said that they asked to stop using the peanut ball because of pressure in their back that turned out to be complete dilation.

Effect on Labor Progress

A few moms reported some pretty dramatic results:

A Doula’s Perspective

I spoke with Heidi Thaden-Pierce, a doula and CBE in Denton, Texas. She has been using the peanut ball with her doula clients for a while now, and she says women are very receptive to the idea. Many of them have already discovered that sleeping on their sides with a stack of pillows between their knees is very comfortable. The peanut ball replicates this and doesn’t slip and slide around as much as a stack of pillows can.

In her experience, most unmedicated moms will get up and get active in other positions over using the peanut ball, but “if a mom is needing some rest then we’ll tuck her into bed with the peanut ball because it’s comfortable and helps keep things in good alignment.” She also will occasionally use it while mom is on the bed on all fours as a place to rest mom’s upper body that is not as high as a regular birth ball. This can be nice if mom is more comfortable with her hips slightly higher than her shoulders.

Whenever I bring the ball to a hospital birth, I do explain what it is to the nurse and ask if there is any reason we should not use it. If a mom needs to labor in a certain position or there are concerns with the baby then I want to make sure that the peanut ball isn’t going to be in the way. I think it’s important that the mom’s care team be aware of and comfortable with the use of the peanut ball, so I make sure we talk about it before we try it at the birth.

The L&D Nurse’s Perspective

Carly Trythall, a nurse at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, has worked with the peanut ball for labor in two different hospitals in her career as a nurse. She has mostly used the ball in the side lying position for helping to shorten labor. She said that most of her patients have been “accepting and eager” to try the ball and find it very comfortable. She finds that the ball is “most beneficial for moms who are not able to change positions frequently and utilize gravity (i.e. women with epidurals).”

The peanut balls are new to University Hospital; Carly was integral to introducing their use there, and she continues to work to educate patients and nurses about the balls and their use. Some providers have expressed a little resistance to their use, thinking it wouldn’t be beneficial for moms, but as they have gained experience, that is changing.

The Childbirth Educator’s Perspective – Teaching With The Peanut Ball

Because the effects of the peanut ball seem to be most pronounced in moms who use epidural anesthesia, teaching it in conjunction with epidural use seems the most logical. I teach techniques and support for moms with epidurals just after we learn the mechanics of an epidural and the benefits and risks of an epidural. This is where I recently integrated teaching about the peanut ball into my classes. Because I have a limited number of balls to work with (one peanut ball and one elliptical shaped ball of similar proportions) I can’t have all the moms practicing with the ball at the same time. I break up the group into smaller groups of 2-3 moms and partners, and have the other groups working on other epidural support activities while each group has a chance to practice with the peanut. We allow enough time for every mom who wants to experience the 2 main positions with the peanut to try them. I warn them the week before to be sure they wear comfortable loose clothing that they will be able to freely move around in as we practice.
We practice with mom trying out both of the main uses of the ball:

  1. Semi-sitting position (Semi Fowler’s) with one leg over the birth ball and one leg open to the side. In the absence of a hospital bed in the classroom, I use a traditional birth ball or mom’s partner sitting against the wall for moms to recline against as we practice this position.
  2. Side lying or semi prone with the peanut ball between the legs. We experiment with different positions to find a variation that is comfortable, reminding the parents that what they like now may not be the one they like in labor.

We also brainstorm possible ways to do these positions in the event there is not a peanut ball available.

Carly Trythall said that, as a nurse, she wished that women were learning more about the peanut ball in their classes: “I would like for moms to be taught the benefits of using a peanut ball during labor such as assisting with fetal rotation and descent by widening and opening the pelvis (great for OP babies), shortening the active phase of labor (because baby is in a more optimal position) and shortening the pushing phase of labor.

Conclusion

While there remains much to be learned about the efficacy and circumstances in which the peanut ball might be most useful, the peanut ball appears to be a promising technique for laboring women, in particular those who have a posterior baby and/or need to remain in bed. Teaching this technique in your childbirth class can help women go back to their care providers and birth places informed about another option that is becoming more and more widely available.

Are you teaching about peanut balls in your childbirth classes?  Are you seeing the balls in use in your communities?  Have you had personal experiences either as a birthing mother or a professional with the peanut balls?  Please share your experiences and information in the comments below so we can all learn about this new labor tool to help promote vaginal birth.- SM

To learn more about peanut balls:

http://betterbirthdoula.org/peanut-ball-and-epidurals-tips-for-doulas/

http://www.cappa.net/documents/Articles/Peanut%20Ball.pdf

My thanks to the University of Utah Labor and Delivery unit for the use of their room for the photos included in this article.

References

Anim-Somuah M, Smyth RMD, Jones L. (2011) Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD000331. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000331.pub3

Carseldine, W. J., Phipps, H., Zawada, S. F., Campbell, N. T., Ludlow, J. P., Krishnan, S. Y. and De Vries, B. S. (2013), Does occiput posterior position in the second stage of labour increase the operative delivery rate?. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 53: 265–270. doi: 10.1111/ajo.12041

Gupta JK, Hofmeyr GJ, Shehmar M. (2012) Position in the second stage of labour for women without epidural anaesthesia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD002006. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002006.pub3

Kemp E, Kingswood CJ, Kibuka M, Thornton JG. (2013) Position in the second stage of labour for women with epidural anaesthesia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD008070. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008070.pub2.

Lawrence A, Lewis L, Hofmeyr GJ, Styles C. (2013) Maternal positions and mobility during first stage labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD003934. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003934.pub4.

Lieberman, E, Davidson, K, Lee-Parritz, A, Shearer, E (2005) Changes in Fetal Position During Labor and Their Association With Epidural Analgesia. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 105(5, Part 1):974-982.

Overcoming the Challenges: Maternal Movement and Positioning to Facilitate Labor Progress.
Zwelling, Elaine PHD, RN, LCCE, FACCE
[Article] MCN, American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing. 35(2):72-78, March/April 2010.

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