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Assessing Birth Settings to Improve Value and Optimize Outcomes in U.S. Maternity Care

March 12th, 2013 by avatar

by Wendy Gordon, CPM, LM, MPH, MANA Division of Research, Assistant Professor, Bastyr University Dept of Midwifery

Today, occasional contributor, midwife and researcher Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH, Midwives Alliance Division of Research, shares some insights into some of the fascinating discussions that took place at last week’s Institute of Medicine’s workshop focusing on birth place settings.  From all reports from the many people in attendance, this workshop will hopefully help move the research and discussion on the topic of birth place settings forward and create opportunities for more families to chose to birth where they feel most comfortable and safe. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

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Hannah Russell-Davis nurses her newborn son
©photo by Michael Davis http://getprivatepractice.com

Last week marked an historic opportunity for maternity care providers to regroup and become inspired to move our professions forward together in all birth settings.  The two-day event, hosted by the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) and sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, focused on “Research Issues in the Assessment of Birth Settings” and brought together the greatest minds in research and practice in all three birth settings: home, birth center and hospital.  Issues of tremendous importance to consumers, providers and researchers in the birth community were discussed in a collegial and inspiring manner… marred only by one presentation that stirred a bit of controversy.

Historic Workshop Can Positively Impact Future Research 

Similar to the first IOM conference on this topic over 30 years ago, the intent of last week’s gathering was to discuss the research regarding the effect of place of birth on maternal and infant outcomes. Invited speakers included researchers, public health professionals, midwives, nurses, pediatricians and obstetricians.  In structured mini-sessions, panelists shared their expertise on the following topics:

  • the historical and current picture of who is giving birth in the different settings;
  • definitions of “low-risk” versus “high-risk”;
  •  what the best research says about safety in various settings; 
  • education, regulation and management of different types of providers;
  •  methods of collection and use of data regarding maternity care and birth in various settings; 
  •  cost and value differences between settings and reimbursement issues; and 
  • the rich and varied perspectives of providers in the three childbirth settings.

Members of the audience were just as impressive as the panelists themselves when, at the end of each panel, the microphone was opened and significant content was added through their questions and comments.  

A lot of ground was covered over the course of the two days, and there were several takeaways that had particular impact for the midwifery community. The home birth rate in the U.S. was predicted to continue its rise with the next release of CDC data, reaching about 31,500 births nationwide in 2010. The MANA Stats web-based system was touted by attendees as the best data collection system for home birth outcomes.  Birth certificate data was shown to still have major problems in its ability to accurately capture intended place of birth and other reliability issues, despite improvements in recent years.  A Medicaid study from Washington State demonstrated vast cost savings with midwifery care and birth at home and in birth centers.  The workshop report will have tremendous potential to impact contemporary birth policy and research agendas.

Lack of Consumer Representation and Little Discussion of Health Disparities

There was no consumer representation on workshop panels, nor was there a panel addressing disparities in maternal and infant outcomes, which seems to have been a grave oversight of the organizers.  In the 30 years since the last IOM workshop on birth settings, overall infant mortality has been reduced from 11.5/1000 to 6.7/1000, but the black-white gap has actually increased. In 1982, nearly twice as many babies born to black mothers than white mothers died before their first birthday (19.6 infant deaths per 1000 births vs 10.1/1000; National Center for Health Statistics, 1986). Recent mortality figures show that disparity to be even wider (12.67/1000 vs 5.52/1000; Mathews & MacDorman, 2012).

Hannah Russell-Davis holds her son Jack, moments after his birth at their home in Charlottesville, VA. Jack was Hannah’s third home birth.
© photo by Michael Davis http://getprivatepractice.com

With childbirth in home and birth center settings gaining momentum nationally and at the state level, research to support policy in this direction is more important than ever. The best research has shown for decades, and continues to show, that for women with low-risk pregnancies, birth that is planned to occur in the home and birth center settings with a skilled midwife is no more risky than birth in the hospital and results in far fewer interventions, lower cost and higher satisfaction (Vedam et al, 2012).  Hopefully, the breadth of this research can finally start to expand beyond proving that it is safe.

‘Recrudescence’ Revisited

Despite this body of literature, there are still some physicians who persist in torturing the data in an attempt to frame their personal opinions as “science.”  It was disappointing, although perhaps not surprising, to see Dr. Frank Chervenak use his time on the provider panel to do just that. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently published an article authored by Dr. Chervenak regarding the “recrudescence of homebirth” (Chervenak et al, 2013), and perhaps it was the controversy stirred by that article that prompted the conference organizers to invite him to speak on this panel. The panel members included Dr. Chervenak as a hospital-based provider, Karen Pelote, CNM with the birth center provider perspective, and Brynne Potter, CPM as a homebirth provider.  Both Pelote and Potter appeared to have taken seriously the purpose of their panel representation and showcased the data on our client-centered models of care, with photos and quotes from women regarding the care they received and their experiences in the birth center and home settings.   

In stark contrast, Chervenak used his 12 minutes (out of 10) that were to be devoted to the hospital provider perspective for, instead, a rapid-fire display of “back-of-the-envelope” bar graphs attempting to show home/hospital differences in 5-minute Apgar scores using raw data drawn from birth certificates.  Since it appears that some doctors are having a hard time getting their “research” on this topic published in peer-reviewed journals, they are presenting their data in settings that do not require peer-review, such as last year’s annual conference of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine (the study still hasn’t been published) and this IOM workshop.  Meanwhile, there are several well-designed studies published in peer-reviewed journals that show that there is no difference in 5-minute Apgar scores between home and hospital settings (Hutton et al, 2009; Janssen et al, 2009; van der Kooy et al, 2011).

Apgar Distribution Hospital vs. Home © Dr. Frank Chervenak 2013

That a professional invited to contribute to a high-level workshop about research would present an un-peer-reviewed thesis based on unreliable data, lacking any statistical analysis, is… well, let’s just say “puzzling.”  Exploiting the concept of “relative risk,” Chervenak sliced and diced the data in more ways than were thought possible to suggest that babies born at home were more likely to have a low 5-minute Apgar score than babies born in the hospital.

“Home Births Should Not Happen”

Chervenak’s non-reviewed data did find a higher rate of Apgar scores of “10” in the home setting versus “9” in the hospital setting. His point? Not that, clinically speaking, there is no difference between a score of 9 vs. 10 (they’re both good). Not that babies might possibly be doing better due to normal physiologic labor and undisturbed birth and that we should explore this further. Instead, he suggested – at this historic setting – that midwives lie about Apgar scores because “no one is watching.”  After a day and a half of earnest, interprofessional collegiality, Chervenak wrapped up his extended presentation with his unabashed opinion: “Home births should not happen.”

Epidemiologists in the room were quick to step to the microphone for the open discussion part of the panel, pointing out the many flaws in Chervenak’s presentation.  Marian MacDorman, Ph.D., senior statistician and researcher for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, reminded everyone that birth certificate data is notoriously unreliable for neonatal seizures and low Apgar scores; this has been shown time and again for decades and had indeed been discussed earlier in this very workshop.  More importantly, McDorman stated that data from birth certificates cannot be used to make comparisons between settings or providers.  Her point, which deserves some elaboration here, is that there is a very important distinction between “absolute risk” and “relative risk,” and different types of data are better than others depending on what you are trying to describe. 

“When we limit access to certain birth settings because of risk, are we examining the risks of the alternative?” – Brynne Potter, CPM

Absolute vs. Relative Risk

Let’s say that a person’s odds of getting struck by lightning in a heavily populated city are one in a million, and those same odds in a rural area are five in a million. These odds are called your “absolute risk” of being struck by lightning. Another way to look at this is to say that a person’s odds of being struck by lightning are five times higher in a rural area than in a densely-populated area; this is the “relative risk” of a lightning strike in one area over another.

A common approach of anti-homebirth activists is to use the “relative risk” approach and ignore the absolute risk, because it’s much more dramatic and sensationalistic to suggest that the risk of something is “double!” or “triple!” that of something else, even though the absolute risk of those things are very low and may not even be statistically significantly different from each other.  Of course, any infant or maternal mortality is a tragedy.  But one of the key points raised at the IOM workshop was the idea that, in our efforts to identify “safety” with one indicator (mortality) or “truly low-risk” pregnancies by their absence of a particular factor (breech position, for example), we often fail to quantify all of the impacts of the various settings in ways that are meaningful to the women who experience the outcomes, such as the fact that in many areas, the only option for breech delivery is cesarean or the only way a VBAC can happen is at home, attended or not.  As Brynne Potter asked last week: when we limit access to certain birth settings because of risk, are we examining the risks of the alternative?

To return to the lightning analogy, it would be deeply disingenuous for a person to say that you shouldn’t move to a rural area simply because your risk of being struck by lightning is five times higher, without mentioning that at worst, that risk is five in a million. The ethics of this are further called into question when the person suggesting this is a trusted care provider, and is even worse when that person withholds all information about your option to move to a rural area — disregarding all of your other reasons for wanting to doing so — because they have decided that the risk of being hit by lightning there is too high for you.

Clarifying the Validity of Birth Certificate Data

Dr. MacDorman clarified how to interpret the data for anyone who might have been misled by Dr. Chervenak’s slides. She pointed out that regarding low Apgar scores, “the absolute risk is low; that’s all you can say with vital data.”  It doesn’t happen very often in any setting; most studies on homebirth around the world report the occurrence of low Apgar scores (<7) in the range of 1%, and very low scores (<4) are even rarer.  Studies have shown that the more rare an occurrence is, the less likely it is to be captured accurately on the birth certificate (Northam & Knapp, 2006).

Overall, the Midwives Alliance Division of Research (DOR) and other organizations working to improve maternity care are pleased with the near-consensus viewpoint by the majority of the disciplines represented at this workshop: that normal physiologic birth is best for mother and baby and should be the goal of all settings and practitioners.  We are looking forward to the future research inspired by this event.  We believe that there is potential for there to be more movement in the next 30 years than there was since the last IOM workshop on this topic 30 years ago, particularly because of the availability of high-quality datasets such as MANA Stats (primarily planned home births) and the American Association of Birth Centers’ Uniform Data Set (primarily planned birth center births).  As the stewards of the largest database on midwifery care and outcomes of normal physiologic birth in the home setting, the DOR encourages researchers to apply for the MANA Stats data to conduct this important research (application information at mana.org/DOR). 

References:

Chervenak FA, McCullough LB, Brent RL, Levene MI, Arabin B. 2013. Planned home birth: The professional responsibility response. AJOG 208(1):31-38.

Hutton EK, Reitsma AH, Kaufman K. 2009. Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: A retrospective cohort study. BIRTH 36(3):180-189.

Janssen PA, Saxell L, Page LA, Klein MC, Liston RM, Lee SK. 2009. Outcomes of planned home birth with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician. CMAJ, doi:10.1503/cmaj.081869.

Mathews, TJ & MacDorman, M. 2012. National Vital Statistics Reports: Infant mortality statistics from the 2008 period linked birth/ infant death data set. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_05.pdf

National Center for Health Statistics. 1986. Vital Statistics of the United States, 1982, Vol II: Mortality, Part A. DHHS Pub. No. (PHS) 86-1122. Public Health Service: Washington. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Northam S, Knapp TR. 2006. The reliability and validity of birth certificates. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs 35(1):3-12.

van der Kooy J, Poeran J, de Graaf JP, Birnie E, Denktas S, Steegers EAP, Bonsel GJ. 2011. Planned home compared with planned hospital births in the Netherlands: Intrapartum and early neonatal death in low-risk pregnancies. Obstet Gynecol 118:1037-46.

Vedam S, Schummers L, Stoll K, Fulton C. 2012. Home Birth: An Annotated Guide to the Literature.  Available online at http://mana.org/DOR/research-resources/.

About Wendy Gordon

Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH is a midwife, mother and educator in the Seattle area.  She helped to build a busy, blended homebirth practice of nurse-midwives and direct-entry midwives in Portland, Oregon for eight years before recently transitioning to Seattle.  She is a Coordinating Council member of the Midwives Alliance Division of Research, a board member of the Association of Midwifery Educators, and teaches at the Bastyr University Department of Midwifery.

 

 

Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Home Birth, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Mortality Rate, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery, Newborns, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: The Essential Homebirth Guide: For Families Planning or Considering Birthing at Home

February 12th, 2013 by avatar

“Our goal is not to have every mother birth at home—our goal is to encourage parents to gather quality information, to gain exposure to a philosophy that screams trust in mothers and trust in babies, and to provide parents who do plan a homebirth to be well equipped with an understanding of how to thrive in that decision.” – Jane E. Drichta, CPM and Jodilyn Owen, CPM, authors of The Essential Homebirth Guide: For Families Planning or Considering Birthing at Home.

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The Essential Homebirth Guide: For Families Planning or Considering Birthing at Home by midwives Jane E. Drichta, CPM and Jodilyn Owen, CPM  is a new book on the birth scene, being released today both in print and as an e-book.  I had an opportunity to read an advanced copy and and will share my thoughts with Science & Sensibility readers in this review.

The Essential Homebirth Guide is a book that is long overdue and will be welcomed by consumers and healthcare providers alike. With the recent National Birth Center Study II  released last month, many women and their families may now be considering an out of hospital (OOH) birth.  Some areas of the US offer the opportunity to birth in a birth center, while other parts of the country have no birth centers available at all and homebirth is the only OOH option.  Even where birth centers are available, women in greater numbers are now considering birthing in their own homes, with midwives, for many reasons, including comfort, cost and choosing a location where they feel they have the best chance to achieve a low intervention birth.

Sitting down to read Drichta and Owen’s guide is like spending a long weekend with your very best friend.  A best friend who just happens to be a midwife.  Whether you are just starting to explore the idea of a homebirth or have already decided that homebirth is for you, you will find that all your questions get answered in an easy to understand, factual way, with all the details and inside information that only your best friend can provide.  Drichta and Owen even provide answers to the questions you hadn’t thought of yet, but would want to know if you choose to homebirth, such as the section on communicating your homebirth choices with friends and family.

The book is arranged into chapters, and then subtopics.  Each subtopic has a nice Q&A format, with all the major questions covered in easy to understand language.  Peppered amongst the topics are real life stories and musing submitted by homebirthing women and their families, as well as special “The Midwife Says:” sections that provide additional information.  The personal stories offer a peek into the thoughts and experiences of homebirthing women, and readers will feel comforted by their stories. References are included for each chapter, and there are several hearty appendices at the back for more information. Lovely black and white pictures are scattered throughout.

One of the things that I loved best in The Essential Homebirth Guide is how the authors use every opportunity to speak to the mother, helping to develop her self-determination.  Throughout the book, they reinforce that every mother knows both her body and her baby best.  Women who read this book will feel confident that they are (or should be) equal partners in their care with their healthcare provider and are capable of asking questions, gathering information and making decisions that feel right to them.

“…A lot happens between the time of conception and diapers, and it all matters.  It will affect you.  It will change you.  It will propel you into motherhood in a profound way and can leave you with feelings of power, health, and peace, or it may leave you with feelings of anxiety, fear, and even trauma.  What kind of emotional context do you want as you become a new mother? What kind of new mother do you aim to be?  Think about these questions first, and then start building your prenatal care to lead yourself down the road that ends with you – the kind of new mother you intend to become in the kind of health you strive to have…” The Essential Homebirth Guide

Jodlilyn Owen, CPM

Chapters on interviewing and choosing a midwife, what to expect during your prenatal care, prenatal testing options, information on the top ten pregnancy issues, preparing to birth at home, and what to expect after the birth all provide details on what normally occurs and include topics that can be discussed with your midwife along with things you can do to keep yourself healthy and low risk. In fact, this book is useful for any pregnant woman, as it will help facilitate conversations with hospital based healthcare providers, to help the woman who has chosen to birth in the hospital avoid unnecessary interventions. 

Drichta and Owen tackle some controversial subjects such as homebirth after a cesarean, home breech birth and homebirth of twins. No doubt, everyone’s comfort level is different and women (and their healthcare providers) process and understand risk in very individual ways.  These situations may not be for everyone, but the authors don’t ignore that these birth situations are occurring at home all around the country.  Information is power, mothers, when given accurate information in a respectful manner, will be able to determine what feels like the right decision for them.

I would have appreciated more information in the book on how low income families and women of color might find their way to homebirth in today’s maternity care climate, as the increase in homebirths has not been observed amongst those populations. Where I live, in the state of Washington, almost half of our births are paid for by the state, and we are fortunate that homebirth is an option for those families receiving state aid.  That is not the case for most of the rest of the country.

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I had the opportunity to ask Jane Drichta and Jodilyn Owen some questions about their book, and wanted to share my interview with Science & Sensibility readers.

SM: Why did you want to write this book, and why now? 

JO: This book has been running around in circles inside of our heads for years.  We make it a habit to check in with each other after most births, and so there are at least a decade of late night conversations here.  As we talked, we realized that we were running into the same problem; there was not one definitive source of information for homebirthing families.  We had websites and articles and handouts, but not one place where we could send parents for unbiased, evidence based information, served up with sides of common sense and love. Homebirth is becoming more and more popular, and the time just seemed to be right. 

SM:  What was the most challenging topic for you to cover in the book? How did you handle it? 

JD: The chapter on The Big Ten, which details ten common complications in pregnancy, was difficult to write.  We are used to speaking around these topics in very technical terms, and it was difficult to distill the information down to what mothers needed to know.  We were more interested in providing a model for how we approach these issues that any woman can adapt to her situation than being prescriptive about what one must absolutely do in a given situation.  When we started that chapter, it sounded like we were writing a term paper.  We completely lost the friendly, accessible tone that we were going for.  So that was a challenge.   

SM: What is the main piece of information that you hope that women will know/take away after finishing your book?

Jane E. Drichta, CPM

JD:  That they can do this.  That birthing at home is a viable option in 21st century America. That the desire to do this doesn’t mean you are crazy or hate the patriarchy, or that any of the other homebirthing stereotypes apply.  Women can birth at home more safely than ever before, and it is a real alternative for most women.

SM: What challenges do you see facing the potential growth of homebirths in the US?

JO:  The integration of homebirth midwives into our current health care system.  The politics around midwifery and its place in the system are myriad, and not something that we wanted to get into in the book.  However, we do support the right of women to birth in the place of their choice, with the provider of their choice, and that is sometimes difficult and can be limiting.

SM: If midwives and doctors read this book, what do you hope they take away from it?

JO: We hope they take away a few key points:  That mothers and partners should be held responsible to seek information and share decision making in their care, that a pregnant and birthing woman is in partnership with her baby and this dyad perspective should be promoted at all times with the language and behavior providers use, and that a woman is never just her numbers—she is a whole human being with a context worthy of their curiosity and respect.  

SM: How can childbirth educators use this book with their students?

JD: Simply presenting this paradigm of woman-centered, individualized, continuous care is a great way to open the door for discussions about creating intention for pregnancy and birth.   What is it that parents really mean to establish for themselves when it comes to their care and birth?  Understanding risk, breaking apart decision-making models, and tuning in to their inner-wisdom are just some of the great tools that educators can work through.

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I wanted to see what the authors had to say about childbirth classes for women considering homebirth and was delighted to find that they encourage all women to take classes and hold Lamaze International and our Healthy Birth Practices in high esteem.  ”We can’t find anything not to love here” is found in the childbirth class section under the Lamaze heading..

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and found it to be an easy read and full of information that I would find useful if I was still deciding where to birth or had already made up my mind to birth at home.  I could also see myself referring back to this as my birth got closer.  This book acknowledges that I am the best person to make this very personal decision about where to birth my baby. I think that healthcare providers who offer OOH birth services might want a few copies on their bookshelves to lend to potential and current clients, and childbirth educators might very well recommend this resource to parents in their classes who want to know more about what a home birth might be like.

Please consider coming back to the blog and sharing your thoughts after reading the book.  I would love to know what you think and if you would recommend this to clients and students.  If you would like to contact the authors, they can be reached through their website Essential Midwifery.

Disclosure: The authors of this book and I are all members of the professional birth community in Seattle, WA.  I have known them on a professional and personal level long before this book was even conceived.

Book Reviews, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, Home Birth, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obstetricians Claim Homebirth is Unsafe…Again. Where’s The Evidence?

November 29th, 2012 by avatar

by Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH, Midwives Alliance Division of Research

Today, midwife and researcher, Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH, Midwives Alliance Division of Research, takes a look at the recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that shared the authors’ view of the appropriate professional response from obstetricians when counseling and discussing home birth with patients.  Was this article based on good science?  Accurate and accepted studies? Did the authors selectively choose their sources and ignore other research that may have supported a different viewpoint?  Wendy shares information and research that invites consideration and discussion of the validity of the authors’ opinion. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager.

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flickr.com/photos/bogofoo/4118547231/

Recently, an article in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology pled with obstetricians to not support planned home birth in any way, and even suggested that those who do “should be subject to peer review and justifiably incur professional liability and sanction from state medical boards” (1).  In their strongly worded opinion, the authors (the first two of whom are, curiously, members of the journal’s Advisory Board, and four of whom are also board members of the International Society of Fetus as a Patient) make their case that physicians should provide evidence-based information to women that planned home birth is not safe, that reports of patient satisfaction are overrated, that it’s actually not cost-effective, and that a pregnant woman has a moral duty to her fetus to give up her autonomy to her doctor’s judgment on this issue.  Let’s take a look at the basis for these recommendations.

Although there are many high-quality studies of home birth on which Chervenak et al. could have based their opinions, they led with the ACOG statement (2) that rests on the findings of the Wax et al. meta-analysis (3), which relied heavily on a study that included unplanned home births in its findings of neonatal mortality rates (4).  Many strong critiques of the Wax analysis have been published (5-11), including an unbiased look from someone who has no stake in the home birth debate.  The authors cited several more poor-quality studies, as well as 52 citations of commentaries, opinions and anecdotes (some even pulled from the popular media) to build their “evidence” basis. They conveniently ignored the large and growing body of literature that continues to show that planned home birth with qualified and experienced midwives holds no greater risk of perinatal mortality than birth in the hospital, and in fact results in far fewer interventions and lower risk of maternal and perinatal morbidity.

Here are some of the high-quality studies that Chervenak et al. did not cite in developing their opinion of the “professional responsibility response”:

  • two systematic reviews (12-13) and a meta-analysis (14) of home and birth center safety studies that all show that there is no greater perinatal risk for planned, attended home births than for hospital births, and significantly fewer interventions;
  • the only large-scale, high-quality study of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) in the U.S. that described intrapartum and neonatal death rates as similar to other studies of low-risk home and hospital births (15);
  •  other high-quality U.S. studies that show no difference in perinatal mortality between planned home and hospital births (16-18);
  • several high-quality Canadian studies confirming no difference in the rates of perinatal death between planned home and hospital birth with much lower rates of both interventions and adverse outcomes (19-21);
  •  a huge Dutch study of over half a million births that shows no difference in perinatal mortality rates or NICU admissions between planned home and hospital births (22);
  • another Dutch study that shows no difference in perinatal mortality and lower risk of interventions and other adverse outcomes, particularly for multips (23);
  • large, high-quality U.K. studies that show no difference in perinatal mortality rates and lower risk of both interventions and adverse outcomes (24-25); and
  • a German study that shows no difference in rates of perinatal mortality and lower risk of interventions and adverse outcomes (26).

The authors then go on to discount the evidence of higher satisfaction among women choosing to deliver at home, as well as the cost-effectiveness of doing so, while presenting absolutely no evidence to the contrary.  The authors reference a study in the Netherlands where the transport rate from home to hospital is over twice that in the U.S. (and where Chervenak et al. took great liberties in interpreting the results on patient satisfaction) and a U.K. study where the costs of home and hospital birth are virtually equivalent.  While consistent, this approach to selectively reviewing the evidence and generalizing the findings to the U.S. maternity care system is disingenuous and deliberately misleading to American obstetricians and their patients.  A Washington State study of Medicaid patients planning a home birth with Licensed Midwives showed a savings of nearly $3 million, including the increased cost of those who transferred care and/or site of delivery (27).  This analysis did not attempt to account for the vast cost reductions of potentially avoided interventions, including cesareans and their complications, which would make the case for the cost-effectiveness of midwifery-led care in Washington State even stronger.  It is puzzling that Chervenak et al. did not cite this study, which is recent, took place in the U.S., was conducted by unbiased health-economics consultants, and directly addresses one of their four concerns.

The authors’ main argument against the proven cost-effectiveness of planned home birth is that “the lifetime costs of supporting the neurologically disabled children who will result from planned home birth” have not been factored in, nor have the supposedly increased rates of death.  If one accepts the conclusions of the enormous body of literature that finds no difference in perinatal mortality rates or other adverse outcomes between planned, midwife-attended home births and hospital births, then the pursuit of this line of reasoning is a non-starter.

The U.S. continues to lag behind many other high- and low-resource countries in accepting the evidence of the vast benefits of midwifery care.  The U.K.’s National Health Service has encouraged women to plan home births with midwives for several years; the Netherlands has always acknowledged midwives as the primary care provider in the childbearing year; New Zealand’s system similarly places midwives at the forefront of maternity and newborn care; Japan has a long tradition of midwifery-led care.  Most recently, British Columbia Health Minister MacDiarmid, accepting the evidence of safety, patient satisfaction and cost-effectiveness, has announced government support for women with low-risk pregnancies to plan a home birth, including support for physicians to become appropriately trained to attend home births (28).  But the medical associations of the U.S. continue to erect barriers to the type of interprofessional collaboration that has resulted in the excellent outcomes of these other countries.  The Chervenak et al. article is clearly intended to be yet another of those barriers.

In the centerpiece of the AJOG article, Chervenak cites himself an astounding 15 times in justifying why the rights of a pregnant woman to make autonomous decisions for herself and her baby should be relegated to her doctor’s judgment of what’s right for the “fetus as a patient,” grounded firmly, of course, in the aforementioned “evidence.”  In an astonishing disregard for shared decision-making and informed choice, Chervenak et al. state that “in a professional relationship, the physician’s integrity justifiably limits the woman’s rights by limiting the scope of clinically reasonable alternatives.”  The authors’ repeated and unusual use of the word “recrudescence” when referring to home birth, which reveals their perception of the choice as a disease or disorder, and their stubborn contempt for high-quality evidence if it disproves their opinion, exposes their intent and certainly calls into question their “integrity.”

“Professional responsibility” demands that we dare to examine the evidence that does not agree with our personal beliefs.  It requires that we allow the volumes of high-quality evidence to seep into our analysis of reality and into our presentation of true informed choice to our patients.  “Professional responsibility” demands that we examine and disclose our own personal, religious or anecdotal beliefs that may bias our interpretation and presentation of the research.  And it requires that we refuse to cloak those personal beliefs as “evidence” and “integrity” and by so doing avoid an abuse of power in relationship with our patients.

References

1. Chervenak F. A., McCullough L. B., Brent R. L., Levene M. I., & Arabin B. (2012) Planned home birth: the professional responsibility response. Am J Obstet Gynecol, Nov 13. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2012.10.002. [Epub ahead of print].

2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Committee Opinion no. 476. Committee on Obstetric Practice. Planned home birth. Obstet Gynecol, 117(2, part 1), 425-8.

3. Wax J. R., Lucas F. L., Lamont M., Pinette M. G., Cartin A., & Blackstone J. (2010).  Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs. planned hospital births: a metaanalysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 203(3):243.e1–243.e8. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2010.05.028

4. Pang J. W., Heffelfinger J. D., Huang G. J., Benedetti T. J., & Weiss N. S. (2002). Outcomes of planned home births in Washington state: 1989-1996. Obstet Gynecol, 100(2):253-9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0029-7844(02)02074-4

5. Carl M. A., Janssen P. A., Vedam S., Hutton E. K., & de Jonge A. (2011). Planned home vs hospital birth: A meta-analysis gone wrong. Medscape Ob/Gyn & Wom Health. Retrieved from http://www2.cfpc.ca/local/user/files/%7B1E683014-14EB-489F-99CE-B5A2185A6FC5%7D/Medscape%20%20Wax%20Critique%20-%20Michal,%20Janssen,%20Vedam,%20Hutton,%20de%20Jonge.pdf

6. Gyte G., Newburn M., & Macfarlane A. (2010). Critique of a meta-analysis by Wax and colleagues which has claimed that there is a three-times greater risk of neonatal death among babies without congenital anomalies planned to be born at home. National Childbirth Trust. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/34065092/Critique-of-a-metaanalysis-by-Wax

7. Keirse M. J. (2010). Home birth: Gone away, gone astray, and here to stay. Birth, 37(4):341-46.

8. Hayden E. C. (2011). Home birth study investigated. Nature [Epub]. doi:10.1038/news.2011.162.

9. American College of Nurse Midwives. (2010). ACNM expresses concerns regarding recent AJOG publication on home birth. [Epub]. Retrieved from http://www.midwife.org/documents/ACNMstatementonAJOG2010.pdf.

10. Romano A. (2010). Meta-analysis: the wrong tool (wielded improperly). Retrieved from http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=1349.

11. Dekker R. & Lee K. S. (2012). The Wax home birth meta-analysis: an outsider’s critique. Retrieved from http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=5628.

12. Olsen O. & Clausen J. A. (2012). Planned hospital birth versus planned home birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD000352. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000352.pub2.

13. Leslie M. S. & Romano A. (2007). Appendix: Birth can safely take place at home and in birthing centers. J Perinat Educ, 16(Suppl 1):81S-88S. doi:10.1624/105812407X173236

14. Olsen O. (1997). Meta-analysis of the safety of home birth. Birth, 24(1):4-13; discussion 14-6.

15. Johnson K. C. & Daviss B-A. (2005). Outcomes of planned home births with certified professional midwives: large prospective study in North America. BMJ, 330:1416. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7505.1416

16. Cawthon L. (1996). Planned home births: outcomes among Medicaid women in Washington State. Olympia,WA: Washington Department of Social and Health Services. Retrieved from http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/ms/rda/research/7/93.pdf.

17. Murphy P. A. & Fullerton J. (1998). Outcomes of intended home births in nurse-midwifery practice: a prospective descriptive study. Obstet Gynecol, 92(3):461-70.

18. Anderson R. E. & Murphy P.A. (1995). Outcomes of 11,788 planned home births attended by certified nurse-midwives: A retrospective descriptive study. J Nurse Midwifery, 40(6):483-92.

19. Janssen P. A., Saxell L., Page L. A., Klein M. C., Liston R. M. & Lee S.K. (2009). Outcomes of planned home births with registered midwife versus planned hospital birth with midwife or physician. CMAJ, 181(6):377-83.

20. Hutton E. K., Reitsma A.H. & Kaufman K. (2009). Outcomes associated with planned home and planned hospital births in low-risk women attended by midwives in Ontario, Canada, 2003-2006: A retrospective cohort study. Birth, 36(3):180-89.

21. Janssen P. A., Lee S. K., Ryan E. M., Etches D. J., Farquharson D. F., Peacock D. & Klein M. C. (2002). Outcomes of planned home births versus planned hospital births after regulation of midwifery in British Columbia. CMAJ, 166(3):315-23.

22. de Jonge A., van der Goes B. Y., Ravelli A. C., Amelink-Verburg M. P., Mol B. W., Nijhuis J. G., Bennebroek Gravenhorst J. & Buitendijk S. E. (2009). Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births. BJOG, 116(9):1177-84. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02175.x.

23. Wiegers T. A., Keirse M. J., van der Zee J. & Berghs G. A. (1996). Outcome of planned home and planned hospital births in low risk pregnancies: prospective study in midwifery practices in the Netherlands. BMJ, 313(7068):1309-13

24. Chamberlain G., Wraight A. & Crowley P. (eds.). (1997). Home births – The report of the 1994 confidential enquiry by the National Birthday Trust Fund. Cranforth, UK: Parthenon Publishing.

25. Northern Region Perinatal Mortality Survey Coordinating Group. (1996). Collaborative survey of perinatal loss in planned and unplanned home births. BMJ, 313(7068):1306-09. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7068.1306.

26. Ackermann-Liebrich U., Voegeli T., Gunter-Witt K., Kunz I., Zullig M., Schindler C., Maurer M. & Zurich Study Team. (1996). Home versus hospital deliveries: follow up study of matched pairs for procedures and outcome. BMJ, 313(7068):1313-18. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7068.1313.

27. Health Management Associates. (2007). Midwifery licensure and discipline program in Washington State: economic costs and benefits. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonmidwives.org/documents/Midwifery_Cost_Study_10-31-07.pdf.

28. Dedyna K. (2012, Nov 3). B.C. minister among first to support home births. Times Colonist. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/minister+among+first+support+home+births/7494815/story.html.

About Wendy Gordon

Wendy Gordon, LM, CPM, MPH is a midwife, mother and educator in the Seattle area.  She helped to build a busy, blended homebirth practice of nurse-midwives and direct-entry midwives in Portland, Oregon for eight years before recently transitioning to Seattle.  She is a Coordinating Council member of the Midwives Alliance Division of Research, a board member of the Association of Midwifery Educators, and teaches at the Bastyr University Department of Midwifery.

 

Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Mortality Rate, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, New Research, Research , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jumping to conclusions: Popular media spins an abstract into headlines.

February 23rd, 2012 by avatar

A new study has been making the rounds of the popular news sites.  The abstract – 65: Neonatal outcomes associated with intended place of birth: birth centers and home birth compared to hospitals  The abstract of the study is published in AJOG It was presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine 32nd Annual Meeting.

It is strange that this abstract is getting so much attention. With only an abstract available it is impossible to judge the study’s merits. We look forward to the publication of the study. At this point we have to reserve judgment for later.  We simply don’t have the data available to determine the strength or validity of the study.  That said, it is amazing that the findings presented in the abstract are getting so much attention.

Here are some of the many articles, with varying perspectives, discussing it: 

I found this article to be neutral verging on steering families toward hospital birth:

 “Babies born at home were more than twice as likely to have an Apgar score of under 7 as children born in a hospital or at a birthing center, and also had double the chances of having a seizure….

The overall number of kids who had seizures was low — less than 1 percent at any location.

Prior research has shown that babies with lower Apgar scores are more likely to have complications after birth, such as needing breathing assistance, going to the ICU, having seizures or having developmental issues, Cheng said.”

Study Weighs Pros, Cons of Home or Hospital Birth: More seizures, lower Apgar scores found in home or hospital birth  

 

This article has a positive spin for homebirth:

 “But when a certified midwife was present, it seems babies born at home may fare as well as those born in hospitals, said study researcher Dr. Yvonne Cheng, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“It’s not just about where you deliver, but perhaps who you deliver with,” Cheng said.

Home births are known to be associated with fewer obstetric interventions — that is, women in labor at home receive fewer epidurals and less pain medication.

Women must weigh the benefits of home births against the risks to make an informed decision about where to give birth, Cheng said.”

Midwives make homebirth safer for babies  

 

 This article seems to treat the study in a neutral manner:

 “Women who have home births or plan to deliver at home have lower rates of cesarean delivery; however, their babies are more likely to have neonatal seizures and lower Apgar scores if a certified midwife is not in attendance, according to research presented here at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine 32nd Annual Meeting.”

Home Births Associated With More Seizures, Lower Apgar Scores

 

This one uses bad data to back a claim:

“…recent evidence suggests that while the absolute risk of planned home births is low, such births carry a neonatal death rate at least twice as high as that of planned hospital births. Neonatal death occurred less than once in 1,000 hospital births, compared with two in 1,000 home births, said an American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology meta-analysis published in September 2010.”

Home births rise despite higher neonatal mortality rate: Although the vast majority of deliveries occur in hospitals, more women who want a less institutional experience are opting to give birth at home.

This AMA article is citing the Wax et al study.  Science and Sensibility has discussed the vast array of errors and misinformation in the Wax study on four separate occasions:

Others have cited Wax et al, although not explicitly such as this one: Homebirths up Dramatically, but are they safe?

There were numerous letters written to AJOG with regards to the flaws in the study, as well.  So, to have the Wax et al study brought up again is inappropriate and poor science.  It feels to me like a scare tactic or propaganda.

Given that we don’t have all the information, I question the journalistic integrity with which the articles above are written.  It’s always a good headline – about the dangers of home birth.  It’ll get links clicked, newspapers sold and running commentary on social media sites.  However, without proper analysis of the data things are potentially misrepresented.  Once we gain access to the full study, Science and Sensibility will be able to respond appropriately.

Some questions we hope to answer:

  • What data were used? How strong is the data set?
  • Many home births are not reported as such, so data will be lacking.  How is this accounted for?
  • Does the legal status of a homebirth midwife impact outcomes?  Especially because the author states that CNMs have better outcomes than do CPMs or DEMs. We are not aware of research that supports this.
  • Is it considered homebirth if the mother was transferred from home to hospital mid-labor if her intention was to have a home birth?

For more on recent perspectives on homebirth please visit the Homebirth Consensus Summit.

Let’s get the discussion going here.  What are your thoughts on homebirth?

Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, Metaanalyses, Midwifery, News about Pregnancy, Research , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Birth Outcomes by Birth Location: The Latest Study

November 29th, 2011 by avatar

The much-anticipated Planned Place of Birth study out of the UK emerged last week in the British Medical Journal.  As I complete a Biostatistics course for my Master’s of Public Health ~ Maternal & Child Health program, I have to admit:  this study, including the wealth of data contained herein, is a smorgasbord for statisticians.  But for those who may not feel naturally inclined toward margins of errors and confidence intervals, interpreting the results of such a study might feel more like a nightmare. While the blogosphere has been philosophically abuzz about this new segment of data looking at the safety of childbirth practices by location, I would like to take a look at this study from a statistics perspective.  In the coming days, we will have another review of this study submitted by evidence-based maternity care expert, medical writer, and speaker Henci Goer.

The study by the Birthplace in England Collaborative Group, Perinatal and Maternal Outcomes by Planned Place of Birth for Healthy Women in Low Risk Pregnancies, is a prospective cohort study conducted through the National Perinatal epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford.  You may recall that a prospective cohort study is an observational, forward-looking study that follows one or several groups of subjects over a specified period of time.  No assigned interventions or treatments took place as would be typical in a clinical trial. The overall objective of this study was

 

to compare perinatal outcomes, maternal outcomes, and interventions in labour by planned place of birth at the start of care in labour for women with low risk pregnancies.”

 

The study authors explain that this study was conducted in response to several others in recent years that aimed to examine the risks and benefits associated with childbirth, relative to location, but failed to assign study groups based on planned rather than eventual place of birth. The ultimate goal of the current study, then, was to

 

compare intrapartum and early neonatal mortality and specific neonatal morbidities for births planned at home…”

 

…in the locales detailed below.  To me, this study feels a bit similar to a case-control study as odds ratios are used extensively in the data to determine the likelihood of certain events occurring during the observed births in relation to the birth location.  (Odds ratios are commonly computed for the data of case-controlled studies.)

This study included 64,538 women who gave birth between April 2008 and April 2010 in the UK, and were segmented (not by researchers, but previously by patient choice) into one of four categories:  homebirth, free-standing midwifery centers, “alongside” midwifery units (midwife-attended birth centers within a hospital), and in-hospital obstetrics units.  Remember:  these locations pertain to pre-labour planning and initiation of intrapartum care in terms of where the woman/couple intended to give birth.  The number of birthing women in each subgroup were as follows:

 

As the data was collected and assimilated, further stratification of the data took place: 1) assessing outcomes of nulliparous vs. multiparous women and 2) women who did, or did not, have a “complicating condition” at the start of care in labor.  These complicating conditions included:

prolonged rupture of membranes                hypertension
amniotic fluid meconium staining             abnormal vaginal bleeding
proteinuria                                                         abnormal fetal heart rate
non-cephalic fetal presentation

Women who underwent elective cesarean sections or unplanned homebirths, as well as those who were not considered “low risk” as defined by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, were excluded from this study.  These exclusions can be seen as helpful or hindrance, depending upon the results one is interested in.  By deleting planned cesareans, there is some difficulty in being able to completely generalize the results of the data to the whole population where elective cesareans do, of course, take place—including their inherent ratios of primary and secondary outcomes.  However, in an effort to assess outcomes of spontaneous labor and delivery outcomes, it makes sense to exclude this data.  Excluding unplanned homebirths, on the other hand, makes perfect sense to me as most of these types of births are unattended by any sort of maternity care provider, and therefore not applicable in this study design.

Outcomes assessed were broken down into primary and secondary outcomes as follows:

Primary outcomes included*:
Intrapartum stillbirth                                   meconium aspiration syndrome
Early neonatal deaths                                    brachial plexus injury
Neonatal encephalopathy                             fractured humerus or clavicle

Secondary outcomes included*:
spontaneous vertex birth                             syntocin augmentation
ventouse delivery                                           immersion in water for pain relief
forceps delivery                                               epidural or spinal analgesia
intrapartum c-section                                   general anesthesia
3rd or 3th degree perineal tear                   no active management of third stage
blood transfusion                                             episiotomy
admission to higher level of care

*notice, outcomes such as maternal mortality, postpartum hemorrhage and postnatal mood disorders are not included here.

(To access all data tables for this study, go here.)

The summarized results from the study are as follows:
The overall “primary outcomes” incidence for the entire study population was 4.3/1000 births (95% confidence interval of 3.3/1000 – 5.5/1000)  Remember, a confidence interval tells us that we are 95% sure that the true incidence of primary outcomes in the studied population, as predicted by the study data—the “point estimates”—likely falls in the interval of 3.3-5.5/1000 births.)  The incidences for each subgroup were as follows:

 

And from the study, a summary of the findings, per group, are as follows:

We are also given odds ratios to go along with these figures—helping us to recognize the significance of the primary outcomes, in relation to location of birth.  In essence, an odds ratio greater than 1.0 suggests that “exposure” to a variable of interest (in this case, place of birth) is a risk factor for the outcome(s) of interest.  An odds ratio less than 1.0 suggests that exposure is protective against the outcome(s) of interest.  An odds ratio close to 1.0 suggests no significant associations between exposure and outcome.  Knowing this, let’s look at the (adjusted) odds ratios from this birth place study:

With all these numbers hovering rather close to 1.0 (with the exception of the alongside midwifery units boasting an odds ratio of less than 1.0) we can conclude that birth place may only bear a small amount of responsibility for primary outcomes—as defined in this study—in the homebirth group; negligible effect on the obstetric unit and FMU groups; and a protective effect on the AMU group.  In fact, the study authors concluded that,

 

Overall, there were no significant differences in the adjusted odds ratios of the primary outcomes for any of the non-obstetric unit settings compared with obstetric units.”

Perhaps the implications made by the adjusted odds ratios would be a bit more powerful, if the study group sizes were more equal (see numbers and percentages of groups above).  And yet, for such an impressively large study, the distribution of the study population amongst the four groups is also rather impressive, considering the distribution of birth locale in the general population, as supplied by study authors: 92% of births in the UK occur within obstetric units and just 8% outside (2.8% at home; 3% in AMUs and <2% in FMUs).

The most striking outcome that anti-homebirth writers are citing as cause for alarm are the numbers for stillbirths, as delineated in the following table:

 

 

If you just look at the crude numbers, you will conclude that babies born at home are twice as likely to die during the birth process, compared to babies born in obstetric units.  Perhaps in some places around the world, this might be a very real estimate.  But in this study, we need to remember the difference in subgroup sizes:  there were 2,866 more births in the obstetric units group than in the homebirths group, for example.  So, if we instead look at the incidence of stillbirth between the groups, we get a different picture:

 

Now, I’m not going to sit here and suggest that even the difference between 0.2 and 0.3 stillbirths/1000 is insignificant…it’s certainly not to the additional three the families who experienced those outcomes.  I don’t think anyone should ever make that claim from an individual perspective.  But, if looking at the data from a statistics perspective—the perspective that informs us when we are advising expectant women/couples on place of birth…or when making our own decisions about birth locale—the incidences are still very low: out of the 16,839 homebirths, the stillbirth ratio for each group was:

Some other interesting numbers that came out in the data are as follows:

The above data suggests that the differences in outcomes between first time (nulliparous) mothers and subsequent (multiparous) mothers are more favorable for women who’ve undergone childbirth previously—regardless of birth location.  The study authors summarize these findings, in terms of policy implications, this way:

“Adverse perinatal outcomes are uncommon in all settings, while interventions during labour and birth are much less common for births planned in non-obstetric unit settings. For nulliparous women, there is some evidence that planning birth at home is associated with a higher risk of an adverse perinatal outcome.”

 

After reading the study and the statistics, what do you think???

 

~ Stay tuned for more coverage of this study ~

 

 

Posted by:  Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE, FACCE

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