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A Tale of Two Births – Comparing Hospitals to Hospitals

December 9th, 2014 by avatar

By Christine H. Morton, PhD

Today, Christine H. Morton, PhD, takes a moment to highlight a just released infographic and report by the California Healthcare Foundation that clearly shows the significance of birthing in a hospital that is “low performing.”  This is a great follow up post to “Practice Variation in Cesarean Rates: Not Due to Maternal Complications” that Pam Vireday wrote about last month. Where women choose to birth really matters and their choice has the potential to have profound impact on their birth outcomes.   – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

An Internet search of “A Tale of Two Births” brings up several blog posts about disparities in experience and outcomes between one person’s hospital and subsequent birth center or home births. Sometimes the disparity is explained away by the fact that for many women, their second labor and birth is shorter and easier than their first. Or debate rages about the statistics on home birth or certified professional midwifery. Now we have a NEW Tale of Two Births to add to the mix. However, this one compares the experiences of two women, who are alike in every respect but one – the hospital where they give birth.

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The California HealthCare Foundation has created an infographic drawn from data reported on California’s healthcare public reporting website, CalQualityCare.org. In this infographic, we meet two women, Sara, and Maya who are identical in every respect – both are the same age, race, and having their first baby, which is head down, at term. However, Sara plans to have her baby at a “high-performing” hospital while Maya will give birth at a “low-performing” hospital. “High performing” is defined as three or more Superior or Above Average scores and no Average, Below Average, or Poor scores on the four maternity measures. “Low performing” is defined as three or more Below Average or Poor scores on the four maternity measures.

Based on the data from those hospitals, the infographic compares the likelihood of each woman experiencing four events: low-risk C-section, episiotomy, exclusive breastmilk before discharge, and VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) rates (the latter one of course requires us to imagine that Sara and Maya had a prior C-section).

First-time mom Sara has a 19% chance of a C-section at her high-performing hospital, while Maya faces a 56% chance of having a C-section at her low-performing hospital. These percentages reflect the weighted average of all high- and low- performing hospitals.

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The readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with these quality metrics and their trends over time. Two of these metrics (low risk C-section and exclusive breastmilk on discharge) are part of the Joint Commission’s Perinatal Care Measure Set. The other two – episiotomy and VBAC are important outcomes of interest to maternity care advocates and, of course, expectant mothers.

Hospitals with >1100 births annually have been required to report the five measures in the Joint Commission’s Perinatal Care Measure Set since January 2014, and these metrics will be publicly reported as of January 2015.

Childbirth educators can help expectant parents find their state’s quality measures and use this information in selecting a hospital for birth. In the event that changing providers or hospitals is not a viable option, childbirth educators can teach pregnant women what they can do to increase their chances of optimal birth outcomes by sharing the Six Healthy Practices with all students, but especially those giving birth in hospitals that are “low-performing.”

You can download the infographic in English and en Español tambien!

About Christine H. Morton

christine morton headshotChristine H. Morton, PhD, is a medical sociologist. Her research and publications focus on women’s reproductive experiences, maternity care advocacy and maternal quality improvement. She is the founder of an online listserv for social scientists studying reproduction, ReproNetwork.org.  Since 2008, she has been at California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative at Stanford University, an organization working to improve maternal quality care and eliminate preventable maternal death and injury and associated racial disparities. She is the author, with Elayne Clift, of Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-emergence of Woman Supported Childbirth in the United States.  In October 2013, she was elected to the Lamaze International Board of Directors.  She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their two school age children and their two dogs.  She can be reached via her website.

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Preventing Cesarean Delivery – What is the Nurses’ Role?

January 8th, 2013 by avatar

By Christine H. Morton, PhD

 ”Experienced nurses practicing in a nurse-managed labor model have the potential to change patient outcomes.” 

Today, on Science & Sensibility, Christine Morton, PhD takes a look at a study examining the role of nurses in helping to achieve a vaginal birth for patients under their care.  No surprise from my point of view, my professional experience as a doula has demonstrated that L&D nurses play a critical role in the birth, and can really help a mother to achieve the outcome she desires.  Please enjoy Christine’s synopsis and interview with one of the study authors.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager

© 2013 Patti Ramos Photography

Readers of this blog are well aware of the 50% increase in cesarean delivery rates over the past decade, and are likely aware that the high US cesarean delivery rate is on the maternal quality and patient safety agendas for many organizations.  More attention will soon be focused on hospital rates (the Joint Commission recently expanded its performance measurement requirements such that as of January 1, 2014, all hospitals with more than 1100 annual births will be REQUIRED to report on the Perinatal Care Measure Set, which was the subject of a past blog post).  The Perinatal Care Measure Set includes a measure on the first birth cesarean among low risk women (nulliparous women who have cesareans at term, with singleton, vertex babies).  Furthermore, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is requiring that all states report rates of Elective Deliveries <39 Weeks as of 1/1/13 and it is likely that a similar requirement for the NTSV (Nulliparous Term Singleton Vertex) Cesarean measure is not far behind.

One indicator of this trend was the February 2012 symposium on preventing the first cesarean held jointly by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG.)  A comprehensive summary of the proceedings of that symposium was published in the November 2012 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is well worth reading but is available only with a subscription.  That same issue had a commentary on how to create a public agenda for reducing cesarean delivery, written by me and my California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative colleagues, which is free to all, thanks to our funder.

The attention to the detrimental health impact of our country’s cesarean rate for women and their babies is a good sign, coming as it does from powerful organizations with interests in providing care and paying for it.  Most of the focus on quality measurement reporting on cesarean delivery has been directed at hospital level (i.e., Leapfrog and The Joint Commission), though there is interest among payers and consumers for public reporting of provider-specific rates.  Virginia is one example where obstetric outcomes (cesarean, episiotomy) are publicly reported at the hospital and provider levels.  However, it is complicated to attribute outcome rates in obstetrics, which is increasingly a ‘team sport’ with multiple clinicians (physicians, midwives and nurses) involved in the care of a woman throughout her pregnancy and birth.

Yet, in all these domains (institutional, measurement, quality improvement), the role of nurses on cesarean delivery decisions and outcomes has been barely mentioned.  Neglecting the labor & delivery nurse’s role is unfortunately all too typical in public discourse around quality reporting, shared decision-making and improving outcomes in birth. I have become very interested in the nursing perspective as the more I learn about hospital birth, the more I realize that nurses are central to the management of labor & delivery units, and in measuring and reporting outcomes.  Thus, it was with great delight that I saw a new study, Intrapartum Nurses’ Perceived Influence on Delivery Mode Decisions and Outcomes in the January 2013 issue of JOGNN

Nurse-researchers Joyce K. Edmonds and Emily J. Jones conducted a semi-structured interview study with 13 nurses who were employed at a hospital with about 2000 births a year and overall cesarean rate of 36%.  These nurses work within a “nurse-managed labor model” which is characterized by a relatively autonomous nursing role, with intermittent communication with an off-site obstetrician.  Most nurses in the US practice within this type of model.  Nationally less than 10% of hospitals that do births are teaching hospitals, which have 24/7 access to physician consultation.  Other hospitals with 24/7 physicians on staff include HMOs like Kaiser Permanente, or those who have hospitalists.  In California, about half of all birthing facilities do not have an OB available onsite 24/7.

Shockingly few studies have looked at nurses’ role on the mode of delivery.   This is more striking when one considers the many specific nursing clinical practice responsibilities that may affect cesarean rates.  Nurses are largely responsible for assessing women during triage for admission, monitoring and assessing the health of mother/baby after hospital admission.  Nurses manage and administer oxytocin, assess and assist with labor pain, and are primary managers of second stage labor.  These practices occur within the administrative context of each hospital’s policies on admission in early labor, rates of interventions such as inductions (especially those for no medical indication), cesarean (especially those among the low risk population) and availability and rates of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).

Data for this study were drawn from semi-structured interviews with nurses who had a range of 10-40 years clinical experience in L&D.  Questions were specifically designed to elicit active practice and interaction with physicians (interactions with women were not addressed).  An example of a question asked of respondents, “Can you tell me about a time when you intervened to promote vaginal delivery or avoid a cesarean?”

The overarching theme in this study was how nurses described their efforts to ‘negotiate for more time’ during labor, to positively impact the likelihood of a vaginal delivery.   Negotiating for more time was defined in this study as “a form of nurse-physician interaction and an action taken to create the temporal space in which nursing interventions thought to affect delivery mode decisions operate”.    The authors found that nurses’ ability to negotiate for more time was based on their knowledge of labor and birth over their many years of experience, as well as their knowledge of individual physician practice patterns.  Furthermore, nurses’ awareness of physician and institutional-imposed time constraints was a key factor in negotiating for more time.

The important conclusion reached by the authors was that “experienced nurses practicing in a nurse-managed labor model have the potential to change patient outcomes.”  Despite the known limitations of this study – small sample of highly experienced nurses working at a single institution – I was intrigued and excited by the practice implications and the potential to develop quality improvement strategies for reducing cesarean deliveries that are specific to nurses.  So often, the labor & delivery nurses’ role is overlooked in this area and this study is an important contribution to our understanding of nurses’ influence in cesarean outcomes.   There is clearly more research and work to be done, and one of the authors, Joyce K. Edmonds, graciously responded to questions I had about the study and future directions for this research and quality improvement initiatives:

CHM: It was interesting that the range of experience represented in your study was 10-40 years – do you think your sample was more weighted toward the more experienced nurses?  Do you have any theories for why the lower end of the range was so high?  Were there nurses in that hospital with 2-3 years of experience?  Any thoughts about why they did or did not participate?

JKE:  Our sample was without doubt weighted to the experienced nurse, and we used the term experienced as a qualifier throughout the paper. This particular hospital staff was highly experienced, although, there were nurses with less than < 5 years experience. We think the sample was a self-selecting group of nurses who felt strongly about birth mode and the influence they had on birth mode decisions. Perhaps, less experienced nurses’ perspectives on birth mode were not as clearly developed as those who participated. It could also be that those who volunteered to participate were more supportive of promoting vaginal deliveries than those who did not participate. It could also be that scheduling conflicts with less experienced nurses prohibited them from participating.

Joyce Edmonds

CHM: I think the fluid nature of ‘time’ and the constraints on physician time bear further exploration.  In this regard, it would have been helpful have analyses of accounts where nurses felt they were ‘unsuccessful’ in buying more time for labor.  The counter-factual example can sometimes shed light on the dynamics – what didn’t work in this case? Do you have any unsuccessful stories in your data and/or did you analyze those?   It seemed as though all the nurses in your study DID negotiate for time, or at least provided you with accounts of when they did.  Were there any nurses who did NOT have a story to share about negotiating for more time?

JKE: All the nurses did talk about negotiating for time, which is the reason it emerged as the overarching theme.  Nurses did talk about not being able to negotiate for more time when cesareans were scheduled because the course of labor management was already established. They also seemed to have less influence when inductions were scheduled because again the labor management plan was established prior to their involvement in the care. I’d have to look back at the interviews with an eye toward specific counter-factual examples.

CHM: I also found it fascinating to read the quote that begins, “It almost feels like you’re working against the machine.” I was curious to know more about the justifications for that taboo of not being able to talk or confront the physician with the ‘agenda.’   In my interviews with OB nurses, I also came across this and think it is an important factor to explore further.  I imagine that nurses with less clinical experience are even less able to identify or recognize this ‘agenda’ and that comes with its own set of practice and policy issues for nursing training.  

JKE: I think the nurse physician relationship shapes the day-to-day work environment of the nurse. It is a long-term relationship relative to the nurse-patient relationship. It is likely that talking about or confronting a particular physician about the potential of an agenda could negatively disrupt the work environment, which is significantly related to nurses’ job satisfaction. Nurses want to be seen as team players and discussing the potential of physician ‘hidden agendas’ is like being a whistle blower. In addition to not wanting to disrupt the power balance, they may not want to invite scrutiny into their own practice patterns.

CHM: I was struck in particular by the account on page 5 of your paper that ends with the quote, “There are certainly situations where the baby needs to come out via C-section, but it is not as many as we do by any stretch.”  What situations?  What factors influence those decisions?  Where do nurses feel they lost power to bargain /buy more time?  

JKE: In this quote, the nurse is referring to medically indicated versus potentially unnecessary cesareans. I believe when nurses speak about cesareans they are not only focused on unplanned, intrapartum cesareans but also scheduled cesareans or scheduled inductions, which can result in a cesarean. It was clear from the interviews that nurses felt less invested in the decision-making process when women came in for scheduled cesareans or planned inductions. Nurses also spoke of how women are set up for failure during pregnancy—by way of unfavorable media messages, lack of unbiased childbirth education, and lack of risk reduction information from prenatal care providers.

CHM: I was intrigued that in this study you did not appear to ask about nurses’ views toward physiological birth (vaginal) and cesarean, or other indicators of their philosophy of birth.  The comment from the nurses who viewed themselves as a ‘dying breed’ begin to capture some sense of that – whether it is experience, knowledge, or philosophy of birth that unites them against this perceived different group of newer nurses.

JKE:  Great question, although it assumes that nurses’ personal philosophy of birth impacts their practice, which it likely does according to Reagan et al. In an attempt to keep the data focused on our main aim we did not ask nurses directly about their personal philosophy of birth. I believe the nurses in the study were united in their knowledge of childbirth–without the now pervasive assessment and intervention technology–knowledge borne out of experience.

CHM: How do you plan to follow up with this research and what are your future projects?    

JKE: Locally, we want to continue the discussion about the influence of nursing care and knowledge on cesarean rates that started with our interviews. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic and hospital policies, we have not had much success with direct follow-up where the study was conducted. However, we are very interested in presenting and discussing the results with other interested audiences. With regard to future projects, we are currently initiating a study to document the degree of nursing influence on cesarean rates at the level of the individual nurse, at an academic medical center and at a community hospital, building on the sentinel, yet dated, work of Radin et. al.  If the results are significant, we foresee the development of a quality improvement strategy directed at providing individual nurses routine (e.g., bi-monthly or quarterly) feedback on standard measures, such as risk adjusted primary cesarean section rates, cervical dilation at cesarean, and cesarean indication, based on the cohort of women in their care. Clearly, although not without great effort, such a strategy would need to be interdisciplinary and have adequate IT infrastructure and support. I also think nurses, as part of a team, should be involved in giving feedback about physician practice patterns in accordance with obstetric standards.

Are you an L&D nurse?  Can you comment on your experiences and how you feel your actions can influence the mode of birth.  If you are a doula, what has been your observation.  Doctor or midwife?  How do you view the role of the L&D nurse?  I look forward to a robust discussion. – SM

References

Edmonds, J. K. and Jones, E. J. (2013), Intrapartum Nurses’ Perceived Influence on Delivery Mode Decisions and Outcomes. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 42: 3–11. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2012.01422.x

Main, E.K., Morton, C.H, Hopkins, D., Giuliani, G.,  Melsop, K., and Gould, J.B (2012), Creating a Public Agenda for Maternity Safety and Quality in Cesarean Delivery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, November 2012; 120 (5):1194-1198.

Radin TG, Harmon JS, Hanson DA. Nurses’ Care During labor: Its Effect on the Cesarean Birth Rate of Healthy, Nulliparous Women. Birth. 1993;20(1):14-21.

Regan M, Liaschenko J. In the Mind of the Beholder Hypothesized Effect of Intrapartum Nurses’ Cognitive Frames of Childbirth Cesarean Section Rates. Qualitative Health Research. 2007;17(5):612-624.

Spong, C. Y. MD; Berghella, V. MD; Wenstrom, K. D. MD; Mercer, B. M. MD; Saade, G. R. MD (2012), Preventing the First Cesarean Delivery: Summary of a Joint Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Workshop, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Volume 120(5), November 2012, p 1181–1193

ACOG, Cesarean Birth, Fetal Monitoring, Guest Posts, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Research, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , , , , ,

No more excuses: video trains hospital staff in the whys and hows of skin-to-skin after birth

June 13th, 2010 by avatar

[Editor’s note: This is a guest post from former Lamaze International President, Jeannette Crenshaw. When Jeannette told me about the video she reviews in this post, I knew I wanted to highlight it as part of the Sixth Healthy Birth Blog Carnival.

I recall  one birth I attended as a midwife, I had to negotiate with the nurse about how long we would “let” the mother and baby remain in skin-to-skin contact after birth. Her reason for wanting to disrupt skin-to-skin time? “I have to put the baby in the computer.” Her job (completing birth documentation) was interfering with her job (safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the mother and baby).

Hospital routines are the #1 reason mothers and babies are denied skin-to-skin contact after birth. Changing this  harmful practice is possible, but it takes a commitment to quality and systems improvement.  Now that the Joint Commission is measuring hospital perinatal quality by the proportion of babies exclusively breastfed at discharge,  hospitals need concrete tools to retrain staff and change delivery room culture. Hospitals: it seems like this video may be $39.00 well spent. – AMR]

Skin to Skin in the First Hour After Birth:
Practical Advice for Staff After Vaginal and Cesarean Birth (DVD)

Executive producer and videographer: Kajsa Brimdyr, PhD, CLC; executive and content producers: Kristin Svensson, RN, PhD (cand.) and Ann-Marie Widström, PhD, RN, MTD.
$39.00 at Healthy Children

scan0004A new DVD from Healthy Children Project should be mandatory viewing for every labor and delivery nurse and birth attendant. It will help maternity health professionals in hospital settings to implement the best practice of uninterrupted skin to skin care beginning immediately after birth until after the first feeding. This is a “how to” DVD, with the practical advice health professionals need to provide clinical care to mothers and babies who are skin to skin immediately after a vaginal or cesarean birth.

The 40 minute DVD, set to original music by J. Hagenbuckle, has 3 content sections, and a section with a complete list of references. The first section describes the short and long term benefits of skin to skin care for newborns and mothers. It shows the 9 stages healthy newborns experience while skin to skin during the first hour after birth—from the birth cry (stage 1), through suckling (stage 8), and sleep (stage 9). The narrator emphasizes the individual way each baby moves through the 9 stages.

The second section shows how to provide care for mothers and babies while they are skin to skin, after a vaginal, and the third, after a cesarean birth. Both sections begin with health professionals teaching pregnant women about immediate skin to skin care prenatally, and on admission to the hospital—which “sets the stage” for immediate skin to skin contact as a normal part of the birth process. After the vaginal birth, the clinician immediately places the baby on mom’s abdomen. After the cesarean birth, the nurse immediately places the baby on mom’s chest, above the sterile field and drapes, as the doctor continues the surgery and the anesthesiologist monitors the mother. The baby’s father is at mom’s side in both segments. Nurses remove birth fluids as they dry the baby—delicately addressing the common concern that babies should first be “cleaned up” at a warmer. Nurses remove wet blankets, place the baby skin to skin, and cover mom and her baby with warmed blankets. Both sections show competent nurses assessing the newborn, providing care, and supporting the mother and baby as the baby moves through the 9 stages of skin to skin.

I strongly recommend this DVD (only $39.00) for staff in any maternity setting. Childbirth educators will find the first section of the DVD a great addition to their prenatal childbirth and breastfeeding classes (although Breastfeeding—A Baby’s Choice, 2007, may be a better choice). Staff who are working to help their hospitals achieve Baby-Friendly designation will find this DVD useful for training. The narrator uses, for the most part, simple and non-clinical language and the video of mothers and babies will quickly engage the viewer. The DVD’s producers met their objective: “to assist staff in providing behaviorally appropriate, individualized, baby adapted care for the full term newborn using the best practice of skin to skin contact in the first hour after birth”.

Reference:

Healthy Children Project. (Producer). (2007). Breastfeeding—A Baby’s Choice [DVD]. Available from http://www.healthychildren.cc/

Jeannette Crenshaw, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE is a member of the graduate faculty at the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and a family educator at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. She represents Lamaze on the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) and coordinates the Lamaze Breastfeeding Support Specialist Program. She has published articles and presented nationally and internationally on a variety of topics, including evidence based maternity care.

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A new vital sign for maternity care: duration of skin-to-skin contact after birth

April 26th, 2010 by avatar

If you haven’t heard, the Joint Commission, the organization that accredits U.S. hospitals, has recently rolled out a bundle of perinatal quality measures. These measures are designed for hospitals to track and improve their performance on indicators of perinatal quality, including the proportion of newborns discharged from the hospital having consumed only breast milk during their hospital stay. The US Breastfeeding Committee created a helpful document for hospitals, Implementing the Joint Commission Perinatal Core Measure on Exclusive Breast Milk Feeding (PDF). Right on the first page and repeated two more times, the Committee makes this suggestion:

Compliance with the new core measure may require facilities to modify their paper charts and/or electronic medical records. Thus facilities may want to consider charting modifications that support breastfeeding (such as length of time of skin-to-skin contact, especially immediately following birth). [emphasis is mine]

I don’t know how difficult it is to get hospitals to make changes to their documentation forms. I assume as more hospitals adopt electronic health records, the task is easier. However, even if changing the form is easy and inexpensive, staff will need to be briefed on the rationale for the change and trained to document the new data properly. This all adds to the complexity and cost of providing care, so it’s easy to see how some hospitals would just stick with their old way of documenting.

But if hospitals are serious about improving their exclusive breastfeeding rates, they should get serious about measuring the duration of skin-to-skin care. A new study in the Journal of Human Lactation demonstrates a strong dose-response relationship between skin-to-skin care and exclusive breastfeeding at hospital discharge. The data in fact come from a hospital quality improvement program carried out in 19 hospitals in California – the reason they were able to detect the dose-response relationship is that they were documenting the length of skin-to-skin contact as part of these quality improvement efforts. Using data from nearly 22,000 mothers and their healthy, full-term babies, the researchers found the dose-response relationship even after controlling for whether the woman intended to exclusively breastfeed, education, ethnicity, anesthesia, mode of birth, and other factors. One factor that was not reported and apparently not controlled for was history of prior birth and/or prior breastfeeding experience. This could be a significant confounder, but there is no reason to believe it would negate the strong and consistent findings – the dose-response pattern held up in multiple calculations applying various assumptions.

The quality improvement project that produced this study was supported by the Loma Linda University Perinatal Services Network, a network of hospitals working collaboratively to create policies and practices that keep moms and babies together after birth. Check out these great flyers and handouts they offer to promote early mother-infant attachment and breastfeeding.

SOFT

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Lamaze International’s Recommendations for Preventing Maternal Deaths

January 27th, 2010 by avatar

JClogo

The Joint Commission Sentinel Alert #44: “Preventing Maternal Deaths” is an important document and public recognition that many of the maternal deaths in the United States are preventable. However, the alert is missing important and useful information for women and childbirth educators since the recommendations in the alert are downstream approaches or recommendations for how to save a woman from dying who may have been thrown in the river. It fails to alert our healthcare system about the need to keep women out of the river in the first place.

Let me give you some examples:

One Joint Commission recommendation is to consistently use techniques that have proven effective in the prevention of thromboembolism (blood clots) in women having surgical births. Clearly it is critical that we reduce the risks of surgery and this recommendation needs to be heeded. We need to make surgical births as safe as possible. However, if we eliminated the overuse of cesarean sections we would eliminate even more deaths and injuries. Based on publicly released data, the increase of cesarean surgical intervention is related to where a woman gives birth.

Debra Bingham, DrPH, RN, LCCE

Debra Bingham, DrPH, RN, LCCE

Indeed there is often as much as a three-fold variation in the number of surgical births performed at different hospitals even after adjusting for the woman’s age and risk factors. Reining in practice variation has been a focus of efforts to improve care in other healthcare specialties, yet wide and unwarranted practice variation remains a serious problem in maternity care.

So why are there so many more surgical births and such wide variation in rates of cesarean sections? Well one clear factor at work is variation in how women are treated in labor. For example, some hospitals keep women who present in early labor while other hospitals are more likely to offer supportive care to these women and encourage that they remain at home until active labor. Why is being in a hospital in early labor a problem? When a woman is in a hospital in early labor she is put in a bed, her movements are restricted, and she is tethered to a fetal monitor. None of these interventions has been shown by research to improve maternal or infant outcomes, and in fact they all have documented harms. In addition, it is normal and expected for early labor to start and stop for several days. However, if a woman is admitted to a hospital in early labor and her labor stops then she is likely to have an unnecessary induction of labor. Overuse of inductions lead to more cesarean sections. This becomes the beginning of a cascade of events that all too often leads to a surgical intervention.

Let’s move to the hemorrhage recommendations as another example. Hemorrhage remains a leading cause of death and severe morbidity despite more efforts over recent years to control blood loss at birth. Why haven’t these efforts succeeded? One reason is that as the cesarean rate rises, more pregnant women have uterine scars. The uterine scar increases a woman’s risk for abnormal placenta implantation when they get pregnant again. These abnormal placenta implantations are called percretas, accretas and previas. When a woman has placenta accreta or percreta this can lead to internal organ damage and permanent damage to her uterus because the placenta literally grows into the uterine muscle or even into her bowel and bladder and cannot detach from these organs after the baby is born. This abnormal implantation leads to hemorrhage and also often necessitates the removal of her uterus to save her life. Abnormal placenta implantations used to be very rare emergencies; they are becoming common now due to the overuse of cesarean sections. This is a trend that is frightening to me because based on the current rates of cesarean sections the number of women affected will only increase. Things are going to get much worse.

Lamaze International has issued our own “Sentinel Alert” on how to prevent maternal deaths. Lamaze’s recommendations are called the Six Healthy Birth Practices. Following these key practices will prevent women from being thrown in the river and needing to be rescued.

The critical behaviors that Lamaze recommends to improve health and safety are to let labor start on it’s own, encourage freedom of movementoffer labor support rather than labor management, avoid all routine interventions not supported by evidence, avoid interfering with a woman’s freedom to push in an upright position or any position of her choice, and keep the baby with the mother after birth.

Hospitals can help achieve the Joint Commission goal of reducing preventable maternal deaths while also making progress toward Joint Commission core measures by training staff in these practices. Lamaze International offers an Evidence-Based Nursing Care Workshop to do just that. Registration is currently open for our March workshop in Hollywood, Florida.

Debra Bingham, DrPH, RH, LCCE is President-Elect for Lamaze International, Executive Director of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC), a member of the California Pregnancy-Associated Maternal Mortality Review Committee and a lead researcher for determining how to prevent maternal deaths.

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