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Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections – A Research Review by Jessica English

April 3rd, 2014 by avatar

By Jessica English, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA)

Today’s research examines the factors that influenced women who chose home birth for the subsequent child, after their previous child was born in a hospital.  Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator Jessica English, along with midwifery colleagues just published “Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections” in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health.  Jessica shares about the research, some of the findings and wraps up speaking about the role that childbirth educators can play in helping women to find satisfaction in their chosen birth location. Are you an LCCE and have published research?  Consider writing a review for S&S.  I would love to highlight our LCCEs.  - Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

As a childbirth educator and doula, I have been listening to women’s birth stories for many years. I’m honored that they trust me again and again with the details of their triumphs, frustrations, joys and sometimes outright trauma. When my agency, Birth Kalamazoo, organized a meeting in 2011 to discuss the midwifery model of care, I didn’t think much of it when the attendees introduced themselves and shared a few details about their births. After all, I knew most of them very well (having taught them or in some cases even attended their births), and I knew their stories.

But one of the midwives we’d invited to speak that day took special note of those stories. Ruth Zielinski, PhD, is a hospital-based nurse-midwife, university professor and researcher in my community. She noticed that a handful of the women who spoke mentioned that they had given birth to their first baby in the hospital, then chose home birth for later babies. She approached me after the meeting, curious about why the women might have chosen home birth after their hospital experiences. I shared my perceptions based on my experience listening to women. Intrigued, Ruth wondered if this was something we could research? Neither of us had ever seen academic research on the topic of women who chose home birth after a hospital experience. Soon enough, we had a four-woman research team in place: Ruth; myself; Kelly Ackerson, an academic colleague from Ruth’s department of nursing; and one of Ruth’s undergraduate students, an honors nursing student who was planning a career in midwifery.

Our first task was to identify the structure of the research process. How would we get the information we needed? We settled quickly on focus groups, and wrote a series of open-ended questions that we expected to elicit the participating women’s honest assessments of both their home and hospital experiences, as well as the reasons behind their decision to choose home birth. The next step was to recruit the participants. Through Birth Kalamazoo’s Facebook page, our e-newsletter and via local midwives, we invited women who fit our criteria to participate in a focus group. The primary requirement was that they needed to have had at least one hospital birth followed by at least one home birth within the past 10 years.

Five focus groups followed, each with four participants and two researchers (one who asked the questions and one who took field notes). The focus groups were transcribed verbatim by members of the research team. After each focus group, team members conferred to make sure that we were in agreement about the themes that were starting to emerge. After the fifth focus group, we agreed that no new themes were emerging and we had reached “saturation of the data.” Led by Ruth and her student Casey Bernhard, the research team identified five themes that summarized what the mothers had shared. A sixth focus group of women (one from each prior focus group) provided “member checking” – we shared the themes we’d identified and asked them to verify whether or not they were in keeping with what they had heard during the focus groups.

The resulting research, “Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections,” is published in the current issue of the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

Some Key Findings: Women’s Choices and Reflections

To summarize, five recurring themes were identified from the women’s reflections on both their hospital and home births: choices and empowerment; intervention and interruptions; disrespect and dismissal; birth space; and connection.

Choices and empowerment. The women in our groups reported that with their hospital births they felt they did not actually have much choice in the direction of their care. Although a few women in the study had generally positive hospital experiences, most reported feelings of disempowerment and limited choices associated with their hospital birth and more meaningful choices and feelings of empowerment with their home births.

Interventions and interruptions. During their hospital births, women experienced significantly more interventions compared to their home births. Many of the women in our study perceived these interventions as unnecessary. They commented on timetables, hospital “agendas” and interruptions both during the birth and postpartum period for their hospital births.

Disrespect and dismissal. Many of the women in our study said they felt that their hospital-based providers tended to focus more on anatomical parts and the medical process of birth, rather than on them as whole people. With their home births, they reported a much more holistic model with great respect for their decisions.

Some women who wanted to continue care with both a home birth provider and a hospital-based provider (known as “dual” or “concurrent” care) were dismissed from their hospital-based practice when they revealed that they were planning a home birth.

Birth space. Universally, women reported feeling more comfortable laboring in their own homes, surrounded by only the people they chose to invite into that space. Several women mentioned the appeal of having their older children with them for the birth, or at least having that option.

Connection. When women in our study reported positive hospital births, they also spoke of their positive connections to their providers. For both home and hospital settings, women said that feeling a sense of trust and connection to their doctor or midwife was important and even helped them to feel more comfortable with the process of birth. That theme of connection extended to women’s reflections that during their home births they also generally felt more connected to their bodies, to their babies and to other family members.

Reflections and Implications for Childbirth Educators

As an experienced Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and doula, I wasn’t surprised by the findings of our research. The reflections of the women participating were very much in keeping with the stories I have heard for almost a decade from my students, clients and even random women (and men!) who want to share their experiences. It does help me, however, to see the themes identified so clearly. I can envision sharing this research with women who are choosing a home birth for a second, third or fourth baby after a prior hospital birth. It may be validating to them to see many of their own feelings and reflections mirrored in other women’s experiences.

When I think about limitations of this study, I think about the natural differences between first and subsequent births. First births are often longer and more complex, with second and later births often shorter and more straightforward. Could that have influenced women’s feelings of empowerment? As an educator and doula, I also have observed that, after their first baby, many women in general feel more assertive and empowered to take control of their choices for their later birth experiences, whatever the birth setting.

In fairness to the hospital environment, it’s also important to remember that our study was limited to women who felt compelled to make a change for subsequent births. Women who have had very positive, respectful, low-intervention hospital births often choose that same setting for future babies, and their voices were not represented in our focus groups.

Our research may also have been influenced by the specific birth culture in Southwest Michigan. For example, women in our area sometimes want to receive care from both a hospital-based provider and a home birth midwife, but they are typically discharged from their hospital-based practice if they reveal they are planning a home birth. I know this isn’t the case in all areas of the country, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s due in part to the lack of licensing for Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) in our state. Fellow LCCEs and doulas in states where CPMs are licensed have shared that women in their communities may have easier access to this kind of dual care. I think this issue merits further exploration, with research comparing the home birth experiences of women in various states where CPMs are licensed, unlicensed and specifically outlawed.

As I analyze our results with my childbirth educator hat on, I keep mulling the impact of feelings of safety and comfort on oxytocin. When women feel safe, nurtured, supported and comfortable, we know that the hormones of labor work more efficiently. Did the women in our study have more straightforward births at home in part because the environment allows their bodies to work optimally? I have given talks to labor and delivery nurses on ways they can boost oxytocin in the hospital environment, and as a doula trainer I also address this issue with new doulas. For many women, the home birth setting is inherently designed to maximize oxytocin.

The connection theme that arose in our study is also closely tied to oxytocin. In attending hospital births as a doula, I try to facilitate moments of connection between a woman and her care providers. Penny Simkin’s landmark research on women’s lasting birth memories also points to the importance of such relationships. (Simkin, 1991) Connection comes very naturally between a doula and her client, and often between a home birth midwife and a laboring woman as well. Those connections can be more difficult in a busy hospital environment where a woman is working with a nurse she has likely never met, and often with a provider who is one of many in a busy practice, and who may have several other patients in labor. Can we make more space within our medical system for nurture, if not for the emotional benefits then for the biological effect on the chemical balance in women’s bodies?

In addition to the connection challenges, the themes identified in our research also point to other weaknesses inherent in the medical model of birth. As an educator, I’m already thinking about how I can use these findings to help prepare families for more positive hospital-based experiences. How can they navigate the system to help prevent some of the pitfalls many of these women experienced during their hospital births? I believe so strongly that meaningful change in our system begins with families who speak up for what they need and want for their births. Childbirth educators are on the front lines to help educate families about what a positive, healthy birth experience can look like, and to prepare our students to advocate within the system they’ve chosen to support them.

As leaders in our birth communities, educators can also directly work for change by talking with nurses, midwives and physicians about what women are looking for in their births. Respectfully discussing both the points of dissatisfaction and satisfaction mentioned in this study can help reinforce positive behaviors and change those that may be detrimental to women and to birth. Many of the things women say they want for their births are strongly supported by quality scientific evidence. Take kangaroo care as an example. Ten years ago, a woman in our community might have said in this focus group that she wanted a home birth in part because her hospital providers refused to allow uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for a few hours after the birth. Today, we have a hospital in our community that is a national leader in kangaroo care for all families and another that is trying to reach that benchmark.

Change is slow, but childbirth educators can help make it happen! Better birth is not just an issue of physical health and emotional well being, it is also financially beneficial to hospitals to flex to provide the compassionate, evidence-based care that will keep families within their system, coming back for subsequent births.

However, the intention of our research was not to dissuade women from home birth. For those who continue to choose that setting for later babies, it may be helpful for educators, doulas, midwives, physicians and others within the maternity care system to understand the factors that motivate them to make that informed choice for their families.

Would you share this research with your childbirth education students and expecting families?  How would you use it?  Do you think that the conclusions are valid?  Do you see things differently? Discuss with us in the comments section. – SM

References

Bernhard, C., Zielinski, R., Ackerson, K. and English, J. (2014), Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12113

Simkin, P. (1991). Just Another Day in a Woman’s Life? Women’s Long‐Term Perceptions of Their First Birth Experience. Part I. Birth, 18(4), 203-210.

About Jessica English

jessica english-bw head shotJessica English, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA) is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, birth doula and DONA-approved birth doula trainer. She is the owner of Birth Kalamazoo, which offers birth and postpartum doula services, natural childbirth and breastfeeding classes, birth photography, in-home lactation consulting and renewal groups for mothers. She is currently producing a short film about birth, due out in the fall.

Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Home Birth, Maternity Care, Midwifery, New Research, Research, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , ,

Home Birth In a Risk Society: A Commentary by Sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman

February 4th, 2014 by avatar

By Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD

Today, I am delighted to share with you an essay on risk written by sociologist and author Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD.  There has been much discussion and debate on two papers just published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, using the MANA Stats V2.0 data from the Midwives Alliance of North American. You can find these two papers and a research review by Judith Lothian published on January 30th on Science & Sensibility. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

We live in what Social Scientists called a ‘Risk Society.”[i] If you simply google “risk and birth,” you get over 402 million ‘hits.’  So no question, birth is understood as  having risks, creating risks, being risky business indeed.  But not the riskiest of businesses – Google “risk and food,” and you get almost twice as many hits – over 746 million. That doesn’t feel right somehow – pregnancy and birth are always and everywhere in our world understood as risky; food not so much.  I nibble some snacks as I write, sip some tea – are you worrying for me? Wishing me luck with that?  Thinking about the odds of food poisoning? Insecticide exposure?  the long term risks of diabetes, joint pain, heart troubles, cancers that might be flowing forth from the snack choices I am making?

image: www.thinknpc.org

image: www.thinknpc.org

 

And what about those snack choices?  Do they not carry much of the same moral weight that pregnancy choices make — if I tell you it’s green tea and carrots, or if I tell you it’s a honey chai latte and multigrain crackers with organic almond butter, or if I tell you it’s a Nestle Iced Tea and Oreo cookies – do I not create different images of myself as a risk-taking or risk-sparing person, even as a more or less ‘good’ and responsible person?  These are of course the arguments that Risk-society thinkers have been addressing: the risks we perceive and the risks we take are judged, by ourselves and by others.

In birth, few choices have been as freighted with the language of risk and responsibility as that of home birth.

The irony here is that birth moved into the hospital with all of the data showing us that move increased risk; and all of the research we have now still shows us that hospitals present unique and particular risks for birth. Birth moved into the hospital long before the era of Risk – that move was done in the era of Science.  The same science that covered our kitchens in white laboratory-style paint and tiles, that replaced local baking with packaged white bread made out of mass-milled white flour, that created industrialized systems to raise cheap meat at whatever costs to health of humans or animals, that moved fruits and vegetables from fresh to canned – that same science that created the industrial diet of the turn of the century, created the industrial birth.

image: sharon muza

image: sharon muza

When I wanted a home birth almost forty years ago, I knew nothing of midwifery. I just assumed that obstetricians had the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver babies (and yes, I called it ‘deliver’) and that those skills could be used in my bedroom as well as in a ‘delivery room.’  Over the course of my scholarly work in the years following, I learned how wrong that was.  Home birth involves a set of skills, practices and competencies that people trained in hospital birth most often never have learned.  Thus the MANA data is not merely a comparison of place: What we are seeing in this data set is a study of midwifery-led care, or as Ronnie Lichtman has called it[ii], midwifery-guided birth, birth in settings where midwives and the women they are guiding have control over practice.

MANA’s data and these articles are showing us that the United States, for all of its problems, is not exceptional:  Fully autonomous, informed midwifery care provides better birth outcomes than does care under Obstetrical management.  Obstetrics and Gynecology is a surgical specialty, magnificently equipped to manage particular illnesses and crises, but neither the discipline nor the hospital settings it has developed for its practice are appropriate for normal, physiologic birth.

Research on women who choose home birth, as well as midwives who provide it, show that their concerns go beyond the risks of what is often called the ‘cascade of interventions’ that follows medical management, leading as it so often does to cesarean section.  In addition to the well-documented iatrogenic risks, they address risks of the hospital itself, what are called when looking at infections, ‘nosocomial’ risks. They were concerned with errors that are made when people are managed in what is essentially a factory-like setting: risks of overcrowding; risks of exposure to others and exposure of self.[iii]

Hospital-industrialized births demand standardized care. Consider something as mundane and yet intrusive as the vaginal exam.  Medical guidelines, the medical story, is that such exams are necessary to determine labor and its stages.  That of course is absurd.  Do you really think that an experienced midwife, someone who has attended hundreds or thousands of births cannot tell if a labor is established without a vaginal exam? What a midwife needs that exam for is to document, not to establish the labor.  Those exams are not only intimate and intrusive, but for women with histories of sexual abuse especially, can be experienced as traumatic.[iv] For all women, raised with ideas of bodily privacy, integrity and what used to be called ‘modesty,’ such exams at a moment of vulnerable transition are problematic. Done for reasons of institutional management and control, they are one more interruption and create risks of their own. Particularly in hospital settings, vaginal exams are one more occasion for the introduction of nosocomial infection.

Managing the management thus becomes necessary in hospital settings: – midwives use the vaginal exam to create the story that will be most in the woman’s best interests, and occasionally in the midwives’ own best interest.  Midwives are thoughtful about when they measure because, for example, they are hesitant to start the clock too early.  In such care, what midwives are trying to minimize is not the risks of a prolonged labor, but the risks of intervening in a labor medically defined as prolonged.

It is reasonable to talk about how recent this language of ‘risk’ is in pregnancy and in birth – but the language of danger, that which we are in risk of, has long been an accepted part of birth.  Calling it “Risk” is adding the numbers – sure there are dangers, but precisely what are the odds? That there are dangers in pregnancy and in birth, and that they can be avoided or overcome, this is not news.  Dangers, disasters even, could happen in the best and healthiest of pregnancies and births.  The difference perhaps is that now there is no such thing as a healthy pregnancy and birth.  There still is an understanding of such a thing as a ‘healthy meal” and even a “healthy diet,’ but no longer, it seems to me, a healthy pregnancy – the best you can hope for is a low risk pregnancy.

It is not that midwives do not have understandings of danger and knowledge about ways to avoid danger, including the dangers of prolonged labors.  That is precisely what midwifery has been throughout time and across place: the development of a body of knowledge and skilled craftsmanship to navigate the dangers of childbirth.  All of that knowledge was discounted with medicalization.

Scientific or ‘Medical’ knowledge is accepted as real and authoritative; other knowledge is reduced to ‘intuition’ or ‘spiritual knowing,’ made all but laughable.   But when a baker adds a bit more flour because the dough is sticky, is that ‘intuition’?  Or is that knowledge based on craft, skill, deep knowledge of the hands?  When a violin-maker rejects a piece of wood in favor of one lying next to it that looks just the same to me or to you, is that ‘intuition’?  Or experience, skill and craft?  And when a leading neurosurgeon examines a dozen stroke patients who all present pretty much the same way on all of their tests and feels hopeful about some and concerned for others, is that ‘intuition’?  Or knowledge based on experience, using a range of senses and information that may not be captured in the tests?

In hospital settings, midwives do not have the authority to use their knowledge fully in the woman’s best interests.  And therein lie the risks.

And finally, it would be helpful to put these risks in contextIf safety were our real concern, if saving the lives of babies and of mothers were the driving force, then there are a number of changes we would make immediately.  We would require helmets for people in cars, something we know would save lives each week.  We would lower the speed limit in urban areas, and end driveway parking in suburbs. To suggest such things makes one look crazy – crazier than suggesting home birth.  But it most assuredly would protect children. If saving babies were our concern, we would invest in public housing, and in the food system.  These are large scale changes that would save far more people than anything that happens in those few hours of late labor to early neonatal period, the 24 or so hours of hospitalization that is now being debated.

Clearly something more or other than saving babies is at stake.

References

[i] Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity (Vol. 17). Sage.

[ii] Lichtman, R. (2013). Midwives Don’t Deliver or Catch: A Humble Vocabulary Suggestion. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

[iii] Katz Rothman, B., (2014) Risk, Pregnancy and Childbirth, Risk, Health and Society, edited by Alaszewski, Intro by Barbara Katz Rothman. Volume 16.1, forthcoming.

[iv]  Adult manifestations of childhood sexual abuse. Committee Opinion No. 498, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2011: 118:392-5.

About Barbara Katz Rothman

image: Barbara Katz Rothman

image: Barbara Katz Rothman

Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD, is Professor of Sociology, Public Health, Disability Studies and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York, and on the faculty of the Masters in Health and Society at the Charite in Berlin, the University of Plymouth in the UK, and the International Midwifery Preparation Program at Ryerson University in Toronto Canada. Her books include In Labor: Women and Power in the Birthplace, The Tentative Pregnancy: How Amniocentesis Changes the Experience of Motherhood, Recreating Motherhood, The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Human Gene Study,  Weaving A Family: Untangling Race and Adoption and Laboring On: Birth in Transition in the United States.  Dr. Katz Rothman is the proud recipient of an award for “Midwifing the Movement” from the Midwives Alliance of North America.

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery, New Research , , , , , , , , , ,

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

January 31st, 2013 by avatar

http://flic.kr/p/v7Wse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM

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

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

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

Systems obstacles:

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

Business obstacles:

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

Professional obstacles: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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