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A Game of Telephone and Misinterpreting Information

March 19th, 2013 by avatar

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Regular contributor Deena Blumenfeld shares her recent experience with a “research” article that washed over social media outlets and was shared and discussed by many birth professionals.  Deena explains how she fell in step with others and ended up being lead down the wrong path.  Have you every made this mistake too?  Please share your thoughts in our comment section.- Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

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Gathering information from social media can be like playing a giant game of “telephone” with a million of your closest friends.

This is often how it goes:

  • Someone reads an article. They post to Facebook (or other venue) a link and a comment.
  • We read this person’s comment and add our own comment.
  • Then we go back and skim the article, and comment again.
  • Next we post a link to the article, with our own comments and opinions regarding the article.
  • The next reader takes our opinion as gospel, only reads the headline of the article and then shares our opinion on their page, neglecting to link the article with their comment.
  • So now we have a rumor about an opinion and after 345 more postings, no one knows where the original source was of what anyone is talking about anymore.  But, whatever it is, it sounds AWFUL and we are indignant about it.

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever taken a rumor, opinion or comment about an article or study to be gospel truth, without fully reading and researching the information on your own… and then go on to repeat that rumor or opinion? 

I’ll sheepishly raise my hand here…

Not too long ago, there was an article on medpagetoday.com entitled New Form of Misoprostol Speeds Up Labor.” Now, without reading the article, doesn’t it seem that we now have a form of misoprostol being used for augmentation? 

This is the misinterpretation that was flying around Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for days after the article was published on February 18, 2013. The outrage, fear and condemnation of anyone who thought it might possibly be a good idea to use misoprostol for augmentation was overwhelming. I read, and participated in, many discussions regarding the dangers of this drug; uterine rupture, mothers who have died, babies who have died, the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, and so on. 

But yet we all missed it, me included.  That misleading headline leads us to believe that this was misoprostol for augmentation of labor; when in reality, it is an article about a new form of misoprostol, designed in the appropriate dosage, to induce labor.  This ‘little oops’ caused a big stir for not much. 

So, let’s look at what the article really talks about and what we should know.

  • This is an article about an abstract which was presented at a conference. It is not a peer-reviewed, published study.
  • We do not have access to the full study, since it isn’t published. So, we cannot evaluate it effectively.
  • The study compared the efficacy of this new form of misoprostol suppository to the existing dinoprostone (cervadil) suppository for induction of labor.
  • This study of 1,358 women found that the misoprostol suppository worked more quickly than the dinoprostone to get women to active labor as well as to birth.

“Along with the primary efficacy benefit of shorter time to vaginal delivery, the novel agent was also associated with faster delivery of any type, vaginal or cesarean (median 18.3 hours versus 27.3 hours with dinoprostone, P<0.001).”

“Other secondary outcome benefits were shorter time to active labor at 12.1 hours versus 18.6 hours, respectively (P<0.001), with substantially fewer women needing oxytocin prior to delivery (48% versus 74%, P<0.001).” 

Hang on a minute: “faster delivery of any type, vaginal or cesarean.” If the results of the induction end up as a cesarean, can we call it a successful induction? I’m not sure we can. I think this is a failed induction. Sure the medication worked to get labor started, but for whatever reason she ended up with a cesarean section. Faster to a cesarean section – wouldn’t it have been even faster to just schedule the cesarean section? 

“T’he primary safety outcome of cesarean delivery came out similar between groups at 26% with misoprostol and 27% with dinoprostone (P=0.65). Nor was there a difference in indication for cesarean section.”

When asked at the session why a faster vaginal delivery didn’t translate into fewer cesarean deliveries, Wing pointed to the myriad other factors that play into delivery mode. “We can flip the switch on but that doesn’t always get us the desired result,” she told the audience.” 

The article is leaning towards “faster is better” in terms of labor. We are left with more questions than answers. The answers may be found within the study itself, however, we don’t have access to the study. My questions:

But why? Why is a faster induction (or faster labor) better than a slower one?

Aren’t faster labors more painful? Aren’t contractions more challenging to cope with when they are more intense?

Do we have high rates of fetal distress with a faster labor vs. a slower one?

Who benefits from a faster birth?

The articles states that fewer women needed to be augmented with pitocin with a misoprostol induction vs. a dinoprostone induction. Is that a good thing? Bad? Neutral?

We also don’t know the researcher’s intentions. Without being able to read the study, we can only make assumptions. Do we assume the intention is a faster labor? Do we assume the intention is to make misoprostol safer for induction? Something else? Or maybe, just maybe, we don’t assume anything at all. Assumptions can be very dangerous and in most cases, they are wrong. 

How to avoid misinterpreting the data and spreading rumors:

  • Always go to the study! An article about the study is someone else’s opinion. The abstract is the Cliff’s Notes version of the study.
  • Admit when you don’t understand something and talk to someone who does.
  • Look to the citations and in the study to check for further information.
  • Use the Cochrane Library and other sources for more information.
  • Don’t make assumptions based on other people’s opinions.
  • If you don’t know for sure, don’t spread the information!
  • If you made a mistake and misinterpreted a study or article, say so. It’s better to admit you are wrong than to continue to spread inaccurate information.

My Take Away

The take away from all of this is that an article about an abstract presented at a conference leaves us with more questions than answers. We cannot accurately evaluate that which we cannot read in its entirety. Social media is a good tool, but we should be cautious about that which sounds too good (or bad!) to be true. We should take others opinions as just that – opinions, until we’ve done our own solid research. We should also be cautious about the ‘click and share’ phenomenon. Double check, do your homework and make sure the information we share is accurate. I’ll do better next time too.

For more on misoprostol for labor induction please read:

  1. Science & Sensibility: Update on Spin Doctoring Misoprostol (Cytotec): Unsafe at Any Dose
  2. Science & Sensibility: ACOG’s 2009 Induction Guidelines: Spin Doctoring Misoprostol (Cytotec)
  3. Journal of Perinatal Education: The Freedom to Birth—The Use of Cytotec to Induce Labor: A Non-Evidence-Based Intervention by Madeline Oden
  4. WHO: Misoprostol for cervical ripening and induction of labour
  5. WHO: WHO Recommendations for Induction of Labor, 2011
  6. Induced and Seduced: The Dangers of Cytotec by Ina May Gaskin
  7. Adverse Events Following Misoprostol Induction of Labor by Marsden Wagner, MD, MS

 

 

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research, Research, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

“Choosing Wisely” in maternity care: ACOG and AAFP urge women to question elective deliveries.

February 21st, 2013 by avatar

 

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Last April, the ABIM Foundation, with Consumer Reports and other partners, drew national attention to overuse of ineffective and harmful practices across the health care system with their Choosing Wisely campaign. As part of the campaign, professional medical societies identified practices within their own specialties that patients should avoid or question carefully. Today, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have joined the campaigndrawing national attention to the overuse and misuse of induction of labor. ACOG and AAFP are telling women and their maternity care providers:

Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor or cesarean deliveries before 39 weeks 0 days gestational age.

Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor between 39 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 0 days unless the cervix is deemed favorable. 

(“Favorable” means the cervix is already thinned out and beginning to dilate, and the baby is settling into the pelvis. Another word for this is “ripe,” and doctors and midwives use a tool called the Bishop Score to give an objective measurement of ripeness. Although ACOG and AAFP do not define “favorable,” studies show cesarean risk is elevated with a Bishop Score of 8 or lower in a woman having her first birth and 6 or lower in women who have already given birth vaginally.)  

Much work has already been done to spread the first message. Although ACOG has long advised against early elective deliveries, a confluence of quality improvement programs and public awareness campaigns have made it increasingly difficult for providers to perform non-medically indicated inductions or c-sections before 39 weeks.

But as the public and the health care community have accepted the “39 weeks” directive, concern about unintended consequences has grown. Christine Morton, a researcher at the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative and regular contributor to Science & Sensibilitysums up concerns shared by many, including Childbirth Connection:

It is possible that this measure may sensitize stakeholders to the wrong issue: timing of birth rather than the fact that it is generally best when labor begins on its own.  Additionally, is it possible that 39 weeks could become the new “ideal” gestational age, because it will be assumed that 39 completed weeks is the best time to be born?

The second Choosing Wisely statement aims to mitigate these unintended consequences. Inducing with an unripe cervix significantly increases the chance of a c-section and its many associated harms. Women considering induction for a non-medical reason deserve to know about these excess risks, and should question whether it is worth any non-medical benefits of elective delivery they perceive or expect. Lamaze International has spoken to the importance of letting labor begin on its own, as it is the first topic in the Six Healthy Birth Practices.

But will the new message lead women and care providers to think that delivery is indicated once a woman’s cervix is ripe? Through the Choosing Wisely campaign ACOG and AAFP have made powerful statements acknowledging that scheduled delivery is unwise if the baby or the woman might not be ready for birth. Although gestational age and the Bishop score are tools to estimate readiness for birth, the best indicator of readiness is still the spontaneous onset of labor at term, the culmination of an intricate interplay of hormonal signals between the fetus and the woman. Anytime we intervene with the timing of birth we have to weigh the potential benefits and harms of overriding that process in the context of the fully informed preferences and values of women.

This summer, our collaboration with the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation will culminate in the release of our first three Smart Decision Guides. These evidence-based, interactive decision support tools will help women learn the possible benefits and harms of scheduled delivery versus waiting for labor to start on its own and to weigh these based on what is most important to them. These tools help women choose wisely – to identify when an option is not appropriate or safe for them, and to thoughtfully weigh options when there are both pros and cons to consider.

Interested in learning more about shared decision making in maternity care? Sign up for a free webinar on March 13 sponsored by the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation to hear more about what clinicians, consumers, employers, and others thinking about the importance of maternity care shared decision making.

 

ACOG, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, informed Consent, Maternal Quality Improvement, Medical Interventions, Practice Guidelines, Pre-term Birth, Webinars , , , , , , , , , ,

Pelvic Exams Near Term: Benefit or Risk? Talking to Mothers About Informed Consent and Refusal

November 2nd, 2012 by avatar

Today, S&S contributor Jackie Levine discusses the potential risks of routine cervical checks near term and how to help your clients and students be prepared to have a discussion with their health care provider about the necessity of such exams. – SM

There are some studies that show a link between routine weekly pelvic exams in the last month or so of pregnancy and an increase in rupture of membranes (ROM) that occur well before labor was meant begin, meaning the membranes have ruptured prematurely, (adding a P to ROM, for premature rupture).   The natural onset of labor may be a week or perhaps only days away, but everything is not quite ready, and if effective labor does not begin induction frequently follows.  And when induction fails, as often it will, since the rupture was premature, and the body and the baby are not ready, cesarean is often the outcome.

photo credit: flickr (link below)

Many women find that their health care providers may start doing pelvic exams at about 37 weeks gestation.  Women should consider asking their doctor or midwife whether these exams are necessary to insure the health and safety of herself and her baby, before providing consent for this invasive procedure.  When I discuss these near term cervical exams with my childbirth class students and look at the studies, mothers-to-be have to ask themselves whether the benefits of weekly exams outweigh the other risks; potential PROM, induction and the increased possibility of cesarean section.

“How do I tell my health care provider that I don’t want an exam, and not have those uncomfortable moments when my doctor or midwife thinks I’m defying him or her and not letting them do what they always do?”  That’s the common and sensible worry, that our students may have, but if we provide an opportunity to role-play with our students and clients and also provide the studies, they will feel confident about having this discussion. They will know the facts and are informed health consumers who could consider saying “Oh, I just don’t want that exam today, so can we do it next week?” They might also share that they’ve researched this topic, mention the studies and ask how routine exams week after week will help insure good health.

An older study examining the relationship between late term pelvic exams and the incidence of PROM stated:

 In the 174 patients on whom pelvic examinations were done weekly starting at 37 weeks gestation, the incidence of PROM was 18%,   which was a significant increase (P=.001).  The primary cesarean section rate was comparable in both groups with PROM; however, the overall primary cesarean rate when PROM occurred was found to be twice that of the remaining population. The study suggests that routine pelvic examinations may be (sic) a significant contributing factor to the incidence of PROM. Women with uncomplicated pregnancies were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The author theorizes that the probing finger carries up and deposits on the cervix bacteria and acidic vaginal secretions capable of penetrating the mucous plug and causing sufficient low-grade inflammation or sub-clinical infection to rupture membranes.“  “It would therefore seem prudent to recommend that no pelvic examinations be done routinely in the third trimester unless a valid medical indication [sic] exists to examine the cervix … especially since the information gained from these routine examinations is often of little or no benefit to either the physician or the patient.” (Lenahan, 1984.)

We have all been subtly bullied at one time or another by those in positions of authority, and it’s easy to understand the courage and confidence needed to question a caregiver. It’s a mother’s right and responsibility first to know and then to question, but confidence is the key.  We must make an effort to give real meaning to a women’s right to choose, and to the principle of informed refusal.  The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has addressed informed refusal several times with its membership since at least 19921, speaking powerfully  about the autonomy of the individual.  Although these writings and bulletins are aimed mainly at assuring legal protection for caregivers, they are a resounding affirmation of the legal and moral right of the patient to decide for herself.

Since the studies assert that routine exams are neither predictive nor probative, the doctor or midwife must be able to say something medically strong to counter the available studies.  When mothers have asked their providers for the reasons to do an exam, they bring a myriad of interesting answers back to class for discussion, but rarely any facts or science.  Remember, ACOG  itself published a study last year examining the basis for its care guidelines and found that “One third of the recommendations put forth by the Congress in its practice bulletins are based on good and consistent scientific evidence” ACOG, 2011) meaning Level A, and that gives us pause to consider the 70% of practices represented by Levels B and C . Care providers will often reconsider when an informed mother-to-be can ask politely and tactfully, about the science that recommends a weekly routine cervical assessment.

Again, women should be able to weigh the risks of routine exams against the possibility of that cascade of interventions that follow on with PROM, interventions that will, at the least, lead to an uncomfortable and harder-to-manage induction, and at worst, put our students and clients on that gurney ride into the operating room.

When a mother is motivated to discuss routine pelvic exams with her caregiver, it may be the first test of the mutual trust and respect she hopes for in that relationship.  Until that point in her pregnancy, she may not have had the opportunity, or the necessity to assert her rights as a maternity patient.  She may have refused to have a routine sonogram or two because her insurance policy would not cover extra routine assessments, but refusing pelvic exams unless there is a valid medical reason will tell her how little or much her HCP is willing to act on best evidence, give her individuated care and show respect for her informed refusal.

The first time she refuses the exam may not be an accurate opportunity for her to judge; many caregivers will let refusal ride that once, but as pregnancy nears term, most docs begin to be insistent about cervical assessment, even without medical indication. A mother-to-be can begin to learn her caregiver’s view of best-evidence care and his or her willingness to listen to her so that she will have an idea, going forward, of how best to assert her rights, with knowledge and confidence in herself, and can get support she may need in our classes.

In a Science & Sensibility post in May 2011, I talked about the importance of giving mothers the same studies that caregivers have access to.  What I said then about giving our classes the actual studies, along with discussion, still applies:

“…perhaps we need to give women a different kind of “evidence”, by giving them a look into the medical community.  If women can know more of what goes on inside the profession, if they know a bit of what the docs know, they feel a different level of empowerment.  They feel a gravitas….Not only do they know that the evidence exists somewhere out there…they see it; they own copies of the studies. They feel trusted with special information that they would never otherwise have access to. In addition to learning to trust their bodies, in addition to knowing how birth works, in addition to practicing comfort measures, they learn about what goes on behind the scenes.  It expands their sense of control and choice. “  

Refusing to have routine pelvic exams in those last weeks of pregnancy is a real opportunity for our students and clients to learn how to ask for, even insist on, best-evidence care for themselves and their babies.  It’s certainly worth a try, and we can support them in the last weeks in a positive way with lots of opportunity for role-play and discussion as they report back to class and share their experiences with informed refusal.

How do you bring up the topic of regular cervical exams for women who are not in labor?  Do you talk about this with your clients and students?  What are your favorite resources for presenting this and facilitating discussions?  Have your students shared stories about their experiences.?  Are you a health care provider?  What are your feelings on routine pelvic exams at the end of pregnancy?  Share your thoughts in our comment section. – SM

References:

ACOG: Ethical dimensions of informed consent: a compendium of selected publications, ACOG Committee Opinion 108. Washington DC, 1992.

ACOG Committee opinion. Informed refusal. Number 166, December 1995. Committee on Professional Liability. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. et al. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. (1996).

ACOG Committee Opinion No. 306. Informed refusal. ACOG Committee on Professional Liability, Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Dec;104(6):1465-6.

Lenahan, JP Jr., Relationship of antepartum pelvic examinations to premature rupture of the membranes. Journal Obstetrics Gynecology 1984, Jan:63(1):33-37.

Levine, J. (May 31, 2011) A Lamaze Story. Retrieved from http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=2954

Vayssière, C. Contre le toucher vaginal systématique en obstétrique Gynécologie Obstétrique & Fertilité, 2005, Volume 33, Issue 1, Pages 69-74.

Wright JD, Pawar N, Gonzalez JS, Lewin SN, Burke WM, Simpson LL, Charles AS, D’Alton ME, Herzog TJ, Scientific Evidence Underlying the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Practice Bulletins, Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Sep;118(3):505-12.

photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/nathansnostalgia/498100786/

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Let Labor Begin on Its Own: A New Study from BJOG Seems To Say Otherwise for Twin Pregnancies

July 5th, 2012 by avatar

When the study titled Elective birth at 37 weeks of gestation versus standard care for women with an uncomplicated twin pregnancy at term: the Twins Timing of Birth Randomised Trial came out on June 13, 2012 both the BJOG:An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in their press release: “BJOG release: Elective birth at 37 weeks gestation safer for mothers carrying uncomplicated twins, new research suggests” and Science Daily: “Earlier Birth, at 37 Weeks, Is Best for Twins, Study Suggests” reported the findings as strong evidence to support NICE’s (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines.

“The findings of our randomised trial support the recent NICE recommendations. For women with an uncomplicated twin pregnancy at 37 weeks of gestation, elective birth was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of birthweight below the third centile, with no identified increase in the risks associated with early birth for either women or their infants.”

So what are the NICE recommendations?

  • 1.7.1.5 Inform women with uncomplicated monochorionic twin pregnancies that elective birth from 36 weeks 0 days does not appear to be associated with an increased risk of serious adverse outcomes, and that continuing uncomplicated twin pregnancies beyond 38 weeks 0 days increases the risk of fetal death.
  •  1.7.1.6 Inform women with uncomplicated dichorionic twin pregnancies that elective birth from 37 weeks 0 days does not appear to be associated with an increased risk of serious adverse outcomes, and that continuing uncomplicated twin pregnancies beyond 38 weeks 0 days increases the risk of fetal death.

Photo by www.photographybyjoelle.com licensed under Creative Commons

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the study. This is a randomized control trial where women with twin pregnancies were selected by phone to either be placed in the “standard care” bucket or the “elective birth” bucket. The goal of the study was to determine if an uncomplicated twin pregnancy delivered at 37 weeks gestation reduced the risk of death or serious outcomes for babies without increasing harm.

We do know that multiple pregnancies come with unique complications that singletons do not, such as high rates of prematurity, cerebral palsy, developmental delays and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) among others. Credit where credit is due, this study does not compare twins to singletons.  The authors maintain an apples-to-apples comparison by only looking at twins.  The researchers were specifically looking to see if elective birth (both induction and cesarean section) would reduce the risks of perinatal mortality, birth trauma, lung immaturity and admission to the NICU, necrotizing enterocolitis and systemic infection.

For the mothers, they looked at pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, protein-uria, renal insufficiency, liver disease, neurological disturbances, hematological disturbances, antepartum hemorrhage and abnormal umbilical artery.  They also looked at a number of labor and birth complications.  However, the focus of the study was primarily the infants, not the mothers.

“Multiple pregnancy is associated with both maternal and fetal complications. While women with a twin pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely, approximately 46% will give birth after 37 weeks’ gestation. For women whose twin pregnancy continues beyond 37 weeks’ gestation, there is a higher risk of perinatal mortality and morbidity with advancing gestational age. 

The Australian study looked at 235 women with an uncomplicated twin pregnancy at 36 weeks gestation. They were divided into women who planned an elective birth from 37 weeks (elective birth group) and women who planned birth from 38 weeks (standard care group).”

One problem I encountered was the relatively small sample size of 235 women.  The authors admit there should have been closer to 1100 mothers to validate their findings:

“There are several limitations to our findings. The current trial was stopped before completion of the estimated sample size for a lack of ongoing funding. We are therefore relatively underpowered to assess our primary outcome of serious adverse outcome for the infant, as well as uncommon maternal labour and birth complications. To detect  a 66% reduction in adverse outcome at term as suggested using plurality-specific data would require a sample size of approximately 1100 women with an uncomplicated twin pregnancy at term.”

Another problem I encountered while looking at the data was that the gestational age of the “Elective Birth” babies was roughly the same as the “Standard Care” babies, differing by only 0.5 weeks.

“Despite our trial protocol specifying birth for women in the Standard Care Group being after 38 weeks of gestation, and as close to 39 weeks as possible, 45% of women in this group gave birth between 37 and 38 weeks of gestation, reflecting the practicalities of scheduling induction of labour and caesarean section procedures in a busy maternity environment at close to 38 weeks of gestation. The resultant mean difference of 4 days in gestational age at birth is consistent with the identified difference of 90 g in mean birthweight. However, these identified differences do not explain the significant reduction in the risk of birthweight less than the third centile observed in the Elective Birth Group, raising the possibility that this was a chance finding.” (emphasis mine)

But, yet, one of the main reasons they suggest elective birth at 37 weeks is due to IUGR or small for gestational age. Out of the “Elective Birth” group, 7 babies were in the third percentile or less (3%), the “Standard Care” group had 24 babies (10.1%). On the surface, that is much higher.  However, the “Standard Care” numbers also accounts for emergency cesarean sections and induced labors for medical reasons.  For ethical reasons unplanned inductions and cesarean sections needed to occur.

The questions I have are:  how badly did that skew the data?  How accurate is the gestational age of the babies? There is no indication in the study to tell us that these pregnancies were accurately dated via early ultrasound, etc. so some amount of variability in gestational ages may have impacted results.

How is elective twin birth managed here in the U.S.?

ACOG

In the American Congress of Obstetricians  and Gynecologists’ ACOG Practice Bulletin #56, 2004, reaffirmed in 2009

“The nadir of perinatal mortality for twin pregnancies occurs at approximately 38 completed weeks of gestation and at 35 completed weeks of gestation for triplets; the nadir for quadruplet and other high-order multiple gestations is not known. Fetal and neonatal morbidity and mortality begin to increase in twin and triplet pregnancies extended beyond 37 and 35 weeks of gestation, respectively.  However, no prospective randomized trials have tested the hypothesis that elective delivery at these gestational ages improves outcomes in these pregnancies.”

At this time, ACOG is not recommending elective birth at 37 weeks for twins.  The data that ACOG provides reflects the same information as NICE and as in the BJOG study. So the data set is the same, it’s the recommendations for scheduled birth at 37 weeks that differ.

The March of Dimes

The March of Dimes makes no distinction between singleton and multiple gestation pregnancy with regards to their campaign, Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait™  to prevent prematurity. “In 2010, the Joint Commission established a new perinatal care core measure set that includes the number of elective deliveries (both vaginal and cesarean) performed at > 37 and < 39 weeks of gestation completed.”   I speculate that is because of the relative rarity of twin births in relation to singletons. Although I’d like to see a future statement specifically on twins in this regard.

Lamaze

Lamaze Healthy Birth Practice #1 – Let Labor Begin on Its Own” would appear to be in conflict with the BJOG study and NICE’s recommended practices. However, there is always an exception for a true medical need. Induction and scheduled cesarean sections, when used judiciously, are lifesaving for both mother and baby.  Professor Jodie Dodd, one of the researchers in the BJOG study, believes strongly in her results. So much so, that she and the Univeristy of Adelaide put out this video regarding her findings.

Even with a smaller sample size than required for a full analysis, this study, plus previous others, as cited in the references, shows a correlation between birth at 37 weeks for twins and reduced risk for low birth weight and perinatal mortality. As a Lamaze educator, I feel an internal conflict with the March of Dimes information, Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practice #1 and the study results. My belief is that all babies know their best time to be born, including twins. I think that every twin pregnancy should be taken on a case by case basis. Truly, there are increased risks with any twin pregnancy. However, the risks always need to be explained in context of the long term effects of a scheduled birth on breastfeeding; cesarean section complications; and long term complications of prematurity on the babies. As long as the mother has the full set of information she can make an appropriate decision with her individual care provider regarding scheduling the elective birth of her twins.

This post was written by regular contributor, Deena Blumenfeld, RYT, RPYT, LCCE  To read more about Deena or to contact her, please see our contributor page.

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Elective Induction at Term Reduces Perinatal Mortality Without Increasing Operative Delivery? Looking Behind the Curtain

May 29th, 2012 by avatar

A recent study of elective induction at term purports to show that it would reduce perinatal mortality without affecting spontaneous birth rates, although it would increase admission to a special neonatal care unit if done before 41 weeks. The study, conducted in Scotland, analyzed outcomes of 1,271,549 women carrying a singleton, head-down baby of 37 to 40 weeks gestation who gave birth between 1981 and 2007. (Forty-one weeks was considered postterm.) Women with prior cesarean, breech baby, or placenta previa were excluded. Elective induction was defined as induction with no medical indications (hypertensive or kidney disorders, thromboembolic disease, diabetes, liver disorders, pre-existing medical disorder, antenatal investigation of abnormality, suspected fetal abnormality, fetal compromise, or previous stillbirth or neonatal death), and 176,136 women met these criteria. Perinatal mortality was defined as stillbirth or death within the first month, excluding deaths associated with congenital anomalies. Outcomes were adjusted for maternal age, parity (no prior births vs. one or more prior births), time period, and birth weight.

Investigators reported outcomes by week in two ways: women electively induced compared with women not electively induced who delivered after that week and women electively induced compared with women not electively induced who delivered in or after that week. I will report outcomes according to the second method because it is less biased.

Perinatal mortality rates declined from 2.4 per 1000 at 37 weeks to 1.6 per 1000 at 41 weeks in the “not electively induced” population and varied from 0.9 to 0.6 per 1000 in the electively induced population, showing no trend, which meant that the excess

Drewesque, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

perinatal mortality rate fell from 2.3 per 1000 more deaths at 37 weeks in the “not electively induced” population to 0.9 more at 41 weeks. That would seem to clinch the argument for elective term induction were it not for one fatal flaw: investigators did not compare similar populations. They isolated a low-risk—I may even say ultra-low-risk—group of women and compared them with everyone else, including women with the high-risk conditions listed above! Finding lower perinatal mortality rates should not be surprising. It would have been extraordinary if they had not.

Even with that advantage, more babies were admitted to special or intensive care nurseries after elective induction at every week through 40 weeks, which contradicts the current belief that elective delivery at 39 weeks poses no excess risk. Excesses declined from 94 more babies per 1000 with elective induction at 37 weeks to 10 more babies per 1000 at 40 weeks. (At 41 weeks, 3 more babies per 1000 were admitted to special or intensive care in the “not electively induced” population.)

What about finding similar spontaneous vaginal birth rates? Spontaneous birth rates were, indeed, similar between groups, but more women delivered via cesarean surgery in the electively induced group. Depending on the week, 0.3 to 1.5 more women per 100 electively induced had cesareans. Spontaneous birth rates were similar because the cesarean excess was offset by an excess of instrumental vaginal deliveries at each week in the “no elective induction” group. An excess of instrumental deliveries is concerning primarily because of the increased likelihood of anal sphincter injury; however, an excess in cesarean deliveries is far more serious, carrying as it does increased likelihood of severe maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality in both current and future pregnancies.

Rob, Joyce, Alex & Nova's photostream, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Rob, Joyce, Alex & Nova's photostream, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Furthermore, the investigators chose not to report cesarean rates according to parity. Women with a prior vaginal birth or births will be little affected by induction, but first-time mothers are a different story. Studies (see references below) comparing term elective induction with spontaneous onset report that elective induction roughly doubles the chance of cesarean with excesses ranging from 3 to 31 more women per 100 having labor end in cesarean. Three studies (Hannah et al. 1996, Kassab et al, 2011; Pavicic et al. 2009.) specifically evaluating elective induction at 41 weeks compared with expectant management for at least one more week in low-risk first-time mothers report a remarkably similar excess: 8 to 9 more cesareans per 100 women induced electively. In first-time mothers, then, the excess cesarean surgery rate was almost certainly much greater than the excess rate in the Scottish population overall.

So there you have it. Does elective induction at term save babies? We don’t know because the investigators compared apples to oranges. It certainly increases likelihood of admittance to special or intensive neonatal care through 40 weeks, an excess all the more ominous because comparison women were not all low risk. It’s also a safe bet that it substantially increases cesarean surgery rates in first-time mothers going by what other studies have found. And, again, the excess would likely have been greater even in the population overall had investigators compared low-risk women to low-risk women. Lesson learned: if you don’t look at what’s behind the curtain, you may get very misleading ideas of what is really going on.

Boulvain, M., Marcoux, S., Bureau, M., Fortier, M., & Fraser, W. (2001). Risks of induction of labour in uncomplicated term pregnancies Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol, 15(2), 131-138.

Cammu, H., Martens, G., Ruyssinck, G., & Amy, J. J. (2002). Outcome after elective labor induction in nulliparous women: A matched cohort study. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 186(2), 240-244.

Dublin, S., Lydon-Rochelle, M., Kaplan, R. C., Watts, D. H., & Critchlow, C. W. (2000). Maternal and neonatal outcomes after induction of labor without an identified indication. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 183(4), 986-994.

Ehrenthal, D. B., Jiang, X., & Strobino, D. M. (2010). Labor induction and the risk of a cesarean delivery among nulliparous women at term. Obstet Gynecol, 116(1), 35-42.

Glantz, J. C. (2005). Elective induction vs. Spontaneous labor associations and outcomes. J Reprod Med, 50(4), 235-240.

Le Ray, C., Carayol, M., Breart, G., & Goffinet, F. (2007). Elective induction of labor: Failure to follow guidelines and risk of cesarean delivery. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 86(6), 657-665.

Luthy, D. A., Malmgren, J. A., & Zingheim, R. W. (2004). Cesarean delivery after elective induction in nulliparous women: The physician effect. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 191(5), 1511-1515.

Macer, J. A., Macer, C. L., & Chan, L. S. (1992). Elective induction versus spontaneous labor: A retrospective study of complications and outcome. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 166(6 Pt 1), 1690-1696; discussion 1696-1697.

Maslow, A. S., & Sweeny, A. L. (2000). Elective induction of labor as a risk factor for cesarean delivery among low-risk women at term. Obstet Gynecol, 95(6 Pt 1), 917-922.

Prysak, M., & Castronova, F. C. (1998). Elective induction versus spontaneous labor: A case-control analysis of safety and efficacy. Obstet Gynecol, 92(1), 47-52.

Seyb, S. T., Berka, R. J., Socol, M. L., & Dooley, S. L. (1999). Risk of cesarean delivery with elective induction of labor at term in nulliparous women. Obstet Gynecol, 94(4), 600-607.

Vahratian, A., Zhang, J., Troendle, J. F., Sciscione, A. C., & Hoffman, M. K. (2005). Labor progression and risk of cesarean delivery in electively induced nulliparas. Obstet Gynecol, 105(4), 698-704.

van Gemund, N., Hardeman, A., Scherjon, S. A., & Kanhai, H. H. (2003). Intervention rates after elective induction of labor compared to labor with a spontaneous onset. A matched cohort study. Gynecol Obstet Invest, 56(3), 133-138.

Vardo, J. H., Thornburg, L. L., & Glantz, J. C. (2011). Maternal and neonatal morbidity among nulliparous women undergoing elective induction of labor. J Reprod Med, 56(1-2), 25-30.

Vrouenraets, F. P., Roumen, F. J., Dehing, C. J., van den Akker, E. S., Aarts, M. J., & Scheve, E. J. (2005). Bishop score and risk of cesarean delivery after induction of labor in nulliparous women. Obstet Gynecol, 105(4), 690-697.

Yeast, J. D., Jones, A., & Poskin, M. (1999). Induction of labor and the relationship to cesarean delivery: A review of 7001 consecutive inductions Am J Obstet Gynecol, 180(3 Pt 1), 628-633.

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