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Childbirth-Related Psychological Trauma: It’s Finally on the Radar and It Affects Breastfeeding

 

© http://flic.kr/p/6hqwdF

I first became interested in childbirth-related psychological trauma in 1990.  Twenty-three years ago, it was not something researchers were interested in studying.  I found only one study, and it reported that there was no relation between women’s birth experiences and their emotional health. Those results never rang true for me. There were just too many stories floating around with women describing their harrowing births.  I was convinced that the researchers got it wrong,

To really understand this issue, I decided to immerse myself in the literature on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During the 1980s and 1990s, most trauma researchers were interested in the effects of combat, the Holocaust, or sexual assault. Not birth. But in Charles Figley’s classic book, Trauma and Its Wake, Vol. 2 (1986), I stumbled upon something that was quite helpful in understanding the possible impact of birth. In summarizing the state of trauma research in the mid-1980s, Charles stated that an event will be troubling to the extent that it is “sudden, dangerous, and overwhelming.” That was a perfect framework for me to begin to understand women’s experiences of birth. It focused on women’s subjective reactions, and I used it to describe birth trauma in my first book, Postpartum depression (1992, Sage).

Since writing Postpartum Depression, there has been an explosion of excellent research on the subject of birth trauma. The bad news is that what these researchers are finding is quite distressing: high numbers of American women, as well as women in other countries, have posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTS) after birth. Some even meet full criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder. For example, Childbirth Connection’s Listening to Mothers’ Survey II included a nationally representative sample of 1,573 mothers. They found that 9% met full-criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder following their births, and an additional 18% had posttraumatic symptoms (Beck, Gable, Sakala, & Declercq, 2011). These findings also varied by ethnic group: a whopping 26% of non-Hispanic black mothers had PTS. The authors noted that “the high percentage of mothers with elevated posttraumatic stress symptoms is a sobering statistic” (Beck, et al., 2011).

If the number of women meeting full-criteria does not seem very high to you, I invite you to compare it to another number. In the weeks following September 11th, 7.5% of residents of lower Manhattan met full criteria for PTSD (Galea et al., 2003).

Take a minute to absorb these statistics. In at least one large study, the rates of full-criteria PTSD in the U.S. following childbirth are now higher than those following a major terrorist attack.

In a meta-ethnography of 10 studies, women with PTSD were more likely to describe their births negatively if they felt “invisible and out of control” (Elmir, Schmied, Wilkes, & Jackson, 2010).  The women used phrases, such as “barbaric,” “inhumane,” “intrusive,” “horrific,” and “degrading” to describe the mistreatment they received from healthcare professionals. 

“Isn’t that just birth?,” you might ask. “Birth is hard.” Yes, it certainly can be.

But see what happens to these rates in countries where birth is treated as a normal event, where there are fewer interventions, and where women have continuous labor support. For example, in a prospective study from Sweden (N=1,224), 1.3% of mothers had PTSD and 9% described their births as traumatic (Soderquist, Wijma, Thorbert, & Wijma, 2009).  Similarly, a study of 907 women in the Netherlands found that 1.2% had PTSD and 9% identified their births as traumatic (Stramrood et al., 2011).  Both of the countries reported considerably lower rates of PTS and PTSD than those found in the U.S.

How Does this Influence Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding can be adversely impacted by traumatic birth experiences,  as these mothers in Beck and Watson’s study (Beck & Watson, 2008) describe:

  • I hated breastfeeding because it hurt to try and sit to do it. I couldn’t seem to manage lying down. I was cheated out of breastfeeding. I feel that I have been cheated out of something exceptional.
  • The first five months of my baby’s life (before I got help) are a virtual blank. I dutifully nursed him every two to three hours on demand, but I rarely made eye contact with him and dumped him in his crib as soon as I was done. I thought that if it were not for breastfeeding, I could go the whole day without interacting with him at all.
  • Breastfeeding can also be enormously healing, and with gentle assistance can work even after the most difficult births.
  • Breastfeeding became my focus for overcoming the birth and proving to everyone else, and mostly to me, that there was something that I could do right. It was part of my crusade, so to speak, to prove myself as a mother.
  • My body’s ability to produce milk, and so the sustenance to keep my baby alive, also helped to restore my faith in my body, which at some core level, I felt had really let me down, due to a terrible pregnancy, labor, and birth. It helped build my confidence in my body and as a mother. It helped me heal and feel connected to my baby.

What You Can Do to Help

There are many things that nurses, doulas, childbirth educators, and lactation consultants can do to help mothers heal and have positive breastfeeding experiences in the wake of traumatic births. You really can make a difference for these mothers.

  • Recognize symptoms.

Although it is not within many of our scope of practice to diagnose PTSD, you can listen to a mother’s story. That, by itself, can be healing. If you believe she has PTS or PTSD, or other sequelae of trauma, such as depression or anxiety, you can refer her to specialists or provide information about resources that are available (see below). Trauma survivors often believe that they are going “crazy.” Knowing that posttraumatic symptoms are both predictable and quite treatable can reassure them. 

  • Refer her to resources for diagnosis and treatment.

There are a number of short-term treatments for trauma that are effective and widely available. EMDR, is a highly effective type of psychotherapy and is considered a frontline treatment for PTSD. Journaling about a traumatic experience is also helpful. The National Center for PTSD has many resources including a PTSD 101 course for providers and even a free app for patients called the PTSD Coach.

The site HelpGuide.org also has many great resources including a summary of available treatments, lists of symptoms, and possible risk factors.

  • Anticipate possible breastfeeding problems mothers might encounter.

Severe stress during labor can delay lactogenesis II by as much as several days (Grajeda & Perez-Escamilla, 2002). Recognize that this can happen, and work with the mother to develop a plan to counter it. Some strategies for this include increasing skin-to-skin contact if she can tolerate it, and/or possibly beginning a pumping regimen until lactogenesis II has begun. She may also need to briefly supplement, but that will not be necessary in all cases.

  •  Recognize that breastfeeding can be quite healing for trauma survivors, but also respect the mothers’ boundaries.

Some mothers may be too overwhelmed to initiate or continue breastfeeding. Sometimes, with gentle encouragement, a mother may be able handle it. But if she can’t, we must respect that. Even if a mother decides not to breastfeed, we must gently encourage her to connect with her baby in other ways, such as skin to skin, babywearing or infant massage.

  •  Partner with other groups and organizations who want to reform birth in the U.S.

Our rates of PTS and PTSD following birth are scandalously high. Organizations, such as Childbirth Connection, are working to reform birth in the U.S.  

2013 may be a banner year for recognizing and responding to childbirth-related trauma. The new PTSD diagnostic criteria were released in May in the DSM-5, and more mothers may be identified as having PTS and PTSD.

There has also been a large upswing in U.S. in the number of hospitals starting the process to become Baby Friendly, which will encourage better birthing practices.

I would also like to see our hospitals implementing practices recommended by the Mother-friendly Childbirth Initiative.

There is also a major push to among organizations, such as March of Dimes, to discourage high-intervention procedures, such as elective inductions.

And hospitals with high cesarean rates are under scrutiny. This could be the year when mothers are care providers stand together, and say that the high rate of traumatic birth is not acceptable, and it’s time that we do something about it. Amy Romano describes it this way.

 As we begin 2013, it is clear from my vantage point at the Transforming Maternity Care Partnership that the transformation is underway. In Childbirth Connection’s nearly century-long history, we’ve never seen so much political will from leaders, so much passion from grassroots advocates, and so much collaboration among clinicians and other stakeholders. This new landscape presents many new opportunities for educators and advocates

There is much you can do to help mothers who have experienced birth-related trauma. Whether you join the effort to advocate for all mothers, or simply help one traumatized mother at a time, you are making a difference. Thank you for all you do for babies and new mothers.

This article originally appeared as an editorial in the journal Clinical Lactation: Kendall-Tackett, K.A. (2013). Childbirth-related psychological trauma: An issue whose time has come. Clinical Lactation, 4(1), 9-11

References

Beck, C. T., Gable, R. K., Sakala, C., & Declercq, E. R. (2011). Posttraumatic stress disorder in new mothers: Results from a two-stage U.S. national survey. Birth, 38(3), 216-227.

Beck, C. T., & Watson, S. (2008). Impact of birth trauma on breast-feeding. Nursing Research, 57(4), 228-236.

Elmir, R., Schmied, V., Wilkes, L., & Jackson, D. (2010). Women’s perceptions and experiences of a traumatic birth: A meta-ethnography. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66(10), 2142-2153.

Galea, S., Vlahov, D., Resnick, H., Ahern, J., Susser, E., Gold, J., . . . Kilpatrick, D. (2003). Trends of probable post-traumatic stress disorder in New York City after the September 11 terrorist attacks. American Journal of  Epidemiology, 158, 514-524.

Grajeda, R., & Perez-Escamilla, R. (2002). Stress during labor and delivery is associated with delayed onset of lactation among urban Guatemalan women. Journal of Nutrition, 132, 3055-3060.

Soderquist, I., Wijma, B., Thorbert, G., & Wijma, K. (2009). Risk factors in pregnancy for post-traumatic stress and depression after childbirth. British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 116, 672-680.

Stramrood, C. A., Paarlberg, K. M., Huis in ‘T Veld, E. M., Berger, L. W. A. R., Vingerhoets, A. J. J. M., Schultz, W. C. M. W., & Van Pampus, M. G. (2011). Posttraumatic stress following childbirth in homelike- and hospital settings. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 32(2), 88-97.

Reports from Childbirth Connection on Important Issues Regarding Birth in the U.S.

Helpful Links to Share with Mothers

About Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, RLC, FAPA

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She is the Owner and Editor-in-Chief of Praeclarus Press, a small press specializing in women’s health. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health and Trauma Psychology, Editor-in-Chief of U.S. Lactation Consultant Association’s journal, Clinical Lactation, and is President-Elect of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 320 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 22 books in the fields of trauma, women’s health, depression, and breastfeeding, including Treating the Lifetime Health Effects of Childhood Victimization, 2nd Edition (2013, Civic Research Institute), Depression in New Mothers, 2nd Edition (2010, Routledge), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, 2nd Edition (co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher, 2010).

 

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Depression, EMDR, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Maternal Mental Health, Perinatal Mood Disorders, Postpartum Depression, PTSD, Trauma work , , , , , , , , ,

Beyond Downton Abbey: The True Life Trauma of Pre-eclampsia, Eclampsia, and Its Psychological Aftermath—An Interview with Jennifer Carney of The Unexpected Project

February 5th, 2013 by avatar

By Walker Karraa

Regular contributor Walker Karraa interviews Jennifer Carney, a mother of two, who suffered from eclampsia at the beginning of her third trimester.  Jennifer shares her real life story, on the heels of a favorite character’s similar experience on the popular TV show “Downton Abbey.”  Today, we learn about Jennifer’s experience and on Thursday we learn more about resources and organizations working hard to make this potentially deadly disease less harmful to pregnant and postpartum women.  - Sharon Muza, Community Manager

Introduction: 

http://flic.kr/p/dJBJhW

The recent episode of “Downton Abbey” brought much needed attention to the maternal health issue of pre-eclampsia. Why is it we rely on fiction for permission to get real? Where is the line between evidence-based research and fictional representations of the lack of it? How do we encourage each other and the next generation of maternal health advocates to harness the undeniable power of media but not become part of a social construction of maternal mortality as not real? As a qualitative researcher, I believe that some of our best evidence stems from researching real experiences from real women. It is my pleasure to introduce a real woman who experienced the full range of eclampsia and its psychological aftermath: Jennifer Carney.

Note: Consultation with Science and Sensibility contributor, Christine Morton, PhD was conducted to insure accurate and current statistical data regarding pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. 

Walker: Jennifer, can you tell us your story?

JC: My second pregnancy was easier than my first. Up until it wasn’t. I conceived as soon as we started trying. We had no soft markers on the ultrasounds, no need for an amnio, and no borderline gestational diabetes. I was only 34 and with a successful full-term first pregnancy; I was considered “safe” from preeclampsia. The only risk factor I had was my weight, but even with that, statistically my risks were much lower than for a healthy first time mom. There was something about it that seemed too easy. I felt like the other shoe was going to drop – but I never imagined that it would fall with such force.

In my 32nd week, I began to feel ill – like I had the flu. I took a day off from work to rest and recover. I thought I was getting better, but that night I began feeling worse. I called in sick to work again – it was a Friday – and my husband and son went off to work and daycare. I was alone. I laid down and slept for about 4 hours. When I awoke, I felt much, much worse. The headache radiated out from behind my eyes. I was seeing spots. I was incapable of thinking clearly. The phone rang several times, but the receiver was not on the base. I couldn’t locate it before the answering machine picked up. By this point I was aware that something was very wrong, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it. I stayed on the couch, barely moving for as long as I could.

Signs and Symptoms of Pre-eclampsia

  •  High blood pressure. 140/90 or higher. A rise in the systolic (higher number) of 30 or more, or the diastolic (lower number) of 15 or more over your baseline might be cause for concern.
  • Protein in your urine. 300 milligrams in a 24 hour collection or 1+ on the dipstick.
  • Swelling in the hands, feet or face, especially around the eyes, if an indentation is left when applying thumb pressure, or if it has occurred rather suddenly.
  • Headaches that just won’t go away, even after taking medications for them.
  • Changes in vision, double vision, blurriness, flashing lights or auras.
  • Nausea late in pregnancy is not normal and could be cause for concern.
  • Upper abdominal pain (epigastric) or chest pain, some- times mistaken for indigestion, gall bladder pain or the flu.
  • Sudden weight gain of 2 pounds or more in one week.
  • Breathlessness. Breathing with difficulty, gasping or panting.

If you have one or more of these signs and symptoms, you should see your doctor or go to an emergency room immediately. 
Source: Preeclampsia Foundation

Sometime after 5:00, I realized that I was going to have to call someone else to pick up my son at daycare by the 6:00 closing time. I managed to get to my feet and stagger toward the kitchen. I reached out to steady myself on the counter and missed. I fell to my left, onto the hard tile floor in front of the stove. I knew this was bad, but all I could think was that I had to hold on and that someone would be coming. I told myself that I couldn’t let this happen. Shortly thereafter, I tried to scream and felt the beginning of what I later learned was a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure.  

This was eclampsia – full blown seizures caused by extremely high blood pressure. Somehow, I held on. Somehow, I held on in this state for something like 3 full hours. I have no way of knowing how many seizures I had in that time. When my friend arrived after 8:00, she found me on the floor. I came to long enough to answer her question – “yes, I know where I am. I’m fine.” I tried to get up – and immediately started seizing again. She called 911 and within minutes the paramedics arrived. 

My son was born, not breathing, about an hour later. The doctors were able to revive him, thankfully. He went off to the NICU and I was sent to the ICU. Two days later, I regained consciousness. I was on a respirator and completely disoriented. I was later diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, eclampsia, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and sepsis – any of which can be fatal on their own. My son was moved to another hospital with a larger NICU, and I spent 8 days in the hospital where he was born. I saw him briefly before they transferred him – but was unable to hold him until after I was discharged – more than a week after he was born. For the next 20 days, I was only able to see him and hold him during daily visits to the NICU. It would be 4 full weeks from his birth before we could take him home to meet his 4 ½  year old brother for the first time. This was definitely not what we had envisioned.

This experience changed my entire perspective on life. It was the first significant health crisis that I had ever faced and it shook my sense of security and safety. It took a long time to recover physically from the trauma and emotionally I was just a wreck. I was aware that Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was a possibility, but I think the picture I had in my mind of what PTSD was turned out to be very different from the ways in which I experienced it. I had envisioned a quick, big breakdown – but the reality was much subtler. At first, I experienced an aversion to seeing pregnant women. I wanted to warn them, but I also could barely look at them. It manifested in other ways, too – dreams about seizures, muscle spasms, intrusive thoughts. But it felt manageable and the antidepressants helped control the runaway anxiety that had hampered my first postpartum experience 4 years earlier.

Photo: J. Carney 

The mental health issues were helped by the antidepressants, but I wish that I had tried therapy much sooner. It’s doing wonders for me now – but I waited over 6 years to try it. Today, my preemie is in kindergarten and doing well. Aside from my son, getting involved with the March of Dimes and Preeclampsia Foundation has been by far the best part of the whole experience. I wouldn’t change that part, at all.

Walker: How is mental health neglected in the overall understanding of the topic, treatment, and recovery?

JC: This is a huge problem. I got great care while I was in the hospital. I saw social workers, chaplains, and a wide variety of people who inquired after my pain levels and my coping skills. The problem with this is that I was on massive pain killers the whole time. Percocet and morphine can mask emotional pain as well as physical pain. I’m sure I came off as reasonably well adjusted to the whole experience, despite the mental confusion left over from the seizures and the serious health issues that remained. And I was relatively okay. Even during the month-long NICU stay, I was doing all right. I was sleeping well, eating, taking care of myself – but I was also still on Percocet. It smoothed over the rough edges.

It wasn’t until the help dried up, the prescriptions ran out, and the reality of being at home by alone with an infant to care for that the walls started to come down again. Here I was at the scene of the initial trauma, cooking at the same stove that I had seized in front of for hours, responsible for a premature infant who needed drugs to remind him to breathe. This is when I needed the help. This is when I needed information on PTSD and postpartum depression (PPD). This is when I needed support. And as I began the long process of understanding what had happened and why, I found I needed even more support to help me wrap my head around it all.

As I noted while talking about myths, there is a pervasive culture of blame in the overall birth discussion regarding preeclampsia. It can be hard to find information that doesn’t make you feel that you somehow brought this condition on yourself. I looked at the risk factors and the arguments about lifestyle, obesity, and diet – and found a lot of things that sounded like they made sense. But they only made sense if I internalized them and blamed myself for the shortcomings. Maybe it was my fault. This, as you can imagine, does not help the feelings of depression and trauma. It took a LONG time for me to come to the conclusion that there was no way for me to have known that this would happen or to have prevented it. Statistically speaking, I had a very low chance of developing eclampsia even with the risks factored in. Statistically speaking, my son and I should not have survived, either. But we did – and now I want to make sure that I use that in a meaningful way. 

Walker: Did your childbirth education prepare you for your experience?

JC: Heck no. I only took classes with my husband before our first child. We weren’t planning to take the classes again with the second, but since he was born at 7 months, we probably would have missed most of them even if we had planned to. I distinctly remember the childbirth educator talking about her own response to sleeplessness, which was a sort of slap happy, giddy reaction. She mentioned PPD, but not in any real way that conveyed the depths or potential seriousness of the condition. We also received almost no information on pregnancy complications. To me, preeclampsia meant high blood pressure – and I had never had problems with that before. It was totally off my radar. Plus, Preeclampsia very rarely happens in a second pregnancy if it didn’t happen in the first. So, no one prepared me for it. Not my doctor, not my classes, not my books.

Walker: What recommendations do you have for childbirth educators and doulas regarding this issue?

JC: Really, I think it comes down to trusting that the moms you are helping can handle the information that they NEED to know. I was alone. If I had known that these symptoms could mean eclampsia or preeclampsia, I might have been able to save myself from the seizures – which would have also likely saved me from the ARDS and pneumonia. My ICU stay might have not happened. My son was going to be born early – but if I had gone to my doctor or called an ambulance myself, it might not have been so close a call. It’s not my fault that I didn’t know – but it could have been tragic.  

Know the signs and symptoms. Know that a woman with severe PE might be having cognitive issues – confusion, and vision problems. Don’t ask her to drive. Don’t downplay distress. And take complaints of headaches, upper quadrant pain, nausea, diarrhea, shoulder pain, visual disturbances, and a general feeling that something is “off” seriously. And if you have a client or patient that experiences something like this, please follow up and ask about mental health issues. Be careful not to ask questions that can be answered with the words: “I’m fine”. Dig deeper.

Closing Thoughts

How might we increase our understanding of this issue through Jennifer’s story? Is it possible to begin a dialogue here–one in which we agree to change paradigms of learning and knowing women’s experiences beyond an episode of a fictional television show?  Jennifer presents an exemplar synthesis of the fullest range of insight possible when empirical and phenomenological considerations are employed.. Her lived experience combined with and through her knowledge of the evidence creates an exemplar of how knowing and knowledge cannot be divided if the pursuit of knowledge is truly desired.

In the next installment, scheduled for February 7th,  Jennifer reflects on common myths about PE, and her work with the Unexpected Project and the Preeclampsia Foundation.   

Birth Trauma, Childbirth Education, Depression, Guest Posts, Maternal Mental Health, NICU, Postpartum Depression, Pre-eclampsia, Pre-term Birth, Pregnancy Complications, PTSD , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Advocating for Improved Maternity Care: The Role of the Patient Satisfaction Survey

December 16th, 2010 by avatar

In the last few weeks, several of us here at Science & Sensibility have spent time discussing various issues surrounding a woman’s experience before, during and after pregnancy, labor and birth.  We have contemplated risk factors for postpartum depression and how to survey pregnant women for these risk factors.  We have discussed fish oil supplements that can aid in averting pregnancy-related depressive disorders.  We have debated labor, delivery and postpartum milieu issues:  what’s best for mom and baby?  We have looked at the experience of midwifery care from the patient’s perspective.

In the business world, customer satisfaction surveys are incredibly important and regularly used as a means of evaluating what their customers’ experiences have been like.  In short, they illuminate how well a company is serving its customers and what can be done to improve that level of service.  The maternity care industry, it seems, is slowly beginning to take the hint.

Last week, Swedish Midwife and researcher Anna Dencker published the findings of her study, Childbirth Experience Questionnaire (CEQ): development and evaluation of a multidimensional instrument. The purpose of this study was to test the validity of a tool that might be used to, “…aid in identifying mothers in need of support and counseling and in isolating areas of labor and birth management and care potentially in need of improvement.”

Dencker’s project included developing a 22-question survey intended to pick up on signs of postpartum depression and other indications for the need of additional postpartum support, similar to the (antenatal) questionnaire referenced in Darline Turner-Lee’s recent post.  Dencker’s study, however, also involved questioning recipients about their overall experience during the childbirth process—experiences that, when deemed “negative” can have adverse effects on first time mothers’ postpartum mental health as well as “negative attitudes…toward future pregnancies and choice of delivery method.”

In fact, Dencker’s work is not the first attempt at assessing women’s childbearing experiences from the patient’s perspective and the resultant implications on postpartum well-being.

A 1999 article published in the BMJ by Harvard Medical School professor Paul Cleary (Dr. Cleary is now Dean of the Yale School of Public Health), called for increasing attention to patient satisfaction surveys.  Debunking the old assumption that these surveys cover little more than quality of cafeteria food amidst a tool of ‘minimal methodological rigor,’ Cleary goes on to state, “newer surveys and reports can provide results that are interpretable and suggest specific areas for quality improvement efforts.”  In fact, the collection and assessment of patient feedback as a tool for scrutinizing quality of care seems to be the foundation upon which Dr. Cleary has built his academic career.

As many of us know, in 2002, 2006 and 2008, Childbirth Connection, in partnership with Lamaze International and Harris Interactive distributed, collected and tallied the Listening to Mothers I, Listening to Mothers II and the follow-up Listening to Mothers II/Postpartum surveys. Groundbreaking at the time, LTMI and LTMII were the first surveys at the (U.S.) national level which allowed women to speak out about their pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum experiences.  The results of these surveys completed either via telephone interview or online provided invaluable feedback for maternity care providers on the patients’ perspectives of their care.  More than that, they provided insight into places in which the maternity care industry can improve service—based on customer feedback.

Examples of this feedback from the LTM surveys include: a resounding theme of medical-intervention-as-the-norm during the process of labor and birth; 42% of women who wanted a VBAC were denied the option altogether; 61% of respondents planned to exclusively breastfeed following their babies’ births but only 51% were actually doing so, one week postpartum (estimates of physiologic primary lactation failure as a cause for discontinuing breastfeeding range from 2-5%, therefore non-medical causes for discontinuing nursing likely made up most of the remaining 5-8%); 3% of women who experienced an episiotomy were not given the opportunity to consent to or decline the procedure.  These are striking examples from which maternity care providers and facilities ought to scrutinize their own practices and, where necessary, make changes to better serve the needs of their “customers.”

Additionally, these surveys offered maternity care providers some encouragement to continue the good work they were doing by delineating positive reports about certain aspects of the care experienced by respondents:  2% experienced all six Healthy Birth Practices encouraged by Lamaze and 70% of new mothers attended childbirth education classes.

The LTMII/PP survey, which was sent out to 900 of the 1583 respondents who completed the 2005 survey, provided guidance for clinicians for follow-up action when and if women (in a clinical setting) gained  concerning scores on one of two postpartum depression screening tools and/or on a post-traumatic stress disorder screening tool.  In such cases, women were referred for additional psychological evaluation and treatment.

Taking action on the results of patient satisfaction surveys is the key to opening up their greatest potential value.

Let’s side step for a moment, and contemplate a metaphorical shoe manufacturing company:  This company has several brands of shoes and, within those brands, several makes and models.  Suppose this shoe company decided to survey all of its customers from the previous year—purchasers of every make and model of shoe.  Suppose the company received an overwhelming number of complaints about one of their previously best-selling shoe models under one specific brand:  the foot bed was too stiff, the heal cup created terrible blisters that caused pain and long-lasting discomfort, the toe box was cramped and unforgiving.  If this company cared at all about their financial bottom line, you bet they would either do away with that model of shoe, or make changes to it to ensure a consistent quality of product compared to other brands and models of shoes and, ultimately, ensure customer retention.  (Or, perhaps, the company would make these changes because they genuinely cared about how their customers felt while wearing their shoes.)  Because everybody does and will continue to go on wearing shoes, this company can’t afford to not respond to its customers’ feedback.  In fact, not only considering (and hopefully making) changes to this line of shoe should not be the end point.  A shoe company worth their weight in gold would also take the next step and let their customers know about their actions:  we’ve heard what you’re saying and we’re doing something about it.

Shoe manufacturing is not, of course, a life and death situation nor even a monumental long term wellness issue.  One faulty shoe design would not indicate an industry-wide failure to produce high quality shoes.

Maternity care, on the other hand, is sometimes a life and death situation–and, at the very least–an industry that does impact long term well being.  Likewise, individual faulty examples of poor care or negative patient experiences do not indicate an industry-wide failure.  However, surveys such as those referenced in this post do not function on a microscopic level.  They represent macroscopic views of a nationwide industry.

Whether we want to contemplate shoe companies, hospitals, doctor’s offices or midwifery practices as businesses, or public health service institutions, the take home point ought to be the same:  we can’t afford to not respond to our customer’s responses and we need to let childbearing women know:  we hear what you’re saying and we’re working on doing something about it.

Healthcare Reform, Healthy Care Practices, New Research, Patient Advocacy, Research, Science & Sensibility, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , , , ,