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Elective Induction at 40 Weeks? “Decision-Based Evidence Making” Strikes Again

July 14th, 2015 by avatar

Today on Science & Sensibility, contributor Henci Goer takes a look at a systematic review released in spring that examined the impact of elective inductions on the cesarean rate.  Sound analysis or a house of cards?  Looking closer at the studies reviewed provides insight into how the conclusions reached by the investigators might need to be examined more closely.  Henci does that in this review.  Have you read this new systematic review?  Did you come to the same conclusions?  I invite you to share your thoughts in our comments section below. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

flickr photo by catharticflux http://flickr.com/photos/catharticflux/2710057340  CC licensed.

flickr photo by catharticflux http://flickr.com/photos/catharticflux/2710057340 CC licensed.

Yet another systematic review has surfaced “Induction of labor at full term in uncomplicated singleton gestations: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials”  in which reviewers claim that electively inducing healthy women, this time at 40, not 41 weeks, offers benefits and doesn’t increase the cesarean surgery rate (Saccone 2015).

Let’s take a closer look.

Reviewers included five trials: three of them conducted in the 1970s (Cole 1975; Martin 1978; Tylleskar 1979), the fourth published in 2005 (Nielsen 2005), and the fifth in 2014 (Miller 2014). Already we have a problem. Induction management in the 1970s is sufficiently different from management today that results are unlikely to apply to contemporary care, but let’s get down to specifics. Two of the 1970s trials were deemed inadequate for inclusion in the Cochrane review of elective induction (Gulmezoglu 2012), and Miller 2014 is published only as an abstract. Quality systematic reviews exclude abstracts because they don’t provide enough information to evaluate the study. For these reasons, these three trials should be taken off the table..

That leaves us with the other two. Nielsen 2005 states in the title “Comparison of elective induction of labor with favorable Bishop scores versus expectant management: a randomized clinical trial” that it is confined to women with favorable Bishop scores. Anyone familiar with elective induction research should know that inducing when the cervix is ready to go won’t increase the cesarean rate compared with spontaneous onset, but inducing with an unripe cervix is a different story even when using cervical ripening agents (Dunne 2009; Jonsson 2013; Le Ray 2007; Macer 1992; Prysak 1998; Thorsell 2011; Vahratian 2005). As you move the induction date earlier and earlier, more and more women will have an unfavorable cervix, so including a trial limited to women with a ripe one will tilt the playing field in favor of induction. Furthermore, half the participants were multiparous women (113/226). Women with prior vaginal births will go on having vaginal births pretty much no matter what you do to them, which raises another point: inducing earlier means a higher percentage of the inductees will be first-time mothers because first time mothers tend to run longer pregnancies (Mittendorf 1990). Nulliparous women are much more vulnerable to anything that pushes them in the direction of a cesarean. That’s not all: The authors tell us that their hospital has a 7% cesarean rate for dystocia in women at term. If a hospital has a cesarean rate much higher than that—and many do—then results can’t be generalized to it, although, frankly, if the doctors are performing cesareans left and right, induction or spontaneous onset may not make much difference. In short, Nielsen (2005) doesn’t make a compelling argument for 40-week elective induction.

flickr photo by Selbe <3 http://flickr.com/photos/stacylynn/11944718954 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by Selbe < http://flickr.com/photos/stacylynn/11944718954 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

This brings us to the last trial, Cole (1975). Investigators allocated healthy women either to induction at 40 weeks (111 women) or 41 weeks (117 women). As with Nielsen, half the women had prior vaginal births. Despite being healthy, 22 women were induced for “obstetric complications” (undefined) in the 41-week induction group before reaching 41 weeks. If their doctors induced labor because they had concerns, then this would likely put the women at heightened risk for cesarean. Another 32 women were induced for exceeding 41 weeks. This means that overall, nearly half (46%) of the comparison group didn’t begin labor spontaneously, which would mask any association between induction and cesarean. Leaving the induction vs. spontaneous onset issue aside, the U.S. cesarean rate in the early 1970s was around 5%, which means it was a rare woman who would have one regardless of circumstances. Again, not exactly a strong case for inducing at 40 weeks.

What about the benefits? The best reviewers can come up with are a clinically meaningless reduction in mean blood loss (-58 ml); a lower rate of meconium-stained amniotic fluid (4% vs. 14%), not, mind you, a reduction in meconium aspiration, and therefore clinically meaningless as well; and an equally meaningless reduction in mean birth weight of -136 g (5 oz). If they had found something more impressive, surely they would have reported it.

Really? This merited a pre-publication media blast? Because it amounts to a textbook example of “garbage in, garbage out.” I can see only three possibilities to explain it: either 1) the authors and peer reviewers at the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) don’t know as much as they should about what constitutes a quality systematic review, 2) they are so steeped in medical model thinking—“How early can we get the baby out of that treacherous maternal environment?”—that their judgment is compromised, or 3) we have a “pay no attention to what’s behind the curtain” effort to promote elective induction. I don’t know which is the more troubling, but if it’s the last one, the sad thing is that because it’s got the magic words “systematic review,” “meta-analysis,” and “randomized controlled trials” in the title, it’s likely to succeed.

References

Cole, R. A., Howie, P. W., & Macnaughton, M. C. (1975). Elective induction of labour. A randomised prospective trial. Lancet, 1(7910), 767-770.

Dunne, C., Da Silva, O., Schmidt, G., & Natale, R. (2009). Outcomes of elective labour induction and elective caesarean section in low-risk pregnancies between 37 and 41 weeks’ gestation. J Obstet Gynaecol Can, 31(12), 1124-1130.

Gulmezoglu, A. M., Crowther, C. A., Middleton, P., & Heatley, E. (2012). Induction of labour for improving birth outcomes for women at or beyond term. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 6, CD004945.

Jonsson, M., Cnattingius, S., & Wikstrom, A. K. (2013). Elective induction of labor and the risk of cesarean section in low-risk parous women: a cohort study. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 92(2), 198-203. doi: 10.1111/aogs.12043

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.

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.

Martin, D. H., Thompson, W., Pinkerton, J. H., & Watson, J. D. (1978). A randomized controlled trial of selective planned delivery. Br J Obstet Gynaecol, 85(2), 109-113.

Miller, N., Cypher, R., Pates, J., & Nielsen, P. E. (2014). Elective induction of nulliparous labor at 39 weeks of gestation: a randomized clinical trial. Obstet Gynecol,132(Suppl 1):72S.

Mittendorf, R., Williams, M. A., Berkey, C. S., & Cotter, P. F. (1990). The length of uncomplicated human gestation. Obstet Gynecol, 75(6), 929-932.

Nielsen, P. E., Howard, B. C., Hill, C. C., Larson, P. L., Holland, R. H., & Smith, P. N. (2005). Comparison of elective induction of labor with favorable Bishop scores versus expectant management: a randomized clinical trial. J Matern Fetal Neontal Med, 18:59-64.

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.

Saccone, G., & Berghella, V. (2015). Induction of labor at full term in uncomplicated singleton gestations: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology.

Thorsell, M., Lyrenas, S., Andolf, E., & Kaijser, M. (2011). Induction of labor and the risk for emergency cesarean section in nulliparous and multiparous women. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 90(10), 1094-1099. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0412.2011.01213.x

Tylleskar, J., Finnstrom, O., Leijon, I, et al. (1979). Spontaneous labor and elective induction – a prospective randomized study. Effects on mother and fetus. Acta Obstet Gynaecol Scand, 58:513-518.

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.out

About Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer, award-winning medical writer and internationally known speaker, is the author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach She is the winner of the American College of Nurse-Midwives “Best Book of the Year” award. An independent scholar, she is an acknowledged expert on evidence-based maternity care.

 

ACOG, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Medical Interventions, New Research, Research , , , , , ,

Report Finds Widespread Global Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth

July 2nd, 2015 by avatar
© Pawan Kumar

© Pawan Kumar

The journal PLOS Medicine published a research review yesterday, “The Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth in Health Facilities Globally: A Mixed-Method Systematic Review” (Bohren, et al, 2015).  Reading this report was both disturbing and extremely sad to me. Respectful care is a part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal Target 5A: Improve Maternal Health. – which set a goal of reducing the maternal mortality ratio (the number of deaths among women caused by pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications (maternal deaths) per 100,000 live births) by 75% from 1990 to 2015.  The target rate had been 95 pregnancy or childbirth related deaths per 100,000 women but the current rate is sitting at 210/100,000, which is just a 45% drop.  99% of all maternal deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, where resources are limited and access to safe, acceptable, good quality sexual and reproductive health care, including maternity care, is not available to many women during their childbearing year. The most common cause of these maternal deaths are postpartum hemorrhage, postpartum infection, obstructed labors and blood pressure issues – all conditions considered very preventable or treatable with access to quality care and trained birth attendants.

Analysis of reports examined in this paper indicate that “many women globally experience poor treatment during childbirth, including abusive, neglectful, or disrespectful care.” This treatment can further complicate the situation downstream, by creating a disincentive for women to seek care from these facilities and providers in future pregnancies.

The reports and studies that were reviewed to create this report obtained their information from direct observation, interviews with women under care,  and were self-reported by the mothers.  Follow-up surveys were also conducted.

From the qualitative research, investigators were able to classify the mistreatment  into seven categories:

  1. physical abuse
  2. sexual abuse
  3. verbal abuse
  4. stigma and discrimination
  5. failure to meet professional standards of care
  6. poor rapport between women and providers
  7. health system conditions and constraints

The quantitative research revealed two themes: sexual abuse and the performance of unconsented surgical operations.

World Bank Photo Collection http://flickr.com/photos/worldbank/7556637184 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

It is no surprise that women’s experiences were negatively impacted by the mistreatment they received during their maternity care treatment period.  Some of the treatment was one on one – from the care provider to the mother, while other inappropriate treatment was on a facility level.

Investigation of the treatment of women during pregnancy and childbirth was conducted because it is known that care by a qualified attendant can significantly impact maternal mortality, but if women are disinclined to seek out appropriate care due to a fear of mistreatment, help is not available or utilized and mortality rates rise.  Removing this obstacle is key to reducing maternal deaths.

Prior experiences and perceptions of mistreatment, low expectations of the care provided at facilities, and poor reputations of facilities in the community have eroded many women’s trust in the health system and have impacted their decision to deliver in health facilities in the future, particularly in low- and middle-income countries Some women may consider childbirth in facilities as a last resort, prioritizing the culturally appropriate and supportive care received from traditional providers in their homes over medical intervention. These women may desire home births where they can deliver in a preferred position, are able to cry out without fear of punishment, receive no surgical intervention, and are not physically restrained. – Bohren, et al.

Women who are mistreated during childbirth obviously reflects a quality of care issue, but also a larger scale- a fundamental human rights issue.  International standards are clear that this is not acceptable.  The researchers encourage the use of their finding to assist in the development of measurement tools that can be used to inform policies, standards and improvement programs.

We must seek to find a process by which women and health care providers engage to promote and protect women’s participation in safe and positive childbirth experiences. A woman’s autonomy and dignity during childbirth must be respected, and her health care providers should promote positive birth experiences through respectful, dignified, supportive care, as well as by ensuring high-quality clinical care. – Bohren, et al.

I encourage you to read the study for a thorough review of the research findings.  The information is difficult to fully take in. Additionally, a companion paper  – “Mistreatment of Women in Childbith: Time for Action on this Important Dimension of Violence against Women” provides further information.  The New York Times covered this topic in their June 30th Health Section. The World Health Organization also covered this report and has a statement on this issue, endorsed by over 80 organizations, including Lamaze International.  The WHO also has a list of videos on the topic of abuse and mistreatment of women during pregnancy and childbirth that can be found here.

References

Bohren MA, Vogel JP, Hunter EC, Lutsiv O, Makh SK, Souza JP, et al. (2015) The Mistreatment of Women during Childbirth in Health Facilities Globally: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review. PLoS Med 12(6): e1001847. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001847

Jewkes R, Penn-Kekana L (2015) Mistreatment of Women in Childbirth: Time for Action on This Important Dimension of Violence against Women. PLoS Med 12(6): e1001849. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001849

Do No Harm, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Mortality Rate, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, New Research, News about Pregnancy, Research , , , , , ,

A Tale of Two Births – Comparing Hospitals to Hospitals

December 9th, 2014 by avatar

By Christine H. Morton, PhD

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 5.15.04 PM

 

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 5.15.22 PM

 

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

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

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

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

About Christine H. Morton

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

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research, Newborns, Push for Your Baby , , , , , ,

Remembering Doris Haire – A Great Leader in the Field of Maternal Infant Health

June 17th, 2014 by avatar

doris haireDoris Haire, a great leader in the campaign to improve maternal infant health in the USA has passed away.  Ms. Haire died on June 7, 2014.  She was 88 years old.  Doris was one of the first true proponents of evidence based maternity care. Throughout her professional life, Doris advocated and fought for a woman’s right to birth as the mother wanted, free of unnecessary interventions.  Doris led the way in bringing to light the conditions under which women were birthing in the USA with her 1972 essay “The Cultural Warping of Childbirth,” exposing the contemporary childbirth practices of the time.

Along with Drs. Kennell and Klauss and others, Doris sought to change the practice of isolating women from their support during labor and birth and keeping babies apart from their mothers after they were born.  Additionally, Doris also recognized the importance of professional midwives at a time when midwives barely were a blip on the radar after childbirth moved into the hospital at the beginning of the last century. Doris helped establish the first State Board of Midwifery in New York, the first of its kind in the United States which defined the practice of midwifery as a profession separate from nursing and medicine.

Doris traveled to 77 countries to learn about maternity care practices and meet with obstetric health care leaders around the world, in order to gather information that she could use to champion the cause of maternity rights and evidence based medicine here in her own country.  Doris was the Founder and President of the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health.  Additionally, she served on many boards and committees, such as the World Health Organization, various Perinatal Advisory Committees and others, testified in front of Congress on the topics of obstetrical care and presented at obstetrical conferences around the world.  Doris also spoke at Lamaze International conferences as well.

Doris also examined how drugs are tested and used and published her research in a paper, “How the F.D.A. Determines the ‘Safety’ of Drugs — Just How Safe Is ‘Safe’?”  As a result of this publication, Doris testified at Congress and her actions resulted in changes in FDA regulation and clinical practices. Obstetricians curtailed their use of sedatives and other risky drugs being used for pain relief and millions of childbearing women and their babies have been spared from unnecessary exposure to these risks.

 Doris was also responsible for the passage of the New York Maternity Information Act, which requires every hospital to provide the information and statistics about its childbirth practices and procedures including rates of cesarean section, forceps deliveries, induced labor, augmented labor, and epidurals.

Doris Haire also wrote the following:

The Pregnant Patient’s Bill of Rights

  1. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of any drug or procedure, to be informed by the health professional caring for her of any potential direct or indirect effects, risks or hazards to herself or her unborn or newborn infant which may result from the use of a drug or procedure prescribed for or administered to her during pregnancy, labor, birth or lactation.
  2. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the proposed therapy, to be informed, not only of the benefits, risks and hazards of the proposed therapy but also of known alternative therapy, such as available childbirth education classes which could help to prepare the Pregnant Patient physically and mentally to cope with the discomfort or stress of pregnancy and birth. Such classes have been shown to reduce or eliminate the Pregnant Patient’s need for drugs and obstetric intervention and should be offered to her early in her pregnancy in order that she may make a reasoned decisions.
  3. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of any drug, to be informed by the health professional who is prescribing or administering the drug to her that any drug which she receives during pregnancy, labor and birth, no matter how or when the drug is taken or administered, may adversely affect her unborn baby, directly or indirectly, and that there is no drug or chemical which has been proven safe for the unborn child.
  4. The Pregnant Patient has the right if Cesarean birth is anticipated, to be informed prior to the administration of any drug, and preferably prior to her hospitalization, that minimizing her intake of nonessential pre-operative medicine will benefit her baby.
  5. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of a drug or procedure, to be informed of the areas of uncertainty if there is NO properly controlled follow-up research which has established the safety of the drug or procedure with regard to its on the fetus and the later physiological, mental and neurological development of the child. This caution applies to virtually all drugs and the vast majority of obstetric procedures.
  6. The Pregnant Patient has the right, prior to the administration of any drug, to be informed of the brand name and generic name of the drug in order that she may advise the health professional of any past adverse reaction to the drug.
  7. The Pregnant Patient has the right to determine for herself, without pressure from her attendant, whether she will or will not accept the risks inherent in the proposed treatment.
  8. The Pregnant Patient has the right to know the name and qualifications of the individual administering a drug or procedure to her during labor or birth.
  9. The Pregnant Patient has the right to be informed, prior to the administration of any procedure, whether that procedure is being administered to her because a) it is medically indicated, b) it is an elective procedure (for convenience, c) or for teaching purposes or research).
  10. The Pregnant Patient has the right to be accompanied during the stress of labor and birth by someone she cares for, and to whom she looks for emotional comfort and encouragement.
  11. The Pregnant Patient has the right after appropriate medical consultation to choose a position for labor and birth which is least stressful for her and her baby.
  12. The Obstetric Patient has the right to have her baby cared for at her bedside if her baby is normal, and to feed her baby according to her baby’s needs rather than according to the hospital regimen.
  13. The Obstetric Patient has the right to be informed in writing of the name of the person who actually delivered her baby and the professional qualifications of that person. This information should also be on the birth certificate.
  14. The Obstetric Patient has the right to be informed if there is any known or indicated aspect of her or her baby’s care or condition which may cause her or her baby later difficulty or problems.
  15. The Obstetric Patient has the right to have her and her baby’s hospital- medical records complete, accurate and legible and to have their records, including nursing notes, retained by the hospital until the child reaches at least the age of majority, or, alternatively, to have the records offered to her before they are destroyed.
  16. The Obstetric Patient, both during and after her hospital stay, has the right to have access to her complete hospital-medical records, including nursing notes, and to receive a copy upon payment of a reasonable fee and without incurring the expense of retaining an attorney.

Comprehensive and forward thinking at the time of publication, unfortunately, many mothers are still finding it hard to have all 16 points complied with during a pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum period.

Well known, well loved and deeply respected, Doris Haines was a leader advocating for the rights of mothers and babies for more than 50 years.  She never faltered and provided unlimited energy and dedication to improving childbirth in the United States.  Doris Haire was a role model for all of us and she will be certainly missed.

Donations to celebrate her life may be made to the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health, P.O. BOX 555, Keswick, VA 22947.

A complete list of Doris Haire’s publications may be found here.

 

Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Infant Attachment, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, 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 , , , , , , , , , ,

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