Archive for the ‘Evidence Based Medicine’ Category

Time for ACOG and ASA to Change Their Guidelines! Eating and Drinking in Labor Should Not Be Restricted

October 27th, 2015 by avatar

“…The problem for anesthesiologists is that our practice guidelines on obstetric anesthesia are strongly worded, and state that women can not eat during labor. We can’t ethically design a large enough study to answer this question, so we will have to wait for expert opinion to change.” – Paloma Toledo, MD

Screenshot 2015-10-26 17.04.39Social media was all abuzz yesterday about information coming out of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) conference currently being held in San Diego, CA. Headlines everywhere screamed “Eating During Labor May Not Be So Bad, Study Suggests,” “Light Meal During Labor May Be Safe for Most Women,” and “Eating During Labor Is Actually Fine For Most Women.”  People chortled over the good news and bumped virtual fists over the internet celebrating this information.

The ASA released a press release highlighting a poster being presented at the ASA conference by two Memorial University medical students, Christopher Harty and Erin Sprout. Memorial University is located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. When a professional conference is being held, several press releases are published every day to advise both professionals and the public about news and information related to the conference. This was one of many released yesterday.

The student researchers suggested in their poster presentation that it may be time for a policy change. Their research indicated that, according to the ASA database, there has only been one case of aspiration during labor and delivery in the period between 2005 and 2013. That aspiration situation occurred in a woman with several other obstetrical complications. “…aspiration today is almost nonexistent, especially in healthy patients,” the researchers stated. The research was extensive – examining 385 studies published since 1990. Much of the research available supported the findings in the poster presentation/study.

The current policy of the ASA on oral intake in labor is that laboring women should avoid solid food in labor. You can read the ASA’s most current guidelines, published in 2007: Practice Guidelines for Obstetric Anesthesia An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia.  The American College of Nurse Midwives recommends “that women at low risk for pulmonary aspiration be permitted self-determined intake according to guidelines established by the practice setting.” They also conclude “drinking and eating during labor can provide women with the energy they need and should not be routinely restricted.”  American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends no solid food for laboring women and refers to the ASA guidelines.

I connected with Paloma Toledo, MD, an obstetrical anesthesiologist who is attending the ASA conference in San Diego to ask her what her thoughts were on this new research. “General anesthesia is becoming increasingly rare, so fewer women are at risk for aspiration, since most women will have neuraxial anesthesia for unplanned cesarean deliveries. The question is, is eating in labor unsafe? They do allow a light meal in the UK, studies have shown that eating does not adversely affect labor outcomes, and in the CEMACE data, despite allowing women to eat in the UK, there have not been deaths related to aspiration. I think a lot of women want to move away from the medicalized childbirth and have a more natural experience. Women want to eat, and I believe the midwife community has been encouraging eating in labor. The problem for anesthesiologists is that our practice guidelines on obstetric anesthesia are strongly worded, and state that women can not eat during labor. We can’t ethically design a large enough study to answer this question, so we will have to wait for expert opinion to change.”

Lamaze International released an infographic in July, 2014 covering this very topic. “No Food, No Drink During Labor? No Way!” and I covered this in a Science & Sensibility post sharing more details.  You can find all the useful infographics available for downloading, sharing and printing here.  Additionally, the fourth Healthy Birth Practice speaks to avoiding routine interventions that are not medically necessary, and it has long been clear that restricting food and drink in labor is certainly an intervention that should not be imposed.

It is important for birth professionals to recognize what the American Society for Anesthesiologists’ press release is and what it is not. We must not overstate the information that they have shared. Please be aware that this is not a policy change.

Hopefully, this will be a call to action by the ASA to examine the contemporary research and determine that that their existing guidelines are outdated and do not serve laboring and birthing people well, nor reflect current research.

Childbirth educators and others can continue to share what the evidence says about the safety and benefit of oral nutrition during labor and encourage families to request best practice from their healthcare providers and if that is not possible, to consider changing to a provider who can support evidence based care.


American College of Nurse-Midwives, (2008). Providing Oral Nutrition to Women in Labor.Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health53(3), 276-283.

American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia. (2007). Practice guidelines for obstetric anesthesia: an updated report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia.Anesthesiology106(4), 843.

Committee on Obstetric Practice. (2009). ACOG Committee Opinion No. 441: Oral intake during labor. Obstetrics and gynecology114(3), 714.

Singata M, Tranmer J, Gyte GML. Restricting oral fluid and food intake during labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD003930. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003930.pub3.

Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Medical Interventions, Research , , , , , , , ,

Interview with Alice Callahan about Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.

October 6th, 2015 by avatar

In an earlier post on Science and Sensibility, regular contributor Anne Estes, PhD reviewed Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, a new evidence-based book focused on answering questions on health, sleeping, and feeding for an infant’s first year. The book grew out of author Dr. Alice Callahan’s blog, Science of Mom, that she began writing as a new mother. Dr. Callahan took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with Anne about her new book and how it might be helpful for childbirth educators and new parents.  Readers will also want to pop over to Anne’s blog – Mostly Microbes, to listen to a podcast of  a more detailed interview with Dr. Callahan, the author of The Science of Mom. We’d also like to congratulate Amy Lavelle for being randomly chosen from the commenters on the original post. Amy wins herself a free copy of the book.  We hope that she will enjoy reading it.  – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

Science of Mom Cover HiDefAnne Estes: What do you see as the role of this book for childbirth educators and other birth professionals?

Alice Callahan: First, my book gives a really in-depth look at several newborn medical procedures, including timing of cord clamping, the vitamin K shot, and eye prophylaxis, plus shorter sections on newborn screening, the hepatitis B vaccine, and the newborn bath. Childbirth educators will take away a clear understanding of the evidence behind these procedures, and they can pass that knowledge onto students and clients. Second, and just as useful, those in-depth sections serve as excellent case studies for how to look at scientific evidence. My hope is that this background will give readers the tools needed to evaluate scientific evidence on their own as they encounter new questions – and I’m sure birth professionals are constantly faced with new questions!

AE: Why should childbirth educators suggest your book as a resource for interested parents?

AC: New parents are often taken off guard by the number of questions they have about childbirth and caring for a new baby. In online forums and playground conversations, they’re suddenly thrown into discussions of what is best for babies, and they find themselves trying to sort through lots of conflicting opinions and misinformation, trying to make the best choices for their own babies. It’s tremendously valuable and empowering to be able to understand how science can inform these decisions and how to find evidence-based resources. My book not only gives parents evidence-based information on infant health, feeding, sleep, and vaccines, but it also illustrates for parents how to find it themselves.

AE: What message from your book is most important for childbirth educators to share with their students?

AC: Seek evidence to inform your decisions. Be very skeptical of everything you read on the Internet, and make sure you’re getting your information from an accurate source. There’s so much misinformation out there that can be very misleading and even dangerous for parents and their babies. Don’t assume that something more natural or involving less intervention is always better. That isn’t always the case. Instead, look for objective evidence of risks and benefits, and make an informed choice.

AE: How did you choose the topics for your book? Was it difficult to decide what to leave out?

AC: I tried to choose topics that I think are some of the most common causes of confusion and anxiety for parents, based on questions that I get on my blog or that I see in online parenting forums. To be honest, my original proposal for this book included several more topics, but as I fleshed out chapters, I realized that it was more interesting to look at several topics in a really in-depth way rather than skim the surface on lots of different topics. But honestly, if I’d been able to devote another year or two to it, it could easily have been twice as long, because there are just so many great questions that parents have about the first year of life. I would have liked to cover topics like emerging research on the microbiome and concerns about chemical exposures, for example, but I may have to save those for another book!

AE: What do you feel is the most controversial topic in your book? 

AC: The safety of bedsharing is probably the most controversial topic in the book. Sleep practices are just so personal, and many parents really value bedsharing with their babies for cultural, emotional, or practical reasons. This is an area where you’ll find very conflicting advice, and everyone cites scientific studies to back their stance. In the book, I do my best to look honestly at the evidence for and against bedsharing safety. I explain that multiple studies do show risk of bedsharing in certain circumstances, especially with babies in the first few months of life, but I acknowledge the limitations of those same studies. And I also point out that individual factors, such as ease of breastfeeding or alternatives to bedsharing (including the risks of falling asleep with your baby on a couch or trying to drive a car while severely sleep deprived, for example) might make careful bedsharing a reasonable choice. I think we need to share all of this information with parents and discuss how to set up a bed to make bedsharing as safe as possible if that is the choice.

AE: Could you describe how you determine which findings from the scientific literature are best for answering a parenting question?

AC: In the book, I give a rough guide to types of study designs and explain which ones are most likely to give us strong evidence that is relevant to parenting decisions. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are usually most useful, because they combine the results of multiple studies so are more likely to give us a big picture consensus about a question. (This assumes that the authors selected high quality studies for the review, so you have to be a little careful here.) Looking at single studies, randomized controlled trials are the best quality, whereas observational studies are usually limited by confounding factors and can only show correlations, not causation. Studies conducted in animal models or cell culture are an important step in scientific research, but we really want to see follow-up in human studies before we change our lives over the results. As you look at studies, you also want to pay attention to how many people were included in the study and whether or not the population is similar to your own. Evaluating scientific evidence takes some practice, and I go into lots more detail in the book.

AE: I was shocked to read that immediate cord clamping and cutting and stomach sleeping were practices changed in the mid-1900s without any evidence. Could you talk about how one of those practices began, the implications, and what it took (or will take in the case of umbilical cord clamping) for the original practices to be put back into place?

AC: It’s surprisingly difficult to pin down exactly when the shift to immediate cord clamping occurred, but it probably happened in the early to mid-1900s. Before this, it was likely standard practice to wait a few minutes or until the cord stopped pulsing before clamping it. The shift to immediate cord clamping seemed to coincide with the movement of birth from the purview of midwives in homes to obstetricians in hospitals. Immediate cord clamping was also part of the practice of active management of the third stage of labor, which was introduced in the 1960s. However, there was no evidence then that immediate cord clamping was beneficial to either mom or baby, and studies show that delayed cord clamping does not increase the mom’s risk of postpartum hemorrhage (which was a belief for a while).

Immediate cord clamping is an example of an intervention put into place because it was convenient, not because it was evidence-based. We now have good evidence that delayed cord clamping is beneficial to infants, especially those born preterm. For term infants, the biggest benefit is a boost in iron stores that can prevent iron deficiency later in infancy. There is some evidence that the risk of jaundice is increased, but as I discuss in the book, this is controversial. We’re seeing some obstetricians making delayed cord clamping their standard of care, but practice is really mixed in the U.S. At this time, ACOG recommends a delay of 30-60 seconds for preterm infants, but they refrain from making any recommendation for term infants, citing insufficient evidence. I actually appreciate that they’re careful to ensure there is adequate evidence before changing practice, but I do think we have enough evidence now that we should really be going back to delayed cord clamping whenever possible. I think that with a little more time and a few more studies, delayed cord clamping will again become standard practice, especially with doctors in the U.K. testing a resuscitation trolley that allows the cord to remain attached even if the infant requires resuscitation.

AE: What did you do to feel prepared for your labor and birth, and first weeks of parenting? Did you choose to take a childbirth class?  Do you feel it helped you feel prepared and confident?

AC: Before the birth of my first child, I took a childbirth class through a local hospital. It was very helpful in terms of knowing generally what to expect with labor and learning some ways to cope with discomfort. To prepare for the birth of my second baby four years later, my husband and I both read The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. I liked that it was evidence based and a straight-forward source of information, and my husband put Simkin’s suggestions into action to truly be a great birth partner.

One of the most important aspects of birth preparation for me was developing a trusting and respectful relationship with my healthcare providers. My babies were delivered by two different OBs, and both were wonderful at communicating options to me as things progressed. Based on our discussions throughout pregnancy, I knew that I could trust them to be evidence based in their practice, and that helped me relax in labor and focus on my job of giving birth.

How did I prepare for the first few weeks of caring for a newborn? I did what women have been doing throughout the history of our species – I invited my mom to come and help! She was a wonderful help after the birth of both of my babies, and I felt lucky to have her.


AE: What future topics are you looking forward to writing about next?

AC: Readers of my blog keep me well-supplied with questions about parenting, and I have a huge list of topics that I’d like to tackle. One of my favorite areas of focus is nutrition, as that is the field of my PhD training, so I’d like to develop more information about infant nutrition on my blog.

While I was researching and writing my book, I had three miscarriages. That brought up lots of questions for me about miscarriage and infertility, but I didn’t have time to write much about these topics because I was working so hard on The Science of Mom. I’d like to write more about them now. I think there is a real need for compassionate and evidence-based writing about these tough topics.

About Anne M. Estes, PhD

AnneMEstes_headshot 2015Anne M. Estes, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, MD. She is interested in how microbes and their host organisms work together throughout host development. Anne blogs about the importance of microbes, especially during pregnancy, birth, first foods, and early childhood at Mostly Microbes.

Babies, Book Reviews, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Newborns , , , , , ,

Book Review: The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year

September 3rd, 2015 by avatar

By Anne M. Estes, PhD

Today on Science & Sensibility, Anne M. Estes, PhD reviews a new book – The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.  Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility are all about providing families and professionals with evidence based information that can help inform decision making.  Seems like this book might fit in nicely with the philosophy that Lamaze has held for decades.  Regular contributor Anne M. Estes, PhD shares her review on this new book and lets us know if it might be something to add to our resource list for new parents.  See the end of the review to learn how you can enter to be chosen for a free copy of this book courtesy of the author,  Alice Callahan. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility. 

Science of Mom Cover HiDefMitchell Kapor once said, “Getting information off the Internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant.” New parents and child care professionals are certainly easily drenched by all the information that can be acquired on the internet from a variety of sources. As newly minted scientist-mom seven years ago, I was frustrated at the number of opinion and experienced-based baby books that lacked scientific support. The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, now fills that gap. Alice Callahan, a PhD in nutritional biology and mom of two, systematically examines common questions and concerns about infant care from a scientific perspective. In each chapter, she discusses the historical practice of the question, recommendations of different organizations, the current research, and the risks and benefits of a practice. Dr. Callahan does an excellent job presenting the strengths and limitations of particular studies and the logic behind different recommendations. Although The Science of Mom is science-focused, it is well-written and easy to read. The style of the book is personal and conversational. Personal experiences are intermingled with the science to illustrate her points well. A list of both the references used for each chapter and recommended books and websites are also given to help parents identify credible resources instead of getting lost in the fog of Internet “experts”.

Potential readers

For childbirth professionals and parents or parents-to-be interested in evidence-based practices for birth and an infant’s first year, The Science of Mom is a new and invaluable resource. Questions covered include: When is the right time to cut the umbilical cord? Which newborn treatments are necessary? How do newborns experience and explore their world? What are the differences between breastmilk and formula feeding? Where and how can babies sleep safely? What is the evidence for vaccinations? When and what kinds of solid food are best for babies?

Importance of evidence based decisions

Perhaps it’s also my bias as a scientist, but I greatly enjoyed reading such an insightful description of the process of science, the importance of scientific consensus, differences in quality across studies, and how scientific data can assist families in making informed decisions. Though readers of an evidence based blog like Science and Sensibility may already understand these points, the introduction could be helpful when introducing the rationale behind evidence based practices during child birth classes. It also serves as a guide for anyone who wants to research their own questions in the scientific literature.

I was particularly surprised to read about two instances where changes to medical practices in the early to mid 1900s had occurred without any evidence based support. One example was timing of cutting the umbilical cord. The author speculates that perhaps due to efficiency or convenience, the umbilical cord began to be cut before all the blood was pumped into the newborn. This practice is now being reconsidered due to the increased iron stores in the first 6 months of life of infants when cord clamping is delayed. Such an example certainly reinforces the importance of having evidence of benefit before new procedures are introduced or changes are made in traditional birth procedures.

Filling a gap in the bookshelf

In science and medicine there are no borders and no “right” answers. The Science of Mom is the same. Throughout the book, the author explores how a variety of countries and cultures deal with issues from giving Vitamin K to newborns (oral vs injected) to sleep practices (bed/room sharing vs separate sleeping arrangements). Different personal health conditions and prevalence of disease differ across the globe, making the need for some newborn treatments, such as eye prophylaxis, less clear. Dr. Callahan provides the data and information for people to make informed choices for their own family’s practices and situations. I found the honest, open, and nonjudgmental tone throughout the book refreshing.

Callahan author photo

Author Alice Callahan and her newborn © Alice Callahan

What a scientist-mom adds to the conversation

Each profession trains people to strengthen different skill sets. Training in the life sciences, especially at the PhD level, encourages a person to gather resources, sort through different quality data, synthesize data, and reach a conclusion based on that data for a given situation. Add to that training first-hand experience with raising two kids – knowledge of what it’s like to be in the parenting trenches, experience the “mommy wars”, and feel the exhaustion and yet love and concern of being a parent – and you’ve got a winning combination. The author is not a medical professional and most likely has only attended the births of her own two kids. However, in Science of Mom, Alice Callahan, PhD combines the critical eye of a scientist with the heart of a mother to create a helpful resource for all people interested in evidence based infant care and parenting.

What is missing?

What The Science of Mom does not do in general is to give you prescriptives for answering many of the parenting questions she poses. Data are still being collected and debated for many birth and parenting questions. There simply may not be one “right” way. In these cases, the scientific data are presented, the pros and cons of the different perspectives are addressed, then Dr. Callahan recommends following your baby’s lead and doing what feels best for your own family. After all, parenting is an art as well as a science.

In situations where scientists have reached a consensus, such as with the benefits of vaccines or back sleeping for infants, the author provides insight into how and why that consensus was reached by the scientific community. In such cases, Dr. Callahan provides additional information such as the role of each ingredient in the vitamin K shot in order to provide additional comfort to worried parents.

The Science of Mom is an excellent new addition to the bookshelves of any birth professional or parent who is interested in evidence-based parenting practices. Although the copy of The Science of Mom that I reviewed was complementary, I have given copies to several scientist-mom friends with newborns who also enjoy the nonjudgmental and objective tone of the book. For those wanting to read more of Dr. Callahan’s excellent commentary on the science of parenting, you can find her writing at the blog, The Science of Mom.

Enter to win your own copy of The Science of Mom

Have you had a chance to read this book?  What did you think of it?  Does this sound like a book that you would like to read?  Would you consider adding it to your resource list?  Share your thoughts about the book, how necessary or needed a book such as this might be, or other favorite resources for families to get evidence based information in understandable and easy to digest formats in the comments section below and include your email address.  All comments will be entered in a drawing for your own copy of the book.  The winner will be announced next month when Anne Estes interviews Dr. Callahan about her book. – SM

About Anne Estes

AnneMEstes_headshot 2015Anne M. Estes, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, MD. She is interested in how microbes and their host organisms work together throughout host development. Anne blogs about the importance of microbes, especially during pregnancy, birth, first foods, and early childhood at Mostly Microbes.

Babies, Book Reviews, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, New Research, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , , , ,

Lamaze International Has The Up-to-Date Resources You Need! Are You Connected?

July 21st, 2015 by avatar

lamaze connectedLamaze International offers a large variety of useful material for Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators and others to use to increase professional knowledge and help you when working with and sharing information with expectant and new families.  There are YouTube videos, infographics, a smartphone app, professional and consumer blogs, a Pinterest account, weekly newsletters for families, bi-weekly newsletters for Lamaze members, Facebook pages, a Twitter account, Instagram photos, live and recorded webinars and more all available to help you better serve the families that you work with. No matter what type of resource material you choose to access, you can be sure that it is evidence based, current and presented in a professional manner.  Here is a summary of many of these resources in one place so that you can use this post as a reference for easy access to useful information whenever you want.


Science & Sensibility blog for birth professionals – if you are reading this,  of course you have already found this blog.  Published twice a week, you can get all the news, analyses of recently published studies, teaching ideas and more.  You can subscribe to this blog to be sure never to miss a post.

Giving Birth with Confidence – Lamaze International’s consumer blog written by Cara Terreri, CD(DONA), LCCE.  Follow along with families as they move through their pregnancies, get up to date information on pregnancy, birth and postpartum information – all delivered in a consumer friendly, easy to read format.


Lamaze International YouTube channel – a variety of videos, including “From the President’s Desk,” where Lamaze President, Dr. Robin Elise Weiss shares information on a variety of current issues, short and informative videos on many of our infographics, Six Healthy Birth Practices, and many more professional and consumer friendly videos that promotes safe and healthy births.  You can subscribe to this YouTube channel to receive updates when new videos are added.




  • @LamazeOnline – educators and parents can follow along on lots of updates and a great interactive monthly Twitter chat.
  • @LamazeAdvocates – connects birth pros with peers, professional development & resources to support expectant parents on their journey to a natural, safe & healthy birth, as well as participate in a monthly Twitter chat on a variety of topics.

Pregnancy & Parenting Smartphone App

A great tool for families to use through pregnancy, labor/birth and parenting.  Comprehensive, full of great evidence based information and simply very useful.  Check out the Pregnancy & Parenting app page on the Lamaze International website to see all the useful features, and find resources to help you introduce the app to the families you work with.


Evidenced based information in an easy to read (and easy to share), visually appealing infographic format.  Topics include:

  • VBACs (new!)
  • Cesareans
  • Labor Support
  • Healthy Birth Practices
  • Electronic Fetal Monitoring
  • Epidurals
  • Separating Mom and Baby
  • Restricted Food & Drink
  • Restricted Movement
  • Avoiding the First Cesarean
  • Inductions

Find them all here, in both web-based and jpeg formats suitable for printing at your convenience. Don’t forget about the accompanying videos that are based on the infographics.

Email Newsletters

Your Pregnancy Week By Week – a weekly evidence based newsletter designed for parents that provides them with helpful information, tips and resources, delivered right to their inboxes weekly, based on their due date.

Inside Lamaze – a vital resource for continuing education available to Lamaze Members. The latest news, research, and information on upcoming events right in your inbox two times a month. Join Lamaze now to receive this valuable bi-weekly newsletter.


Professional webinars for birth professionals with contact hours that are accepted by many maternal and infant health organizations, including nursing associations. Many of the webinars are free and only incur a small cost for contact hours.

Instagram – a place to find all the Lamaze pregnancy, birth and postpartum news that is fit for a picture!

Lamaze has you covered with great resources that keep you informed, up-to-date and connected on a variety of platforms and in diverse formats.  Stay connected with Lamaze International and have a plethora of useful information always at your fingertips and ready to share with expectant families.  How do you stay connected with Lamaze?  What’s your favorite Lamaze resource? Let us know in the comments section below.

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Lamaze International, Lamaze News, New Research, Research, Webinars , , , , , ,

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.


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

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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 , , , , , ,

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