Archive for the ‘Fetal Monitoring’ Category

The PregSense Monitor: A useful new tool or fear-based marketing

August 18th, 2015 by avatar

By Deena Blumenfeld, ERYT, RPYT, LCCE 

pregsensePart of a parent’s job description is to worry about their children. In doing so, parents can help the child maintain their physical health and their emotional wellbeing. However, when the line is crossed into fear based parenting; they may become overprotective to the point of stifling a child’s natural curiosity and the need to learn by making mistakes. They are then at risk of becoming “helicopter parents”.

This is an issue of control. When parents take full control, of their child’s overall well being, they feel that they are protecting them from all the negative aspects of the world. This is a fallacy.

Advertisers and marketers play into this fear and the need for control, that feeds into the parents’ feelings of limited or lack of control. Companies create and market products that provide the impression of safety and security. These products provide a false sense of control for parents, which furthers the illusion that they are doing something “good” or “right” as they “protect” their baby.

Making the rounds of Facebook, and other social media feeds, was this nifty little video about an at-home, wearable baby monitor. It’s called the PregSense Monitor by Nuvo Group. The general consensus from the online community, both mothers and professionals alike, was “Wow! This is amazing! We’ll save so many babies this way!”

My own reaction was a bit different. I’m a skeptic at heart and like all Lamaze educators; I’m a big fan of evidence based products, treatments, procedures and medications. So, I knew I needed to learn more about the PregSense monitor. What’s the evidence behind it? Would it really meet expectations, and save babies and reduce moms’ anxiety?

I attempted to contact Nuvo Group for an interview, but I have not received a response from them at the time of this writing.

Nuvo Group claims

The Israeli tech firm hopes the device will reassure anxious mothers like Michal, in week 32 of her pregnancy, who require monitoring without having to see her doctor.

Claim:  “(The monitor will) allay mothers’ fears by transmitting data about the health of the mother and fetus.”

  • It appears to monitor all of the mother’s vital signs, not unlike a Fitbit or other activity tracker. But how does having the knowledge about your own vital signs and getting additional information about baby’s activities reduce fear?
  • What if the monitor malfunctions? What does that do to a mother’s level of fear?
    • Can one make the assumption that if the monitor isn’t picking up the baby, the mother will become more worried, rather than less. This might lead to increased health care provider visits and further unnecessary medical testing.
  • Could wearing this monitor increase anxiety and potentially cause mothers to be so focused on the monitor it becomes a bit of an obsession?
    • Mothers may become hypervigilant and reliant on the constant stream of “data” available to be reviewed.
  • How would a mother feel if she was unable to wear the monitor one day? Would that increase her fears, even if those fears were unfounded?
    • Removing access, even for a short time could increase worry and interefere with a mother’s ability to continue her daily activities.
  • When there is a constant stream of data it becomes easy to tune out the information. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of this device?
    • The information may become white noise and fade into the background, because it’s a nonstop stream.

Claim: Mothers can connect, see and hear the fetus whenever they want, without needing to consult a doctor.

  • Do mothers need a device to help them connect with their babies?
    • This product is trying to create a consumer need that does not exist.
    • Mothers connect with their babies all the time by feeling their movements; talking to them; touching their growing bellies, etc. Would the device reduce this natural mother/fetus interaction? Would a mother be more likely to turn to her smartphone for results from the monitor instead of paying attention to what her baby is actually doing throughout the rhythm of the day.?
  • Using this device would require a health care provider to be monitoring all of these women, all the time. This doesn’t take into account staffing levels or time to complete the task. 24/7 monitoring would be a massive time commitment and responsibility.
  • What about additional liability for the health care provider for not monitoring a woman properly or correctly identifying a problem?
    • We live in a very litigious society. A care provider might be facing a lawsuit if the data from the monitor is not evaluated regularly and an anomaly was missed.
  • Since there are two monitor types – the clinical monitor and the consumer monitor, this raises additional questions. What if the mother is low-risk and healthy, but chooses to wear the consumer model, without a prescription to “reassure” herself that all is well?
    • Would the physician then be required to monitor this mother, if there is no medical need and was not advised by the physician?
    • What is the physician’s liability in this case?

Claim: “We will be able to analyze this data to predict about events of pregnancy, like preterm labor, like preeclampsia and more and we will be able to intervene in the right time…”

  • Preterm labor may be able to be detected with continuous monitoring. However, the monitor is only identifying contractions. It’s not looking at vaginal discharge, cervical change, flu-like symptoms or downward pressure from the baby.
  • Would the monitor be able to tell the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and early labor?
    • The limited information on Nuvo Group’s website and in their press release does not provide enough information to say for sure.
  • What about those women who experience Braxton-Hicks regularly throughout pregnancy but are not in labor? Would the monitor be helpful or harmful for them in identifying mothers in preterm labor? Would they be in and out of their care provider’s offices more frequently, causing disruption to their daily lives?
  • Preeclampsia cannot be prevented at this time. So, at best, the monitor would let the mother and her care provider know that her blood pressure is high. It would not test for protein in her urine, swelling in her face, headaches, vision changes or any of the other symptoms of preeclampsia, so it’s an incomplete test. Would preeclampsia be missed because mother’s blood pressure is borderline and no other tests were administered.

Claim: Regarding monitoring high risk mothers with continuous monitoring in hospital; the monitor will benefit the health care provider by replacing a bulky machine with one that is lightweight and not connected to the wall.

  • We already have telemetry units for Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM), in many hospitals. This device is now redundant and may not integrate with the current software used to monitor the EFM units.
  • How much will this cost a hospital to replace all of their current EFM units by purchasing these PregSense clinical monitors? Is the financial outlay for a new convenience worth the expense?
  • Does the new monitor increase safety for mother and baby in comparison to traditional EFM. Is this alternative truly better for mothers and for doctors in an in-patient setting? Where are the studies that compare the two options? Is the data we get any better? Or are we still subject to human interpretation of the data in identifying the appropriate course of action?

Claim: The PregSense monitor is safer than ultrasounds that can cause tissue damage

nuvo-ritmo-beats-pregsenseAt this point in time there is no evidence and no research, to support monitoring mothers at home during pregnancy. All of the literature refers to full time electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) during labor. Therefore my assumptions are based off of that literature.

Consensus among professional and governmental groups is that, based on the evidence, intermittent auscultation is safer to use in healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies than electronic fetal monitoring (EFM).  (Heelan 2013) These professional groups include ACOG and AWHONN.

The issue with the beneficial claims made by Nuvo Group is they are in opposition to what the research finds for routine continuous EFM. Continuous EFM in low risk mothers provides no benefit for babies and increases the risk of cesarean for mothers. Therefore the whole concept of the PregSense Monitor is based on an erroneous assumption. It is not possible to prevent a problem by monitoring the baby. A problem can only be detected as it is occurring. So, even if a problem is observed while doing at home monitoring, by the time the mother makes it to the hospital it is may be too late to intervene effectively.

There is also the risk of false positive results. The monitor may detect an anomaly that then increases the mother’s fear about her baby’s well being only to be examined to find out that her baby is doing just fine, causing undue stress and panic.

The claims of the manufacturer of this product don’t hold up under current EFM guidelines and are not FDA approved.

Simplifying fetal monitoring for the care provider may not actually be the case when we look at 24/7 monitoring which still needs to be interpreted by a human being and a potentially large financial investment for a hospital that already has an EFM system that is adequate.

The claim that this product is safer than what currently exists with today’s EFM technology and ultrasonography is unsubstantiated. Without proper research, we do not know if it is safer, more harmful or neutral in relation to EFM and ultrasound as they are done today.

Resolving mother’s fears and helping her connect with the baby are at best an assumption regarding the “softer side” of the product’s results. It may be that some women do have greater piece of mind and feel a greater connection with their baby when using the device. Selling a feeling does not provide medical benefit to mother or baby. It is, however, good marketing.

The takeaway for your students is to have them look at all products with a discerning eye. Fear based marketing is insidious and plays to their emotions. They need to be making informed decisions based on accurate and evidence based information, rather than an emotional response to something that hits them in the heart.


 Nuvo Group’s website

Reuters, “Wearable device provides continuous fetal monitoring”

Dekker, Rebecca, Evidence Based Fetal Monitoring, 2012

Dekker, Rebecca, What is the Evidence for Fetal Monitoring on Admission, 2012

FDA, Avoid Fetal “Keepsake” Images, Heartbeat Monitors, 2014

FDA, Ultrasound Imaging

ACOG Practice Bulletin #106, “Intrapartum Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring: Nomenclature, Interpretation, and General Management Principles,”, July 2009

ACOG press release, ACOG Refines Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring Guidelines, 2009

Lisa Heelan, MSN, FNP-BC, Fetal Monitoring: Creating a Culture of Safety With Informed Choice, J Perinat Educ. 2013 Summer; 22(3): 156–165.




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New Electronic Fetal Monitoring Infographic Along with Printables of All Infographics!

February 19th, 2015 by avatar

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 9.21.29 PM

Lamaze International has released a new infographic; “Can Good Intentions Backfire in Labor? A closer look at continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM). This infographic is suitable for childbirth educators, doulas and birth professionals to use and share with clients and students.

Many birthing people and their families feel that monitoring in the form of continuous EFM (CEFM) during labor means a safer outcome for both the pregnant person and baby.  But as the infographic clearly states, (and as the research shows) since the invention of the continuous EFM, more than 60 years ago, newborn outcomes have not improved and in fact worsened.  CEFM used on normal, healthy, low risk labors does not make things better and can often create a situation that requires action (such as a cesarean birth) when the reality is that all was fine.

EFMInfographic_FINALAs educators, we have a responsibility to the families we work with to share what the evidence shows about continuous fetal monitoring.  Families may be surprised to learn that CEFM is not necessary for a spontaneous labor that is progressing normally and with a baby who is tolerating labor well.  Many of us may cover this topic when we talk about the 4th Healthy Birth Practice – Avoid Interventions that are Not Medically Necessary.  CEFM during a low risk, spontaneous labor is not medically necessary.  Helping families to understand this information and setting them up to have conversations with their health care providers about when CEFM might become necessary is an important discussion to have in childbirth class. Now there is this Lamaze International infographic on CEFM to help you facilitate conversations with your clients and students.

Lamaze International has also listened to the needs of educators and in addition to having the infographics available on a web page, all of the infographics are available as printable 8 1/2″ x 11″ handouts that you can share with families.  Alternately, for versions to laminate or hang in your classroom or office, you can choose to print the jpg versions in the original format. And of course, they will also reside on the Lamaze International Professional website.  Hop on over to check out all the infographics on a variety of topics.

Parents can find the EFM infographic as part of the educational material on the EFM information page on the parent website.

How do you cover the topic of continuous electronic fetal monitoring in your classes?  Will you be likely to use this new infographic as part of your curriculum?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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Does the Hospital “Admission Strip” Conducted on Women in Labor Work as Hoped?

October 3rd, 2013 by avatar

The 20 minute electronic fetal monitoring strip is a “right of passage” for any woman being admitted to the hospital in labor.  But is this automatic 20 minute strip evidence based?  Regular Science & Sensibility contributor Henci Goer takes a look at a recent Cochrane systematic review and lets us know what the research says.  Do you discuss this with your students?  Do you share about this practice  in your classes and with your patients and students?  What do you tell them? Will it change after reading Henci’s review below? – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager


© http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcarter

Some weeks ago, I did a Science & Sensibility post summarizing the latest version of the Cochrane systematic review of continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM)—AKA cardiotocography (CTG)—in labor versus intermittent listening. A couple of commenters on that post asked if I would tackle the “admission strip,” the common practice of doing EFM for 20 minutes or so at hospital admission in labor to see whether ongoing continuous monitoring is warranted.

I was in luck because the Cochrane Library has a recent systematic review of randomized controlled trials of this practice versus intermittent listening in women at low risk for fetal hypoxia (Devane 2012). The rationale for the admission strip, as the reviewers explain, is that pregnancy risk factors don’t predict all babies who will experience morbidity or mortality in labor. The admission strip is an attempt to identify women free of risk factors whose babies nevertheless might benefit from closer monitoring. Let’s see whether the admission strip succeeds at identifying those babies and improving their outcomes.

As to whether the admission strip identifies babies believed to be in need of closer surveillance, the answer is “yes.” Pooled analysis (meta-analysis) of the trials found that 15 more women per 100 allocated to the admission strip group went on to have continuous EFM (3 trials, 10,753 women), and 3 more babies per 100 underwent fetal blood sampling (3 trials, 10,757 babies).

Furthermore, women almost certainly underwent more cesareans as well (4 trials, 11,338 women). All four trials reported more cesareans in the admission strip group. The pooled increased risk of 20% just missed achieving statistical significance, but this is probably because cesarean rates were so low, only 3 to 4% in by far the biggest trial, which contributed 8056 participants. Because of the lack of heterogeneity among trials, the reviewers think the difference is likely to be real. If it is, then using an admission strip in low-risk women results in 1 additional cesarean for every 136 women monitored continuously (number needed to harm). I would add that not separating out first-time mothers, who are at greater risk for cesarean delivery, probably masked a bigger effect in this subgroup XXXXX. How big an effect might this be? Let’s assume a 9% cesarean rate in low-risk first-time mothers, that being the rate found  in first-time mothers still eligible for home birth at labor onset in the Birthplace in England study (2011). At this cesarean rate, a 20% increase over baseline would calculate to 1 additional cesarean for every 55 first-time mothers monitored continuously.

The crucial question, though, is whether increased monitoring and surgical deliveries produced better perinatal outcomes. To that, the answer is “no.” Combined fetal and neonatal death rates in infants free of congenital anomalies were identical at 1 per 1000 in both groups (4 trials, 11,339 babies). The reviewers acknowledge that their meta-analysis of over 11,000 babies is still “underpowered,” i.e., too small to detect a difference in outcomes. However, they continue, the event is so rare in low-risk women that no trial or meta-analysis would likely be big enough to do so. Additionally, no differences were found for cases of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (1 trial, 2367 babies), admissions to neonatal intensive care (4 trials, 11,331 babies), neonatal seizure (1 trial, 8056 babies), evidence of multi-organ compromise within the first 24 hours (1 trial, 8056 babies), or even 5-minute Apgar scores less than 7 (4 trials, 11,324 babies).

The reviewers therefore conclude:

We found no evidence of benefit for the use of the admission CTG for low-risk women on admission in labour. Furthermore, the probability is that admission CTG increases the caesarean section rate by approximately 20%. . . . The findings of this review support recommendations that the admission CTG not be used for women who are low risk on admission in labour. Women should be informed that admission CTG is likely associated with an increase in the incidence of caesarean section without evidence of benefit (Devane 2012, p. 2). [Emphasis mine.]


According to the best evidence, the admission strip isn’t just ineffective, it’s harmful, and its use should be abandoned


Birthplace in England Collaborative Group. (2011). Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth for healthy women with low risk pregnancies: the Birthplace in England national prospective cohort study. BMJ, 343, d7400. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22117057?dopt=Citation

Devane, D., Lalor, J. G., Daly, S., McGuire, W., & Smith, V. (2012). Cardiotocography versus intermittent auscultation of fetal heart on admission to labour ward for assessment of fetal wellbeing. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2, CD005122. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005122.pub4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22336808

Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Fetal Monitoring, Guest Posts, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Metaanalyses, New Research, Research, Uncategorized , , , , , , , ,

“I Want to Have a Vaginal Birth!” – A Childbirth Educator Meeting the Needs of Her Students.

July 11th, 2013 by avatar

Regular contributor, Jacqueline Levine, shares her experiences teaching Lamaze classes and ponders the responses to the question “Why have you come to this class?” The responses motivate her to continue to teach evidence based information and provide families with the resources they need to have a safe and healthy birth. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.



© www.momaroo.com

I teach Lamaze classes to the maternity clients at a Planned Parenthood Center.  Planned Parenthood supports women in all facets of their reproductive lives, including supporting a healthy pregnancy and birth.  As part of the informal protocol of the first session, I ask each woman why she’s come to the class.   Most of the time, the answers are pretty predictable;  “My sister (friend, mother, partner) said I should come”, or “How does this baby come OUT?” or sometimes “I want to have a natural birth with no medication.”  There is always a recognizable and comfortable rhythm to these answers.  Sometimes there’s humor, but there’s always the feeling of community; mothers-to-be will meet each other’s glance and smile.  At times, partners roll their eyes ceiling-ward, but the answers I hear do not discomfit, and they do not surprise.  Everyone understands that we are together under the sheltering umbrella of learning about birth, about who we are in this room, at this moment and in this context; we are preparing to learn together. 

I recently heard another reason for coming to class that in years past would have had me shaking my head in disbelief.  “I’m here because I want to have a vaginal birth.”  I’ve tried to imagine the look on my face when I first heard those words, and I know that the class read my expression; immediately I was knocked from a comfortable and familiar path, and the lighthearted air that normally suffused the room was neutralized in an instant. 

At this writing, five women in four different class series separated from each other by months, were bound together by the fear of having a cesarean. They had each come to class in order to find some sort of powerful knowledge that would stand as a barrier between themselves and cesarean birth.  They were asking me (and  by proxy, Lamaze) to give them an impenetrable defense, some kind of fortress of information.  They were hoping for some special power or status in the world of birth, a talisman or access to some magical knowledge to stay the knife and keep it at bay.  They had come to a childbirth education class for information that, in essence, would teach them how to succeed in challenging the childbirth system.   

What background and history did these women bring, that they came to class with that simple but remarkable request; “I want to have a vaginal birth.” When I inquired further, the answers were all about the same, each a slight variation on “Every one of my friends had a cesarean section, and I saw what happened to them, and I don’t want that to happen to me.”

I was sure that these women were sounding an alpenhorn blast, a call to us who support natural physiologic birth, that we have to give the women we teach an effective and powerful defense. I was handed a very real challenge.

Throughout the life of the Lamaze International, there has always been the vital re-examination and re-articulation of what Lamaze stands for.  Might there be something else we need to do to prepare our clients for the general medicalization of birth. Do we need to do some refinement or expansion of or addition to our syllabi?  Might there be a mini- parallel to the early days of Lamaze and other birth organizations, when there was a grassroots movement of women who wanted to be “awake and aware” during birth. Will more women begin showing up to our classes determined to avoid cesarean sections? 

Inspiration for meeting this challenge from my classes resides in some of the very words on the Lamaze website describing the Healthy Birth Practices, stating that the birth practices area “supported by research studies that examine the benefits and risks of maternity care practices. Therefore, they represent ‘evidence-based care,’ which is the gold standard for maternity care worldwide. Evidence-based care means using the best research about the effects of specific procedures, drugs, tests, and treatments, to help guide decision-making.”  Keeping up with the latest best-evidence information for our clients is what childbirth educators do; we go to conferences to stay current, we spend our time and our money to make sure that we are ultra-informed.  We feel that we owe it to those we teach.

In my Science & Sensibility post in May 2011 about best-evidence care and childbirth education, I described something I was doing in classes that seemed to give mothers-to-be an extra lift to their confidence. For every facet of birth covered in class, I would hand out one or more best-evidence studies, with the important parts highlighted. No one had to read the whole thing unless they wanted to, but the conclusions were glowing in yellow for all to see and everyone understood what the doctors said as they spoke to each other through the literature.  It was clear that what the doctors were saying to each other was not always what they were saying to the women who were in my class. 

An example; we may teach that continuous fetal monitoring doesn’t change/improve outcomes for babies, but does raise the cesarean section rate.  When we share the actual ACOG practice bulletin to that effect, it just makes sense that the very words in that bulletin confer a new power on our clients. It is doctors telling doctors that continuous EFM isn’t effective and may cause harm. How many doctors tell women outright that CEFM is, at the very least, unnecessary for low risk moms? Authority is speaking and those are the voices that our clients must confront when they are laboring in the hospital.  Now mothers-to-be can know what is said behind the scenes.  They feel supported by the truths the studies tell; this first-time access to those words expands their sense of choice and control. 

Does this approach work?  I’m sure that it does but my proof is only anecdotal. I observe numerous Planned Parenthood Center clients and those in my private practice have births that unfold without interference.  They feel empowered to “request and protest” in whatever measures are appropriate. 

When the women in my class who stated they simply wanted vaginal births first announced their aim to me, I was hoping that documentation of the harms of routine intervention, liberal application of the Six Healthy Birth Practices, lots of role-play and comfort-measures practice would provide these women with the tools to confront hospital policies and routine interventions. But cesarean birth is the ultimate intervention at times. 

Happily, there is much energy devoted to the avoidance of unnecessary cesarean sections from organizations like the International Cesarean Awareness Network supporting vaginal birth and bringing powerful voices to this struggle, but it’s still a one-on-one moment for birthing women.  They will meet that moment face-to-face with a health care provider who may push them to choose a cesarean section for any number of reasons.  At the moment a doctor says “You haven’t made much progress for the last two hours, there’s no guarantee that your baby can tolerate labor much longer and I can have your baby out in 20 minutes,” the pressure can become overwhelming for any woman.

What can we give women so that at that moment they can push back against that pressure?  Is it enough to feel confident in your body? Is it enough to know the cons of unnecessary, capricious cesarean section, its dangers and possible sequelae for mother and baby that make life difficult for  both when they go home? All women are entitled to know that ACOG itself does not recommend cesarean unless it is for a medical reason. While a long labor may not be convenient, labor length is not a medical reason for performing a cesarean section. Every woman should know that long labors are not, in and of themselves dangerous. ( Cheng, 2010.) To quote Penny Simkin; “Time is an ally, not an enemy.  With time, many problems in labor progress are resolved.” (Simkin, 2011.)

But finding the ultimate tool to give women so that they may avoid this ultimate intervention is a complicated matter.  Obstetricians admit that concerns about  their own possible  jeopardy takes precedence over the real health status of the mother.  This Medscape Medical News headline proclaims “ACOG 2009: Liability Fears May Be Linked to Rise in Cesarean Rates”. The article about these fears was presented at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 57th Annual Clinical Meeting in May 2009. The article casts the doctor as the victim: “So don’t just blame the doctor for doing a C-section, recognize that there’s probably a reason that [he or she is] doing it. And that fear of litigation is the reason,” concluded Dr. Barnhart. (ACOG 2009)

It’s been widely reported that, according to a CDC finding in 2011, the cesarean section rate dropped for the first time in a dozen years, and it’s been more recently reported that the rate has stabilized; however, it has stabilized at a at a whopping 31%.  One of every three birthing women will have a cesarean surgery. (Osterman, 2013.)

Will the 2010 ACOG guidelines on VBAC have any effect on the cesarean section rate? The rate of cesareans on first-time mothers is still not declining. (Osterman, 2013.)  The effect of new guidelines will be equivocal if not minimal.  It’s guidelines for first-time mothers that has to change, because both the hardened medical atmosphere surrounding normal, physiologic labor, and the ever-accruing protocols that lead to that primary cesarean will not be subject to new guidelines anytime soon. If women who are past their 40th week of gestation, those thought to be having babies bigger than 8lbs, plus all the women who are older than 35 are now thought to be among the acceptable candidates for VBAC, how can OBs still push for primary sections for those self-same criteria on first-time mothers?   

Finding a way to inform each and every woman of the range of choices she has for her birth and supporting those choices is our ongoing mission. A hopeful sign is ACOG’s call “for evidenced-based practice and greater cooperation between obstetrician-gynecologists and certified nurse-midwives/certified midwives.” (Waldman, 2011) ACOG is “recognizing the importance of options and preferences of women in their healthcare”and the recommendation by ACOG that Obstetricans actively include women in the “planning of health services to reduce risk and improve outcomes” with “shared medical decision-making” (ACOG 2011.)

Yet in the labor room, day-after-day, even the most well-informed, well-prepared, experienced and determined mother may, in the last moment, have her perineum snipped by a health care provider who states “Oh, and I gave you an episiotomy because you were starting to tear…” Or there could be the doctor who shares with a mother, “I was getting nervous about the baby getting too many red blood cells” and clamps the cord a few seconds after birth, despite the parent’s wishes for delayed cord clamping.

I cannot say that I will have an answer for the women who come in the future seeking answers on how to avoid a cesarean birth.  I believe that these women can feel more positive when they read what Dr. Richard N. Waldman, former President of ACOG), said in his August 2010 online letter to his organization:

“…The US maternal mortality ratio has doubled in the past 20 years, reversing years of progress. Increasing cesarean deliveries, obesity, increasing maternal age, and changing population demographics each contribute to the trend. In 2008, the cesarean delivery rate reached another record high—32.3% of all births. There is a community not far from my home in which 45% of the newborns are delivered via an abdominal incision. Let me be very honest. This increase in cesarean delivery rate grieves me because it seems as if we are changing the culture of birth. While it is certainly true that a physician has a contract with an individual patient, our specialty has a covenant with our society…”

As a childbirth educator, I am committed to teaching evidence based information, providing resources and support and helping women to have the best birth possible.  Won’t you join me in that goal?


Cheng, Y. W., Shaffer, B. L., Bryant, A. S., & Caughey, A. B. (2010). Length of the first stage of labor and associated perinatal outcomes in nulliparous women. Obstetrics & Gynecology116(5), 1127-1135.

 Monitoring, I. F. H. R. (2009). nomenclature, interpretation, and general management principles. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 106. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol114, 192-202.

Osterman MJK, Martin JA. Changes in cesarean delivery rates by gestational age: United States, 1996–2011. NCHS data brief, no 124. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.

Partnering with patients to improve safety. Committee Opinion No. 490. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2011;117:1247–9.

Simkin, P., & Ancheta, R. (2011). The labor progress handbook: early interventions to prevent and treat dystocia. John Wiley & Sons.

Vaginal birth after previous cesarean delivery. Practice Bulletin No. 115. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2010;116:450–63.

Waldman, R. N., & Kennedy, H. P. (2011). Collaborative practice between obstetricians and midwives. Obstetrics & Gynecology118(3), 503-504.

ACOG, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Fetal Monitoring, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, informed Consent, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Push for Your Baby, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

Preventing Cesarean Delivery – What is the Nurses’ Role?

January 8th, 2013 by avatar

By Christine H. Morton, PhD

 “Experienced nurses practicing in a nurse-managed labor model have the potential to change patient outcomes.” 

Today, on Science & Sensibility, Christine Morton, PhD takes a look at a study examining the role of nurses in helping to achieve a vaginal birth for patients under their care.  No surprise from my point of view, my professional experience as a doula has demonstrated that L&D nurses play a critical role in the birth, and can really help a mother to achieve the outcome she desires.  Please enjoy Christine’s synopsis and interview with one of the study authors.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager

© 2013 Patti Ramos Photography

Readers of this blog are well aware of the 50% increase in cesarean delivery rates over the past decade, and are likely aware that the high US cesarean delivery rate is on the maternal quality and patient safety agendas for many organizations.  More attention will soon be focused on hospital rates (the Joint Commission recently expanded its performance measurement requirements such that as of January 1, 2014, all hospitals with more than 1100 annual births will be REQUIRED to report on the Perinatal Care Measure Set, which was the subject of a past blog post).  The Perinatal Care Measure Set includes a measure on the first birth cesarean among low risk women (nulliparous women who have cesareans at term, with singleton, vertex babies).  Furthermore, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is requiring that all states report rates of Elective Deliveries <39 Weeks as of 1/1/13 and it is likely that a similar requirement for the NTSV (Nulliparous Term Singleton Vertex) Cesarean measure is not far behind.

One indicator of this trend was the February 2012 symposium on preventing the first cesarean held jointly by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG.)  A comprehensive summary of the proceedings of that symposium was published in the November 2012 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is well worth reading but is available only with a subscription.  That same issue had a commentary on how to create a public agenda for reducing cesarean delivery, written by me and my California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative colleagues, which is free to all, thanks to our funder.

The attention to the detrimental health impact of our country’s cesarean rate for women and their babies is a good sign, coming as it does from powerful organizations with interests in providing care and paying for it.  Most of the focus on quality measurement reporting on cesarean delivery has been directed at hospital level (i.e., Leapfrog and The Joint Commission), though there is interest among payers and consumers for public reporting of provider-specific rates.  Virginia is one example where obstetric outcomes (cesarean, episiotomy) are publicly reported at the hospital and provider levels.  However, it is complicated to attribute outcome rates in obstetrics, which is increasingly a ‘team sport’ with multiple clinicians (physicians, midwives and nurses) involved in the care of a woman throughout her pregnancy and birth.

Yet, in all these domains (institutional, measurement, quality improvement), the role of nurses on cesarean delivery decisions and outcomes has been barely mentioned.  Neglecting the labor & delivery nurse’s role is unfortunately all too typical in public discourse around quality reporting, shared decision-making and improving outcomes in birth. I have become very interested in the nursing perspective as the more I learn about hospital birth, the more I realize that nurses are central to the management of labor & delivery units, and in measuring and reporting outcomes.  Thus, it was with great delight that I saw a new study, Intrapartum Nurses’ Perceived Influence on Delivery Mode Decisions and Outcomes in the January 2013 issue of JOGNN

Nurse-researchers Joyce K. Edmonds and Emily J. Jones conducted a semi-structured interview study with 13 nurses who were employed at a hospital with about 2000 births a year and overall cesarean rate of 36%.  These nurses work within a “nurse-managed labor model” which is characterized by a relatively autonomous nursing role, with intermittent communication with an off-site obstetrician.  Most nurses in the US practice within this type of model.  Nationally less than 10% of hospitals that do births are teaching hospitals, which have 24/7 access to physician consultation.  Other hospitals with 24/7 physicians on staff include HMOs like Kaiser Permanente, or those who have hospitalists.  In California, about half of all birthing facilities do not have an OB available onsite 24/7.

Shockingly few studies have looked at nurses’ role on the mode of delivery.   This is more striking when one considers the many specific nursing clinical practice responsibilities that may affect cesarean rates.  Nurses are largely responsible for assessing women during triage for admission, monitoring and assessing the health of mother/baby after hospital admission.  Nurses manage and administer oxytocin, assess and assist with labor pain, and are primary managers of second stage labor.  These practices occur within the administrative context of each hospital’s policies on admission in early labor, rates of interventions such as inductions (especially those for no medical indication), cesarean (especially those among the low risk population) and availability and rates of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).

Data for this study were drawn from semi-structured interviews with nurses who had a range of 10-40 years clinical experience in L&D.  Questions were specifically designed to elicit active practice and interaction with physicians (interactions with women were not addressed).  An example of a question asked of respondents, “Can you tell me about a time when you intervened to promote vaginal delivery or avoid a cesarean?”

The overarching theme in this study was how nurses described their efforts to ‘negotiate for more time’ during labor, to positively impact the likelihood of a vaginal delivery.   Negotiating for more time was defined in this study as “a form of nurse-physician interaction and an action taken to create the temporal space in which nursing interventions thought to affect delivery mode decisions operate”.    The authors found that nurses’ ability to negotiate for more time was based on their knowledge of labor and birth over their many years of experience, as well as their knowledge of individual physician practice patterns.  Furthermore, nurses’ awareness of physician and institutional-imposed time constraints was a key factor in negotiating for more time.

The important conclusion reached by the authors was that “experienced nurses practicing in a nurse-managed labor model have the potential to change patient outcomes.”  Despite the known limitations of this study – small sample of highly experienced nurses working at a single institution – I was intrigued and excited by the practice implications and the potential to develop quality improvement strategies for reducing cesarean deliveries that are specific to nurses.  So often, the labor & delivery nurses’ role is overlooked in this area and this study is an important contribution to our understanding of nurses’ influence in cesarean outcomes.   There is clearly more research and work to be done, and one of the authors, Joyce K. Edmonds, graciously responded to questions I had about the study and future directions for this research and quality improvement initiatives:

CHM: It was interesting that the range of experience represented in your study was 10-40 years – do you think your sample was more weighted toward the more experienced nurses?  Do you have any theories for why the lower end of the range was so high?  Were there nurses in that hospital with 2-3 years of experience?  Any thoughts about why they did or did not participate?

JKE:  Our sample was without doubt weighted to the experienced nurse, and we used the term experienced as a qualifier throughout the paper. This particular hospital staff was highly experienced, although, there were nurses with less than < 5 years experience. We think the sample was a self-selecting group of nurses who felt strongly about birth mode and the influence they had on birth mode decisions. Perhaps, less experienced nurses’ perspectives on birth mode were not as clearly developed as those who participated. It could also be that those who volunteered to participate were more supportive of promoting vaginal deliveries than those who did not participate. It could also be that scheduling conflicts with less experienced nurses prohibited them from participating.

Joyce Edmonds

CHM: I think the fluid nature of ‘time’ and the constraints on physician time bear further exploration.  In this regard, it would have been helpful have analyses of accounts where nurses felt they were ‘unsuccessful’ in buying more time for labor.  The counter-factual example can sometimes shed light on the dynamics – what didn’t work in this case? Do you have any unsuccessful stories in your data and/or did you analyze those?   It seemed as though all the nurses in your study DID negotiate for time, or at least provided you with accounts of when they did.  Were there any nurses who did NOT have a story to share about negotiating for more time?

JKE: All the nurses did talk about negotiating for time, which is the reason it emerged as the overarching theme.  Nurses did talk about not being able to negotiate for more time when cesareans were scheduled because the course of labor management was already established. They also seemed to have less influence when inductions were scheduled because again the labor management plan was established prior to their involvement in the care. I’d have to look back at the interviews with an eye toward specific counter-factual examples.

CHM: I also found it fascinating to read the quote that begins, “It almost feels like you’re working against the machine.” I was curious to know more about the justifications for that taboo of not being able to talk or confront the physician with the ‘agenda.’   In my interviews with OB nurses, I also came across this and think it is an important factor to explore further.  I imagine that nurses with less clinical experience are even less able to identify or recognize this ‘agenda’ and that comes with its own set of practice and policy issues for nursing training.  

JKE: I think the nurse physician relationship shapes the day-to-day work environment of the nurse. It is a long-term relationship relative to the nurse-patient relationship. It is likely that talking about or confronting a particular physician about the potential of an agenda could negatively disrupt the work environment, which is significantly related to nurses’ job satisfaction. Nurses want to be seen as team players and discussing the potential of physician ‘hidden agendas’ is like being a whistle blower. In addition to not wanting to disrupt the power balance, they may not want to invite scrutiny into their own practice patterns.

CHM: I was struck in particular by the account on page 5 of your paper that ends with the quote, “There are certainly situations where the baby needs to come out via C-section, but it is not as many as we do by any stretch.”  What situations?  What factors influence those decisions?  Where do nurses feel they lost power to bargain /buy more time?  

JKE: In this quote, the nurse is referring to medically indicated versus potentially unnecessary cesareans. I believe when nurses speak about cesareans they are not only focused on unplanned, intrapartum cesareans but also scheduled cesareans or scheduled inductions, which can result in a cesarean. It was clear from the interviews that nurses felt less invested in the decision-making process when women came in for scheduled cesareans or planned inductions. Nurses also spoke of how women are set up for failure during pregnancy—by way of unfavorable media messages, lack of unbiased childbirth education, and lack of risk reduction information from prenatal care providers.

CHM: I was intrigued that in this study you did not appear to ask about nurses’ views toward physiological birth (vaginal) and cesarean, or other indicators of their philosophy of birth.  The comment from the nurses who viewed themselves as a ‘dying breed’ begin to capture some sense of that – whether it is experience, knowledge, or philosophy of birth that unites them against this perceived different group of newer nurses.

JKE:  Great question, although it assumes that nurses’ personal philosophy of birth impacts their practice, which it likely does according to Reagan et al. In an attempt to keep the data focused on our main aim we did not ask nurses directly about their personal philosophy of birth. I believe the nurses in the study were united in their knowledge of childbirth–without the now pervasive assessment and intervention technology–knowledge borne out of experience.

CHM: How do you plan to follow up with this research and what are your future projects?    

JKE: Locally, we want to continue the discussion about the influence of nursing care and knowledge on cesarean rates that started with our interviews. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic and hospital policies, we have not had much success with direct follow-up where the study was conducted. However, we are very interested in presenting and discussing the results with other interested audiences. With regard to future projects, we are currently initiating a study to document the degree of nursing influence on cesarean rates at the level of the individual nurse, at an academic medical center and at a community hospital, building on the sentinel, yet dated, work of Radin et. al.  If the results are significant, we foresee the development of a quality improvement strategy directed at providing individual nurses routine (e.g., bi-monthly or quarterly) feedback on standard measures, such as risk adjusted primary cesarean section rates, cervical dilation at cesarean, and cesarean indication, based on the cohort of women in their care. Clearly, although not without great effort, such a strategy would need to be interdisciplinary and have adequate IT infrastructure and support. I also think nurses, as part of a team, should be involved in giving feedback about physician practice patterns in accordance with obstetric standards.

Are you an L&D nurse?  Can you comment on your experiences and how you feel your actions can influence the mode of birth.  If you are a doula, what has been your observation.  Doctor or midwife?  How do you view the role of the L&D nurse?  I look forward to a robust discussion. – SM


Edmonds, J. K. and Jones, E. J. (2013), Intrapartum Nurses’ Perceived Influence on Delivery Mode Decisions and Outcomes. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 42: 3–11. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2012.01422.x

Main, E.K., Morton, C.H, Hopkins, D., Giuliani, G.,  Melsop, K., and Gould, J.B (2012), Creating a Public Agenda for Maternity Safety and Quality in Cesarean Delivery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, November 2012; 120 (5):1194-1198.

Radin TG, Harmon JS, Hanson DA. Nurses’ Care During labor: Its Effect on the Cesarean Birth Rate of Healthy, Nulliparous Women. Birth. 1993;20(1):14-21.

Regan M, Liaschenko J. In the Mind of the Beholder Hypothesized Effect of Intrapartum Nurses’ Cognitive Frames of Childbirth Cesarean Section Rates. Qualitative Health Research. 2007;17(5):612-624.

Spong, C. Y. MD; Berghella, V. MD; Wenstrom, K. D. MD; Mercer, B. M. MD; Saade, G. R. MD (2012), Preventing the First Cesarean Delivery: Summary of a Joint Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Workshop, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Volume 120(5), November 2012, p 1181–1193

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