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Remembering Sheila Kitzinger – An Amazing Advocate for Women, Babies and Families

April 13th, 2015 by avatar

“Sheila Kitzinger is a giant upon whose shoulders we will stand on as we continue our important work for women and their babies. She will be sorely missed.” – Judith Lothian

SheilaKitzinger85Birthday_lSheila Kitzinger passed away on April 12th at her home in Oxfordshire, England after a short illness  Ms. Kitzinger was 86 years old. My eldest son, the father of four, forwarded me the BBC announcement. It shouldn’t have been a shock because I had heard she was very ill. But it is. We have lost a birth advocate who “rocked the boat” and taught the rest of us how to do it.

Kitzinger was an anthropologist and childbirth educator. As a childbirth educator, she pushed educators to go beyond just sharing knowledge, beyond just educating women about birth. She believed that we needed to confront the system in which birth takes place, to advocate in powerful ways so that women could give birth without being traumatized physically or emotionally. She wrote more than 25 books, an endless number of articles in scholarly journals, including her wonderful “Letter from Europe” column in Birth, and a steady stream of newspaper and magazine articles and letters to the editors. Her latest book, A Passion for Birth: My Life; Anthropology, Family, and Feminismher memoirs, will be published in the UK in June.

Sheila came to New York City in the 1970s several times. I was a young mother and new childbirth educator who knew nothing about Kitzinger before I heard her speak. Her passion, her knowledge, and her genuine interest in everyone she met inspired and motivated me, really all of us, to meet the challenges (and they were substantial) that we faced back then. I have spent the last 40 years reading literally everything Sheila Kitzinger has written. Many of those books and articles I have read over and over again, always learning something new. I consider Sheila Kitzinger one of my most important mentors, although we only spoke at length on four occasions in all those years.rediscovering birth kitzinger

With a handful of others, Kitzinger turned the world of birth upside down. Although we still have a long way to go, Sheila Kitzinger’s work has made contributions that simply cannot be measured. Kitzinger’s work going back to the 1970s on episiotomy and the value and importance of home birth were the start of what would become prolific contributions. Her books for women on pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding, sex and pregnancy, and the sexuality of birth and breastfeeding can’t be beat. Her work on post traumatic birth in the Uk was groundbreaking. Her books on the politics of birth, the culture of birth, becoming a mother, and becoming a grandmother are major contributions to the literature. Rediscovering Birth is a personal favorite. If that book doesn’t inspire women to think differently about birth, I don’t know what can!

sheila kitzinger 2The article that made the biggest difference in my life was “Should Childbirth Educators Rock the Boat?” published in Birth in 1993. At the time I was new to the Board of Directors of Lamaze International (then ASPO Lamaze) and was soon to become President of the organization. Kitzinger wrote powerfully of the need for childbirth educators to not just teach women about birth but to advocate within the system for change, to take strong stands in support of normal physiologic birth, home birth, and humane, empowering childbirth. Her call to action drove my own work within Lamaze. The result was a philosophy of birth that was courageous and groundbreaking and has driven the work of the organization since then. Advocacy is a competency of a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and the mission of the organization clearly identifies the role of advocacy. Lamaze International’s six evidence based Healthy Birth Practices “rock the boat” of the standardized childbirth education class that creates good patients and hospitals that claim to provide safe care to women and babies. When The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence was first published in 2005, Sheila reviewed the book. In her review she wrote, “…It’s humane, funny, tender, down-to-earth and joyful. Essential reading for all pregnant women who seek autonomy in childbirth.” I wanted to tell her – “Without your passion and inspiration that book might not have been written.”

There are a number of other bits of wisdom from Kitzinger that I often quote. They have made a difference to me and, I suspect, to everyone who knows Sheila’s work.

  • What breastfeeding mothers need most is a healthy dose of confidence
  • Home birth should be a safe, accessible option for women
  • Touch in childbirth has changed from warm, human touch to the disconnected touch of intravenous, fetal monitors, blood pressure cuffs
  • Women know how to give birth
  • The clock is perhaps the most destructive piece of modern technology

Kitzinger gave me a healthy dose of confidence in myself and in the importance of what we do in small and big ways as we go about the work of changing the world of birth. She convinced me that talking about birth and writing about birth, even if only to the choir, makes a difference. We know we’re not alone and we become more passionate and more committed. We develop the courage to “rock the boat”.

Sheila Kitzinger is a giant upon whose shoulders we will stand on as we continue our important work for women and their babies. She will be sorely missed. May she rest in peace. Our deepest sympathies go out to her family and friends.

Do you have a memory or story to share about Sheila Kitzinger?  How has she or her work impacted you personally or professionally?  Share your stories in our comments section. – SM

About Judith Lothian

@ Judith Lothian

@ Judith Lothian

Judith Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE is a nurse and childbirth educator. She is an Associate Professor at the College of Nursing, Seton Hall University and the current Chairperson of the Lamaze Certification Council Governing Body. Judith is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of Perinatal Education and writes a regular column for the journal. Judith is the co-author of The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. Her research focus is planned home birth and her most recent publication is Being Safe: Making the Decision to Have a Planned Home Birth in the US published in the Journal of Clinical Ethics (Fall 2013).

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Home Birth, Infant Attachment, Lamaze International, Maternity Care, Midwifery, Newborns , , , ,

Advocacy: Lamaze International Leaders on Capitol Hill

April 7th, 2015 by avatar

By John Richardson, Director, Government Relations, Lamaze International

I am proud of being both a member of Lamaze International and a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator for many reasons.  Today’s post by John Richardson, Lamaze International’s Director of Government Relations is just one reason why I am happy to pay my membership dues and be a part of the Lamaze organization.  Lamaze is actively working in both the private sector and with public/governmental leaders to help every family to have access to the resources to have a safe and healthy birth.  Today on the blog, we share about how our Board of Directors met with Congressmen and Congresswomen to share the importance of an evidence based childbirth education class being available to all families.  My certifying organization works hard for me and the families I teach every day.  – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

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Lamaze BoD on Capitol Hill, 2015

Advocacy is a foundational element of the Lamaze International mission to advance safe and healthy pregnancy, birth and early parenting through evidence-based education and advocacy. Assisting women and their families to make informed decisions for childbearing and acting as an advocate to promote, support, and protect safe and healthy birth are two core competencies of a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator.

Advocacy comes in many different forms. The new Lamaze Strategic Framework specifically calls for taking advocacy efforts to the next level, focusing on government and legislative advocacy — leveraging strategic partnerships to advocate for perinatal/childbirth education coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and partnering with insurance companies, including the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), to become part of the “bundled care” system. (Bundled care payment programs refer to the concept of grouping together the multiple services associated with a certain health “episode” versus the current fee for service system where each service associated with a condition is charged separately, and is one of the ACA’s many attempts to incentivize health care providers to be more cost efficient.)

BoD President Robin Elise Weiss and BOD Christine Morton

BoD President Robin Elise Weiss and BOD Christine Morton

Over the years, Lamaze has been involved in a variety of coalition and advocacy efforts related to improving access to high-quality maternity care that includes evidence based childbirth education by qualified educators and the promotion of breastfeeding within the health care industry. These efforts will continue with Lamaze taking its message directly to Capitol Hill to have a stronger voice with federal policymakers on behalf of the organization, its members, and the women and families that Lamaze serves. We want to let Congress know that Lamaze International provides gold standard childbirth education which can play an important role in promoting healthier outcomes for mother and baby and reducing healthcare costs and burdens on the healthcare system.

What does advocacy look like?

Advocacy campaigns at the federal level in the United States are typically a set of actions targeted to create support for a specific policy or proposal. The goals of an advocacy campaign may include drafting and passing a new law, drafting and passing amendments to existing laws, commenting on regulation, or influencing public perception and awareness of a particular issue.

Why is advocacy important for Lamaze?

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Board member Alice Turner

The delivery of health care is one of the most regulated industries in the United States. State and federal regulations often define whether services are covered by insurance, which practitioners are allowed to deliver services, the manner in which services are delivered, and how much individual practitioners and health care organizations are reimbursed. Naturally, there are a lot of people and organizations invested in steering and influencing these policies. There are literally thousands of issues and groups vying for policymakers’ attention. For Lamaze, it is critical to engage directly in advocacy activities so that policymakers become aware of the issues that are important to our organization and make them priorities.

There have been several recent successful advocacy initiatives to improve care for pregnant and postpartum women. For example, Lamaze has worked in collaboration with other organizations and lawmakers to improve breastfeeding services under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, there are several benefits now available to women who receive coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplaces (exchanges) and private non-grandfathered plans. Benefits such as lactation support and counseling by trained professionals are now covered without co-pay or co-insurance. Breast pumps are also covered at no charge and most employers must provide access to clean and private locations to pump for women who are hourly employees.

These victories are impressive and it is important to note that they did not occur in a vacuum. Advocates flooded the halls of Congress for years to ensure that policymakers appreciated the importance of breastfeeding. A key component of the success of these advocacy efforts was that they were based on research, focused on higher quality health outcomes, and provided fiscal benefits to the health care system and the federal government.

The Lamaze Board of Directors’ “Hill Day”

cbe graphicBearing all this in mind and in conjunction with their in-person meeting in Washington, DC, members of the Lamaze Board of Directors took to Capitol Hill on March 19, 2015 to meet with their Representatives and Senators about the excellent childbirth education that Lamaze provides and its potential to reduce costs and improve outcomes. The members of the Board met with a total of 23 Congressional offices, the majority of whom sit on committees with jurisdiction over health policy.

Our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill centered on the following core messages:

  1. Promoting greater utilization of evidence-based childbirth education is a critical element in closing quality outcomes gaps and reducing unnecessary costs. In the face of high rates of cesarean sections, early inductions, and maternal/infant mortality, there is an increasing imperative for women to be informed and in charge of their maternity care to improve birth outcomes.

Maternal or neonatal hospital stays make up the greatest proportion of hospitalizations among infants, younger adults and patients covered by private insurance and Medicaid, which is why improvements in care are a major opportunity to reduce overall healthcare spending. Increasing quality outcomes by reducing the rates of unnecessary interventions, such as early induction of labor and cesarean section, are critical to reduce healthcare spending, particularly with Medicaid.

  1. The ACA has provided an opportunity for millions of uninsured Americans to access health care coverage through the creation of the exchanges. For those that do not enroll in a plan during the “open” enrollment period, there are qualifying “life events” that trigger special enrollment periods. One of those life events is when a woman gives birth. After the birth, the mother can sign herself and her infant up for coverage.

Lamaze believes, along with many others, that pregnancy, rather than birth, should be the life event that triggers the special enrollment period. Recently, 37 Senators and 55 Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell  requesting this change. It appears Secretary Burwell can make this change administratively, as it does not require an act of Congress. Lamaze will join a chorus of other organizations that are making this request directly to the Secretary. Lamaze will also emphasize the importance of ensuring that ACA and state Medicaid plans include childbirth education as a covered service under maternity care benefits.

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Hill Day meetings

While meeting and communicating with legislators and staff on Capitol Hill may seem intimidating, it is actually very easy. Legislators are elected (and re-elected) by their constituents (you) so they have an obligation to listen to their constituents (you). That is a very important dynamic to remember. They are naturally inclined to help address the issues raised by their constituents.

However, advocates should always be well-prepared, a task that proved to be almost second nature for the Lamaze Board members as they met with Congressional offices. As experts in the field and natural educators, Lamaze leadership did a fantastic job representing the views of childbirth educators and establishing a rapport with the officials and staffers they met – the most important accomplishment of any first meeting on Capitol Hill.

Check out all the pictures of our Board of Directors on the “Hill” last month here.

Getting Involved

If you want to get involved and contact or meet with Congressional offices in your state, the most important action is to convey who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why it is important. Then, continue a dialogue of how specific policies might be improved for safer, higher quality, lower cost birth outcomes. In preparation for the first Lamaze “Hill Day,” several key documents were developed, including a policy paper and supporting documents to convey Lamaze’s core message in meetings with Congressional offices. By following this link, you can access and use these documents for advocacy efforts with your state’s representatives and in your local communities with insurers, health care providers, and hospitals.

Providing Lamaze’s unique perspective on the state and national level is extremely important and we can only be successful with the help of our members and supporters. In the coming months, we will provide a webinar on how to become an effective advocate and what Lamaze is doing to have an impact on access to high-quality childbirth education. Stay tuned!  If you are already an advocate in your community, on the county or state level or even nationally, share what you are doing to help families receive good care and improve outcomes in our comments section.

About John Richardson

John_Richardson headshot 2015

© John Richardson

John Richardson joined SmithBucklin, Lamaze International’s management company, in 2001 as Director of Government Relations, Healthcare Practice Group. He guides the policy efforts of healthcare organizations whose members include healthcare administrators; allied health professionals; physicians and hospitals. His experience provides his clients with a deep understanding of policy and politics and their effects on the healthcare system.

John lobbies Congress and government agencies at the federal level and also develops strategy for state lobbying efforts. He also has experience pursuing client objectives such as the development of practice guidelines, CPT codes, evidence based research, and technologies that promote efficiencies within healthcare administration.

Prior to joining SmithBucklin, John served as an Associate to the House Committee on Appropriations for a former member of the committee. Preceding his work of 5 years on the Hill, John acquired extensive political and grassroots experience working as a campaign aide to congressional and presidential campaigns.

A New Hampshire native, he graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I, and currently resides in Bowie, MD with his wife Kristin and sons Garrett and Holden.

 

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Lamaze News, Maternal Quality Improvement, Push for Your Baby, Research for Advocacy , , , , , ,

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

February 19th, 2015 by avatar

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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.

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Fetal Monitoring, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Maternal Quality Improvement, Medical Interventions, Push for Your Baby, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

Care Model Innovations – Changing The Way Maternity Care Is Provided

February 17th, 2015 by avatar
© Serena O'Dwyer

© Serena O’Dwyer

Amy Romano was the original community manager, editor and writer of Science & Sensibility back when this blog was first established by Lamaze International in 2009.  After a healthy stint in that role, Amy has since moved on to other positions and most recently can be found in the position of Vice President of Health Ecosystems at Maternity Neighborhood, a technology company providing digital tools and apps to maternity health care providers around the world.  Additionally, Amy has been focused on finishing up her MBA at the same time.  (Talk about multitasking!)

While moving on to other things, Amy has not stopped blogging and I have been enjoying her most recent series on care model innovation in maternity care in particular and healthcare in general.  The series started in October of 2014, and Amy just published the seventh post in her ten post series. The entire series is part of Amy’s school work toward receiving her MBA.  That is a great blend of combining her degree program with her work, with her passion and interest.

Amy decided to look at four care models in particular: Nurse-Family Partnership, community-based doulas, midwife-led maternity services, and CenteringPregnancy. In talking with Amy, she shared that one of the things that really struck her is that these evidence-based care models are all very much relationship-based. She is more convinced than ever that trusting relationships are the “secret sauce” of good birth outcomes.

The posts available in the series so far include:

  1. What is care model innovation?
  2. The case for care model innovation in U.S. maternity care
  3. Care models that work: Nurse-Family Partnership
  4. Care models that work: Doulas as community health workers
  5. Care models that work: Midwife-led maternity services
  6. Care models that work: Group Prenatal Care
  7. Early examples of payment innovation in maternity care

And those posts yet to come:

8.  More mature payment reform models: An overview
9.  Driving community-based care through payment reform
10. The data infrastructure required for care model transformation

Particularly helpful are the references and learning resources that Amy includes in each of her posts, where the reader can go for more information and to dig deeper into the programs and research that Amy used to substantiate her research.

Changing the maternity care model currently in place is a critical piece for helping to improve the current status of both maternal morbidity and mortality as well as neonatal morbidity and mortality in the USA, which despite our abundance of resources, still has our world ranking in these categories shamefully at the bottom of the list.

According to Amy:

We’re in the midst of a “perfect storm” right now, with implementation of health care reform and lots of forces changing healthcare to be more patient-centered and integrated with community services. If ever there was a time when midwifery care, doulas, physiologic birth practices, etc., were going to take hold, that time is now.

As I have been reading Amy’s series, I have been struck by how some of her posts have reinforced the Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices themes, in particular #3 – Bring a friend, loved one or doula for continuous support, and #4 – Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary.

I asked Amy to share what her thoughts on what the role of the childbirth educator was in this time of transition.  Her response:

I think childbirth educators have lots of opportunities in the new healthcare landscape, but it will require a shift in thinking for some. New payment models will reward team-based care and CBEs have an important potential role as valued members of these teams, helping to implement shared decision making, help with care navigation/coordination, and extending educational offerings to postpartum/parenting, special conditions (e.g. gestational diabetes), etc. 

Amy Romano

Amy Romano

We need innovative ideas, forward thinking, and the ability to examine what we are currently doing with a critical eye, if we are to design and implement maternity care programs that improve outcomes and utilize resources more effectively to help mothers and babies.  As Amy highlights, there are existing programs that have shown great results and deserve the opportunity to be implemented on a wider scale.

Take some time to read the seven posts and come back to the Maternity Neighborhood blog to catch the final three when they become available.  Share your thoughts about what Amy is discussing as she rolls out the entire series.  And, consider what your role will be in the changing landscape of care that women receive during their childbearing year.

Babies, Childbirth Education, Doula Care, Healthcare Reform, Healthy Birth Practices, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery, New Research, Newborns, Research , , , , , , ,

Epidurals: Do They or Don’t They Increase Cesareans?

January 27th, 2015 by avatar

By Henci Goer

In October, Author Henci Goer wrote an article for Science & Sensibility, Epidural Anesthesia: To Delay or Not To Delay – That is the Question – examining the impact of the timing of an epidural on labor and birth.  Today Henci looks at some new research, Epidural analgesia in labour and risk of caesarean delivery which seeks to determine whether receiving an epidural at all impacts the likelihood of a cesarean delivery.  Lamaze International has a great infographic on epidurals that you also may find very helpful. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

© J. Wasikowski, provided by Birthtastic

© J. Wasikowski, provided by Birthtastic

Let’s start with a bit of background for those of you who didn’t personally live through the early controversy over whether epidurals increased the cesarean rate. As epidurals began to achieve popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s, one researcher sounded the alarm when he and his group published a study of 714 first-time mothers showing that even after excluding women with big babies and women whose labor pattern was abnormal prior to having an epidural, epidurals remained a potent factor in cesarean rates for delayed progress (Thorp 1989). Everyone pooh-poohed his finding on grounds that observational studies can’t truly determine whether epidurals lead to more cesareans or women experiencing more prolonged, painful labors, and therefore at higher risk for cesarean, were more likely to want epidurals. The “chicken versus egg” question, they argued, couldn’t be resolved without a randomized controlled trial (RCT), and it wasn’t likely that women would agree to be assigned by chance to have an epidural or not. In point of fact, that same year saw publication of a small Danish RCT (107 women, 104 of them first-time mothers) (Philipsen 1989). It reported that having an epidural nearly tripled the cesarean rate (16% vs. 6%) for “cephalopelvic disproportion” despite no clinical evidence of CPD being a requirement for inclusion. The investigators ignored this, however, concluding only that instrumental vaginal delivery rates were similar, and epidurals provided better pain relief. In any case, the anesthetic dose was much higher than was already becoming the norm, so it could be reasonably argued that the trial’s findings wouldn’t apply to modern-day practice.

Thorp, meanwhile, took up the RCT challenge. He and his colleagues carried out an epidural versus no epidural trial in 93 first-time mothers and found that epidurals did, in fact, lead to cesareans (25% vs. 2%), not vice versa (Thorp 1993). That bit of unwelcome news precipitated a stampede to perform more RCTs, and when enough of those had accumulated, to a series of systematic reviews pooling their data (meta-analysis), of which the Cochrane review, Anim-Somuah et al. (2011), is the latest. These reached the more comfortable conclusion that epidurals didn’t increase likelihood of cesarean, and pro-epiduralists breathed a collective sigh of relief and went back, if they had ever stopped, to unreservedly recommending epidurals. (This rather sweeps under the rug the other problems epidurals can cause, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Weaknesses of the “Epidural” vs. “No Epidural” Trials

Epidural

By User:Ravedave (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

The finding that epidurals don’t increase cesareans is puzzling because they increase likelihood of factors associated with them (Anim-Somuah 2011). For one thing, they increase use of oxytocin to augment labor, which implies they slow labor. For another, more women run fevers, and it stands to reason that a woman progressing slowly who starts running a fever is a likely candidate for cesarean. For a third, the difference in fetal malposition (occiput posterior) rates at delivery comes close to achieving statistical significance, meaning the difference is unlikely to be due to chance. Persistent OP is strongly associated with cesarean delivery (Cheng 2006; Fitzpatrick 2001; Phipps 2014; Ponkey 2003; Senecal 2005; Sizer 2000). Epidurals even increase cesareans for fetal distress by 40%, although the absolute difference didn’t amount to much (1 more per 100 women). Could a difference exist and meta-analysis of RCTs fail to detect it?

A string of well-conducted observational studies over the years have suggested that they could (Eriksen 2011; Kjaergaard 2008; Lieberman 1996; Nguyen 2010), the most recent of which is a very large, very convincing study published last fall (Bannister-Tyrrell 2014). Its authors point out, as have others before them, the weaknesses of the RCTs, weaknesses serious enough to nullify their results or make them inapplicable to typical community practice (external validity).

To begin with, in most trials, substantial percentages of women allocated to the non-epidural group ended up having epidurals, and some women allocated to the epidural group ended up not having one. Since RCTs analyze results according to group assignment (to do otherwise would negate the point of random assignment, which is to avoid bias), not what actually happened, this diminishes differences between groups. In addition, trials were mostly confined to women with no medical or obstetric complications who were treated according to strict protocols for labor management and indications for cesarean delivery. Neither is the case in most hospitals. To these I would add that many trials lumped together first-time mothers and women with prior births when reporting outcomes. First-time mothers are much more susceptible to factors that impede progress, so including women with prior vaginal births can make it appear that epidurals are less problematic for first-time mothers than they really are. In addition, three of the trials were carried out in a hospital where participants were mostly attended by midwives, and cesarean rates were much lower than is common for women attended by obstetricians.

All of this means that any null results in meta-analyses of the trials can be taken with a grain of salt, any findings of significant differences probably represent a minimal value, and first-time moms may be harder hit than appears. To cite one example, Anim-Somuah (2011) reported that 5 more women per 100 having epidurals had a malpositioned baby at delivery (18% vs. 13%) in the 4 trials reporting this outcome, a difference, as I said, that just missed achieving statistical significance. But when I confined results to the two trials in first-time mothers alone in which 10% or fewer of the women in the “no-epidural” group had an epidural, the gap widened to 9 more per 100 (11% vs. 2%).

Summary of the Bannister-Tyrrell (2014) Analysis

Bannister-Tyrrell and colleagues (2014) drew their population from a database of 210,700 Australian women with no prior cesareans who were laboring at term with a singleton, head-down baby. A strength of the database was that, unlike most, it distinguished epidurals for labor from epidurals for delivery. Using a long list of factors, investigators constructed a propensity score for how likely a woman was to have an epidural, matched women according to their score, and compared results according to whether women with the same score had or didn’t have an epidural. Matched controls were found for 52,600 women who had an epidural and were found across the full range of propensity scores. Women having epidurals were 2.5 times more likely to have a cesarean (20% vs. 8%), or put another way, 12 more women per 100 having epidurals had a cesarean (absolute excess), which amounts to 1 additional cesarean for every 8.5 women having an epidural (number needed to harm). Among first-time mothers, women having epidurals were 2.4 times more likely to have a cesarean. Study authors didn’t provide cesarean rates for this subgroup, but the raw cesarean rates overall were 18% in first-time mothers versus 2% in women with prior births, so the effect on this more vulnerable population could be dire.

But there’s still more. Investigators further adjusted for confounding factors not captured in their database. These included differences in health-care settings (same state but not same city), care provider (women without epidurals are more likely to be attended by midwives), and for confounding interventions more likely with epidurals (continuous fetal monitoring). Relative risk of cesarean with an epidural remained at 2.5. Investigators then adjusted for the association between occiput posterior baby and cesarean by setting estimates of the risk ratio to exceed the strongest associations reported in the literature, and they assumed that the prevalence of severe labor pain was 3 to 4 times higher in women having epidurals. Factoring these into their statistical analysis reduced the risk ratio, but women having epidurals still were 50% more likely to have a cesarean. This means that with a baseline cesarean rate of 8% in women without an epidural, 12% of women with an epidural will have one or 4 more women per 100 or 1 more cesarean for every 25 women.

The Take-Home

At the very least we cannot assure women with confidence that epidurals don’t increase the likelihood of cesarean. For this reason and because of their numerous other drawbacks and considering that comfort measures and other strategies have been shown to be both effective for most women and free of adverse effects (Declercq 2006; Jones 2012), women may want to make epidurals Plan B rather than Plan A. That being said, whatever their choice, women can minimize their chance of cesarean—with or without an epidural—by choosing a midwife or doctor whose policies and practices promote spontaneous vaginal birth http://www.lamaze.org/HealthyBirthPractices.

References

Anim-Somuah, M., Smyth, R. M., & Jones, L. (2011). Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev(12), CD000331. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000331.pub3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22161362

Bannister-Tyrrell, M., Ford, J. B., Morris, J. M., & Roberts, C. L. (2014). Epidural analgesia in labour and risk of caesarean delivery. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol, 28(5), 400-411. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25040829

Cheng, Y. W., Shaffer, B. L., & Caughey, A. B. (2006). Associated factors and outcomes of persistent occiput posterior position: A retrospective cohort study from 1976 to 2001. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med, 19(9), 563-568. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16966125?dopt=Citation

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About Henci Goer

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.  

 

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Epidural Analgesia, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Medical Interventions, New Research, Pain Management, Research , , , , , , ,