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Celebrate International Day of the Midwife! ACOG Calls for Universal ICM Standards

May 5th, 2015 by avatar

Lamaze and Midwives IDM 2015Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility join with other partners around the world to celebrate International Day of the Midwife.  This global celebration is observed every year on May 5th and was officially recognized by the International Confederation of Midwives in 1992. (Read Judith Lothian’s report from the 2014 ICM Congress here.) This year’s theme is “The World Needs Midwives Today More Than Ever.”

Key midwifery concepts and model of care

Key midwifery concepts as defined by the International Confederation of Midwives describe the unique role that midwives have in providing care to women and families:

  • partnership with women to promote self-care and the health of mothers, infants, and families;
  • respect for human dignity and for women as persons with full human rights;
  • advocacy for women so that their voices are heard and their health care choices are respected;
  • cultural sensitivity, including working with women and health care providers to overcome those cultural practices that harm women and babies;
  • a focus on health promotion and disease prevention that views pregnancy as a normal life event;
  • advocacy for normal physiologic labour and birth to enhance best outcomes for mothers and infants.  (Fullerton, Thompson & Severino, 2011).

ACOG advocates universal standards

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/

On April 20, 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) endorsed the International Confederation of Midwives education and training standards and suggested that this criteria be adopted as the minimum requirements for midwifery licensure in the United States.  ACOG “advocates for implementation of the ICM standards in every state to assure all women access to safe, qualified, highly skilled providers.” In the same document, ACOG calls for a single midwife credential.  Currently, in the USA there are certified nurse midwives (CNM), Certified Midwives (CM) and Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) and they all have different core competencies and educational requirements.  You can read the entire ACOG statement here.  This document is meant to accompany their Levels of Maternal Care statement that I wrote about in a previous blog post.  Both of these recent statements signify a recognition that families have choices about the type of health care provider they receive their maternity care from and that more and more families every year are choosing midwifery.

Five interesting facts about midwifery

  1. There are approximately 26,000 midwives in the USA.  This number includes Certified Nurse Midwives, Certified Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives.
  2. Midwives practice and catch babies in hospitals, birth centers and in families’ homes.
  3. Midwives who are educated and regulated to international standards can provide 87% of the essential care needed for women and newborns. (UNFPA, 2014)
  4. 11.3% of all babies born in the USA in 2013 were caught by midwives (Martin, Hamilton, Osterman, et al. 2015)
  5. Approximately 0.6% of all midwives in the USA are male. (Pinkerton, Schorn, 2008)

Summary

How are you celebrating International Day of the Midwife in your community and in your classes?  Have you reached out to the midwives in your community and let them know that they are appreciated?  Take a moment to do so and join Lamaze International in thanking midwives for helping families have safe and healthy  births.

References

Fullerton, J. T., Thompson, J. B., & Severino, R. (2011). The International Confederation of Midwives essential competencies for basic midwifery practice. An update study: 2009–2010. Midwifery, 27(4), 399-408.

Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: Final data for 2013. National vital statistics reports; vol 64 no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.

Pilkenton, D., & Schorn, M. N. (2008). Midwifery: a career for men in nursing.Men in Nursing Journal, 3(1), 32.

UNFPA. The State of the World’s Midwifery 2014. A Universal Pathway. A Woman’s Right to Health. United Nations Population Fund, New York; 2014

Breastfeeding, Home Birth, Midwifery, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

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 , , , ,

Henci Goer – Fact Checking the New York Times Home Birth Debate

February 26th, 2015 by avatar
home birth

© HoboMama

An article in The New York Times Opinion Pages – Room for Debate was released on February 24th, 2015.  As customary in this style of article, the NYT asks a variety of experts to provide essays on the topic at hand, in this case, the safety of home birth. Henci Goer, author and international speaker on maternity care, and an occasional contributor to our blog, takes a look at the facts on home birth and evaluates how they line up with some of the essay statements. Read Henci’s analysis below.  – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

As one would predict, three of the four obstetricians participating in the NY Times debate “Is Home Birth Ever a Safe Choice?“assert that home birth is unacceptably risky. Equally predictably, the evidentiary support for their position is less than compelling.

John Jennings, MD president of the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, in his response- “Emergency Care Can Be Too Urgently Needed,” cites a 2010 meta-analysis by Wax and colleagues that has been thoroughly debunked. Here is but one of the many commentaries, Meta-Analysis: The Wrong Tool Wielded Improperly, pointing out its weaknesses. In a nutshell, the meta-analysis includes studies in its newborn mortality calculation that were not confined to low-risk women having planned home births with a qualified home birth attendant while omitting a well-conducted Dutch home birth study that dwarfed the others in size and reported equivalent newborn death rates in low-risk women beginning labor at home and similar women laboring in the hospital (de Jonge 2009).

The other naysayers, Grunebaum and Chervenak, in their response – “Home Birth Is Not Safe“, source their support to an earlier NY Times blog post that, in turn, cites a study conducted by the two commentators (and others) (Grunebaum 2014). Their study uses U.S. birth certificate data from 2006 to 2009 to compare newborn mortality (day 1 to day 28) rates at home births attended by a midwife, regardless of qualifications, with births attended by a hospital-based midwife, who almost certainly would be a certified nurse midwife (CNM) in babies free of congenital anomalies, weighing 2500 g or more, and who had reached 37 weeks gestation. The newborn mortality rate with home birth midwives was 126 per 10,000 versus 32 per 10,000 among the hospital midwives, nearly a 4-fold difference. However, as an American College of Nurse-Midwives commentary on the abstract for the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine presentation that preceded the study’s publication observed, vital statistics data aren’t reliably accurate, don’t permit confident determination of intended place of birth, and don’t follow transfers of care during labor.

As it happens, we have a study that is accurate and allows us to do both those things. The Midwives Alliance of North America study reports on almost 17,000 planned home births taking place between 2004 and 2009 (Cheyney 2014b), and therefore overlapping Grunebaum and Chervenak’s analysis, in which all but 1000 births (6%) were attended by certified or licensed home birth midwives. According to the MANA stats, the newborn death rate in women who had never had a cesarean and who were carrying one, head-down baby, free of lethal congenital anomalies was 53 per 10,000, NOT 126 per 10,000. This is less than half the rate in the Grunebaum and Chervenak analysis. (As a side note, let me forestall a critique of the MANA study, which is that midwives simply don’t submit births with bad outcomes to the MANA database. In point of fact, midwives register women in the database in pregnancy [Cheyney 2014a], before, obviously, labor outcome could be known. Once enrolled, data are logged throughout pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum, so once in the system, women can’t fall off the radar screen.)

We’re not done. Grunebaum and Chervenak’s analysis suffers from another glaring flaw as well. Using hospital based midwives as the comparison group would seem to make sense at first glance, but unlike the MANA stats, which recorded outcomes regardless of where women ultimately gave birth or who attended them, hospital-based midwives would transfer care to an obstetrician when complications arose. This would remove labors at higher risk of newborn death from their statistics because the obstetrician would be listed on the birth certificate as the attendant, not the midwife. For this reason, the hospital midwife rate of 32 per 10,000 is almost certainly artificially low. So Grunebaum and Chervenak’s difference of 94 per 10,000 has become 21 per 10,000 at most and probably much less than that, a difference that I’d be willing to bet isn’t statistically significant, meaning unlikely to be due to chance. On the other hand, studies consistently find that, even attended by midwives, several more low-risk women per 100 will end up with cesarean surgery—more if they’re first-time mothers—then compared with women planning home births (Romano, 2012).

Hopefully, I’ve helped to provide a defense for those who may find themselves under attack as a result of the NY Times article. I’m not sanguine, though. As can be seen by Jennings, Grunebaum, and Chervenak, people against home birth often fall into the category of “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

photo source: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by HoboMama: http://flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/8586579077

References

Cheyney, M., Bovbjerg, M., Everson, C., Gordon, W., Hannibal, D., & Vedam, S. (2014). Development and validation of a national data registry for midwife-led births: the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project 2.0 dataset. J Midwifery Womens Health, 59(1), 8-16. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12165 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24479670

Cheyney, M., Bovbjerg, M., Everson, C., Gordon, W., Hannibal, D., & Vedam, S. (2014b). Outcomes of care for 16,924 planned home births in the United States: the midwives alliance of north america statistics project, 2004 to 2009. J Midwifery Womens Health, 59(1), 17-27. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12172 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24479690

de Jonge, A., van der Goes, B. Y., Ravelli, A. C., Amelink-Verburg, M. P., Mol, B. W., Nijhuis, J. G., . . . Buitendijk, S. E. (2009). Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births. BJOG 116(9), 1177-1184. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=1177%5Bpage%5D+AND+2009%5Bpdat%5D+AND+de+jonge%5Bauthor%5D&cmd=detailssearch

Grunebaum, A., McCullough, L. B., Sapra, K. J., Brent, R. L., Levene, M. I., Arabin, B., & Chervenak, F. A. (2014). Early and total neonatal mortality in relation to birth setting in the United States, 2006-2009. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 211(4), 390 e391-397. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2014.03.047 http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(14)00275-0/abstract

Romano, A. (2012). The place of birth: home births. In Goer H. & Romano A. (Eds.), Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach. Seattle, WA: Classic Day Publishing.

Wax, J. R., Lucas, F. L., Lamont, M., Pinette, M. G., Cartin, A., & Blackstone, J. (2010). Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 203(3), 243.e241-e248. http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378%2810%2900671-X/abstract

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.  

 

 

Babies, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery , , , , ,

Thank You Midwives! join Lamaze in Celebrating National Midwifery Week!

October 7th, 2014 by avatar

midwifery week poster 2014Please join Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility as we celebrate National Midwifery Week.  Midwives can and should play an integral part of healthy and safe birth practices here in the United States and around the world. Maternal infant health organizations and consumers alike are now aware that we have reached a tipping point.  Our cesarean rate is too high, the availability of VBAC supportive providers is dismal, the rate of inductions, particularly before 39 weeks is cause for concern, labor augmentations are commonplace and infant mortality – particularly amongst babies of color, in our country puts the United States ranking at an embarrassing 56 amongst all the other countries.

The midwifery model of care offers women and babies care by qualified, skilled health care providers who are experts at normal physiologic birth and meeting the needs of healthy, low risk, pregnant women.  The midwifery model of care respects the shared decision making process between the mother and her health care provider, the importance of the mother’s emotional health as well as her physical health and recognizes pregnancy and birth as part of a woman’s normal lifecycle, rather than an illness or pathological condition.  There is respect for the normal physiological process of birth, and the recognition that when things deviate from normal, collaboration and referral to obstetricians and other specialists is appropriate.  When midwives have the opportunity to care for more healthy low risk women, the United States might start to see some of the dismal statistics reverse, and women and babies will benefit from the new trend.

The American College of Nurse Midwives has created a consumer website, Our Moment of Truth, where women can learn more about midwifery, increase awareness and understanding of the different care options available, make informed choices about the type of care they would like to receive and even find a midwife in their area.  There is also a brochure available – “Normal Healthy Childbirth for Women and Families: What You Need to Know” to download in English and Spanish and share with your students and clients. This document and the ACNM program “Our Moment of Truth” was supported and endorsed by Lamaze International along with many other maternal infant health organizations.

The ACNM has a very nice “Essential Facts about Midwives” info sheet that contains some great statistics and information about Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Midwives.  Midwives can catch babies in hospitals, birth centers and at home and Medicaid reimbursement is mandated for CNMS/CMs in all 50 states.  In 2012, CNMs/CMs attended over 300,000 births in the U.S.  When you add in Certified Professional Midwives/Licensed Midwives who also attend births at birth centers and homes, the number of midwife attended births goes up even further.

ACNM has created a fun video highlighting midwives and the care they provide.  I have also collected of a few of my favorite videos about midwives that you might enjoy viewing and sharing.

Mother of Many from emma lazenby on Vimeo.

What are you doing to celebrate and honor midwives this week?  Do you talk about the midwifery model of care in your childbirth classes and with your doula clients?  What resources do you like using to help your students understand the scope of practice and benefits of working with midwives?  Share with others in our comments below.

Babies, Childbirth Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Home Birth, Midwifery, Newborns , , , , , , ,

Evidence on Water Birth Safety – Exclusive Q&A with Rebecca Dekker on her New Research

July 10th, 2014 by avatar

 

Evidence Based Birth , a popular blog written by occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, has just today published a new article, “Evidence on Water Birth Safety” that looks at the current research on the safety of water birth for mothers and newborns.  Rebecca researched and wrote that article in response to the joint Opinion Statement “Immersion in Water During Labor and Delivery” released in March, 2014 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  I had the opportunity to ask Rebecca some questions about her research into the evidence available on water birth, her thoughts on the Opinion Statement and her conclusions after writing her review. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

Sharon Muza: First off, is it waterbirth or water birth?

Rebecca Dekker: That’s actually good question! Research experts tend to use the term “waterbirth.” Google prefers “water birth.” So I used both terms in my article to satisfy everyone!

SM: Have you heard or been told of stories of existing water birth programs shutting down or being modified as a result of the recent AAP/ACOG opinion?

RD: Yes, definitely. There was a mother in my state who contacted me this spring because she was 34 weeks pregnant and her hospital decided not to offer waterbirth anymore. She had given birth to her daughter in a waterbirth at the same hospital two years earlier. With her current pregnancy, she had been planning another hospital waterbirth. She had the support of her nurse midwife, the hospital obstetricians, and hospital policy. However, immediately after the release of the ACOG/AAP opinion, the hospital CEO put an immediate stop to waterbirth. This particular mother ended up switching providers at 36 weeks to a home birth midwife. A few weeks ago, she gave birth to her second baby, at home in the water. This mother told me how disheartening it was that an administrator in an office had decided limit her birth options, even though physicians and midwives at the same hospital were supportive of her informed decision to have a waterbirth.

In another hospital in my hometown, they were gearing up to start a waterbirth program this year—it was going to be the first hospital where waterbirth would be available in our city—and it was put on hold because of the ACOG/AAP Opinion.

Then of course, there were a lot of media reports about various hospital systems that suspended their waterbirth programs. One hospital system in particular, in Minnesota, got a lot of media coverage.

SM: Did you attempt to contact ACOG/AAP with questions and if so, did they respond?

RD: Yes. As soon as I realized that the ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement had so many major scientific errors, I contacted ImprovingBirth.org and together we wrote two letters. I wrote a letter regarding the scientific problems with the Opinion Statement, and ImprovingBirth.org wrote a letter asking ACOG/AAP to suspend the statement until further review. The letters were received by the President and President-Elect of ACOG, and they were forwarded to the Practice Committee. We were told that the Practice Committee would review the contents of our letters at their meeting in mid-June, and that was the last update that we have received.

SM: What is the difference between an “Opinion Statement” and other types of policy recommendations or guidelines that these organizations release? Does it carry as much weight as practice bulletins?

RD: That’s an interesting question. At the very top of the Opinion Statement, there are two sentences that read: “This document reflects emerging clinical and scientific advances as of the date issued and is subject to change. The information should not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure to be followed.” But, as you will see, some hospitals do see this statement as dictating an exclusive course of treatment, and others don’t.

I have heard that “opinions” do not carry as much weight as “practice bulletins,” but it really depends on who the audience is and who is listening. In other words, some hospitals may take the Opinion Statement word-for-word and feel that they must follow it to the letter, and other hospitals may ignore it. A lot of it probably depends on the advice of their risk management lawyers.

For example, a nurse midwife at a hospital in Illinois sent me a letter that their risk-management attorneys had put together to advise them on this issue. (She had the attorney’s permission to share the letter with me). These lawyers basically said that when a committee of two highly-respected organizations says that the practice of waterbirth should be considered an experimental procedure, both health care providers and hospitals are “charged with a duty to heed that statement,” unless they find research evidence that waterbirth has benefits for the mother or fetus, and that the evidence can override the Committee’s conclusions.

On the other hand, another risk management lawyer for a large hospital system told me that of course hospitals are not under any obligation to follow an ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement. It’s simply just that—an opinion.

So as to how much weight the Opinion Statement carries—I guess it is really dependent on who is reading it!

SM: How would you suggest a well-designed research study be conducted to examine the efficacy and safety of waterbirth? Or would you say that satisfactory research already exists.

RD: First of all, I want to say that I’m really looking forward to the publication of the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) data on nearly 4,000 waterbirths that occurred in birth centers in the U.S., to see what kind of methods they used. From what I hear, they had really fantastic outcomes.

And it’s also really exciting that anyone can join the AABC research registry, whether you practice in a hospital, birth center, or at home. The more people who join the registry, the bigger the data set will be for future research and analysis. Visit the AABC PDR website to find out more.

I think it’s pretty clear that a randomized trial would be difficult to do, because we would need at least 2,000 women in the overall sample in order to tell differences in rare outcomes. So instead we need well-designed observational studies.

My dream study on waterbirth would be this: A large, prospective, multi-center registry that follows women who are interested in waterbirth and compares three groups: 1) women who have a waterbirth, 2) women who want a waterbirth and are eligible for a waterbirth but the tub is not available—so they had a conventional land birth, 3) women who labored in water but got out of the tub for the birth. The researchers would measure an extensive list of both maternal and fetal outcomes.

It would also be interesting to do an additional analysis to compare women from group 2 who had an epidural with women from group 1 who had a waterbirth. To my knowledge, only one study has specifically compared women who had waterbirths with women who had epidurals. Since these are two very different forms of pain relief, it would be nice to have a side-by-side comparison to help inform mothers’ decision making.

SM: What was the most surprising finding to you in researching your article on the evidence on water birth safety?

RD: I guess I was most surprised by how poorly the ACOG/AAP literature review was done in their Opinion Statement. During my initial read of it, I instantly recognized multiple scientific problems.

A glance at the references they cited was so surprising to me—when discussing the fetal risks of waterbirth, they referenced a laboratory study of pregnant rats that were randomized to exercise swimming in cold or warm water! There weren’t even any rat waterbirths! It was both hilarious and sad, at the same time! And it’s not like you have to read the entire rat article to figure out that they were talking about pregnant rats—it was right there in their list of references, in the title of the article, “Effect of water temperature on exercise-induced maternal hyperthermia on fetal development in rats.”

These kind of mistakes were very surprising, and incredibly disappointing. I expect a lot higher standards from such important professional organizations. These organizations have a huge influence on the care of women in the U.S., and even around the world, as other countries look to their recommendations for guidance. The fact that they were making a sweeping statement about the availability of a pain relief option during labor, based on an ill-researched and substandard literature review—was very surprising indeed.

SM: What was the most interesting fact you discovered during your research?

RD: With all this talk from ACOG and the AAP about how there are “no maternal benefits,” I was fascinated as I dug into the research to almost immediately find that waterbirth has a strong negative effect on the use of episiotomy during childbirth.

Every single study on this topic has shown that waterbirth drastically reduces and in some cases completely eliminates the use of episiotomy. Many women are eager to avoid episiotomies, and to have intact perineums, and waterbirth is associated with both lower episiotomy rates and higher intact perineum rates. That is a substantial maternal benefit. It’s kind of sad to see leading professional organizations not even give the slightest nod to waterbirth’s ability to keep women’s perineums intact.

In fact, I’m puzzled as to why keeping women’s perineums intact and uncut is not perceived as a benefit by anyone other than the women themselves. And here is the heart of declaring waterbirth as “not having enough benefits” to justify its use: Who decides the benefits? Who decides what a benefit is, if not the person benefitting? Who should be weighing the potential harms and the potential benefits of waterbirth, and making an informed decision about their options? Should it be the mother? Or should it be the obstetrician?

SM: What can families do if they want waterbirth to be an option in their local hospital or birth center and it has been taken away or not even ever been offered before?

RD: That’s a hard question. It’s a big problem.

Basically what it boils down to is this—there are a lot of restraining forces that keep waterbirth from being a pain relief option for many women. But there are also some positive driving forces. According to change theory, if you want to see a behavior change at the healthcare organization level, it is a matter of decreasing the restraining forces, while increasing the driving forces. Debunking the ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement is an important piece of decreasing restraining forces. On the other side, increasing consumer pressure can help drive positive change.

SM: Do you think that consumers will be responding with their health dollars in changing providers and facilities in order to have a waterbirth?

RD: I think that if a hospital offered waterbirth as an option to low-risk women, that this could be a huge marketing tool and would put that hospital at an advantage in their community, especially if the other hospitals did not offer waterbirth.

SM: The ACOG/AAP opinion sounded very reactionary, but to what I am not sure. What do you think are the biggest concerns these organizations have and why was this topic even addressed? Weren’t things sailing along smoothly in the many facilities already offering a water birth option?

RD: I don’t know if you saw the interview with Medscape, but one of the authors of the Opinion Statement suggested that they were partially motivated to come out with this statement because of the increase in home birth, and they perceive that women are having a lot of waterbirths at home.

I also wonder if they are hoping to leverage their influence as the FDA considers regulation of birthing pools. You may remember that in 2012, the FDA temporarily prohibited birthing pools from coming into the U.S. Then the FDA held a big meeting with the different midwifery and physician organizations. At that meeting, AAP and ACOG had a united front against waterbirth. So I guess it’s no surprise for them to come out with a joint opinion statement shortly afterwards.

My sincere hope is that the FDA is able to recognize the seriously flawed methods of the literature review in this Opinion Statement, before they come out with any new regulations.

SM: How should childbirth educators be addressing the topic of waterbirth and waterbirth options in our classes in light of the recent ACOG/AAP Opinion Statement and what you have written about in your research review on the Evidence on Water Birth Safety?

RD: It’s not an easy subject. There are both pros and cons to waterbirth, and it’s important for women to discuss waterbirth with their providers so that they can make an informed decision. At the same time, there are a lot of obstetricians who cannot or will not support waterbirth because of ACOG’s position. So if a woman is really interested in waterbirth, she will need to a) find a supportive care provider, b) find a birth setting that encourages and supports waterbirth.

You can’t really have a waterbirth with an unwilling provider or unwilling facility. Well, let me take that back… you can have an “accidental” waterbirth… but unplanned waterbirths have not been included in the research studies on waterbirth, so the evidence on the safety of waterbirth does not generalize to unplanned waterbirths. Also, you have to ask yourself, is your care provider knowledgeable and capable of facilitating a waterbirth? It might not be safe to try to have an “accidental” waterbirth if your care provider and setting have no idea how to handle one. Do they follow infection control policies? Do they know how to handle a shoulder dystocia in the water?

SM: What kind of response do you think there will be from medical organizations and facilities as well as consumers about your research findings?

RD: I hope that it is positive! I would love to see some media coverage of this issue. I hope that the Evidence Based Birth® article inspires discussion among care providers and women, and among colleagues at medical organizations, about the quality of evidence in guidelines, and their role in providing quality information to help guide informed decision-making.

SM: Based on your research, you conclude that the evidence does not support universal bans on waterbirth. Is there anything you would suggest be done or changed to improve waterbirth outcomes for mothers or babies?

RD: The conclusion that I came to in my article—that waterbirth should not be “banned,” is basically what several other respected organization have already said. The American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Association of Birth Centers, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives have all said basically the same thing.

How can we improve waterbirth outcomes? I think continuing to be involved in clinical research studies (such as the AABC registry) is an important way to advance the science and provide evidence on which we can base practice and make more informed decisions with. Also, conducting clinical audits (tracking outcomes) in facilities that provide waterbirth would be important for quality control.

SM: Let’s look into the future. What is next on your plate to write about?

RD: I recently had a writing retreat with several amazing clinicians and researchers who flew from across the country to conduct literature reviews with me. We made an awesome team!! The topics that we have started looking at are: induction for post-dates, induction for ruptured membranes, and evidence-based care for women of advanced maternal age. I can’t decide which one we will publish first! The Evidence Based Birth readers have requested AMA next, but the induction for ruptured membranes article is probably further along than that one. We shall see!!

SM: Is there anything else you would like to share with Science & Sensibility readers on this topic?

RD: Thanks for being so patient with me! I know a lot of people were eagerly awaiting this article, and I wish it could have come out sooner, but these kinds of reviews take a lot of time. Time is my most precious commodity right now!

Has the recent Opinion Statement released by ACOG/AAP impacted birth options in your communities?  Do you discuss this with your clients, students and patients?  What has been the reaction of the families you work with? Let us know below in the comments section! – SM.

ACOG, American Academy of Pediatrics, Babies, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternity Care, New Research, Newborns, Research , , , , , , , ,