Archive for the ‘informed Consent’ Category

Planned Home VBAC in the United States, 2004–2009: Outcomes, Maternity Care Practices, and Implications for Shared Decision Making – Interview with Study Author Melissa Cheyney, PhD, CPM, LDM

September 15th, 2015 by avatar


“Planned Home VBAC in the United States, 2004–2009: Outcomes, Maternity Care Practices, and Implications for Shared Decision Making” came out on August 26th as an e-pub ahead of print in the journal Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care. It provides a much-needed analysis of VBACs in the home setting in the United States. To help the birth professional community better communicate the findings with students, clients and others considering home birth after cesarean (HBAC), Jeanette McCulloch of BirthSwell interviewed Melissa “Missy” Cheyney, PhD, CPM, LDM, one of the paper’s authors. The abstract of the paper, lead-authored by Kim Cox, CNM, PhD and co-authored by Marit Bovbjerg PhD, MS and Lawrence M. Leeman MD, MPH, can be found in an online-only version here. Additional insights specifically for midwives can be found at the MANA blog. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Jeanette McCulloch: Tell me about the new study looking at outcomes for families planning a trial of labor after cesarean (TOLAC) at home.

Melissa Cheyney: This study is significant because it is the largest study to date on outcomes for women and babies who attempt a TOLAC at home in the United States. We were able to create two subsamples from the MANA Stats 2.0 data set: 12,092 multiparous women without a prior cesarean and 1,052 women with a prior cesarean. This enabled us to compare outcomes for women who went into labor intending to deliver at home and had a previously scarred uterus with those who did not. Our goal was to provide whatever information we could (given our sample size) about the potential risks and benefits of attempting a VBAC at home.

JMc: The actual number of people who are planning TOLACs is relatively small. Why did you think this research was important?

MC: We know that as long as the primary cesarean section rate in the US remains above 20% (it’s currently 21.5%), and as long as many women continue to desire more than one baby, families will be faced with important decisions about what to do in subsequent deliveries. Because there are well-known risks to repeat cesareans as well as to a trial of labor after cesarean, we wanted to make sure that we could provide women who are considering a VBAC (and especially a VBAC outside of the hospital) with as much information as possible to support shared decision making.

JMc: What were the top findings of the study?

MC: First off, we found relatively high success rates. Overall, women with a prior cesarean had a VBAC success rate of 87%. Most of these were HBACs. While some women who who transferred to the hospital during labor went on to have a VBAC in the hospital, most had cesareans for “failure to progress.” Women who had also had a previous vaginal birth had a success rate of 90.2%, and those who had a previous VBAC had an even higher rate of success at 95.6%. These rates are among the highest reported in the literature across places of delivery and provider types.

We also found that women who had a previous cesarean were more likely to need to transfer care to the hospital in the intrapartum period than were women without a previous cesarean. So the transfer rate for women who were attempting a VBAC at home was 21.7% compared to 8.5% for multiparous women who did not have a previously scarred uterus.

We also found that, for those women who transferred, the most common reason that they transferred was a slow, non-progressive labor and not a uterine rupture or anything emergent. We also were able to calculate a combined intrapartum and neonatal mortality rate in the group that had a prior cesarean, and that was 4.75 out of 1000 compared with a rate of 1.24 out of 1000 in multiparous women without a history of cesarean. This is a highly statistically significant difference, and means that we know there is some elevated risk for women who’ve had a prior cesarean relative to a woman who’s already had a baby and who has no scarring of the uterus.

JMc: You had some interesting findings that suggest that not all TOLACs have the same outcomes. Tell us about that.

MC: We also performed some sub-group analyses where we compared women who were having a trial of labor after cesarean with other groups. We compared them to first-time mothers and to women who had a previous vaginal birth and a cesarean and were now attempting a VBAC after a cesarean. We were able to get pretty nuanced findings about relative risk within the TOLAC group.

In other words, we found that there is variation in risk within the TOLAC subsamples. So, just to say that VBAC is dangerous or that TOLAC at home has a high success rate doesn’t really give the full picture. You can break down this group, look at it much more closely, and get a better sense of how to talk with clients about the risks of TOLAC at home under their specific circumstances. Just as success rates vary by obstetric history, so do risks associated with VBAC. Our study is certainly the first study to do that for a large sample of planned HBACs

JMc: What advice do you give to families that may be considering HBAC in your practice?



MC: I say that it’s important to look at success rates, but that it is also important to think about the likelihood of an intrapartum transfer, distance from the hospital, and a variety of other factors that are unique to each person. I actually think that looking at the cases that did not have good outcomes can be very informative. They help us to see who might be a reasonable candidate for an HBAC and who might not be. For example, in our dataset there were five deaths overall—three during labor or in what we call the intrapartum period, one that was early neonatal (or the first 7 days of life), and one that was late neonatal (out to 28 days after birth). Those all occurred in the TOLAC group, yielding death rates of 2.85 for intrapartum, .95 for early neonatal, and .95 for late neonatal. So for the combined intrapartum and neonatal mortality rate, the total is 4.75 out of 1000.

When we look at these cases more closely, we see that two of the cases were very likely uterine ruptures, based on the heart tone patterns that the midwife was able to distinguish at home. The three other ones were deaths that were totally unrelated to the TOLAC status of the mother. One involved known risk factors related to giving birth to a twin, the second one was a surprise breech with an entrapped head, and the third one was a cord prolapse. So three of the five deaths likely had nothing to do with the fact that the mother had had a previous cesarean.

JMc: It’s surprising to see mothers with this kind of risk profile delivering at home. Can you help us understand why you think a mother, for instance, one that is attempting a twin VBAC birth at home, might choose that?

MC: In these kinds of cases, you have to ask this: if you have someone who has a cesarean for her first birth and she gets pregnant subsequently, what happens to her if she has twins in her second pregnancy? Who is going to offer her a TOLAC? What if she happens to be breech at term in the pregnancy following an unplanned and often unwanted cesarean? These women, who have a compounding of risk, have no chance, very likely, of finding a provider in the hospital who’s going to support these births. So, it might seem odd that out of only 1000 VBACs, you’d have this scenario. But it does make sense, if you think about the fact that these women might be the most likely to be excluded from a trial of labor in the hospital. This actually kind of fits with something else we found.

Regions of the US that have low rates of VBAC access in the hospital, the southeast, for example, have a higher percentage of the total births contributed to MANA Stats that are VBACs. When you look on the west coast, in states like Oregon, Washington, and California, where VBACs are more readily available in the hospital, even though there are more contributors and more data coming from the west coast, the total proportion of births that are VBACs is significantly lower in our data set. We take that to mean that when women have the option to try VBAC in the hospital, there is less pressure to attend those women at home. In a state where you have very limited access to hospital VBAC, those midwives are more commonly approached by women who are feeling forced to explore the option of a home birth for a VBAC because they can’t acquire one in their local hospital. That is both concerning and a reminder that even though we often discuss the US maternity care system as less well integrated than, say, the Netherlands, nonetheless, the various models and options for birthing care in this country do impact each other. We should all be working together to make birth safer for all women.

JMc: How do you think these findings should influence families that are considering a trial of labor after cesarean at home? What advice do you have for them?

MC: I think these findings have ramifications for everyone who’s considering a home birth, not just women who are considering a home birth after a cesarean, because one of the most interesting things that we’ve found is that that risk within our sample varies considerably by obstetric history and parity. What I mean by that is that a woman who does not have a previously scarred uterus, and she’s already had a baby vaginally, her risk is incredibly low. It is difficult to find a negative outcome in that group.

The next safest group to be delivering at home is actually women who have had a cesarean, but have also had a vaginal birth. They are less risky than first time mothers as a group. Then the highest risk, along the VBAC status and parity continuum, is a woman who has never had a vaginal birth, but has had a cesarean.

So, the range of risk goes from the lowest risk: a multiparous woman (multip); to a multip with a cesarean and a previous vaginal birth; to a nulliparous woman: and then to a woman who has never had a vaginal birth but has had a previous cesarean. Both deaths from suspected uterine rupture occurred in this later group. Each mother had had only one prior cesarean. That’s a really important thing to keep in mind, and I think that’s where our policy implications lie as well. States that want to restrict all HBACs need to be looking much more closely at the research, especially if some of this work is replicable with larger samples, because there is a nuancing of risk within subgroup. It may not make sense, for example, to allow nulliparous births at home but restrict all VBAC mothers with any prior cesarean history, regardless of the fact that they may have had a previous vaginal birth or a prior VBAC. These women who live within an appropriate distance to a hospital, have well documented placenta positions and adequate time between births may actually be lower risk than a first time mother.

JMc: What advice do you have for policy makers who might be considering HBAC regulations in their state?

MC: Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the data on home and birth center safety, patient selection, ethics, the benefits of normal physiologic birth — so multiple components of midwifery care and birth outside of the hospital — grow so quickly. I recommend setting the scope of practice for midwives in rule (sometimes called regulations or administrative laws) rather than statute. In many states, it is very difficult to get a statute changed, whereas it is often much easier to open your rules or regulations over a period of every few years, for example, to examine new research and make sure that you are writing rules/regulations that support evidence-based practice for midwives. It is an exciting time to be working on some of these questions. Data from registries like MANA Stats and the American Association of Birth Centers’ Perinatal Data Registry should enable us to engage in critical, ongoing quality assurance and quality improvement at national, state and individual practice levels. I think we need to find ways of regulating home birth that stay open, flexible and responsive to the data, to the needs of the families we serve, and to the guidance of medical ethicists who are equipped to help us sort through difficult questions related to choice, individual autonomy and relative risk.

About Melissa Cheyney and Jeanette McCulloch

Melissa Cheyney head shot 2015Melissa Cheyney, PhD CPM LDM is Associate Professor of Clinical Medical Anthropology at Oregon State University (OSU) with additional appointments in Public Health and Women’s Studies. She is also a Certified Professional Midwife in active practice, and the Chair of the Division of Research for the Midwives Alliance of North America where she directs the MANA Statistics Project. She is the author of an ethnography entitled Born at Home (2010, Wadsworth Press) along with several, peer-reviewed articles that examine the cultural beliefs and clinical outcomes associated with midwife-led birth at home. Dr. Cheyney is an award-winning teacher and was recently given Oregon State University’s prestigious Scholarship Impact Award for her work in the International Reproductive Health Laboratory and with the MANA Statistics Project. She is the mother of a daughter born at home on International Day of the Midwife in 2009.

Jeanette McCulloch head shot 2015Jeanette McCulloch, BA, IBCLC has been combining strategic communications and women’s health advocacy for more than 20 years.  Jeanette is a co-founder of BirthSwell, helping birth and breastfeeding organizations, professionals, and advocates use digital tools and social media strategy to improve infant and maternal health. She provides strategic communications consulting for state, national, and international birth and breastfeeding organizations. A board member of Citizens for Midwifery, she is passionate about consumers being actively involved in health care policy.


Babies, Cesarean Birth, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternity Care, Midwifery, New Research, Newborns, Research, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , , , ,

Exclusive Q&A with Rebecca Dekker – What Does the Evidence Say about Induction for Going Past your Due Date?

April 15th, 2015 by avatar

What does the evidence say about dueToday on Evidence Based Birth, occasional contributor Rebecca Dekker, Phd, RN, APRN, provides a comprehensive research review –  Induction for Going Past your Due Date: What does the Evidence Say?  I had an opportunity to preview the article and ask Rebecca some questions about her most recent project on due dates. I would like to share our conversation here on Science & Sensibility with all of you. Rebecca’s website has become a very useful tool for both professionals and consumers to read about current best practice.Consumers can gather information on the common issues that they maybe dealing with during their pregnancies. Professionals can find resources and information to share with students and clients.  How do you cover the topic of inductions at term for due date?  After reading today’s S&S post and Rebecca’s research post, do you think you might share additional information or change what you discuss?  Let us know in the comments section.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

Note: if the Evidence Based Birth post is not up yet, try again in a bit, it should be momentarily.

Sharon Muza: Why did you decide to tackle the topic of due dates as your next research project and blog post?

Rebecca Dekker: Last year, I polled my audience as to what they would like me to write about next. They overwhelmingly said that they wanted an Evidence Based Birth article about Advanced Maternal Age (AMA), or pregnancy over the age of 35. As I started reviewing the research on AMA, it became abundantly clear to me that I had to first publish an article all about the evidence on due dates. This article on induction for due dates creates a solid foundation on which my readers can learn about induction versus waiting for spontaneous labor in pregnant women who are over the age of 35.

SM: When you started to dig into the research, were there any findings that surprised you, or that you didn’t expect?

RD: There were two topics that I really had to dig into in order to thoroughly understand.

The first is the topic on stillbirth rates. I began to understand that it’s really important to know which mathematical formula researchers used to calculate stillbirth rates by gestational age. It was interesting to read through the old research studies and letters to the editors where researchers argued about which math formulas were best. In the end, I had to draw up diagrams of the different formulas (you can see those diagrams in the article) for the formulas to make sense in my head, and once I did, the issue made perfect sense!

Before 1987 (and even after 1987, in some cases) researchers really DID use the wrong formulas, and it’s kind of funny to think that for so many years, they used the wrong math! In general, I thought the research studies on stillbirth rates by gestational age were really interesting…it raised questions for me that I couldn’t answer, like why are the stillbirth rates so different at different times and in different countries? Also, it was really clear from the research that stillbirth rates are drastically different depending on whether you are looking at samples that include or don’t include babies who are growth-restricted.

The other big breakthrough or “ah ha” moment I had was when I finally realized the true meaning of the Hannah (1992) Post-Term study. There was such a huge paradox in their findings… why did they find that the expectant management group had HIGHER Cesarean rates, when clinicians instinctively know that inductions have higher Cesarean rates compared to spontaneous labor? Since all of the meta-analyses rely heavily on the Hannah study, I knew I needed to figure this problem out.

There are a couple different theories in the literature as to why there were higher C-section rates in the expectant management group in Hannah’s study. One theory is that the induction group had Prostaglandins to ripen the cervix, while the expectant management group did not. However, in a secondary data analysis published by Hannah et al. in 1996, they found that this probably played just a minor role.

Another theory is that as women go further along in their pregnancy, physicians get more nervous about the risk of stillbirth, and so they may be quicker to recommend a Cesarean in a woman who is past 42 or 43 weeks, compared to one who is just at 41 weeks. This theory has been proposed by several different researchers in the literature, and there is probably some merit to it.

But in the end, I found out exactly why the C-section rates are higher in the expectant management group in the Hannah Post Term study (and thus in every meta-analysis that has ever been done on this topic). Don’t you want to know why? I finally found the evidence in Hannah’s 1996 article called “Putting the merits of a policy of induction of labor into perspective.” The data that I was looking for were not in the original Hannah study… they were in this commentary that was published several years later.

dekker headshotThe reason that Cesarean rates were higher in the expectant management group in the Hannah study is because the women who were randomly assigned to wait for spontaneous labor, but actually ended up with inductions, had Cesarean rates that were nearly double of those among women who had spontaneous labor. Some of these inductions were medically indicated, and some of them were requested by the mother. In any case, this explains the paradox. It’s not spontaneous labor that leads to higher Cesarean rates with expectant management… the higher Cesarean rates come from women who wait for spontaneous labor but end up having inductions instead. 

So the good news is that if you choose “expectant management” at 41-42 weeks (which is a term that I really dislike, because it implies that you’re “managing” women, but I digress), your chances of a Cesarean are pretty low if you go into spontaneous labor. But if you end up being one of the women who waits and then later on chooses to have an induction, or ends up with a medically indicated induction, then your chances of a Cesarean are much higher than if you had just had an elective induction at 41 weeks.

SM: What information do you recommend that childbirth educators share to help families make informed decisions about inductions and actions to take as a due date comes and then even goes, and they are still pregnant.

RD: First of all, I think it’s important for all of us to dispel the myth of the 40 week due date. There really is no such thing as a due date. There is a range of time in which most women will go into labor on their own. About half of women will go into labor by 40 weeks and 5 days if you’re a first-time mom (or 40 weeks and 3 days if you’ve given birth before), and the other half will go into labor after that.

The other thing that it is important for childbirth educators to do is to encourage families—early in pregnancy—to talk with their health care provider about when they recommend induction, and why.

There are some health care providers who believe strongly that induction at 39, 40, 41, or 42 weeks reduces the risk of stillbirth and other poor outcomes. There are parents who have the same preference. Then there are other health care providers who believe strongly that induction for going past your due date is a bad thing, and shouldn’t be attempted unless there are clear medical reasons for the induction. And there are parents who will tend to share that same preference. Either way, parents need accurate information about the benefits and risks of waiting versus elective induction at 41-42 weeks—because both are valid options.

But it’s probably best to avoid a mismatch between parents and providers. If parents believes strongly that they want to wait for spontaneous labor, and they understand the risks, but they have a care provider who believes strongly in elective induction at 41 weeks, then they will run into problems when they reach 41 or 42 weeks and their care provider disagrees with their decision.

Clearly, there are benefits to experiencing spontaneous labor and avoiding unnecessary interventions. But at the same time there is a rise in the relative risk of stillbirth starting at about 39 weeks, depending on which study you are looking at. However, the overall risk is still low up until 42 weeks. At 42 weeks, the risk of stillbirth rises to about 1 in 1,000 in babies who are not growth-restricted. The risk may be higher in some women who have additional risk factors for stillbirth. Women who experience post-term pregnancy (past 42 weeks) are more likely to experience infections and Cesareans, and their infants are more likely to experience meconium aspiration syndrome, NICU admissions, and low Apgar scores.

SM: Would you recommend that families have conversations about how their due date is being calculated, at the first prenatal with their health care providers. What should that conversation include?

RD: I would recommend asking these questions:

  • What is the estimated date range that I might expect to give birth—not based on Naegele’s rule, but based on more current research about the average length of a pregnancy?
  • Did you use my Last Menstrual Period or an early ultrasound to determine my baby’s gestational age?
  • Has my due date been changed in my chart at any point in my pregnancy? If so, why?

SM: The concept of being “overdue” if still pregnant at the due date is firmly ingrained in our culture. What do you think needs to happen both socially and practically to change the way we think about the “due date?”

RD: We need to start telling everyone, “There is no such thing as a due date.” To help women deal with the social pressure they may experience at the end of pregnancy, I’ve created several Facebook profile photos that they can use as their Facebook profile when they get close to their traditional “due date.” To download those photos, visit www.evidendebasedbirth.com/duedates

SM: How available and widely used are first trimester ultrasounds? If first trimester ultrasounds were done as the standard of care in all pregnancies, would it result in more accurate due dates and better outcomes? Do you think there should be a shift to that method of EDD estimation?

RD: I think the option of having a first trimester ultrasound definitely needs to be part of the conversation between a woman and her care provider, especially because it has implications for the number of women who will be induced for “post-term.” I could not find any data on the percentage of women who have an ultrasound before 20 weeks, but in my geographic area it seems to be nearly 100%, anecdotally.

If your estimated due date is based on your LMP, you have a 10% chance of reaching the post-term period, but if it’s based on an early ultrasound, you only have a 3% chance of reaching 42 weeks.

One strange thing that I noted is that ACOG still prefers the LMP date over an early ultrasound date. They have specific guidelines in their practice bulletin about when you need to switch from the LMP date to an ultrasound date, but the default date is still the LMP. I found that rather odd, since research is very clear that ultrasound data is more accurate than the LMP, for a host of reasons!

Before I published the due dates article, I reached out to Tara Elrod, a Certified Direct Entry Midwife in Alaska, to get her expert feedback as a home birth midwife. She raised an excellent point:

“It is of significant interest to me as a licensed midwife practicing solely in the Out-of-Hospital setting that ultrasounds done in early pregnancy are more accurate than using LMP. If early ultrasound dating was achieved, it’s thought that this would ultimately equate to less women being induced for post-term pregnancy. This is significant to midwives such as myself due to the scope-of-care regulation of not providing care beyond 42 weeks. While an initial- and perhaps arguably by some ‘elective’ ultrasound-  may not be a popular choice in the midwife clientele population, a thoughtful risk versus benefit consideration should occur, as to assess the circumstance of “risking out” of care for suspected post-dates. [In my licensing state, my scope of care is limited to 37+0 weeks to 42+0 weeks, with the occasional patient reaching 42 weeks and therefore subsequently “risking out,” necessitating a transfer of care.]” ~Tara Elrod, CDM

SM: What do you think the economic cost of inductions for due dates is? The social costs? What benefits might we see if we relied on a better system for determining due dates and when to take action based on being postdates?

RD: There are economic costs to both elective inductions and waiting for labor to start on its own. The Hannah Post-Term trial investigators actually published a paper that looked at the cost effectiveness of their intervention, and they found that induction was cheaper than expectant management. This was primarily because with expectant management, there were extra costs related to fetal monitoring (non stress tests, amniotic fluid measurements, etc.) and the increased number of Cesareans in the expectant management group.

But there are many unanswered questions about the cost-effectiveness of elective induction of labor versus waiting for labor to begin (with fetal monitoring), so I’m afraid I can’t make any definitive statements or projections about the economic and social costs of elective inductions. Here is a study that may be of interest to some with further information on this topic.

I do know that in a healthy, low-risk population, birth centers in the National Birth Center Study II provided excellent care at a very low cost with women who had spontaneous births all the way up to 42 weeks. I would love to see researchers analyze maternal and neonatal outcomes in women stratified by gestational age in the Perinatal Data Registry with the American Association of Birth Centers.

 SM: I very much look forward to all your research posts and appreciate the work  and effort you put into doing them. What is on your radar for your next piece?

RD: The next piece will be Advanced Maternal Age!! After that, I will probably be polling my audience to see what they want, but I’m interested in tackling some topics related to pain control (epidurals and nitrous oxide) or maybe episiotomies.

SM: Is there anything else that you want to share about this post or other topics?

RD: No, I would just like to give a big thank you to everyone who helped in some way or another on this article!! There was a great interdisciplinary team who helped ensure that the due dates article passed scrutiny—we had an obstetrician, family physician, nurse midwife, several PhD-prepared researchers, and a certified direct entry midwife all provide expert review before the article was published. I am so thankful to all of them.


Hannah, M. E., C. Huh, et al. (1996). “Postterm pregnancy: putting the merits of a policy of induction of labor into perspective.” Birth 23(1): 13-19.

Hannah, M. E., W. J. Hannah, et al. (1992). “Induction of labor as compared with serial antenatal monitoring in post-term pregnancy. A randomized controlled trial. The Canadian Multicenter Post-term Pregnancy Trial Group.” N Engl J Med 326(24): 1587-1592.




Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, informed Consent, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, New Research, Research , , , , ,

Birth By The Numbers Releases New Video – Myth and Reality Concerning US Cesareans

March 19th, 2015 by avatar

birth by numbers header

I have been a huge fan of Dr. Eugene Declercq and his team over at Birth by the Numbers ever since I watched the original Birth by the Numbers bonus segment that was found on the Orgasmic Birth DVD I purchased back in 2008.  I was on the board of REACHE when we brought Dr. Declercq to Seattle to speak at our regional childbirth conference in 2010 and since then have heard him present at various conferences around the country, including most recently at the 2014 Lamaze International/DONA International Confluence, where Dr. Declercq was a keynote speaker.  I enjoy listening to him just as much now as I did back in 2008.  You  may also be familiar with Dr. Declercq’s work as part of the Listening to Mothers research team that has brought us three very valuable studies.

Birth by the Numbers has grown into a valuable and up to date website for the birth professional and the consumer, filled to the brim with useful information, videos, slide presentations and blog posts.  This past Tuesday, the newest video was released on the website: Birth By The Numbers: Part II – Myth and Reality Concerning US Cesareans and is embedded here for you to watch.  We shared Part I in a blog post last fall.

Also available for public use is a slide presentation located in the the “Teaching Tools” section of the Birth by the Numbers website designed to provide additional information, maps, data and resources for this new Myths and Reality Concerning Cesareans video. Included in this slideshow are notes and updates to help you understand the slides and share with others.  This material is freely given for your use.

© Birth by the Numbers

© Birth by the Numbers

This video explores how cesareans impact maternity care systems in the USA.  After watching the video and reviewing the slides, here are some of my top takeaways.

1.  The common reasons given for the nearly 33% cesarean rate in the USA (bigger babies, older mothers, more mothers with obesity, diabetes and hypertension, more multiples and maternal request) just don’t hold water when examined closer.

2. Many women feel pressure from their healthcare provider to have a cesarean, either prenatally or in labor.

3. The leading indicators for cesareans are labor arrest (34%) and nonreassuring fetal heart tracings (23%).

4. The rise in cesareans is not a result of a different indications.  Dr. Declercq quotes a 20 year old article’s title that could still grace the front pages today. “The Rise in Cesarean Section Rate: the same indications – but a lower threshold.”

5. When examining the distribution of cesarean births by states over time, it is clear that those states with the highest cesarean birth rate decades ago, still remain in those spots today.

6. “We are talking about cultural phenomena when we are talking about cesareans, not just medical phenomena.”

7. First time, low risk mothers who birthed at term and experienced labor had a 5% cesarean rate if they went into spontaneous labor and did not receive an epidural.  If they were induced and received an epidural, the cesarean rate was 31%.

8. The United States has the lowest VBAC rate of any industrialized country in the world.

© Birth by the Numbers

© Birth by the Numbers

While the video is rich (and heavy) in data laden charts and diagrams, the message, though not new, is clear.  The US maternity care system is in crisis.  We have to right the ship, and get back on course for healthier and safer births for pregnant people and babies. Take a look at this new video, and think about what messages you can share with the families you work with and in the classes you teach, to help consumers make informed choices about the care they receive during the childbearing year.

Please watch the video, visit the website to view the slides and let me know here in the comments section what you are going to use from this information to improve birth.

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, informed Consent, Maternal Obesity, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research , , , ,

Epidural Analgesia: To Delay or Not to Delay, That Is the Question

October 23rd, 2014 by avatar

By Henci Goer

Unless you have been “off the grid” on a solitary trek, surely you have read and heard the recent flurry of discussion surrounding the just released study making the claim that the timing of when a woman receives an epidural (“early” or “late” in labor) made no difference in the rate of cesarean delivery.  Your students and clients may have been asking questions and wondering if the information is accurate.  Award winning author and occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Henci Goer reviews the 9 studies that made up the Cochrane systematic review: Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia for labour to determine what they actually said.  Read her review here and share if you agree with all the spin in the media about this new research review. Additionally, head on over to the professional and parent Lamaze International sites to check out the new infographic on epidurals to share with your students and clients.- Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Manager. 

Epidural infographic oneArticles have been popping up all over the internet in recent weeks citing a new Cochrane systematic review- Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia for labour, concluding that epidural analgesia for labor needn’t be delayed because early initiation doesn’t increase the likelihood of cesarean delivery, or, for that matter, instrumental vaginal delivery (Sng 2014). The New York Times ran this piece. Some older studies have found that early initiation appeared to increase likelihood of cesarean (Lieberman 1996; Nageotte 1997; Thorp 1991), which is plausible on theoretical grounds. Labor progress might be more vulnerable to disruption in latent than active phase. Persistent occiput posterior might be more frequent if the woman isn’t moving around, and fetal malposition greatly increases the likelihood of cesarean and instrumental delivery. Which is right? Let’s dig into the review.

The review includes 9 randomized controlled trials of “early” versus “late” initiation of epidural analgesia. Participants in all trials were limited to healthy first-time mothers at term with one head-down baby. Five trials further limited participants to women who began labor spontaneously, three mixed women being induced with women beginning labor spontaneously, and in one, all women were induced. Analgesia protocols varied, but all epidural regimens were of modern, low-dose epidurals. So far, so good.

Examining the individual trials, though, we see a major problem. You would think that the reviewers would have rejected trials that failed to divide participants into distinct groups, one having epidural initiation in early labor and the other in more advanced labor, since the point of the review is to determine whether early or late initiation makes a difference. You would think wrong. Of the nine included trials, six failed to do this.

cc photo bryanrmason http://flickr.com/photos/b-may/397189835

cc photo bryanrmason http://flickr.com/photos/b-may/397189835

The two Chestnut trials (1994a; 1994b) had the same design, differing only in that one was of women who were laboring spontaneously at trial entry and the other included women receiving oxytocin for induction or augmentation. Women were admitted to the trial if they were dilated between 3 and 5 cm. Women in the early group got their epidural immediately while women in the late group could have an epidural only if they were dilated to 5 cm or more. If late-group women were not dilated to 5 cm, they were given systemic opioids and could have a second dose of opioid one hour later. They could have an epidural when they attained 5 cm dilation or regardless of dilation, an hour after the second opioid dose. Let’s see how that worked out.

Among the 149 women in the trial that included women receiving oxytocin (Chestnut 1994b), median dilation in the early group at time of epidural initiation was 3.5 cm, meaning that half the women were dilated more and half less than this amount. The interquartile deviation was 0.5 cm, which means that values were fairly tightly clustered around the median. The authors state, however, that cervical dilation was assessed using 0.5 increments which meant that dilation of 3-4 cm was recorded as 3.5. In other words, women in the early group might have been dilated to as much as 4 cm. The median dilation in the late group was 5.0 cm, again with a 0.5 cm interquartile deviation. Some women in the late group, therefore, were not yet dilated to 5 cm when their epidural began, and, in fact, the authors report that 26 of the 75 women (35%) in the late group were given their epidural after the second dose of opioid but before attaining 5 cm dilation. The small interquartile deviation in the late group tells us that few, if any, women would have been dilated much more than 5 cm. Add in that assessing dilation isn’t exact, so women might have been a bit more or less dilated than they were thought to be, and it becomes clear that the “early” and “late” groups must have overlapped considerably. Furthermore, pretty much all of them were dilated between 3 and 5 cm when they got their epidurals, which means that few of these first-time mothers would have been in active labor, as defined by the new ACOG standards.

Overlap between early and late groups must have been even greater in Chestnut et al.’s (1994a) trial of 334 women laboring spontaneously at trial entry because median dilation in the early group was greater than in the other trial (4 cm, rather than 3.5) while median dilation in the late group was the same (5.0 cm), and interquartile deviation was even tighter in the late group (0.25 cm, rather than 0.5 cm). As before, dilation was measured in 0.5 cm increments, which presumably means that women in the early group dilated to 4-5 cm would have been recorded as “4.5,” thereby qualifying them for the “early” group even though they might have been as much as 5 cm dilated.

Based on my analysis, I would argue that there was no clinically meaningful difference in dilation between early and late groups in either trial.

A second pair of trials, one a mixed trial of spontaneous labor onset and induction and the other all induced, also had the same design in both trials (Wong 2005; Wong 2009). All women were less than 4 cm dilated at first request for pain medication. In the early group, women had an opioid injected intrathecally, i.e. the “spinal” part of a combined spinal-epidural, and an epidural catheter was set. At the second request, an epidural was initiated. In the late group, women were given a systemic opioid. At second request, they were given a second dose of systemic opioid if they hadn’t reached 4 cm dilation and an epidural if they had dilated to 4 cm or more. At third request, they were given an epidural regardless of dilation. Women who had no vaginal exam at second request and were given an epidural were “assumed,” in the authors’ words, to be dilated to at least 4 cm. What were the results?

Wong (2005) included 728 women, some beginning labor spontaneously and some induced. You may already have noticed the flaw in the trials’ design: Wong and colleagues confused the issue by considering intrathecal opioid to be equivalent to epidural anesthetic in the early group, although women didn’t actually receive anesthetic until their second request for pain medication some unknown time later. So far as I know we have no evidence that opiods, spinal or epidural, have any effect on labor progress. As to dilation at the time of epidural initiation, 63% of women in the so-called “early” group were either determined or assumed to be at 4 cm dilation or more while in the late group, some unknown proportion were less than 4 cm dilated either because they got their epidural at third pain medication request regardless of dilation or they were assumed to be at 4 or more cm dilation at second request, but weren’t assessed.

Wong (2009), a study of 806 induced women, was set up the same way but reported data somewhat differently. Early-group women were administered a spinal opioid at a median of 2 cm dilation and an interquartile range of 1.5 to 3 cm, which means that values in the middle 50% of the dataset ranged from 1.5 to 3 cm. We have no information on dilation at the time they received their epidural. The median dilation at which late-group women had their epidural initiated was 4 cm with an interquartile range of 3 to 4 cm, that is, in the middle 50% of the dataset ranged from 3 to 4 cm dilation.

As with the Chestnut trials, dilation at time of epidural initiation in the two Wong trials must have overlapped considerably between groups. And, again, few women in the late epidural group would have been in active labor. The Wong trials, however, muddy the waters even further by considering spinal opioid to be the same thing as epidural anesthetic, and while the authors were careful to use the term “neuraxial analgesia,” the Cochrane reviewers made no such distinction.

This brings us to Parameswara (2012), a trial of 120 women that included both spontaneous onset and induced labors. This trial defined the early group as women less than 2 cm dilated at time of epidural initiation and the late group as women more than 2 cm dilated. That’s all the information they provide on group allocation.

Last of the six, we have Wang (2011), a trial of 60 women in spontaneous labor. All women were given intrathecal anesthetic plus opioid. The early group was started on epidural anesthetic plus opioid 20 minutes later whereas the late group had their epidural initiated when they requested additional pain relief. No information is given on dilation at time of epidural initiation. Not only do we have no idea whether early and late groups differed from one another, women in both groups received neuraxial anesthetic at the same time.

In summary, “garbage in, garbage out.” No conclusions can be drawn about the effect of early versus late epidural administration from these six studies.

The other three studies are a different story. They achieve a reasonable separation between groups. Luxman (1998) studied 60 women with spontaneous labor onset. The early group had a mean, i.e., average, dilation of 2.3 cm with a standard deviation of + or – 0.6 cm while the late group had a mean dilation of 4.5 cm + or – 0.2 cm. Ohel (2006) studied a mixed spontaneous onset and induced group of 449 women. The mean dilation at initiation in the early group was 2.4 cm with a standard deviation of 0.7 cm, and the late group had a mean dilation of 4.6 cm with a standard deviation of 1.1 cm. Wang (2009), the behemoth of the trials, included 12,629 women who began labor spontaneously. The early epidural group had a median dilation of 1.6 cm with an interquartile range of 1.1 to 2.8 and the late group a median of 5.1 cm dilation with an interquartile range of 4.2 to 5.7. Cesarean and instrumental delivery rates were similar between early and late groups in all three trials, so had reviewers included only these three trials, they would still have arrived at the same conclusion: early epidural initiation doesn’t increase likelihood of cesarean and instrumental delivery.

We’re not done, though. Wang (2009) points us to a second, even bigger issue.

The Wang (2009) trial, as did all of the trials, limited participants to healthy first-time mothers with no factors that would predispose them to need a cesarean. The Wang trial further excluded women who didn’t begin labor spontaneously. Nevertheless, the cesarean rate in these ultra-low-risk women was an astonishing 23%. Comparing the trials side-by-side reveals wildly varying cesarean and instrumental vaginal delivery rates in what are essentially homogeneous populations.

© Henci Goer

© Henci Goer

© Henci Goer

© Henci Goer

Comparing the trials uncovers that epidural timing doesn’t matter because any effect will be swamped by the much stronger effect of practice variation.

Analysis of the trials teaches us two lessons: First, systematic reviews can’t always be taken at face value because results depend on the beliefs and biases that the reviewers bring to the table. In this case, they blinded reviewers from seeing that two-thirds of the trials they included weren’t measuring two groups of women, one in early- and one in active-phase labor. Second, practice variation can be an unacknowledged and potent confounding factor for any outcome that depends on care provider judgment.


So what’s our take home? Women need to know that with a judicious care provider who strives for spontaneous vaginal birth whenever possible, early epidural administration won’t increase odds of cesarean or instrumental delivery. With an injudicious one, late initiation won’t decrease them. That being said, there are other reasons to delay an epidural. Maternal fever is associated with epidural duration. Running a fever in a slowly progressing labor could tip the balance toward cesarean delivery as well as have consequences for the baby such as keeping the baby in the nursery for observation, testing for infection, or administering prophylactic IV antibiotics. Then too, a woman just might find she can do very well without one. Epidurals can have adverse effects, some of them serious. Comfort measures, cognitive strategies, and all around good emotionally and physically supportive care don’t. Hospitals, therefore, should make available and encourage use of a wide range of non-pharmacologic alternatives and refrain from routine practices that increase discomfort and hinder women from making use of them. Only then can women truly make a free choice about whether and when to have an epidural.

After reading Henci’s review and the study, what information do you feel is important for women to be aware of regarding epidural use in labor?  What will you say when asked about the study and timing of an epidural?  You may want to reference a previous Science & Sensibility article by Andrea Lythgoe, LCCE, on the use of the peanut ball to promote labor progress when a woman has an epidural. – SM 


Caughey, A. B., Cahill, A. G., Guise, J. M., & Rouse, D. J. (2014). Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology210(3), 179-193.

Chestnut, D. H., McGrath, J. M., Vincent, R. D., Jr., Penning, D. H., Choi, W. W., Bates, J. N., & McFarlane, C. (1994a). Does early administration of epidural analgesia affect obstetric outcome in nulliparous women who are in spontaneous labor? Anesthesiology, 80(6), 1201-1208. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8010466?dopt=Citation

Chestnut, D. H., Vincent, R. D., Jr., McGrath, J. M., Choi, W. W., & Bates, J. N. (1994b). Does early administration of epidural analgesia affect obstetric outcome in nulliparous women who are receiving intravenous oxytocin? Anesthesiology, 80(6), 1193-1200. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8010465?dopt=Citation

Lieberman, E., Lang, J. M., Cohen, A., D’Agostino, R., Jr., Datta, S., & Frigoletto, F. D., Jr. (1996). Association of epidural analgesia with cesarean delivery in nulliparas. Obstet Gynecol, 88(6), 993-1000. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8942841

Luxman, D., Wolman, I., Groutz, A., Cohen, J. R., Lottan, M., Pauzner, D., & David, M. P. (1998). The effect of early epidural block administration on the progression and outcome of labor. Int J Obstet Anesth, 7(3), 161-164. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15321209?dopt=Citation

Nageotte, M. P., Larson, D., Rumney, P. J., Sidhu, M., & Hollenbach, K. (1997). Epidural analgesia compared with combined spinal-epidural analgesia during labor in nulliparous women. N Engl J Med, 337(24), 1715-1719. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9392696?dopt=Citation

Ohel, G., Gonen, R., Vaida, S., Barak, S., & Gaitini, L. (2006). Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia in labor: does it increase the risk of cesarean section? A randomized trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 194(3), 600-605. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522386?dopt=Citation

Parameswara, G., Kshama, K., Murthy, H. K., Jalaja, K., Venkat, S. (2012). Early epidural labour analgesia: Does it increase the chances of operative delivery? British Journal of Anaesthesia 108(Suppl 2):ii213–ii214. Note: This is an abstract only so all data from it come from the Cochrane review.

Sng, B. L., Leong, W. L., Zeng, Y., Siddiqui, F. J., Assam, P. N., Lim, Y., . . . Sia, A. T. (2014). Early versus late initiation of epidural analgesia for labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 10, CD007238. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007238.pub2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25300169

Thorp, J. A., Eckert, L. O., Ang, M. S., Johnston, D. A., Peaceman, A. M., & Parisi, V. M. (1991). Epidural analgesia and cesarean section for dystocia: risk factors in nulliparas. Am J Perinatol, 8(6), 402-410. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1814306?dopt=Citation

Wang, F., Shen, X., Guo, X., Peng, Y., & Gu, X. (2009). Epidural analgesia in the latent phase of labor and the risk of cesarean delivery: a five-year randomized controlled trial. Anesthesiology, 111(4), 871-880. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19741492?dopt=Citation

Wang, L. Z., Chang, X. Y., Hu, X. X., Tang, B. L., & Xia, F. (2011). The effect on maternal temperature of delaying initiation of the epidural component of combined spinal-epidural analgesia for labor: a pilot study. Int J Obstet Anesth, 20(4), 312-317. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21840705

Wong, C. A., McCarthy, R. J., Sullivan, J. T., Scavone, B. M., Gerber, S. E., & Yaghmour, E. A. (2009). Early compared with late neuraxial analgesia in nulliparous labor induction: a randomized controlled trial. Obstet Gynecol, 113(5), 1066-1074. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19384122?dopt=Citation

Wong, C. A., Scavone, B. M., Peaceman, A. M., McCarthy, R. J., Sullivan, J. T., Diaz, N. T., . . . Grouper, S. (2005). The risk of cesarean delivery with neuraxial analgesia given early versus late in labor. N Engl J Med, 352(7), 655-665. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15716559?dopt=Citation

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, informed Consent, Medical Interventions, New Research, Systematic Review , , , , , , ,

Lamaze Releases Useful New Infographic: “No Food, No Drink During Labor? NO WAY!”

July 22nd, 2014 by avatar

piece Lamaze_RestrictedFoodDrinkInfographic_FINALToday, Lamaze International releases their newest infographic “No Food, No Drink During Labor? NO WAY!” This useful infographic is available on both the Lamaze International for Professionals website and the Lamaze Parents website. The most recent Listening to Mothers III survey indicated that 60% of women did not drink and 80% did not eat during labor! (DeClercq, 2013) The common practice of restricting food and drink for laboring women is outdated and not supported by evidence.  Unfortunately, most laboring women still face resistance from health care providers and facilities when they desire to eat or drink during their labor.

Lamaze International is hosting a Twitter Chat today, July 22nd, 2014 at 9 PM EST.  Professionals and parents are invited to participate in this live Twitter discussion moderated by Kathryn Konrad, MS, RNC-OB, LCCE, FACCE (@KkonradLCCE) and Robin Weiss, PhDc, MPH, CPH, CD(DONA), CLC, LCCE, Lamaze International’s President Elect. Tonight’s topic is “Restrictions in Labor” including this infographic on eating and drinking along with last month’s infographic on moving in labor (“We Like To Move It, Move It!”) Follow the hashtag #LamazeChat.  New to participating in a Twitter chat?  Check out this article for information on how to participate and get the most out of your experience.

Lamaze International’s Healthy Birth Practices, first released in 2009, discussed in great length the benefits to moving and changing position in labor in the 2nd Healthy Birth Practice: “Walk, Move Around and Change Positions Throughout Labor” as well as the risks to restricting food and drink in the 4th Healthy Birth Practice: “Avoid Interventions That Are Not Medically Necessary.”

These useful infographics complement the Healthy Birth Practices, are easy to share on social media and can be used in the classroom as a poster to help parents to understand how to have the safest and healthiest birth possible.

Won’t you take a moment to check out this newest infographic and share with the expectant families that you work with!  Consider sharing it on your favorite social media outlet (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) and making it available in your classrooms!

If you have an interesting way you are using these infographics, or would like to just share your thoughts on the infographic topics, please let us know in the comments section. I would love to hear how you use this info in your practice.

Click here to download the newest infographic “No Food, No Drink During Labor? NO WAY!”

You may access all the infographics available here!


Declercq, E. R., Sakala, C., Corry, M. P., Applebaum, S., & Herrlich, A. (2013). Listening to mothers III: Pregnancy and birth. New York, NY: Childbirth Connection.

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, informed Consent, Lamaze International, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Push for Your Baby , , , , ,

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