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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 , , , , ,

Care Model Innovations – Changing The Way Maternity Care Is Provided

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

© Serena O’Dwyer

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

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

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

The posts available in the series so far include:

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

And those posts yet to come:

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

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

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

According to Amy:

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

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

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

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

Amy Romano

Amy Romano

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

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

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

ACOG & SMFM Standardize Levels of Maternal Care to Improve Maternal Morbidity & Mortality

February 5th, 2015 by avatar

obThe American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine released their second joint consensus statement on January 22nd, 2015. This consensus statement, Levels of Maternal Care is published in the February 2015 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Green Journal).

What are the objectives of this statement?

The objectives of the statement, Levels of Maternal Care, is fourfold:

  1. To introduce uniform designations for levels of maternal care that are complementary but distinct from levels of neonatal care and that address maternal health needs, thereby reducing maternal morbidity and mortality in the United States
  2. To develop standardized definitions and nomenclature for facilities that provide each level of maternal care
  3. To provide consistent guidelines according to level of maternal care for use in quality improvement and health promotion
  4. To foster the development and equitable geographic distribution of full-service maternal care facilities and systems that promote proactive integration of risk-appropriate antepartum, intrapartum, and postpartum services

With a system in place that defines the levels of care, it will be clear when a transfer of care is deemed necessary to a facility that is better able to provide risk appropriate care to those women who need a higher level of maternity care.  This will improve maternal outcomes and reduce maternal morbidity and mortality.

Our goal for these consensus recommendations is to create a system for maternal care that complements and supplements the current neonatal framework in order to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality across the country. – Sarah J. Kilpatrick, MD/PhD, Lead Author

The USA ranks 60th in maternal mortality worldwide (Kassebaum NJ, 2014) and while some states  have established programs for a striated system of maternity care separate from the needs of the newborn, designations of what level of maternal care center will best serve the mother is not consistent and and creates confusion with a lack of uniform terms and definitions. Data supports better outcomes for mothers when certain maternal complications are handled in a facility deemed most appropriate for that condition.

Many years ago, thanks to the efforts of the March of Dimes, a similar system of levels of neonatal care was designated for the newborn, with each level having clear definitions of the type of services they were best able to provide, how they should be staffed and when a baby was to be transferred to a higher level facility based on newborn health conditions.  This newborn level of care system improved outcomes for babies in the USA, as they were assigned to a location that could best meet their medical needs. The levels of maternal care compliment the levels of care for the neonate, but should be viewed independently from the neonatal designations.

What are the levels of maternal care?

The statement defines five levels of care – Birth Center, Level I (Basic Care), Level II (Specialty Care), Level III (Subspecialty Care) and Level IV (Regional Perinatal Health Care Centers).

For each level, there is a definition, a list of capabilities that each facility should have, the types of health care providers that are assumed to be competent to work there and examples of appropriate patients.

Each level requires meeting the capabilities of the previous level(s) plus the ability to serve even more complicated situations until you reach Level IV, suitable for the most complicated, high populations.

The risk appropriate patient deemed suitable for each level takes into account the skills and training of the midwives or doctors who staff that facility and the ability of those individuals to initiate appropriate emergency skills and response times for the patient.  As a woman becomes less and less “low risk”, she will need to have her care transferred to the appropriate level.  This transfer may occur prenatally, intrapartum or during the postpartum period.

Recognition of the out of hospital midwife and the birth center

The consensus statement recognizes the credentials of the Certified Midwife (CM), the Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) and the Licensed Midwife (LM) as appropriate health care providers, along with Certified Nurse Midwives, OBs and Family Practice doctors, for low risk women in out of hospital facilities where those individuals are legally recognized as able to practice.  The low risk woman is defined as low-risk women one with an uncomplicated singleton term pregnancy with a vertex presentation who is expected to have an uncomplicated birth.

The statement also officially recognizes the freestanding birth center as an appropriate place to give birth for low risk women, along with supporting the collaboration of birth center midwives with the health care providers at higher level maternal care facilities.

Clear capabilities and requirements

The statement also outlines the type of staffing requirements to be available for services, consultation, or emergency procedures at each type of facility.

The consensus statement acknowledges that the appropriate level of  care for the baby may not align with the appropriate level of care for the mother.  Care guidelines that have been long established and well determined for the newborn should also be followed.

Consensus statement receives strong support

The consensus statement has been reviewed and endorsed by:

American Association of Birth Centers

American College of Nurse-Midwives

Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses

Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers

The American Academy of Pediatrics leadership, the American Society of Anesthesiologists leadership, and the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology leadership have reviewed the opinion and have given their support as well.

Additionally, the Midwives Alliance of North America was pleased to see this consensus statement and read how the role of out of hospital midwives was addressed.

MANA applauds ACOG’s identification of the need for birthing women to have a wide range of birthing options, from out of hospital settings for low-risk women to regional perinatal centers for families experiencing the most complicated pregnancies. As ACOG states, a wide variety of providers can meet the needs of low-risk women, including Certified Professional Midwives, Certified Nurse Midwives, Certified Midwives, and Licensed Midwives. We strongly concur with the need for collaborative relationships between midwives and obstetricians. Treesa McLean, LM, CPM, MANA Director of Public Affairs

What does this mean for the childbirth educator?

I encourage all birth professionals to read the consensus statement (it is easy to read) to understand the specifics of each level of maternal care.  As we teach classes, we can discuss with our families that there may be circumstances during their pregnancy or labor that require their care to be changed or transferred to a facility that offers the level of maternal care appropriate for their condition. Some of us already work in hospitals that are Level IV while others of us might teach elsewhere. We can help families to understand why a transfer might be necessary, and how to ask for and receive the information they need to fully understand the reason for a transfer of care and what all their options might be.  Families that are prepared, even for the events that they hoped to avoid, can feel better about how their labor and birth unfold.

Thank you ACOG and SMFM for working hard to clarify and bring about uniform standards that can be applied across the country that will improve the outcomes for mothers giving birth in the USA.

Photo source: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Paul Gillin

References

Kassebaum NJ, Bertozzi-Villa A, Coggeshall MS, Shackelford KA, Steiner C, Heuton KR, et al. Global, regional, and national levels and causes of maternal mortality during 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 [published erratum appears in Lancet 2014;384:956]. Lancet 2014;384:980–1004. [PubMed]

Levels of maternal care. Obstetric Care Consensus No. 2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2015;125:502–15.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, New Research, Practice Guidelines, Pregnancy Complications , , , , ,

Series: Building Your Birth Business – Free Website Content for Your Site from NIH

February 3rd, 2015 by avatar

HSS NIH

Having a blog or articles of interest on your website that are available to your students, clients and potential customers is a win-win situation for a birth professional. A win for your clientele because they are provided useful information and news important to them on the topics of pregnancy, birth and postpartum. A win for you, because providing this information creates engagement and positions you as an expert and a source of evidence based information.  Having useful content also increases traffic to your site. But writing this content takes time, requires research and can be very intimidating for some of us.

As part of our occasional series on building your birth business, I wanted to share a great service that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Health and Human Services Division provides that can be a valuable time saver and help you to grow your business by increasing visits to your website and offering useful information to those who stop by.

NIH HSS exampleThe National Institutes of Health provides free web content that is up to date, accurate and easy to read. Even better, NIH provides a simple system that allows you to embed (place inside your website) content that you decide is important to your customer base.

Benefits of using the NIH Content Syndication Service

  • Material presented has the look and feel of your website
  • Content is updated automatically as new information or research is available, without any effort on your part
  • Time saving because you do not have to write personalized content
  • You can add your own thoughts and commentary
  • You control the topics, selecting only those you want to appear
  • You control the placement of the material on your site
  • Engagement and interaction occurs on your site, in the form of comments and dialogue
  • You can choose infographics, videos, podcasts and other multimedia offerings
  • Material is available in Spanish and in English

If you don’t find a topic you are looking for, you can request that specific information be provided for future use.

Step by step instructions are provided on the NIH website

How to Add Free Web Content from NIH to Your Website will provide everything you need to know to get started. After you register, you can browse all the topics that are offered or search for a subset of topics relevant to you and your business. You copy and paste a small snippet of code into your website and after you publish, the new material is exactly where you want it. The options are endless, you can use this material on your resource page or even drip it out slowly as part of your blog. Best of all, this material is designed for you to use in this way.  There are restrictions on using material from other sources, but this content provided by NIH is meant to be used in this way – and all the sourcing and credit appear automatically. You are also able to search for and use material from other sources in using the advanced search options.

Here is a topic I have embedded on toxoplasmosis and pregnancy for you to see how it works:

Why don’t you give it a try! Place something of interest on your website  using the NIH Content Syndication Service and then share the link in our comments section! Let us see how it looks! If you allow comments on your embedded article, I will try and leave a comment!

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Maternity Care, New Research, Newborns, Series: Building Your Birth Business , , ,

Sarah Buckley’s “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care” – A Review for Birth Educators and Doulas

January 13th, 2015 by avatar

by Penny Simkin, PT, CD(DONA)

Today, a long awaited report written by Dr. Sarah Buckley, “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care” is being released by Childbirth Connection. In this valuable report, Dr. Buckley gathers the most current research and provides the definitive guide for the role of hormones in normal, natural birth.  Esteemed childbirth educator, doula and author/filmmaker Penny Simkin has reviewed Dr. Buckley’s latest offering and shares today on Science & Sensibility how childbirth educators, doulas and other birth professionals can use this information to inform parents on how best to support the physiological process of childbirth.  In coordination with this research report, Dr. Buckley and Childbirth Connection are releasing a consumer booklet geared for families and consumers as well as other material, including infographics in support of this report.  On Thursday, Lamaze International Past President Michele Ondeck will share her interview with Dr. Buckley. In that interview,  S&S readers can get the full story directly from Dr. Buckley, on just what it took to create this remarkable tome. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

© Childbirth Connection

© Childbirth Connection

Introduction

For many of us who work in the maternity field, Sarah Buckley’s fine work is well-known. Her book, “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” (Buckley, 2009) has provided scholarly and enlightening guidance on natural childbirth and early parenting for many years. Her 16 page paper, “Ecstatic Birth,” (Buckley, 2010) guides educators and doula trainers, who rely heavily on her explanations of hormonal physiology in childbearing, for teaching about labor physiology and psychology and the impact of care practices.

Her newest publication, “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care,” (Buckley, 2015) is a gift to us all. It represents a massive scholarly effort, a review of all the related scientific literature on the topic. With 1141 references, most of which were published in recent years, Dr. Buckley’s overview provides the transparency to allow readers to trace her statements to the evidence on which they are based. She exercises caution in drawing concrete conclusions when the evidence is insufficient; she presents such information as theory (rather than fact), and points out when more research is necessary for concrete conclusions. The “theory” that undisturbed birth is safest and healthiest for most mothers and babies most of the time is impressively supported by her exhaustive review, as stated in the conclusion (Buckley, 2015):

“According to the evidence summarized in this report, the innate hormonal physiology of mothers and babies – when promoted, supported, and protected – has significant benefits for both during the critical transitions of labor, birth, and the early postpartum and newborn periods, likely extending into the future by optimizing breastfeeding and attachment. While beneficial in selected circumstances, maternity care interventions may disrupt these beneficial processes. Because of the possibility of enduring effects, including via epigenetics, the Precautionary Principle suggests caution in deviating from these healthy physiologic processes in childbearing.”

The Precautionary Principle, to which she refers, has been stated as follows:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. . . . It (the activity) must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” (Science and Environmental Health Network, 1998).

In other words, when applied to maternity care, The Precautionary Principle states that when a practice, action, or policy may raise threats of harm to mother, baby, or family, the burden of proof that it will result in more good than harm falls on those who wish to adopt it – the policy maker, caregiver, or administrator, not on the pregnant person.

© Sarah Buckley

© Sarah Buckley

What’s new in this document and how might you use it and apply it in your classroom or practice?

This document represents the “State of the Science” regarding hormonal physiology of childbirth (HPOC). It should be the starting point for consideration of proposed changes in maternity care management and education. The question, “How might this policy, practice, or new information impact the HPOC and subsequent outcomes for mother and/or baby?” should be asked and answered about both existing and proposed interventions.

Sarah Buckley has asked and answered this question, and reveals the unintended consequences of numerous widespread practices, including scheduled birth – induced labor or planned cesarean; disturbance and excessive stress during labor; synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin); opioids and epidural analgesia for labor pain; early separation of mother from infant or wrapping the infant in a blanket to be held (i.e., no skin-to-skin contact); breastmilk substitutes, and many more. All of these practices cause more harm than good, except in unusual or abnormal circumstances.

One of the greatest contributions of this book is showing that hormonal physiology is affected by virtually every intervention –major and minor — and understanding this is the key to appropriate maternity care. The topic is complex and not nearly fully understood, but Sarah Buckley has pulled together just about everything that is now known on this topic. If you’re a maternity care practitioner or student, who wants to approach the care you give from a physiological perspective, or want information on the impact of common interventions on the physiological process, it’s all here. If you’re a researcher interested in studying some aspect of HPOC, your literature search has already been done for you and you can discover the many areas that have been insufficiently studied and plan where to go from there.

If you’re a childbirth educator seeking to give accurate information to expectant parents about how normal childbirth unfolds and how it can be altered (for better or worse) with common procedures and medications, you can learn it here. If you’re a doula who wants to understand how your presence and actions may contribute to normalcy, you can learn it here. If you’re an expectant parent who wants to make choices that maintain or improve the pregnant person and infant’s well-being, you can learn it here or access the consumer guide.

Organization of the Chapters

This book, with its numerous references, sheer number of pages, level of detail and broad scope, may seem daunting at first. However, if you take some time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the book before plunging in, you will find that the material in each chapter is arranged so that readers can explore each topic at varying levels of detail.

The book begins with a very helpful 10 page executive summary of the contents. There are then two chapters introducing concepts relevant to HPOC, and on the physiologic vs. scheduled onset of birth (induction and planned cesarean birth). The 7 chapters are organized with topics and subtopics. The first paragraph beneath the headings for each topic or sub-topic briefly and clearly summarizes the information in that section in italics, so that you can skim each topic by reading only the italicized summary. If you wish to investigate some subtopics more deeply, you can read everything included on those topics. Each chapter also ends with a summary of the entire chapter. Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 (Chapter 3 — “Oxytocin;” 4 —“Beta-Endorphins;” 5 —“Epinephrine-Norepinephrine and Related Stress Hormones;” ; and 6 —“Prolactin”) follow the same outline of topics and subtopics.

Using Chapter 6 (“Prolactin”) as an example, here is the outline:

  • 6.1 Normal physiology of prolactin
    • 6.1.1 Introduction: Prolactin
    • 6.1.2 Prolactin in pregnancy
    • 6.1.3 Prolactin in labor and birth
    • 6.1.4 Prolactin after birth
  • 6.2 Maternity care practices that may impact the physiology of prolactin
    • 6.2.1 Possible impacts of maternity care provider and birth environment on prolactin
    • 6.2.2 Prostaglandins for cervical ripening and labor induction: possible impacts on prolactin
    • 6.2.3 Synthetic Oxytocin in labor for induction, augmentation, and postpartum care: possible impacts on prolactin
    • 6.2.4 Opioid analgesic drugs: possible impacts on physiology of prolactin
    • 6.2.5 Epidural analgesia: possible impacts on physiology of prolactin
    • 6.2.6 Cesarean section: possible impacts on physiology of prolactin
    • 6.2.7 Early separation of healthy mothers and newborns: possible impact on physiology of prolactin
  • 6.3 Summary of all findings on prolactin

For childbirth educators: how might we use this information to benefit our students?

I especially appreciate that Dr. Buckley begins every section with a description of the relevant physiology. In order to be truly effective, we educators should do the same in our classes, to ensure that our students understand how and when their care is consistent with physiological childbearing and when (and why) it is not. “’Physiological childbearing’ refers to childbearing conforming to healthy biological processes,” (Buckley, 2015, page 11) as opposed to what many might refer to as “medicalized childbearing,” in which the physiologic process is altered or replaced with interventions and medications.

© Childbirth Connection

© Childbirth Connection

Childbirth education should be designed to allay the pregnant person’s anxiety, not by avoiding mention of potentially troubling labor situations, or minimizing concerns mentioned by the students, but rather by giving realistic portrayals of birth, encouraging expression of feelings, and dealing with them by informing, reframing, desensitizing, and strategizing ways to handle troubling situations. Following is an example of how an educator might include hormonal physiology of childbearing to teach about one critical topic – Physiologic Onset of Labor, which is Lamaze International’s First Healthy Birth Practice.

Let labor begin on its own: How to teach from the standpoint of HPOC

Chapter 2 in HPOC , “Physiologic Onset of Labor and Scheduled Birth,” details the ‘highly complex orchestrated events that lead to full readiness for labor, birth and the critical postpartum transitions of mother and baby.” (Buckley, 2015). As educators, we should try to convey this information, in simplified form, to help our students appreciate the beauty and connectedness of the whole mother-baby dyad. They need to understand the consequences of interrupting the chain of events that usually result in optimal timing of birth. Most parents (and many caregivers as well) have no idea that the fetus determines the onset of labor. Nor do they know that fetal readiness for labor (including protection against hypoxia and readiness for newborn transitions after birth) is coordinated with preparation of the mother’s body for labor, breastfeeding and mother-infant attachment. Once students have some grasp of these processes, they appreciate and want to protect them from interruption or replacement by medical means. As we know, most inductions and many planned cesareans are done without medical reason (ACOG, 2014). Out of ignorance and/or misinformation from their caregivers, parents often agree or even ask for these procedures.

While many educators know and teach about the risks and benefits of induction and planned cesarean, they often don’t convey the physiology on which the benefits and risks are based. It’s all here in HPOC, and this information may inspire parents to question, seek alternatives or decline these procedures.

Over the years, I have wrestled with the challenge of conveying this information fairly simply and concisely, and now, with the help of Katie Rohs, developed a new animated PowerPoint slide, “The Events of Late Pregnancy” (Simkin, 2013) that I use in class. You may access this animated slide and accompanying discussion points/teacher guide here.© Penny Simkin

© Penny Simkin

This is just one example of how we may shift our focus as teachers to incorporate basic hormonal physiology as a starting point. Dr. Buckley gives us a solid understanding of what is known about the key role the endocrine system plays in orchestrating the whole childbearing process, and why we shouldn’t disrupt this elegant process without clear medical reasons. If we teachers and other birth workers incorporate this information in our practices and in our teaching, outcomes will improve.

“Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing” is surely the most extensive search ever done on this topic, and is a solid guide to learning this crucial information. Encyclopedic in its scope, and multi-layered in its depth, this book will be most useful as a reference text, rather than a book to read straight through. It is pretty dense reading, but when you have a question relating to reproductive physiology or the effects of interventions, you can search for well-explained answers. The evidence-based conclusions that Sarah Buckley has synthesized from an abundance of research (1141 references!) are authoritative and must be made accessible. This is truly “State of the Science” on Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing.

Conclusion

Typical maternity care today has departed so far from physiology that in many cases it causes more harm than good, as borne out by Dr. Buckley’s discussions throughout the book of the impact (i.e., unintended consequences) of common maternity care practices on hormonal physiology and mother-baby outcomes. Our job is to inform expectant parents of these things and help them translate information into preparedness and confident participation in their care. If we do our job well, our students will want to support, protect, and participate in the physiological process, which has yet to be improved upon. Parents and their babies will benefit! Our thanks should go out to Sarah Buckley and to Childbirth Connection for bringing this gift to us.

In conclusion, Sarah Buckley’s “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing” is an impressive exploration of the major hormonal influences underlying all aspects of the labor and birth process. As we understand and incorporate the knowledge included in the book, the birth process will become safer, with effects lasting over the life span.

References 

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 2014. Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery. Obstetric Care Consensus Number 1. Obstet Gynecol ;123:693–711.

Buckley S. Ecstatic Birth. Nature’s Hormonal Blueprint for Labor. 2010. www.sarahbuckley.com

Buckley S. 2009, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices. Celestial Arts, Berkeley

Buckley S. 2015. Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies and Maternity Care. Childbirth Connection, New York

Science & Environmental Health Network. 1998. Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle. Accessed Jan. 8, 2015, https://www.google.com/search?q=The+Precautionary+Principle&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8.

Simkin P. 2013, Events of Late Pregnancy. Childbirth Education Handout and Slide Penny Simkin, Inc. Seattle. https://www.pennysimkin.com/events-powerpoint

About Penny Simkin

penny_simkinPenny Simkin is a physical therapist who has specialized in childbirth education and labor support since 1968. She estimates she has prepared over 13,000 women, couples and siblings for childbirth, and has assisted hundreds of women or couples through childbirth as a doula. She has produced several birth-related films and is the author of many books and articles on birth for both parents and professionals. Her books include The Labor Progress Handbook (2011), with Ruth Ancheta, The Birth Partner (2013), and When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse of Childbearing Women (2004), with Phyllis Klaus. Penny and her husband have four adult children and eight grandchildren. Penny can be reached through her website.

 

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