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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.

 

Babies, Breastfeeding, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Infant Attachment, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research, Newborns, Uncategorized , , , , ,

Best in Birth for 2014

December 30th, 2014 by avatar

By Cara Terreri, LCCE

Best of  BirthAs the year winds down this week, many will take stock of the best and worst of happenings throughout the year. In the world of maternity care, there are several notable and promising advances, discoveries, and recommendations in care practices. ICYMI (in case you missed it), we’d like to share the best in birth for 2014.

The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health released important new U.S. research on the outcomes of home birth entitled Outcomes of Care for 16,924 Planned Home Births in the United States: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009.” This was the first study on outcomes of home births since 2005. For a in-depth review of the study, check out this and this.

In February, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine issued a joint Obstetric Care Consensus Statement: Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery. The statement aims to change the way practitioners manage labor in an effort to reduce the cesarean rate, and was considered by many a major game changer in how women are cared for in labor. The ACOG press release is here, which provides more detail of the study. Science & Sensibility covered it here.

Evidence Based Birth a well-respected resource site for birth practices, published the article, “Evidence for the Vitamin K Shot in Newborns,” which examines Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB), a rare but serious consequence of insufficient Vitamin K in a newborn or infant that can be prevented by administering an injection of Vitamin K at birth. The article helps to clear up many misconceptions and questions surrounding the Vitamin K shot.  Sharon Muza interviews Rebecca on this topic here.

Lamaze International launched a series of online parent classes that cover a variety of topics on pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. The online classes are presented in an interactive, engaging format with unlimited access so you can complete the class at your own pace. They provide vital information, and are recommended to be followed up with a traditional, in-depth childbirth class. Topics covered include, VBAC, Six Healthy Birth Practices, and Breastfeeding Basics.  A Pain Management and Coping Skills class will be released shortly in the new year.

The journal Birth published a study that compared the difference between nonpharmacologic (aka: non-drug) pain management during labor with more typical pain relief techniques. Results showed that nonpharmacologic pain relief techniques can reduce the need for medical interventions. Read an in-depth review here.

The “family-centered cesarean” birth continued to emerge as an option for more families as new providers and hospitals adopted practices to facilitate the approach. For more information, check out the Family Centered Cesarean Project and this article.

Out-of-hospital (OOH) births rates continued to increase, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics released this year. The report also showed that OOH births generally had lower risk than hospital births, with lower percentages of preterm birth and low birth weight.

Work continued on human microbiome (aka: healthy gut bacteria) research, and further investigation is underway on the impact of cesarean birth and infant gut bacteria colonization, and the potential benefits of artificially transferring mother’s bacteria to baby.

What other groundbreaking maternal infant topics do you feel made a big leap in 2014?  Share the topic and any relevant links in our comments section.

About Cara Terreri

cara headshotCara began working with Lamaze two years before she became a mother. Somewhere in the process of poring over marketing copy in a Lamaze brochure and birthing her first child, she became an advocate for childbirth education. Three kids later (and a whole lot more work for Lamaze), Cara is the Site Administrator for Giving Birth with Confidence, the Lamaze blog for and by women and expectant families. Cara continues to have a strong passion for the awesome power and beauty in pregnancy and birth, and for helping women to discover their own power and ability through birth. It is her hope that through the GBWC site, women will have a place to find and offer positive support to other women who are going through the amazing journey to motherhood.

ACOG, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Lamaze International, New Research , ,

A Tale of Two Births – Comparing Hospitals to Hospitals

December 9th, 2014 by avatar

By Christine H. Morton, PhD

Today, Christine H. Morton, PhD, takes a moment to highlight a just released infographic and report by the California Healthcare Foundation that clearly shows the significance of birthing in a hospital that is “low performing.”  This is a great follow up post to “Practice Variation in Cesarean Rates: Not Due to Maternal Complications” that Pam Vireday wrote about last month. Where women choose to birth really matters and their choice has the potential to have profound impact on their birth outcomes.   – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

An Internet search of “A Tale of Two Births” brings up several blog posts about disparities in experience and outcomes between one person’s hospital and subsequent birth center or home births. Sometimes the disparity is explained away by the fact that for many women, their second labor and birth is shorter and easier than their first. Or debate rages about the statistics on home birth or certified professional midwifery. Now we have a NEW Tale of Two Births to add to the mix. However, this one compares the experiences of two women, who are alike in every respect but one – the hospital where they give birth.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 5.15.04 PM

 

The California HealthCare Foundation has created an infographic drawn from data reported on California’s healthcare public reporting website, CalQualityCare.org. In this infographic, we meet two women, Sara, and Maya who are identical in every respect – both are the same age, race, and having their first baby, which is head down, at term. However, Sara plans to have her baby at a “high-performing” hospital while Maya will give birth at a “low-performing” hospital. “High performing” is defined as three or more Superior or Above Average scores and no Average, Below Average, or Poor scores on the four maternity measures. “Low performing” is defined as three or more Below Average or Poor scores on the four maternity measures.

Based on the data from those hospitals, the infographic compares the likelihood of each woman experiencing four events: low-risk C-section, episiotomy, exclusive breastmilk before discharge, and VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) rates (the latter one of course requires us to imagine that Sara and Maya had a prior C-section).

First-time mom Sara has a 19% chance of a C-section at her high-performing hospital, while Maya faces a 56% chance of having a C-section at her low-performing hospital. These percentages reflect the weighted average of all high- and low- performing hospitals.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 5.15.22 PM

 

The readers of this blog will no doubt be familiar with these quality metrics and their trends over time. Two of these metrics (low risk C-section and exclusive breastmilk on discharge) are part of the Joint Commission’s Perinatal Care Measure Set. The other two – episiotomy and VBAC are important outcomes of interest to maternity care advocates and, of course, expectant mothers.

Hospitals with >1100 births annually have been required to report the five measures in the Joint Commission’s Perinatal Care Measure Set since January 2014, and these metrics will be publicly reported as of January 2015.

Childbirth educators can help expectant parents find their state’s quality measures and use this information in selecting a hospital for birth. In the event that changing providers or hospitals is not a viable option, childbirth educators can teach pregnant women what they can do to increase their chances of optimal birth outcomes by sharing the Six Healthy Practices with all students, but especially those giving birth in hospitals that are “low-performing.”

You can download the infographic in English and en Español tambien!

About Christine H. Morton

christine morton headshotChristine H. Morton, PhD, is a medical sociologist. Her research and publications focus on women’s reproductive experiences, maternity care advocacy and maternal quality improvement. She is the founder of an online listserv for social scientists studying reproduction, ReproNetwork.org.  Since 2008, she has been at California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative at Stanford University, an organization working to improve maternal quality care and eliminate preventable maternal death and injury and associated racial disparities. She is the author, with Elayne Clift, of Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-emergence of Woman Supported Childbirth in the United States.  In October 2013, she was elected to the Lamaze International Board of Directors.  She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their two school age children and their two dogs.  She can be reached via her website.

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research, Newborns, Push for Your Baby , , , , , ,

Practice Variation in Cesarean Rates: Not Due to Maternal Complications

November 13th, 2014 by avatar

By Pam Vireday

Pam Vireday, an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility reviews the recent study by Katy Kozhimannil, PhD and colleagues that examined the differences in cesarean rates between over a thousand hospitals in the USA.  Consumers of maternity care quite possibly do not realize what a significant impact their choice of facility (and provider) may have on their birth outcome.  Can you think of hospitals in your own community serving similar populations of pregnant families that have drastically different cesarean rates.  Have you considered why that might be?  Do you think that the families you work with have explored this too?  Do they even have access to this information?  Read Pam’s discussion of this recent study below.  – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

© Patti Ramos Photography

© Patti Ramos Photography

There’s a new study out that discusses the variation in cesarean rates between hospitals in the United States. “Maternal clinical diagnoses and hospital variation in the risk of cesarean delivery: Analyses of a national US hospital discharge database” was released late last month and has received a lot of press and discussion ever since.

Practice variation is a serious problem in obstetrics (Arcia 2013). Women are often far more at risk for a cesarean in certain hospitals than in others, even when the hospitals serve the same geographical area and population (Arnold, January 2013 and August 2012).

Of course, care providers protest that some hospitals have higher cesarean rates because they serve higher-risk patients. This is a valid point, but it still doesn’t explain the wide variation in rates between many hospitals (Clark 2007).

For example, in a press release about the new study, the mother’s risk status and diagnoses did not explain the variation in cesarean rates between hospitals:

“We found that the variability in hospital cesarean rates was not driven by differences in maternal diagnoses or pregnancy complexity,” said [lead study author] Kozhimannil. “This means there was significantly higher variation in hospital rates than would be expected based on women’s health conditions. On average, the likelihood of cesarean delivery for an individual woman varied between 19 and 48 percent across hospitals.”

Other key points highlighted included:

  • Among lower risk women, likelihood of cesarean delivery varied between 8 and 32 percent across hospitals.
  • Among higher risk women, likelihood of cesarean delivery varied between 56 and 92 percent across hospitals.
  • Hospital variability did not decrease after adjusting for patient diagnoses, socio-demographics, and hospital characteristics.

This shows that practice variation in cesarean rates is real, substantive, and not just a reflection of the mother’s risk level. 

Perhaps now we can stop playing the mother blame-game when we talk about cesarean rates? (Declerq 2006, Oganowski 2011)

This study is not the first to show that the culture of a hospital, its policies, and its routine practices all help determine how likely a woman is to “need” a cesarean in that hospital.

For example, Cáceres 2013 found that even after adjusting for socio-demographic and clinical factors and including only NTSV (Nulliparous, Term, Singleton, Vertex) pregnancies, the cesarean rate varied significantly between Massachusetts hospitals, “suggesting the importance of hospital practices and culture in determining a hospital’s cesarean rate.”

In addition, a 2014 consensus statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine notes, “Variation in the rates of nulliparous, term, singleton, vertex cesarean births also indicates that clinical practice patterns affect the number of cesarean births performed.”

Preventing cesareans when possible is important because while cesareans can be life-saving at times, they present more risk for maternal infection, bleeding and blood clots, and more neonatal breathing problems (Liu 2007, Visser 2014).

Notably, a large case-control study in U.K. maternity units found that delivery by cesarean was a strong risk factor for severe sepsis (Acosta 2014). Other research has found a high rate of maternal complications (Pallasmaa 2010) and poorer neonatal outcomes (Kolås 2006) associated with cesareans.

In addition, a cesarean’s potential negative effect on future pregnancies is important (Silver 2012). One American study found that the rate of an abnormal placental attachment increased in conjunction with the rise in cesarean delivery rate (Wu 2005), while a Canadian study found that a prior cesarean was associated with an increased risk for adverse neonatal outcomes in subsequent pregnancies (Abenhaim and Benjamin 2011).

Bottom line, it matters where and with whom a woman gives birth in order to lessen the risk for complications, both now and in the future.

But many women naively choose their care provider for pregnancy based mostly on convenience and location, not realizing that their chances of surgical birth may vary greatly depending on which hospital and caregiver they use (Arnold 2014, Arnold January 9 2013).

Childbirth Connection, a leading consumer education site, points out:

Research suggests that the same woman might have a c-section at one hospital but a vaginal birth if she gave birth at another, just because of the different policies and practices of those hospitals. One of the most effective ways to lower your chance of having a c-section is to have your baby in a setting with a low c-section rate.

Yet it is not always easy to find out the cesarean rates of local hospitals in some areas. For example, the health departments of Missouri, South Carolina, and Washington D.C. do not make hospital-level cesarean rates available to consumers.

Hospitals remain largely unaccountable for high cesarean rates, although we are beginning to see marginal progress in some places towards more accountability (Gentry 2014 and Dekker 2014). In the meantime, however, thousands of women are undergoing cesareans, many of which might be preventable with changes in clinical practices (Boyle 2013).

And even when a cesarean is truly necessary, there can be large discrepancies in complications afterwards between hospitals (Alonso-Zaldivar 2014). It’s not just about how many cesareans are done, but also about which hospitals have the best outcomes when a cesarean is done. Without more information, how is a woman to know which hospital to choose?

Bottom line, more transparency and accountability are needed. As the lead author of the study states:

Women deserve evidence-based, consistent, high-quality maternity care, regardless of the hospital where they give birth…and these results indicate that we have a long way to go toward reaching this goal in the U.S.

*To search for hospital-level cesarean rates in your area, see www.cesareanrates.com or the 2014 Consumer Reports article (subscription required) rating hospitals in 22 states.

Do you ever encourage your students and clients to look at the cesarean rates (and rates of other interventions which may lead to cesareans) of the hospitals they are considering birthing in.  Please share your experience in our comments section. – SM

References

Abenhaim, H. A., & Benjamin, A. (2011). Effect of prior cesarean delivery on neonatal outcomes. Journal of perinatal medicine39(3), 241-244. PMID: 21426242

Acosta, C. D., Kurinczuk, J. J., Lucas, D. N., Tuffnell, D. J., Sellers, S., & Knight, M. (2014). Severe Maternal Sepsis in the UK, 2011–2012: A National Case-Control Study. PLoS medicine11(7), e1001672. PMID: 25003759

Alonso-Zaldivar, R (2014, August 27). Study: Wide hospital quality gap on maternity care. Retrieved from http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140827/GJLIFESTYLES/140809539/0/SEARCH.

Arcia, A (2013, February 3). What is practice variation in obstetrics and why should I care? Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2013/2/3/what-is-practice-variation-in-obstetrics-and-why-should-i-ca.html.

Arnold, J (2012, August 22). Practice variation in New Jersey: 27 miles and 28 percentage points. Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2012/8/22/practice-variation-in-new-jersey-27-miles-and-28-percentage.html.

Arnold, J (2013, January 9). Practice variation in East Los Angeles cesarean rates. Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2013/1/9/practice-variation-in-east-los-angeles-cesarean-rates.html.

Arnold, J (2013, January 7). Practice variation in West Virginia: 60 miles and 54 percentage points. Retireved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2013/1/7/practice-variation-in-west-virginia-60-miles-and-54-percenta.html.

Arnold, J (2014, March 13). Three miles/Cinco Kilometros. Retrieved from http://www.cesareanrates.com/blog/2014/3/13/three-miles-cinco-kilometros.html.

Boyle, A., Reddy, U. M., Landy, H. J., Huang, C. C., Driggers, R. W., & Laughon, S. K. (2013). Primary cesarean delivery in the United States. Obstetrics & Gynecology122(1), 33-40. PMID: 23743454

Cáceres IA, Arcaya M, Declercq E, Belanoff CM, Janakiraman V, Dohen B, Ecker J, Smith LA, Subramanian SV (2013). Hospital differences in cesarean deliveries in Massachusetts (US) 2004-2006: the case against case-mix artifact. PLOS One, 8(3):e57817. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057817. PMID:23526952

Clark SL, Belfort MA, Hankins GD, Meyers JA, Houser FM (2007). Variation in the rates of operative delivery in the United States. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 196(6):526.e1-526.e5.  PMID: 17547880

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 gynecology,210(3), 179-193. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2014.01.026. PMID:24565430

Declercq, E., Menacker, F., & MacDorman, M. (2006). Maternal risk profiles and the primary cesarean rate in the United States, 1991–2002. American journal of public health, 96(5), 867. PMID: 16571712

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DePoint, M (2014, October 22). Maternal diagnoses doesn’t explain variation in cesarean rates across US hospitals. University of Minnesota, School of Public Health. Retrieved from http://sph.umn.edu/maternal-diagnoses-doesnt-explain-variation-cesarean-rates-across-us-hospitals/.

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Kolås, T., Saugstad, O. D., Daltveit, A. K., Nilsen, S. T., & Øian, P. (2006). Planned cesarean versus planned vaginal delivery at term: comparison of newborn infant outcomes. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology,195(6), 1538-1543. PMID: 16846577

Kozhimannil KB, Arcaya MC, Subramanian SV (2014). Maternal clinical diagnoses and hospital variation in the risk of cesarean delivery: Analyses of a national US hospital discharge database.  PLoS medicine, 11(10):e1001745. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001745. PMID: 25333943

Liu, S., Liston, R. M., Joseph, K. S., Heaman, M., Sauve, R., & Kramer, M. S. (2007). Maternal mortality and severe morbidity associated with low-risk planned cesarean delivery versus planned vaginal delivery at term. Canadian medical association journal176(4), 455-460. PMID: 17296957

Oganowski, K (2010, January 13). The C-section blame game: I’ve reached my boiling point. Retrieved from http://birthingbeautifulideas.com/?p=1245.

Pallasmaa, N., Ekblad, U., AITOKALLIO‐TALLBERG, A. N. S. A., Uotila, J., Raudaskoski, T., ULANDER, V., & Hurme, S. (2010). Cesarean delivery in Finland: maternal complications and obstetric risk factors. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica89(7), 896-902. PMID: 20583935

Phend, C (2013, March 5). C-Section rates vary widely between hospitals, study finds. MedPage Today. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/section-rates-vary-widely-hospitals-study-finds/story?id=18656847.

Silver, R. M. (2012, October). Implications of the first cesarean: perinatal and future reproductive health and subsequent cesareans, placentation issues, uterine rupture risk, morbidity, and mortality. In Seminars in perinatology (Vol. 36, No. 5, pp. 315-323). WB Saunders. PMID: 23009962

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A version of this post originally appeared on www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com

About Pam Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pam Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 17 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.

 

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Medical Interventions, New Research, 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.

Conclusion

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 

References

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 , , , , , , ,