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

January 27th, 2015 by avatar

By Henci Goer

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

© J. Wasikowski, provided by Birthtastic

© J. Wasikowski, provided by Birthtastic

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

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

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

Epidural

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of the Bannister-Tyrrell (2014) Analysis

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

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

The Take-Home

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

References

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

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

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

Declercq, E., Sakala, C., Corry, M. P., & Applebaum, S. (2006). Listening to Mothers II: Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Childbirth Connection. http://childbirthconnection.org/pdfs/LTMII_report.pdf

Eriksen, L. M., Nohr, E. A., & Kjaergaard, H. (2011). Mode of delivery after epidural analgesia in a cohort of low-risk nulliparas. Birth, 38(4), 317-326. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22112332

Fitzpatrick, M., McQuillan, K., & O’Herlihy, C. (2001). Influence of persistent occiput posterior position on delivery outcome. Obstet Gynecol, 98(6), 1027-1031. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11755548?dopt=Citation

Jones, L., Othman, M., Dowswell, T., Alfirevic, Z., Gates, S., Newburn, M., . . . Neilson, J. P. (2012). Pain management for women in labour: an overview of systematic reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 3, CD009234. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22419342

Kjaergaard, H., Olsen, J., Ottesen, B., Nyberg, P., & Dykes, A. K. (2008). Obstetric risk indicators for labour dystocia in nulliparous women: a multi-centre cohort study. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, 8, 45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18837972?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

Nguyen, U. S., Rothman, K. J., Demissie, S., Jackson, D. J., Lang, J. M., & Ecker, J. L. (2010). Epidural analgesia and risks of cesarean and operative vaginal deliveries in nulliparous and multiparous women. Matern Child Health J, 14(5), 705-712. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19760498?dopt=Citation

Philipsen, T., & Jensen, N. H. (1989). Epidural block or parenteral pethidine as analgesic in labour; a randomized study concerning progress in labour and instrumental deliveries. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol, 30(1), 27-33. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2924990

Phipps, H., Hyett, J. A., Graham, K., Carseldine, W. J., Tooher, J., & de Vries, B. (2014). Is there an association between sonographically determined occipito-transverse position in the second stage of labor and operative delivery? Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 93(10), 1018-1024. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25060716

Ponkey, S. E., Cohen, A. P., Heffner, L. J., & Lieberman, E. (2003). Persistent fetal occiput posterior position: obstetric outcomes. Obstet Gynecol, 101(5 Pt 1), 915-920. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12738150?dopt=Citation

Senecal, J., Xiong, X., Fraser, W. D., & Pushing Early Or Pushing Late with Epidural study, group. (2005). Effect of fetal position on second-stage duration and labor outcome. Obstet Gynecol, 105(4), 763-772. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15802403

Sizer, A. R., & Nirmal, D. M. (2000). Occipitoposterior position: associated factors and obstetric outcome in nulliparas. Obstet Gynecol, 96(5 Pt 1), 749-752. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11042312?dopt=Citation

Thorp, J. A., Hu, D. H., Albin, R. M., McNitt, J., Meyer, B. A., Cohen, G. R., & Yeast, J. D. (1993). The effect of intrapartum epidural analgesia on nulliparous labor: a randomized, controlled, prospective trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 169(4), 851-858. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8238138?dopt=Citation

Thorp, J. A., Parisi, V. M., Boylan, P. C., & Johnston, D. A. (1989). The effect of continuous epidural analgesia on cesarean section for dystocia in nulliparous women. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 161(3), 670-675. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2782350

About Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer, award-winning medical writer and internationally known speaker, is the author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach She is the winner of the American College of Nurse-Midwives “Best Book of the Year” award. An independent scholar, she is an acknowledged expert on evidence-based maternity care.  

 

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

Prematurity Awareness Month – Test Your Knowledge on Our Quiz

November 25th, 2014 by avatar

Prematurity Awareness Month 2014As November comes to a close, you may have read or seen many articles on the topic of premature babies.  November is Prematurity Awareness Month, recognized in the United States and around the world.  Prematurity affects 15 million babies a year globally and the downstream health consequences to the babies are significant.  There is also a huge burden in terms of health care dollars that are required to treat the baby after birth and then potentially for many years beyond that.

In 2013, the national preterm birth rate fell to its lowest rate in 17 years.  This decrease helped us to meet the 2020 Healthy People Goals 7 years early, which is something to celebrate.  But overall, our prematurity rate is still nothing to be admired, as the United States has one of the highest rates amongst developed nations.

As childbirth educators, we are in a unique position to share information with families, including signs of preterm labor, risk factors and warning signs.  Having conversations in your classes can help families to recognize when something may not  be normal and encourages them to contact their doctor or midwife if they suspect they may be experiencing some of the signs of a potential preterm birth.  While no family wants to think that this might happen to them, bringing up the topic can help them to seek out help sooner.

Science & Sensibility has put together some resources that you can share with the families that you work with.  We also invite you to take the Prematurity Awareness Month Challenge Quiz, and test your knowledge on some basic facts about preterm birth.  See how well you do and compare your results with others also taking the quiz.

Resources to share

Go the Full 40 – AWHONN’s prematurity prevention campaign, including 40 reasons to go the full 40.

Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait – March of Dimes

Healthy People 2020 – Maternal, Infant & Child Health

March of Dimes Prematurity Report Card – Find your state’s grade

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Prematurity Awareness

March of Dimes Videos on Prematurity Awareness

Signs of Preterm Labor – March of Dimes Video

Preterm Labor Assessment Tool Kit for Health Professionals – March of Dimes.

How do you cover the topic of preterm labor in your classes?  What activities do you do?  What videos do you like to show?  Please share with others how you do your part to inform parents about this important topic and help to reduce prematurity in the families you work with.  Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Babies, Childbirth Education, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Newborns, Pain Management, Pre-term Birth , , , ,

Lamaze International Online Classes for Parents Expands Offerings!

November 11th, 2014 by avatar

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The Lamaze International Strategic Framework 2014-2017 that resulted from in-depth strategic planning meetings held earlier this year with the Board of Director and Lamaze Management resulted in many forward thinking, comprehensive and courageous goals, including plans to “innovate education and expand to the childbearing years” by:

  • reaching more women earlier and more frequently throughout childbearing years,
  • expanding delivery methods for online education (e.g., virtual classes, Facetime consults, and mobile apps), and
  • developing a strategy to broaden outreach at the electronic level and cultivate moms ‘up’ the ladder for more personalized services and training.

As part of fulfilling this mission, Lamaze International is pleased to announce that three online childbirth education classes are developed, online and open for business.  The first class to go live was “Safe and Healthy Birth: Six Simple Steps,” a class designed to help families prepare for birth by presenting six simple practices shown to greatly improve birth outcomes for both mothers and babies. The next two were recently added – VBAC: Informed and Ready and Breastfeeding Basics: From Birth to Back to Work.

The online classes are presented in an interactive, engaging format with unlimited access for parents, so they can complete the class(es) at their own pace. The classes are meant to be used as an important beginning point in a families’ complete prenatal education. They provide vital information, and throughout the online course, families are encouraged to find a comprehensive in person Lamaze class in order receive a thorough preparation for childbirth. Parents are informed that to be fully prepared for labor, birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum, it’s important to attend a good quality childbirth course. There are links to the “Find a Lamaze Class” portion of the parent website.

The online classes can be accessed on a computer (desktop or laptop), tablet or smartphone and learning can take place at a convenient time and place for each individual family.  There are interactive activities and discussion forums to connect with other participating families.  Fun quizzes are spaced throughout the course to help with the retention of information.

Safe and Healthy Birth: Six Simple Steps

Knowledge is power! It’s our goal to help you prepare for one of the most important days of your life – baby’s birthday! This course presents six simple practices that research has shown to greatly improve birth outcomes for both mothers and babies. These practices have been developed by Lamaze International and are based on recommendations by the World Health Organization. Lamaze has simplified the scientific facts into six healthy birth practices to make it easy for you to choose the safest care, understand your options, and steer clear of care practices or unnecessary interventions that may not be the best for you and your baby.

After completing this course, learners will be able to:

  • Discover how the Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices can simplify your labor and birth
  • Find out how your care provider and support team can make a difference
  • Learn about common medical interventions
  • Alleviate fears and learn ways to manage pain
  • Build your knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions

Breastfeeding Basics: From Birth to Back to Work

As comforting and healthy as breastfeeding can be, it is not always easy in the first few weeks while recovering from birth. If you find yourself struggling, know that hard work in the early weeks pays off as you and your baby learn to breastfeed. Having realistic expectations about how breastfeeding will go in the early weeks will help you to meet your breastfeeding goals. With the information in this class, you can prepare to get breastfeeding off to a great start and look forward to the many benefits that breastfeeding can provide to you and your baby.

After complete this class, learners will be able to:

  • Recognize the Benefits of Breastfeeding to Mother and Baby
  • Understand how milk supply works
  • Learn about the mechanics of breastfeeding, latch and positioning
  • Recognize good feeding and if baby is getting enough milk
  • Manage nighttime breastfeeding
  • Be prepared for what to do if there is a recommendation to supplement/pump
  • Prepare for returning to work

VBAC: Informed and Ready

This class will help you understand the facts, benefits, and risks of all your delivery options including a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), and set you up for the best chance of success. Prepare yourself and learn how to simplify your labor and birth by participating in this interactive online course.

After completing this class, learners will be able to:

  • Understand the risks and benefits of both VBAC and repeat cesarean birth
  • Recognize the qualities of a VBAC supportive health care provider
  • Identify a strong support team for your  VBAC birth
  • Develop and practice coping and comfort techniques that will help during your VBAC labor
  • Write a VBAC and cesarean birth plan that reflects your informed preferences

International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) has collaborated with Lamaze International to offer all ICAN members a 15% discount on the VBAC class, to help them feel better prepared as they plan for their subsequent birth after a cesarean.  To learn more about ICAN and become a member, in order to take advantage of this discount, follow the link to the “Join ICAN page.”

Additional courses planned include “Labor Pain Management: Techniques for Comfort and Coping” -scheduled to go live next month and an early pregnancy class in the early part of 2015.

Offering online classes serves to increase name recognition of the Lamaze International brand and create demand for in person Lamaze classes offered by LCCEs around the world.  Programs like this position Lamaze as the leader in childbirth education. Additionally, families that do not have Lamaze educators in their community can take advantage of the evidence based information and skills offered in the classes.  Educators can follow the class links above and sample all of the courses in a preview segment.

Breastfeeding, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Pain Management , , , , , ,

The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion: A Book Review

September 10th, 2013 by avatar

I recently had the opportunity to review a book published in January, 2013, written for birthing families. The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion; A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Birthing Plan for a Safe, Less Painful, and Successful Delivery for You and Your Baby.  This book is authored by a diverse team of experts, Amanda French, M.D., an OB/Gyn, Susan Thomforde, CNM, Jeanne Faulkner, RN and Dana Rousmaniere, author of pregnancy and birth topics. I wanted to share my review with Science & Sensibility readers so you can consider if you want to add this book to your recommended reading list for expecting families. The book is available on Amazon for 14.29 and a Kindle version is available as well.

This book is marketed as a large 8 1/2 by 11 inch paperback with an attractive cover.  Inside is easy to read print, a pleasant amount of white space on semi-glossy paper, along with full color photographs and illustrations.  There are some beautiful photographs in there, clearly taken by talented photographers, but some of the photos seemed too unnatural, women posed in the perfect position, wearing make-up with hair just so.  The pictures are all completely modest, with the exception of just one woman in a birth tub, which surprised me in a book about birth.  In my experience, birth is a bit more “gritty” than represented by the pictures chosen for this book.  I really appreciated the diversity of images of the women and their families, women of color and their families are well represented throughout. I also appreciated the choice of language, women have partners and those partners can be men or women.

Who is this book for?

This book for is for women who are still deciding on a birth along the spectrum of options, from a home birth to a planned cesarean. It also makes sense for women who are not quite sure what type of birth they want; they can read about all the choices as they settle on what feels good to themselves and their families.  The book is written in easy to understand language, and when medical vocabulary is introduced, a definition is provided so that readers can be clearly understand what is being discussed.  The book is best used for determining what type of birth a woman is interested in having.  If the mother has already determined where and how she would like to birth,  then this book, which is in large part a comparison of the different options, would be less useful.

Jeanne Faulkner, RN

What will families find inside?

The book starts off by asking women to imagine their perfect birth, encouraging them to hold this in their minds, but to also remember that birth requires flexibility as things can change during a pregnancy or labor that will require a deviation from what a mother was planning.  A brief but accurate overview of provider types (and a good list of questions to ask providers to determine who is right for each mother) and childbirth education options are covered, and states Lamaze includes a “good, comprehensive overview of childbirth.”  The chapters are then divided into options by birth location as well as pain medication choices, and then goes on to cover induction, planned and unplanned cesarean. Natural coping techniques and pharmacological pain medication options are covered in a chapter toward the end, along with a guideline for writing a birth plan.

“Unmedicated Vaginal Birth at Home” or “Epidural, Vaginal Birth in the Hospital” are some of the chapter titles and for each section the authors take the time to explain what this option is, why it may or may not be right for any particular woman (in the case of home birth, why a woman  might risk out of this option prenatally or in labor), the pros and cons of each option and how to best prepare if this is the choice a woman has made.  Throughout the book, the authors take care to state that women should be flexible and things may change. Desiring an epidural but not having time for one is a possibility that women need to consider.  I really appreciate this gentle reminder throughout the book, as I too believe that being flexible and being able to deviate from what a woman originally planned will help as the labor unfolds.

For each type of birth, women are given suggestions to help them achieve the birth they want and are encouraged to have a variety of coping techniques lined up for dealing with labor pain if they are choosing to go unmedicated.  Realistic and useful advice is given, even when the birth is highly managed, so that the mother and her partner can have a positive experience.

Amanda French, M.D.

What families won’t find inside?

This is not a book about pregnancy, breastfeeding, postpartum care or newborn care and it doesn’t claim to be.  This is a book about birth and the choices surrounding birth.  Families who want to read about prenatal testing, or learn about breastfeeding techniques will want to have other books in their collection that cover those topics.  While this book does a nice job covering the different options, birth locations and provider choices available to them,  it does so in a very matter of fact way.  There is not a lot of “rah-rah you can do it” language or encouragement for women to stretch for a low intervention option.  On one hand, it is nice to have the facts. On the other hand, evidence shows that for normal, low risk women, the less interventions the better for both mother and baby.  I am not sure that parents will walk away with that message after reading this book.

Would I recommend this book?

While providing a nice general overview of birth choices, I felt like there were several times that the authors wrote that women should trust their care provider’s expert recommendations versus becoming more informed and discussing all options, including the right to informed refusal.

For example, in the small section on episiotomy, it reads “How do I decide whether I want an episiotomy or a tear?  The short answer is this: You don’t make that decision, your provider does…If your provider decides an episiotomy is absolutely necessary, for example, to get the baby out more quickly, then so be it.  Your provider makes that decision based on the medical situation at hand.”  No mention of informing the woman, seeking consent or alternatives to cutting, for example changing position or waiting.

One of the authors, Dr. Amanda French also states several times that she stands with ACOG’s statement on homebirth (which is that birth should occur in a hospital or birth center attached to a hospital) and does not believe that having a baby at home is safe. She does acknowledge a woman’s right to make the decision on birth location for herself.  In reading the chapter on home birth, this bias does come through.

Dana Rousmaniere

In my opinion, the book is written through the health care provider’s lens.  Doulas are promoted- but readers are warned to watch out for those doulas who may have a “strong personal agenda” and parents are encouraged to work with experienced doulas, instead of doulas-in-training or those just starting out.  Birthing women are asked to let the anesthesiologist attempt two epidural placements, (if the first one does not work due to the mother having a “challenging back” or “not being in the ideal position”) before asking for another doctor to try.  Women are told to follow the recommendations of health staff in several places in the book.  Families are told that their newborn will have antibiotic eye ointment and hepatitis B vaccines administered.

In the chapter on VBACs, women are told that a con of VBAC-ing is that “Vaginal delivery can result in tears in the vagina, which can be repaired immediately after delivery but may result in pain for several weeks after birth.”  Isn’t this a risk of any vaginal delivery?  For the families that I work with, I try to have mothers (and their partners) view themselves as a more equal partner in the decisions that are being made during labor and birth.

In summary

Overall, this book does a fair job of representing what to expect in eight different labor and birth scenarios, who might be a good candidate for each option and how best to be prepared.  Women can read and get assistance in choosing what might be the best option for them. Information on coping techniques and even pictures of good labor positions to try are well organized for easy reference.  For a woman who is undecided about where she wants to birth, this book will help her to understand the differences and the pros and cons of each location and type of birth, along with who attends births in each location.  For women who are have more clarity on what type of birth they want, I might make a different birth book recommendation.

Have you read this book?  Can you share your thoughts and opinion in our comments section?

 

Book Reviews, Epidural Analgesia, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, Pain Management, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does Epidural Analgesia Predispose to Persistent Occiput Posterior?

February 14th, 2013 by avatar

Photo by Patti Ramos Photography

In my January Science and Sensibility blog post, I answered the question “Can We Prevent Persistent Occiput Posterior?” but because it wasn’t relevant to the study that prompted the post, and the piece was already long, I didn’t look at the role of epidural analgesia. Let me now rectify that.

All five studies examining the relationship between epidural analgesia and persistent occiput posterior (OP) find an association between them. Three studies compared women with an epidural versus no epidural according to whether they had an OP baby at delivery and found that 4 to 10 more women per 100 having an epidural had an OP baby at delivery (Cheng, 2006; Lieberman, 2005; Sizer, 2000). The other two compared women with an OP baby at delivery according to whether they had an epidural and found that 13 and 27 more women per 100 with a persistent OP baby had an epidural (Fitzpatrick, 2001; Ponkey, 2003).

Their results, however, aren’t sufficient to convict epidurals because we can’t tell whether having an epidural led to persistent OP or more painful and prolonged OP labor led to having an epidural. Investigators in one of the five studies argued for OP labor coming first on the grounds that while epidurals were more common in women with an OP baby at delivery than in women with an OA baby at delivery (74% vs. 47%) at their institution, a rise in epidural use from 3% in 1975 to 47% in 1998 had, if anything, decreased the hospital’s overall rate of persistent OP (4% vs. 2%) (Fitzpatrick, 2001). This must mean that as epidurals became more freely available, women having difficult OP labors were more likely to opt for one. Epidurals were the result, not the cause, of persistent OP. On the other hand, we have some corroborating evidence for their guilt. For one thing, back pain is thought to be a major reason why women with OP babies are more likely to want epidurals, but it turns out that back pain isn’t unique to OP. Serial sonograms reveal that virtually identical percentages of women laboring with an OA baby report back pain (Lieberman, 2005). For another, three of the five studies took into account other factors associated with difficult labor such as labor induction, labor augmentation, and birth weight and still found that epidurals were an independent risk factor for persistent OP (Cheng, 2006; Lieberman, 2005; Sizer, 2000).

Nevertheless, evidence from observational studies isn’t strong enough to close the case. As I noted, observational studies can determine association but not causation. In addition, investigators may not be able to identify all the confounding and correlating factors that affect outcomes. For a more definitive answer, we need experimental studies. This brings us to randomized controlled trials (RCTs), in which participants are randomly allocated to one form of treatment or the other, and to meta-analysis of RCTs, in which statistical techniques are used to pool data from more than one trial.

The Cochrane systematic review of epidural versus no epidural in labor pools data from four RCTs (673 women overall) that reported on persistent OP (Anim-Somuah, 2011). Five more women per 100 assigned to the epidural group had a persistent OP baby, but meta-analysis found that the difference just missed achieving statistical significance. The risk ratio was 1.4, meaning a 40% increased risk of persistent OP in women assigned to the epidural group compared with women assigned to the no-epidural group, but the 95% confidence interval ranged from 1.0 to 2.0, meaning a 95% probability that the true value lies between no increase (ratio of 1:1) and double the risk (2.0). However, a problem with the RCTs of epidural versus no epidural is that substantial percentages of women assigned to the no-epidural group actually had epidurals, but, as is prescribed in RCT data analysis, they were kept in their original group. In two of the four trials (204 women), though, 10% or less of women assigned to the no-epidural group had epidurals. If we calculate the excess rate of persistent OP in these two trials, we find that the gap widens to 9 more women per 100 with epidurals having a persistent OP baby. We don’t know whether this difference would achieve statistical significance, but the fact that the excess is in the same range as reported in the observational studies (4 to 10 more per 100) gives confidence in its validity.

Patti Ramos Photography

We also have two studies that suggest that the timing of the epidural may matter. One, of 320 women, reports that, after controlling for age, induction of labor, and birth weight, initiating an epidural at fetal station less than zero (above the ischial spines) resulted in 16 more women having a persistent OP or occiput transverse (OT) baby compared with initiation at 0 station or greater (at or lower than the ischial spines), an excess that rose to 20 more per 100 in first time mothers (Robinson, 1996). The other study analyzed outcomes in 500 first-time mothers according to whether an epidural was administered early (at or before 5 cm dilation), late (after 5 cm dilation), or not at all (Thorp, 1991). Seventeen more women per 100 in the early group had a persistent OP or OT baby compared with women in the late-epidural group, and 12 more had a persistent OP or OT baby compared with the no-epidural group, but rates were similar in women in the late and no epidural groups.

Taken all together, we may not have absolute proof of epidural culpability in predisposing to OP, but if I were on the jury, I would vote them “guilty as charged.”

Take home: Even without certainty, the precautionary principle dictates recommending to women desiring an epidural that they use other measures to cope with labor pain until they enter active labor and until it seems clear that positioning and activities are not putting a slow labor on track.

What do you tell your clients, students and patients about the impact on fetal positioning in labor and birth?  Will having this information change what you say?  Let us know in the comments section.

References

Anim-Somuah, M., Smyth, R. M., & Jones, L. (2011). Epidural versus non-epidural or no analgesia in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(12), CD000331.

Cheng, Y. W., Shaffer, B. L., & Caughey, A. B. (2006). Associated factors and outcomes of persistent occiput posterior position: A retrospective cohort study from 1976 to 2001. Journal of Maternal Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 19(9), 563-568.

Fitzpatrick, M., McQuillan, K., & O’Herlihy, C. (2001). Influence of persistent occiput posterior position on delivery outcome. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 98(6), 1027-1031.

Lieberman, E., Davidson, K., Lee-Parritz, A., & Shearer, E. (2005). Changes in fetal position during labor and their association with epidural analgesia. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 105(5 Pt 1), 974-982.

Ponkey, S. E., Cohen, A. P., Heffner, L. J., & Lieberman, E. (2003). Persistent fetal occiput posterior position: obstetric outcomes. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 101(5 Pt 1), 915-920. 

Robinson, C. A., Macones, G. A., Roth, N. W., & Morgan, M. A. (1996). Does station of the fetal head at epidural placement affect the position of the fetal vertex at delivery? American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 175(4 Pt 1), 991-994.

Sizer, A. R., & Nirmal, D. M. (2000). Occipitoposterior position: associated factors and obstetric outcome in nulliparas. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 96(5 Pt 1), 749-752.

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. American Journal of Perinatology, 8(6), 402-410.

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