Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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


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.


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 , , , , , , ,

“Pathway to a Healthy Birth” – Using Consumer Materials from Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing Report in Your Classes.

January 22nd, 2015 by avatar

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 6.01.46 PMLast week, Dr. Sarah Buckley in coordination with Childbirth Connection released a new research report, “Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies and Maternity Care.”  This massive tome gathers in one place, all the current information available on the role of various hormones on pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding and postpartum and provides information on what happens to the processes when interventions are introduced.  Well known childbirth educator Penny Simkin reviewed the report on Science & Sensibility on January 13th and then Michele Ondeck followed up with an exclusive Science & Sensibility interview with Sarah Buckley later in the week.

I think that everyone will acknowledge that this report is a remarkable and valuable piece of work, but at over 400 pages if you take into account all accompanying documents and with a bibliography consisting of over 1100 sources, the typical pregnant woman is hardly going to be keeping a copy on their bedside table for some light reading before drifting off to sleep.  Today on Science & Sensibility, I would like to highlight the resources and tools that Childbirth Connection has thoughtfully provided that are geared specifically for the consumer.  Childbirth educators, doulas and health care providers can access and share these materials with their students, clients and patients.

Pathway to a Healthy Birth – How to Help Your Hormones to Do Their Wonderful Work – consumer booklet

This 17 page colorful consumer booklet is written in easy to comprehend language and illustrated with attractive photographs that show a diverse collection of families.  Families are introduced to the hormones of birth and postpartum; oxytocin, beta-endorphins, catecholamines and endorphins.  Each hormone has a brief description and a short explanation about the role it plays in childbearing.

Families are told that events can interfere with the intended actions of the childbearing hormones.  Birthing women are encourage to think about how activities around them during their labor and birth may interfere with hormones and prevent the hormones from working effectively.

Women learn that hormones prepare her body for an efficient labor and birth.  The booklet addresses how women’s bodies are prepared by some hormones to handle the pain and stress that may accompany labor. They also find out that the hormones help prepare their babies for the newborn transition.  Infant attachment and maternal behaviors are also supported by the role of the hormones.

Follow Angela’s Birth Story

Families are introduced to “Angela” and read about her labor and birth story.  The story shows how the hormones allow the labor and birth to unfold in support of the normal processes and how small things can have a big impact and disrupt the process.  For example, The transition from home to hospital reduces the intensity and frequency of Angela’s contractions as a result of interference with the normal hormonal process.  The story is filled with lots of strategies to encourage and allow the hormonal effects as they are intended to occur.

It is easy to see from Angela’s story, that while labor and birth are hard and do involve pain, with the right support and environment, along with best practices that endorse physiological birth, Angela is able let her body do the work it is designed to do, and have a birth that is very satisfying to her.

“What’s Happening”

Accompanying the story is an easy to read guide that demonstrates exactly what the hormones of childbearing are doing at each particular point in Angela’s story.  Explanations of the role of each hormone as things unfold help families to understand how what happens in their own birth can affect their own birth story and outcome.

What Can You Do

The next portion of the brochure offers steps that families can take to help them identify providers and facilities that support physiologic birth.  Lists of questions to ask, tips for making a hospital room comfortable and private, interview questions for their doctor or midwife, how to pick a childbirth class, find a doula, how to determine if medical procedures are necessary and explore less interventive alternatives and more are all there in an easy to digest format. Included are valuable links in the final section that makes the booklet resource rich.  There are many web links to get more information about all the topics covered above.  This makes the booklet an ideal handout for a childbirth class, doula consultation or meet and greet with potential health care providers.


Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 6.03.49 PMThere is a consumer infographic that can be printed in a size suitable for hanging in a classroom or office, or provided in a smaller format that makes a great accompaniment to the above booklet.  The infographic identifies things that can keep a woman on the “pathway” to a physiological birth and what can steer her away from the pathway.  There is a lot of similarity between the points made in this infographic and the Lamaze Six Healthy Birth Practices.

One teaching idea

After discussing the role of hormones in labor and sharing the infographic as a visual aid, I can easily see how an educator can play a game with her class – making and distributing cards to class members with scenarios on them, and asking families to share if those scenarios and activities are making it easier for the mother to stay on the physiological pathway or what steers her further away and having the students identify which hormones are affected.

We have a responsibility as childbirth educators to share the important role the hormones of childbearing play in supporting healthy mothers, healthy births and healthy babies.  Using the Pathway to a Healthy Birth consumer booklet and accompanying infographic as part of your teaching materials provides a simple to understand but effective tool for conveying this information to the families you interact with.

How do you see yourself using these consumer products in your childbirth classes?  With your doula clients?  Please share your ideas for teaching, discussing and using this material and covering these topics with the families you work with.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Infant Attachment, Medical Interventions, Newborns, Research, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , ,

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


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

Dekker, R (2014, October 29). U.S. hospitals held accountable for C-section rates. Retrieved from http://www.birthbythenumbers.org/?p=1731

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/.

Gentry, C (2014, May 14). FL still C-section hotspot. Retrieved from http://health.wusf.usf.edu/post/fl-still-c-section-hotspot.

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

Visser GH (2014). Women are designed to deliver vaginally and not by Cesarean section: An obstetrician’s view. Neonatology, 107(1):8-13. PMID: 25301178

What every pregnant woman needs to know about Cesarean section (2012). Childbirth Connection. Retrieved from http://www.childbirthconnection.org/pdfs/cesareanbooklet.pdf.

What hospitals don’t want you to know about C-sections (2014, May). Consumer Reports. Retrieved from http://consumerreports.org/cro/2014/05/what-hospitals-do-not-want-you-to-know-about-c-sections/index.htm.

Wu, S., Kocherginsky, M., & Hibbard, J. U. (2005). Abnormal placentation: twenty-year analysis. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology192(5), 1458-1461. PMID: 15902137

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 , , , , ,

Ebola, Fearbola, and the Childbirth Educator

November 6th, 2014 by avatar

By Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN

ebola infographic cc cdcMany news outlets and social media venues have been disseminating information on the Ebola virus and the impact on populations both in West Africa as well as the potential impact on developed nations, including the USA.  The expectant families that you work with may have shared concerns for themselves, their children and their unborn baby with you?  How have you responded?  Did you feel like you had the information that you needed to provide them with facts to calm their concerns?  Occaisonal contributor Rebecca Dekker of EvidenceBasedBirth.com takes a look at the facts about the Ebola virus and shares resources and information applicable to pregnant and breastfeeding families that you can share. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

What’s the childbirth educator got to fear about Ebola? How do you address your students and clients’ fears?

Well, if you live in the U.S. or in any other country other than Africa—right now, there’s really not much to actually fear. That is, if you’re only worried about yourself and your own community.

The truth is, here in the U.S., there are so many more things that are more likely to kill you than Ebola—other infectious diseases such as influenza, motor vehicle accidents, smoking, secondhand smoke exposure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, even radon—an odorless, colorless gas that exists in many of our homes in the Southeast and can cause lung cancer—you name it, and it’s probably more likely to harm you than Ebola.

So why all the fear here in the U.S.? 

Ebola is a rare but deadly disease, and it has been ravaging West Africa. In developed countries, we feel fear because cases of the disease have finally reached our own shores, when in fact we should have paid attention much sooner to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

Does all this fear of Ebola do any good?

Personally, I believe that the fact that so much attention has been drawn to Ebola in developed countries may be a good thing. Fear here means that our governments have finally begun to put energy and resources into stopping the epidemic in Africa– not necessarily for humanitarian reasons– but to prevent the spread of this disease to us.

The Ebola epidemic that has affected parts of West Africa has been a fast-moving event that is only just now showing signs of slowing down. Researchers have conclusive evidence that this is the largest, most severe and most complex Ebola epidemic that we have witnessed since Ebola was first discovered nearly 40 years ago. The number of cases and deaths in this epidemic is many times larger than all past Ebola outbreaks combined.

Before the current epidemic, the Ebola virus had mostly been contained to small outbreaks in rural communities. This time, all of the capital cities in in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have experienced large outbreaks.

For the first time, Ebola has entered communities like West Point, in Monrovia, Liberia. According to the World Health Organization, “West Point is West Africa’s largest and most notorious slum: more than 70,000 people crowded together on a peninsula, with no running water, sanitation or garbage collection. The number of Ebola deaths in that slum will likely never be known, as bodies have simply been thrown into the two nearby rivers.”

Ebola has been especially hard-hitting on health care workers. Health workers on the front lines are often exposed to very infectious bodily fluids—blood, vomit, and diarrhea. The fact that health care workers can be at high risk for catching and dying from Ebola was first discovered during the very first Ebola outbreaks that took place in Zaire and Sudan in 1978. Fortunately, researchers have found that proper use and training with personal protective equipment can drastically lower health care workers’ chances of catching the virus. It’s probable that the cases we saw in the U.S. among nurses were due to improper training, inadequate protection equipment, or both.

Interestingly, Ebola actually isn’t as contagious as many other infectious diseases. Measles is an airborne disease, and it is highly contagious. Someone with measles can walk through a room, and another person can walk through that same room two hours later and catch the same measles infection. For every one person who has measles and lives among an unvaccinated population, they will—on average—infect 18 more people.



In contrast, one person with Ebola infects two other people on average, usually people who have had close, prolonged contact with that person. And the research we have on humans so far shows that Ebola is not airborne—although there have been a few primate studies that suggested otherwise (but some researchers think that maybe the monkeys were spitting on each other!)

One reason Ebola has spread so widely in West Africa – in spite of the fact that this virus is relatively hard to catch compared to other infectious diseases—is that the countries affected are extremely poor. Many people lack running water and soap in their homes.

This means that in West Africa, if one family member comes down with Ebola, there’s a good chance that others in the home will become infected, especially if patients bleed and vomit profusely. Families without modern toilets and washing machines have trouble cleaning up after patients who lose control of their bowels and produce huge amounts of diarrhea. Even burying the dead can spread Ebola in these countries, because common burial rites involve washing the dead and preparing the bodies. However, news organizations are reporting that communities have begun adhering to recommendations to refrain from traditional burial practices that expose more people to the disease.

So, it makes sense that we would fear for our fellow humans in West Africa. They are experiencing what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis. What’s even more concerning is that the virus has—at least for now—crippled an already weak health care infrastructure. This has created what the World Health Organization calls, “an emergency within an emergency.” A great example of this is that pregnant women and infants cannot receive emergency care while resources are drained by the Ebola virus epidemic.

So why are some people panicking about Ebola in the U.S., where the chances of an infection are completely remote? How do we make sense of this?

Well, when it comes to understanding how people perceive risk, and why some people are panicking about Ebola in the U.S., it may be helpful to understand some basic scientific principles behind how people perceive risk.

First of all, risk is subjective. And emotions and our mood change how we interpret risk. So facts matter less when emotions take over.

Also, many people also have an inherent lack of trust in scientists and the government– both here in the U.S. and in West Africa. People often believe their own senses and own experiences more than what scientists say. Many people don’t really understand the scientific process, and have doubts about what they hear. They confuse the research evidence on Ebola with the legal system, and they think there is lots of room for reasonable doubt about whether or not Ebola is airborne, for example.

Also, it’s really important to understand that people perceive a higher risk from rare events with really severe outcomes than they do for common outcomes with less severe or delayed outcomes.

[Does this sound familiar? Just take that sentence above and think about the concept of VBAC and repeat Cesarean. Obstetricians perceive a higher risk from rare events with really severe outcomes—such as uterine rupture—than they do for common outcomes with less severe or delayed outcomes—such as serious maternal infections after a planned repeat Cesarean, or placental abnormalities in future pregnancies].

People also tend to worry more over things that we can’t control. We can control our driving, and getting a flu vaccine, and our diet, and cigarette smoking. But we can’t control Ebola, so that scares us more.

So when we bring fear and emotion into the mix, people’s risk perceptions can end up looking like they do for some people in the U.S. right now– paranoia about Ebola.

It is unfortunate that we have overblown fears of contracting Ebola in the U.S., but if we could redirect our thoughts and channel our efforts into containing the outbreak in West Africa, this is where we will make the biggest difference.

So, in summary:

  • Ebola is a rare but deadly viral infection
  • We are currently witnessing the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
  • The chances of any one of us contracting the virus in the U.S. are extremely remote
  • Fear of Ebola will hopefully trigger people in developed countries to reach out to our fellow humans in West Africa and help them fight the virus

Items of interest related to childbirth and breastfeeding

How can we help?

If you’re worried about Ebola, don’t panic but do put your concern into action. Many health and relief organizations in West Africa are in need of resources, and you can help. This blog article has a comprehensive list of charities working in West Africa right now.

Have your clients and students asked you about Ebola?  Have they expressed concern for themselves or their baby?  Have families discussed the fear of entering the hospital to birth, due to their perceived risk of the hospital as being a potential source of exposure to the Ebola virus?  Hopefully after reading this blog post by Rebecca, you can help provide the facts.  You can also direct them to the Evidence Based Birth online class “Ebola, Fearbola: Separating Facts from Paranoia” and the About.com article “Five Things Pregnant Women Need to Know about Ebola” written by Robin E. Weiss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides a wealth of information that you can access and share with the families you work with. – SM

About Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker

Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, is the founder of Evidence Based Birth and teaches pathophysiology at a research university. She has taught continuing education classes on HIV and recently developed an in-depth class on the pathophysiology and epidemiology of Ebola (2 nursing contact hours). To learn about how Ebola is transmitted, prevented, diagnosed, and treated, check out Rebecca’s class on “Ebola or Fearbola? Separating Facts from Paranoia,” here.

Childbirth Education, Continuing Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Maternal Mortality, Maternity Care, Newborns, Research , , , ,

Updated “Birth By The Numbers” – A Valuable Tool for Childbirth Educators and Others

October 2nd, 2014 by avatar

birth by numbers header

One of the highlights of my attendance at the joint Lamaze International/DONA International Confluence in Kansas City, MO last month was the opportunity to hear Eugene Declercq, PhD, present a plenary session entitled “What Listening to Mothers Can Tell Us about the Future Challenges in US Maternity Care.”  Dr. Declercq is a professor of Maternal and Infant Health at Boston University School of Public Health. It is always a true pleasure to listen to Dr Declercq, not only for his delightful Boston accent, but also for the creative and impactful way that he shares data and facts about the state of maternity care, primarily in the United States.

declercq-headshotThis presentation was no exception and Dr. Declercq helped conference attendees to tease apart the information gleaned from the most recent Listening to Mothers III study, and look at this information  in relationship to data from the two previous Listening to Mothers studies.

Dr. Declercq reminded those of us in the audience that the most recent update of “Birth by the Numbers” was just made available on the Birth by the Numbers website.  I am a huge fan of the previous versions of this short film, that highlighted statistics on how the United States is doing on several key maternal and infant indicators in relation to other nations around the world.  The information continues to be both eye opening and sobering at the same time.  I encourage you to view the most recent edition included here.

I have seen Teri Shilling, the director of Passion for Birth, one of the Lamaze Accredited Childbirth Educator Programs, use the Birth by the Numbers video in a very clever way when training both doulas and childbirth educators.  This learning activity could also be adapted to use in your childbirth class.  Teri provides a worksheet with many of the important statistics that Dr. Declercq shares in his video, listed out.  The learner must watch the video and assign the correct definition to each relevant number listed.  It helps the viewer to really capture the significance of the different numbers, when they are closely listening for each one and then the video can be debriefed as a group.

Dr. Declercq’s website has tons of useful information that you can take into the classroom.  I subscribe to/follow the blog on his website and look forward to new articles when they come out.   Dr. Declercq also generously shares PowerPoint slides on both the “Birth by the Numbers” presentation as well as “Cesarean Birth Trends” that educators can freely use in their own classroom.

Should you be interested in maps and details on the cesarean birth trends for several other countries, including Australia, Brazil and Germany, that information is provided along with a state by state breakdown.

You can also find the updated Birth by the Numbers video on the Lamaze websites for professionals and for parents.

If you have not seen them, I also really enjoy Dr. Declercq’s  videos “The Truth about C-Sections” and “Debunking the Myth: Home Births are Dangerous” published in cooperation with Mothers Naturally

One last fun fact – did you know that Dr. Gene Declercq is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator!   Thanks Dr. Declercq for all you do to get solid data to all of us in fun and informative ways.  I appreciate it.

A challenge for you! How might you use the information in the updated video and on the Birth by the Numbers website in your childbirth class, with doula clients or with the patients you care for?  Do you have any teaching ideas that you would like to share with Science & Sensibility readers?  I would love to hear your creative ideas and I know others would too.  Sharing teaching tips helps all of us become better educators.



2014 Confluence, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Films about Childbirth, Lamaze International, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Mortality Rate, Maternal Quality Improvement, New Research, Research , , , ,