Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

NICHD Seeking Beta Testers for PregSource Data Collection Tool

November 24th, 2015 by avatar

Become a PregSource Beta TesterLamaze International frequently collaborates with stakeholders, researchers and other organizations who share an interest in maternal child health and improving maternity care for families both in the USA and internationally.  As part of this collaboration, Lamaze International would like to ask for your help in recruiting pregnant people, people who were pregnant in the past year or even those who are thinking of becoming pregnant to participate as beta testers before the PregSource data collection tool is launched to the public.

The objective of PregSource: Crowdsourcing to Understand Pregnancy (PregSource) is to better understand the range of physical and emotional experiences and alterations in behavior that women have during pregnancy and after giving birth, the impact of these experiences on women’s lives, and the perinatal challenges encountered by special sub-populations of women.

To advance these efforts, here is a some wording that you can use to invite class members, clients and patients to participate in the PregSource beta testing.  You are free to use this letter as is, or modify to suite your needs.  This would be a great news tidbit to include in your regular e-news, social media postings and share with your classes.

The information obtained from this study will be helpful in improving prenatal care for women.  Help Lamaze International and their research partners to successfully test this program.  Your effort is greatly appreciated.

Sample Letter

Lamaze International is partnering with Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, on a project called PregSource. PregSource is a crowdsourcing research effort that aims to improve understanding of the range of physical and emotional experiences that women have during pregnancy and after giving birth.

Because PregSource relies on crowdsourcing, we will be gathering information directly from pregnant women themselves, asking them to enter information about their pregnancies and the health of their babies into online questionnaires. Women who use PregSource can view how their responses compare to other PregSource participants, print or email reports to share with their health care team, and receive information from trusted sources on pregnancy-related issues.

PregSource is currently looking for beta testers to help ensure that the online platform is appropriate and that it is working correctly. If you or someone you know is pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, or were pregnant in the last year—we want YOU! Your assistance is critical to ensuring that PregSource can meet its goals. Please note that for the pregnant beta testers, we will need to verify some of the information using a copy of their medical records. We are committed to keeping all personal information secure and will destroy the medical record as soon as we have verified the information.

 If you are interested, please send your name, stage of pregnancy (or if already delivered) and email address to the NICHD at PregSource@nih.gov

We value your participation and your interest in helping us launch PregSource.

Childbirth Education, Lamaze International, Research, Research Opportunities , , ,

Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part Two: The Forgotten Mothers

November 10th, 2015 by avatar

By Pamela Vireday

“CBAC mothers have powerful lessons to teach, if you are willing and able to hear us.”  — Melek Speros

CBAC part 2We continue our current series on Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, written by Pamela Vireday, who is an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility.  In this series, Pamela examines the topic of women who experience a Cesarean Birth after a Cesarean. This is when families are planning for a vaginal birth after a prior cesarean, but the birth does not go as planned.  The experiences of women who have a CBAC are often negated and their emotional and physical well-being given short-shrift by both professionals and their social community of friends and family.  The research on this topic is slim and begs for exploration by qualified investigators.  Last week, Pamela discussed the unique grief that CBAC women may experience. Today, Pamela examines the limited research available and part three (on Thursday) will provide information on how to support CBAC women in the absence of published research.  We will also conclude the series with a useful resource list to share with the families you may work with who find themselves in this situation.  You can also read a companion piece of Pamela’s own personal story, “Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, 18 Years Later” on her own website.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.


In Part One of the series – Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen, we discussed how women who work for a VBAC but end up with a cesarean have a unique grief that is different from that of a mother who has a primary cesarean or who chooses to have a repeat cesarean.

There is a pressing need for better support for CBAC mothers, but often birth professionals and family members have no idea how to go about offering this support. Does research have any insight on improving CBAC support to these women?

CBAC Research

Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on CBACs. Most VBAC-related research deals with VBAC rates, complications, cost-effectiveness, or the woman’s decision-making process. Women who choose VBAC but don’t end up with one are largely ignored in academic studies.

However, there are a few studies with implications for the CBAC mother, including those that address physical recovery and a few that address emotional recovery.

Physical Recovery

Most CBAC research focuses on physical morbidity, which can certainly have an influence on how a woman feels after a CBAC.

Although most CBAC mothers recover just fine, women who have a trial of labor cesarean do have higher rates of infectious morbidity, postpartum hemorrhage, hysterectomy, blood transfusions, and neonatal morbidities (El-Sayed 2007, Hibbard 2001, Durnwald and Mercer 2004).

One study found that 2.1% of women with a trial of labor experienced major maternal morbidity (Scifres 2011). How much more complicated is emotional recovery if the mother is also dealing with the aftermath of a serious infection, a sick baby, surgical injuries to nearby organs, anemia from a major hemorrhage, or heaven forbid, a uterine rupture, hysterectomy, or stillbirth?

The lesson here is that some mothers will be dealing not only with the disappointment of CBAC, but also with significant physical fallout afterwards. This can greatly complicate emotional processing, but sadly, these are often the mothers who receive the least emotional support afterwards. It’s as if their complications have made them toxic to the birth community because their experiences represent the rare worst-case scenarios no one wants to acknowledge.

The first step in helping a CBAC mother is to help her focus on her physical recovery, especially if there have been complications, even as you help her explore her emotions around the CBAC.

Emotional Recovery

There is only a small amount of research available on the emotional impact of CBACs. How do women feel about the CBAC experience? Do they regret having tried for a VBAC? Would they want to try again? What can be done to help women process the experience emotionally?

One study surveyed CBAC mothers.(Chigbu 2007) Not surprisingly, they found CBAC mothers, particularly those with no previous vaginal birth experience, often had feelings of:

  • Dashed expectations
  • Inadequacy as a mother
  • Frustration of experiencing the pain of both labor and surgery

Some women experience long-lasting trauma from birth. Although many people have written about Post-Traumatic Stress in childbirth, it is unclear from the research what the most effective approach is for dealing with PTSD in birth.

Some research indicates that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment (EMDR) can be helpful (Sandström 2008, Stramrood 2012). However, research trials have been extremely small and limited in the childbirth field.

A recent Cochrane review (Bastos, 2015) concluded that there was little high-quality evidence for or against using debriefing interventions to prevent psychological trauma after childbirth. Still, many women find counseling helpful after a traumatic birth, and EMDR helpful if flashbacks are frequent or intrusive.

From anecdotal evidence, anger is a common theme among some CBAC mothers. They may be furious with care providers who let them down, with the seemingly random nature of birth fortunes, or with their bodies for “not working right”:

It was very important to me that someone recognize and validate my anger. I was SO FREAKING ANGRY!!!!! And I needed to hear, “You have every right to your anger!”    – Jer 

This kind of anger is uncomfortable for birth professionals to hear. We want women to have happy endings and just be enthralled with their babies. But denying anger doesn’t make it go away; it just makes it burrow down more destructively. Helping a mother speak her anger without taking it personally vents it and takes away some of its toxicity so that healing can start to take place.

Many CBAC mothers deal with a strong sense of shame and failure, of feeling broken. Health care providers make this worse when they blame women by telling them their pelvises are “too narrow,” their cervix is “horrible,” or that they have “too much soft tissue” around their vaginas. Health care providers must be careful in issuing judgments such as these because many women told these things have gone on to have vaginal births. More often it’s a case of “this baby, this birth, this time” didn’t work, not that the woman’s body is defective.

Some CBAC mothers obsess over the “what-ifs” of birth decisions or spend a lot of time analyzing what went wrong. This can be a way of asserting a sense of control over what feels uncontrollable. Analysis can sometimes be useful, but it also can lead to a never-ending rabbit hole of self-blame. Sometimes we just don’t know why birth turns out the way it does, and it can help when health care providers and birth professionals share this.

“Pregnancy/childbirth is one of the most unfair endeavors I’ve encountered. Realizing that has set me free in a way. If something as commonplace as childbirth has so many variations even despite what is actively chosen/done, then how can anything else in our lives go the way we want if we just. work. hard. enough. Life isn’t fair. Childbirth, the ease for some, the struggle for others, just isn’t fair. And that’s been liberating for me.”  – L  

Common Recovery Arcs

Recovery from a CBAC can be an emotional roller-coaster. Many women experience ambivalent feelings and these feelings can change considerably over time.

Immediately after a CBAC, some women are so traumatized that they need to process it immediately. Yet the people around them may feel threatened by any negative feelings around the birth; they don’t understand that women can love their babies but still feel upset about how the baby arrived.

Some CBAC women find a place of temporary peace about the experience. They may be reconciled to its necessity, or may simply need to focus first on the baby and put aside any other feelings. It may only be later that more ambivalent feelings rise up and must be dealt with.

Sometimes right after the birth, women wish they had just chosen a planned repeat cesarean. However, with time, this feeling changes for many CBAC women. One study found that, while women were disappointed at not having a VBAC, 92% of CBAC women “were pleased that they had attempted a vaginal birth” (Cleary-Goldman, 2005). The authors concluded that “Although the most satisfied patients were those who succeeded at vaginal birth, most women valued the opportunity to attempt a vaginal birth regardless of outcome.”

This result was also found by Phillips (2009). Indeed, Chigbu (2007) noted, “This survey revealed that most women still would prefer to be delivered vaginally after 2 previous cesarean deliveries.”

What few surveys have been done show the emotional impact a CBAC can have, but the topic is glaringly understudied. More research is urgently needed on the experiences of CBAC mothers and what can be done to help support them.

In the absence of research to guide us, we must trust what CBAC women tell us they need. More on that in Part Three of the series on Thursday.


Bastos MH, Furuta M, Small R, McKenzie-McHarg K, Bick D. Debriefing interventions for the prevention of psychological trauma in women following childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 10;4:CD007194. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007194.pub2. PMID: 25858181

Chigbu CO, Enwereji JO, Ikeme AC.  Women’s experiences following failed vaginal birth after cesarean delivery. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2007 Nov;99(2):113-6.   PMID: 17662288

Cleary-Goldman J, Cornelisse K, Simpson LL, Robinson JN. Previous cesarean delivery: understanding and satisfaction with mode of delivery in a subsequent pregnancy in patients participating in a formal vaginal birth after cesarean counseling program.  Am J Perinatol. 2005 May;22(4):217-21.  PMID:15906216

Durnwald C and Mercer B.  Vaginal birth after Cesarean delivery: predicting success, risks of failure. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med 2004 Jun;15(6):388-93.  PMID:15280110

El-Sayed YY, Watkins MM, Fix M, Druzin ML, Pullen KKM, Caughey AB.  Perinatal outcomes after successful and failed trials of labor after cesarean delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2007 Jun;196(6):583.e1-5; discussion 583.e5.  PMID: 17547905

Hibbard JU, Ismail MA, Wang Y, Te C, Karrison T, Ismail MA. Failed vaginal birth after a cesarean section: how risky is it? I. Maternal morbidity.  American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  2001 Jun;184(7):1365-71; discussion 1371-3.  PMID: 11408854.

Phillips E, McGrath P, Vaughan G.  ‘I wanted desperately to have a natural birth’: Mothers’ insights on Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC).  Contemporary Nurse 2009 Dec-2010 Jan:34(1):77-84. PMID: 20230174

Sandström M, Wiberg B, Wikman M, Willman AK, Högberg U. A pilot study of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing treatment (EMDR) for post-traumatic stress after childbirth. Midwifery. 2008 Mar;24(1):62-73. Epub 2007 Jan 12. PMID: 17223232

Scifres CM, Rohn A, Odibo A, Stamilio D, Macones GA.  Predicting significant maternal morbidity in women attempting vaginal birth after cesarean section.  Am J Perinatol 2011 Mar;28(3):181-6. PMID:  20842616

Stramrood CA, van der Velde J, Doornbos B, Marieke Paarlberg K, Weijmar Schultz WC, van Pampus MG. The patient observer: eye movement  desensitization and reprocessing for the treatment of posttraumaticstress following childbirth. Birth. 2012 Mar;39(1):70-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536X.2011.00517.x. Epub 2011 Dec 19. PMID: 22369608

About Pamela Vireday

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

Pamela 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 20 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Research, Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn't Happen , , , , , , ,

Time for ACOG and ASA to Change Their Guidelines! Eating and Drinking in Labor Should Not Be Restricted

October 27th, 2015 by avatar

“…The problem for anesthesiologists is that our practice guidelines on obstetric anesthesia are strongly worded, and state that women can not eat during labor. We can’t ethically design a large enough study to answer this question, so we will have to wait for expert opinion to change.” – Paloma Toledo, MD

Screenshot 2015-10-26 17.04.39Social media was all abuzz yesterday about information coming out of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) conference currently being held in San Diego, CA. Headlines everywhere screamed “Eating During Labor May Not Be So Bad, Study Suggests,” “Light Meal During Labor May Be Safe for Most Women,” and “Eating During Labor Is Actually Fine For Most Women.”  People chortled over the good news and bumped virtual fists over the internet celebrating this information.

The ASA released a press release highlighting a poster being presented at the ASA conference by two Memorial University medical students, Christopher Harty and Erin Sprout. Memorial University is located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. When a professional conference is being held, several press releases are published every day to advise both professionals and the public about news and information related to the conference. This was one of many released yesterday.

The student researchers suggested in their poster presentation that it may be time for a policy change. Their research indicated that, according to the ASA database, there has only been one case of aspiration during labor and delivery in the period between 2005 and 2013. That aspiration situation occurred in a woman with several other obstetrical complications. “…aspiration today is almost nonexistent, especially in healthy patients,” the researchers stated. The research was extensive – examining 385 studies published since 1990. Much of the research available supported the findings in the poster presentation/study.

The current policy of the ASA on oral intake in labor is that laboring women should avoid solid food in labor. You can read the ASA’s most current guidelines, published in 2007: Practice Guidelines for Obstetric Anesthesia An Updated Report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia.  The American College of Nurse Midwives recommends “that women at low risk for pulmonary aspiration be permitted self-determined intake according to guidelines established by the practice setting.” They also conclude “drinking and eating during labor can provide women with the energy they need and should not be routinely restricted.”  American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends no solid food for laboring women and refers to the ASA guidelines.

I connected with Paloma Toledo, MD, an obstetrical anesthesiologist who is attending the ASA conference in San Diego to ask her what her thoughts were on this new research. “General anesthesia is becoming increasingly rare, so fewer women are at risk for aspiration, since most women will have neuraxial anesthesia for unplanned cesarean deliveries. The question is, is eating in labor unsafe? They do allow a light meal in the UK, studies have shown that eating does not adversely affect labor outcomes, and in the CEMACE data, despite allowing women to eat in the UK, there have not been deaths related to aspiration. I think a lot of women want to move away from the medicalized childbirth and have a more natural experience. Women want to eat, and I believe the midwife community has been encouraging eating in labor. The problem for anesthesiologists is that our practice guidelines on obstetric anesthesia are strongly worded, and state that women can not eat during labor. We can’t ethically design a large enough study to answer this question, so we will have to wait for expert opinion to change.”

Lamaze International released an infographic in July, 2014 covering this very topic. “No Food, No Drink During Labor? No Way!” and I covered this in a Science & Sensibility post sharing more details.  You can find all the useful infographics available for downloading, sharing and printing here.  Additionally, the fourth Healthy Birth Practice speaks to avoiding routine interventions that are not medically necessary, and it has long been clear that restricting food and drink in labor is certainly an intervention that should not be imposed.

It is important for birth professionals to recognize what the American Society for Anesthesiologists’ press release is and what it is not. We must not overstate the information that they have shared. Please be aware that this is not a policy change.

Hopefully, this will be a call to action by the ASA to examine the contemporary research and determine that that their existing guidelines are outdated and do not serve laboring and birthing people well, nor reflect current research.

Childbirth educators and others can continue to share what the evidence says about the safety and benefit of oral nutrition during labor and encourage families to request best practice from their healthcare providers and if that is not possible, to consider changing to a provider who can support evidence based care.


American College of Nurse-Midwives, (2008). Providing Oral Nutrition to Women in Labor.Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health53(3), 276-283.

American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia. (2007). Practice guidelines for obstetric anesthesia: an updated report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Obstetric Anesthesia.Anesthesiology106(4), 843.

Committee on Obstetric Practice. (2009). ACOG Committee Opinion No. 441: Oral intake during labor. Obstetrics and gynecology114(3), 714.

Singata M, Tranmer J, Gyte GML. Restricting oral fluid and food intake during labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD003930. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003930.pub3.

Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Medical Interventions, Research , , , , , , , ,

The Numbers Are In – Good News on Key Birth Statistics, But Work Still to Be Done

October 13th, 2015 by avatar

the numbers are inLast week, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released 2014 information from the National Vital Statistics System, which works collaboratively with the NCHS.  This information comes from birth certificates and captures all births that have occurred in the United States during the reporting period.

There was definitely some good news amongst the mammoth report. Here are some highlights:

General Fertility Rate

The general fertility rate (GFR- number of births/1,000 women) increased to 62.9 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44..  This increase is the first increase since 2007.  Birth rates often decrease during periods of national financial instability.  Possibly, people are feeling more positive about the economy and their own financial security. While the increase from 2013 to 2014  was only 1%, things may be turning around as it has been an eight year streak of consecutive decreases.  it should be noted that non-Hispanic white women and Asian Pacific Islanders both had an increase in the GFR, the rate remained unchanged for non-Hispanic black women.  The fertility rates of Hispanic and American Indian or Alaskan Native women both hit historic lows.

Teen Birth Rates

The birth rates amongst teens aged 15-19 declined to historic lows for all teens as well as for each race and Hispanic origin group.  The birth rate for teens aged 15-19 dropped 9% from 2013 to 2014.   It was 24.2 per 1,000 females aged 15-19.  Comparing the 2014 rate to 2007, the rate has dropped 42%!

Cesarean Rates

The cesarean birth rate was 2014 was 32.2%, down from 32.7% in 2013.  The 2014 cesarean birth rate is down 2% from the high of 32.9 in 2009. Of significance – the cesarean delivery rates for non-Hispanic black, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islanders declined for the first time since 1996.  These groups have had 18 consecutive years of increasing cesarean birth rates.  Non-Hispanic white women have consistently had the larger declines.

Preterm Birth Rates

The number of babies born before 37 completed weeks of gestation declined again to 9.57% of all births.  Since 2007, the percentage of preterm babies is down 8% since 2007.  In 2014, non-Hispanic black infants were about 50% more likely to be born preterm than non-Hispanic white, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander infants.  Many campaigns, such a “Go the Full 40” (AWHONN) and “A Healthy Baby Is Worth the Wait” (March of Dimes) and others by additional organizations have been effective at reducing the number of non-medically necessary inductions before 39 weeks.

If you are interested in all the data – or even accessing the raw data for your own analysis, head over to the NCHS/CDC Vital Statistics website to download the reports or databases of your choice.

Leapfrog Group Releases Hospital Cesarean Rates

© Leapfrog Group

© Leapfrog Group

Additionally, last week, The Leapfrog Group – a nonprofit national watchdog group whose mission is to imporove the safety, quality and affordability of health care by a) supporting informed health care decisions by those who use and pay for health care; and, b) promoting high-value health care through incentives and rewards, released a national cesarean rate by hospital report.  This report, readily available to consumers, includes information on 48 states and Washington DC.  You can read the full press release here.

1122 hospitals voluntarily responded to the 2015 Leapfrog Hospital Survey.  Upon analysis, it was determined tht over 60% of reporting hospitals had excessive rates of cesarean sections.  The Leapfrog Cesarean Report collaborated with Childbirth Connection to help explain the information contained in the report.

The report contains the NTSV cesarean rates for the 1122 hospitals.  NTSV refers to a first time (nulliparous) pregnancy, that is full term (37th week or later) and there is one fetus (singleton) in the vertex (head down) position.  The NTSV cesarean section rate is recognized as being directly associated with quality improvement activities that are being implemented to reduce the number of unnecessary cesareans.

The cesarean section target rate for NTSV population that the Leapfrog Group adopted is 23.9% based on a proposal by the HealthyPeople.gov’s 2020 initiative, which seeks to improve the health and well-being of women, infants, children and families by the year 2020. It is important to realize that this NTSV rate is not the overall cesarean rate, which is much higher as it includes all births, not just those NTSV births.

“This is really about how well we, as doctors, nurses, midwives, and hospitals, support labor. Hospital staff that support labor appropriately and are sensitive to families’ birth plans are shown to have lower C-section rates overall. If we want to improve this rate across the board, then hospitals must hold themselves to this standard to ensure safe short- and long-term outcomes for both mom and baby.” Elliott Main, M.D., chair of Leapfrog’s Maternity Care Expert Panel and medical director of Stanford’s California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative.

Utah had the lowest number of NTSV cesareans at 18.3%.  Kentucky was last with an NTSV cesarean rate of 35.3%.  (Not all states had sufficient hospitals reporting data to calculate their ranking)

Consumers can find out the ranking of hospitals in their state by following this link.  There is also a very helpful section in this report that includes information on how consumers can help navigate their maternity health care options to prevent unnecessary cesarean sections.

As a childbirth educator, will you share this information with the families you work with?  How will you help them to understand the importance of their choice of birth locations?  How can you help families to navigate this situation when they do not have the freedom of choice or do not have an alternative available to them?








Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK. Births in the United States, 2014. NCHS data brief, no 216. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.



what does it mean when the hospital doesn’t report

transparency acts of mass and NY

and if a firm like leapfrog can’t get them imagine how hard for average consumer


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, New Research, Newborns, Pre-term Birth, Research , , , , , , , , ,

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

September 15th, 2015 by avatar


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

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

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

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

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

JMc: What were the top findings of the study?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Melissa Cheyney and Jeanette McCulloch

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

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


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

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