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New Research: Majority of Preeclampsia-Related Maternal Deaths Deemed Preventable

May 12th, 2015 by avatar

By Eleni Z. Tsigas

Preeclampsia Awareness Month 2015May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month and the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology highlighted some new research published by doctors and researchers at the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative that demonstrated that the majority of preeclampsia-related deaths could have been prevented.  This is significant because preeclampsia is one of the top perinatal causes of death. Today on Science & Sensibility, Preeclampsia Foundation Executive Director Eleni Z. Tsigas provides an update on this new research and important facts that birth professionals should know.  As childbirth educators, along with teaching families about normal labor and birth, we have an obligation to share information about warning signs and potential complications.  While not as much “fun” as teaching how to cope with a contraction, it is equally important.  Have you checked out the information available at the Preeclampsia Foundation‘s website?  There is a great short video, class tear sheets and even information en español.  How do you teach about preeclampsia to the families that you work with?  Let us know in the comments section. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

Research published in the April 2015 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that 60 percent of preeclampsia-related maternal deaths were deemed preventable. This large study – Pregnancy-Related Mortality in California: Causes, Characteristics, and Improvement Opportunities – analyzed U.S. pregnancy-related mortality administrative reports and medical records for each maternal death to identify the causes and contributing factors, and improve public health and clinical practices.

Over the last 20 years, a previous decline in maternal deaths has reversed and is cause for concern. The 2009 U.S. pregnancy-related mortality rate was 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, up from 7.7 per 100,000 in 1997 and above that of other high-resource countries.

One of every eight U.S. births occurs in California, resulting in more than 500,000 annual deliveries with extensive racial and ethnic diversity. With California’s large population-based sample, this study provides a unique opportunity to compare major causes of pregnancy-related mortality and identify improvement opportunities.

Preeclampsia-related maternal death deemed most preventable

Among the 207 pregnancy-related deaths from 2002 to 2005 studied in California, preeclampsia or eclampsia were identified as one of the five leading causes. The others were cardiovascular disease, hemorrhage, venous thromboembolism, and amniotic fluid embolism.

Of the five leading causes of death, preeclampsia was deemed one of the most preventable – preeclampsia-related deaths had a good-to-strong chance of preventability, estimated at 60%.

Healthcare provider factors were the most common type of contributor, especially delayed response to clinical warning signs followed by ineffective care.

Patients play important role in preventing preeclampsia-related deaths 

The leading patient factors among preeclampsia deaths were delays in seeking care (42%), presumed lack of knowledge regarding the severity of a symptom or condition (39%), and underlying medical condition (39%).

Preeclampsia deaths were most common among foreign-born Hispanic and African American women and associated with early gestational age, consistent with studies demonstrating the increased severity of early-onset preeclampsia.

These findings illustrate the need for public health interventions aimed at helping all women understand and recognize their risks and attain optimal pre-pregnancy health and weight.

It’s worth noting that since the study period, patient awareness has improved, led by several Preeclampsia Foundation education initiatives – currently preeclampsia awareness among pregnant women is 83%, according to a survey conducted last year by BabyCenter®.

The findings also underscore the need for focused approaches to improve care such as hospital-based safety bundles as well as comprehensive programs for patient education, communication, and teamwork development. Read the full report here.

Maternal health improvement initiatives underway 

As these Pregnancy-Related Mortality research findings are announced, several states have already moved forward with maternal health improvement initiatives. Recently the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC), Hospital Corporation of America, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released guidelines and quality improvement toolkits with standardized approaches to recognize and treat severe hypertension, and to increase awareness of atypical clinical presentations and patient education.

CMQCC’s Preeclampsia Toolkit incorporated the Preeclampsia Foundation’s Illustrated Symptoms Tear Pad that effectively informs women who are pregnant or recently gave birth about preeclampsia, which can strike up to six weeks after delivery. Developed by the Preeclampsia Foundation and researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the tear pad uses illustrations to describe the symptoms of preeclampsia so they are easily understandable, especially for those with poor health literacy. This toolkit is freely available online and has been downloaded by over 5,100 persons in the United States and more than 60 other countries. It is also being implemented in more than 150 California hospitals as part of the California Partnership for Maternal Safety.

In the year since implementing a Severe Maternal Morbidity Pre- and Post-Toolkit, CMQCC has noted a 34% reduction in maternal adverse outcomes. After implementing Pre- and Post-Hypertension Bundles, the rate of eclampsia has decreased by 31%.

New York joins California in distributing the tear pad throughout the state – as part of a statewide Maternal Preeclampsia Initiative, the New York State Perinatal Quality Collaborative, an initiative of the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Partnership for Patients – has adopted this patient education tool, making it available to all New York birthing facilities.

The Preeclampsia Foundation is proud to play a role in reversing the rate of maternal mortality and severe morbidity; it’s a team effort that requires the combined efforts of public health, clinical and hospital leaders and their institutions, and professional and consumer organizations.

References

Main, E. K., McCain, C. L., Morton, C. H., Holtby, S., & Lawton, E. S. (2015). Pregnancy-related mortality in California: causes, characteristics, and improvement opportunities. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 125(4), 938-947.

About Eleni Z. Tsigas

G8FK7644Eleni Z. Tsigas is the Executive Director of the Preeclampsia Foundation. Prior to this position, she served in a variety of volunteer capacities for the organization, including six years on the Board of Directors, two as its chairman. Working with dedicated volunteers, board members and professional staff, Eleni has helped lead the Foundation to its current position as a sustainable, mission-driven, results-oriented organization.

As a preeclampsia survivor herself, Eleni is a relentless champion for the improvement of patient and provider education and practices, for the catalytic role that patients can have to advance the science and status of maternal-infant health, and for the progress that can be realized by building global partnerships to improve patient outcomes.

She has served as a technical advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) and participated in the Hypertension in Pregnancy Task Force created by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to develop the national guidelines introduced in 2013, as well as a similar task force for the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC). Eleni also serves on the National Partnership for Maternal Safety initiative, the Patient Advisory Board of IMPROvED (IMproved PRegnancy Outcomes via Early Detection), Ireland, and the Technical Advisory Group and Knowledge Translation Committee for PRE-EMPT (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Eleni is frequently engaged as an expert representing the consumer perspective on preeclampsia at national and international meetings, and has been honored to deliver keynote addresses for several professional healthcare providers’ societies.

Eleni has collaborated in numerous research studies, has authored invited chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals, and is the Principal Investigator for The Preeclampsia Registry.

A veteran of public relations, she has secured media coverage about preeclampsia in national consumer magazines, as well as newspapers, radio and online. Eleni previously spent 8 years executing and managing strategic communications and public relations for technology and biotech companies with Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and for 6 years prior in the television industry.

She is married, and has had two of her three pregnancies seriously impacted by preeclampsia. 

 

Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Pre-eclampsia, Research , , , ,

Book Review: Birth Ambassadors; Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Woman-Supported Birth in America.

May 7th, 2015 by avatar

By Kim James, BA, BDT(DONA), CD(PALS), ICCE, LCCE

May is International Doula Month and Lamaze International recognizes the importance of labor support. (Note – there are both birth and postpartum doulas who work with families during the childbearing year. We are grateful for the work that they both do.)  In fact, our third Healthy Birth Practice specifically addresses doulas and support people as an effective component of safe and healthy birth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in their 2014 Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Obstetric Care Consensus Statement stated “published data indicate that one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula.”  Childbirth educators and health care providers have ample opportunity to inform parents about the benefits of a doula when they are meeting with families and patients.  

In mid-2014, sociologist Christine Morton, Ph.D. with Elayne G. Clift, MA, wrote a book, Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Woman-Supported Birth in America examining doulas from both an historical perspective as well as an assessment of the role of the doula in current American society . Kim James, LCCE and certified DONA birth doula, reviews this book and shares her perspective and take-aways with readers of this blog.

This book would make a great read for a book club book for birth professionals, and Kim generously shares some discussion questions at the end of today’s post to facilitate your discussion, should you wish to participate.  Alternately, if you have read the book, please feel free to respond in our comments section. 

Science & Sensibility and Lamaze International want to thank all the doulas who work tirelessly to support families as they birth their babies and transition to parenthood. Happy International Doula Month. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager. 

idm15 lamazeBirth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Woman-Supported Birth in America, written by Christine Morton, Ph.D. with Elayne G. Clift, MAis a thorough and compelling documentary of the history of doula support, the current dilemmas and issues facing the doula occupation, what drives doulas to pursue this work and how the work of doula support might fit into the future as the United States strains to find better ways of providing quality improvements in maternity care. For doula trainers and doulas looking to pursue this work in a professional manner, Birth Ambassadors is critical, mandatory reading. (For trainers and doulas interested in how to use this book to critically assess your work, please see the discussion questions below this article).

But what about for childbirth educators? What in it for them?

While the history is fascinating, it’s the critical sociological analysis of the current dilemmas and issues facing the doula occupation that childbirth educators’ need to thoroughly understand, especially Lamaze certified childbirth educators.

Lamaze International’s third Healthy Care Practice, ‘Bring a Loved One, Friend or Doula for Continuous Support’, outlines why continuous support is important and how a doula performs their work:

  • Continuous support can help alleviate fear and worry.
  • A doula’s intuitive sense and training mean emotional and physical needs are met with timely, individualized care.
  • Greater emotional and physical comfort may encourage the most efficient and healthy labor progress.

While most childbirth educators are aware of the intended benefits of doula care, not all are aware of the dilemmas doulas face in performing their work and the institutional and cultural issues that prevent doulas from having the greatest beneficial impact. Lamaze certified childbirth educators must have a firm understanding of these dilemmas so as not to ‘over-promise’ what the third Lamaze Healthy Care Practice is intended to deliver.

I want to highlight three dilemmas facing doulas that childbirth educators should be aware of and what they can do to educate parents who want doula-supported birth experiences:

Kim James' well read Birth  Ambassadors

Kim James’ well read Birth Ambassadors

First dilemma

The ecological fallacy of applying aggregate results of research that show doula efficacy to an individual family’s outcome. The cultural and institutional context of most US hospital births limit the doula’s efficacy, often by prohibiting truly continuous support and refusing to recognize a doula’s unique scope of practice. Childbirth educators should lead discussions with parents about what hospitals and which care providers in their areas are most and least supportive of doula care. Childbirth educators are instrumental in helping parents understand the questions they can ask during hospital tours and prenatal visits to find out if their chosen place of birth and attendant understand and support doulas attending families at births.

Second dilemma

The frequent contradiction between a doula’s personal values (often a deep belief in the optimality of the midwifery model of care, natural, drug-free childbirth or specific parenting practices) and her obligation to provide unconditional support for parents’ birth and parenting choices. Childbirth educators must help parents clarify their values around birth and parenting so that parents can find the support people who suit them best. Not every doula will be the best support for every parent.

Third dilemma

No occupation-wide standard for training or certification. The competing tensions within doula organizations between increased professionalization and maintaining low barriers to entry for all people to become doulas remain unresolved. While the majority of doulas are well-trained through recognized, long-standing organizations, some will only have received light, if any, training possibly through correspondence and online courses. Not every doula’s skill set is the same. Not every doula will practice within a scope of practice that is evidence based. Not every doula will pledge to follow a recognized code of ethics backed by an organization with an active grievance policy. Childbirth educators who make referrals to families asking for doulas should always make referrals to doulas who are well-trained, consistently receive excellent feedback from the families they serve and most importantly practice in a manner that is consistent with the evidence based third Lamaze Healthy Care Practice.

As a current Lamaze certified childbirth educator and professionally-working certified doula, I found my own experiences reflected in this book. While at times uncomfortable to confront the dilemmas and issues our occupation faces, Birth Ambassadors is well worth reading for the history and reflections for the future. It will give childbirth educators who are not currently practicing doulas good data on what the real impact of doula support means for the families that hire them.

Book club discussion questions

When Birth Ambassadors was newly released, I hosted a book club-style discussion group with several local doulas to discuss this book’s implications for our current and future work. Here are the big questions that came up for our group representing doulas who were well-established in their practices, those who were just starting out and both certified and non-certified doulas.

  • When is your personal bias stronger than your ability to offer unconditional support? (Reference: page 195).
  • Analyze this: “Doulas advocate evidence-based care for physiologic birth, yet are not trained clinically to recognize or treat women when their pregnancies and labors become non-normal”. (Reference: page 37).
  • The original purpose of the first doula organizations was to provide moral support for each other. What do we need from our organizations now? (Reference: page 90)
  • Do we have the training to be professionally non-judgmental? (Reference: page 196).
  • Doula neutrality –When do you abandon it? How do you maintain it? (Reference: page 261).
  • What are the current debates around our standard of practice and code of ethics? (Reference: page 81).
  • Outcome-based care vs emotional companionship: What are you drawn to in this work? (Reference: page 260)
  • Are you comfortable with the “outsider-within” role? Does attract or repel you? (Reference: page 36)

How do you talk about doulas in your childbirth classes?  In your midwifery or obstetrical practice?  Have you read Birth Ambassadors?  What were your big take-aways?  Have you shared Lamaze International’s “Who Says Three’s a Crowd?” infographic with the families you work with?

Note: Christine Morton is a member of Lamaze International’s Board of Directors.

About Kim James 

Kim James HeadshotKim James BA, BDT(DONA), CD(PALS), ICCE, LCCE, is an ICEA and Lamaze certified childbirth educator teaching at Parent Trust for Washington Children/Great Starts where she sits on the Education Committee. She owns and operates www.DoulaMatch.net and is a DONA International and PALS Doulas certified birth doula as well as a DONA-approved birth doula trainer working at the Simkin Center/Bastyr University. Kim also volunteers her time on the Lamaze International membership committee and serves as Washington State DONA SPAR. Her daughters are 9 and 16 years old.  Kim and her family live in Seattle, Washington.

Babies, Book Reviews, Childbirth Education, Doula Care, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Lamaze International, Newborns , , , , , ,

Celebrate International Day of the Midwife! ACOG Calls for Universal ICM Standards

May 5th, 2015 by avatar

Lamaze and Midwives IDM 2015Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility join with other partners around the world to celebrate International Day of the Midwife.  This global celebration is observed every year on May 5th and was officially recognized by the International Confederation of Midwives in 1992. (Read Judith Lothian’s report from the 2014 ICM Congress here.) This year’s theme is “The World Needs Midwives Today More Than Ever.”

Key midwifery concepts and model of care

Key midwifery concepts as defined by the International Confederation of Midwives describe the unique role that midwives have in providing care to women and families:

  • partnership with women to promote self-care and the health of mothers, infants, and families;
  • respect for human dignity and for women as persons with full human rights;
  • advocacy for women so that their voices are heard and their health care choices are respected;
  • cultural sensitivity, including working with women and health care providers to overcome those cultural practices that harm women and babies;
  • a focus on health promotion and disease prevention that views pregnancy as a normal life event;
  • advocacy for normal physiologic labour and birth to enhance best outcomes for mothers and infants.  (Fullerton, Thompson & Severino, 2011).

ACOG advocates universal standards

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeliam/

On April 20, 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) endorsed the International Confederation of Midwives education and training standards and suggested that this criteria be adopted as the minimum requirements for midwifery licensure in the United States.  ACOG “advocates for implementation of the ICM standards in every state to assure all women access to safe, qualified, highly skilled providers.” In the same document, ACOG calls for a single midwife credential.  Currently, in the USA there are certified nurse midwives (CNM), Certified Midwives (CM) and Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) and they all have different core competencies and educational requirements.  You can read the entire ACOG statement here.  This document is meant to accompany their Levels of Maternal Care statement that I wrote about in a previous blog post.  Both of these recent statements signify a recognition that families have choices about the type of health care provider they receive their maternity care from and that more and more families every year are choosing midwifery.

Five interesting facts about midwifery

  1. There are approximately 26,000 midwives in the USA.  This number includes Certified Nurse Midwives, Certified Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives.
  2. Midwives practice and catch babies in hospitals, birth centers and in families’ homes.
  3. Midwives who are educated and regulated to international standards can provide 87% of the essential care needed for women and newborns. (UNFPA, 2014)
  4. 11.3% of all babies born in the USA in 2013 were caught by midwives (Martin, Hamilton, Osterman, et al. 2015)
  5. Approximately 0.6% of all midwives in the USA are male. (Pinkerton, Schorn, 2008)

Summary

How are you celebrating International Day of the Midwife in your community and in your classes?  Have you reached out to the midwives in your community and let them know that they are appreciated?  Take a moment to do so and join Lamaze International in thanking midwives for helping families have safe and healthy  births.

References

Fullerton, J. T., Thompson, J. B., & Severino, R. (2011). The International Confederation of Midwives essential competencies for basic midwifery practice. An update study: 2009–2010. Midwifery, 27(4), 399-408.

Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK, et al. Births: Final data for 2013. National vital statistics reports; vol 64 no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.

Pilkenton, D., & Schorn, M. N. (2008). Midwifery: a career for men in nursing.Men in Nursing Journal, 3(1), 32.

UNFPA. The State of the World’s Midwifery 2014. A Universal Pathway. A Woman’s Right to Health. United Nations Population Fund, New York; 2014

Breastfeeding, Home Birth, Midwifery, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , ,

BABE Series: Cesarean Section Role Play Helps Prepare Families

April 30th, 2015 by avatar

apron and babyToday, in our monthly series “Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators” (BABE), I would like to share one of the activities that I do in my Lamaze class to help families feel prepared for a cesarean section. Most families in my classes are planning a vaginal birth, but it never hurts to be prepared should plans change.  One in three pregnant people will birth by cesarean in the USA.  April is Cesarean Awareness Month and that is why I am sharing this activity at this time.

Objectives

My objectives for this specific activity are threefold – 1) to share how the procedure is done 2) to offer different options that might be available for the family to request (skin to skin in the OR, delayed newborn procedures, etc., and 3) brainstorm the role of the support person during a cesarean and what kind of support the pregnant person will find comforting and helpful.

This role play is done in the fifth week of a seven week series. We have just covered variations in labor (induction, augmentation, EFM, AROM, pain medications, assisted second stage and more). They have heard about the hard and soft reasons for a cesarean and now I hope that they will understand the procedure and the choices and options they might have at the time.

Supplies for the activity and the setup

  • Cesarean apron
  • surgical masks
  • drape
  • soft baby
  • hair nets
  • scrubs
  • surgical clothing
  • laminated labels for each role
  • optional – IV bag, BP cuff, EKG leads, etc
up close cesarean apron

Up close of four zippers on cesarean apron

My main prop in this activity is a “cesarean apron” handmade by Kris Avery, a fellow LCCE here in Washington State. The apron has breasts, a belly button and some pubic hair painted on it, but what makes it special is a series of zippers that correspond to the different layers of a person’s body that will be cut during the cesarean procedure. Each zipper is sewn into a different layer and opens to reveal the layer underneath. The skin is represented by the apron, and then there is a layer of fat (yellow felt) that zips open, revealing the uterus (red felt). There are no muscles to “open” because as we know, the abdominal muscles are retracted and not cut. Finally, underneath the uterus, is the amniotic sac, represented by a thin white nylon material.

I ask a partner to come with me out of sight of the class and place the cesarean apron on them. All the zippers are closed. I place a soft baby doll (I use the baby from IKEA) underneath the apron with the head positioned right near the inner zipper.  Sometimes I place the baby in the breech position and plan on having the bum be removed first. When the partner is ready, we walk together back into the classroom and I ask them to lay on a table, where I have placed a pillow.

How I conduct the role play

I invite two class members to come up and hold a drape at chest level, just like it might be positioned in the OR.  I hand out laminated cards to all the other class members. Each card has the role of someone who might be in the OR during a cesarean section – surgeon, baby nurse, anesthesiologist, surgical tech, respiratory therapist, and so on.   I ask the pregnant person who is partnered with my “cesarean person” to play the role of “partner.”  I invite the partner to get into the white “moon suit” that is normally provided to family members during a cesarean.  I hand out hair nets, scrubs, face masks, surgical gowns, to all those who will be in the OR and everyone suits up.  I position all the “actors” in the appropriate spot.  Some go by a pretend “baby warmer” and others stand around the birthing person while others go where they might be in the real operating room. I talk about how hard it is to tell who is in the room and what their role is, when everyone is wearing scrubs/gowns/hats/masks and suggest that they ask people to introduce themselves.  I discuss strategies that the birthing person can use if they are temporarily separated from their support person.  I bring the support person over and seat them at the head of the OR table near the “anesthesiologist” and discuss how they cannot see over the drape for both the patient and the partner. The partner can stand up at the time of birth if they wish, or together they could ask for the drape to be dropped at that moment.  I ask the pregnant person how they are feeling as the surgery is about to begin.FullSizeRender

I walk everyone through the procedure step by step and describe what is happening.  I share what noises they might hear, and what sensations the pregnant person might “feel.”  (Tugging, pressure, pulling, but no pain.)  I try and give a sense of how long it takes for each part of the operation, (prep, incision to baby, closure)  I ask the surgeons to begin to open the zippers, and talk about each layer that they come to.  Finally the surgeons are through the amniotic sac and they reach in and remove the baby’s head through the opening. It is a somewhat tight fit and we discuss how that might benefit the baby.

The baby is delivered, shown to the parents and taken over to the “warmer” where the baby team is waiting.  I encourage partner to go over and see the baby, initiate talking to the baby and start sharing information with the birthing person – what the baby looks like, how s/he is doing, and so on.

cesarean apronWe go on to discuss how the partner can facilitate having the baby brought over to the birthing person ASAP, skin-to-skin, what might need to happen if baby is moved to the special care nursery, and more.  Throughout all of this, the class participants are role-playing through all of the likely activities and people are stepping up to help the family to have a positive experience, within the scope of their assigned role.  The surgeons close (zip up) the different layers and close the outer zipper on the skin.

I am leaving out much of the detail, as I am confident that you can fill in the activities that happen when a person is prepped, taken to the OR, has the cesarean surgery and is then taken to recover.  My hope is to have parents aware of some of the major points of the overall procedure.

Processing the activity

The class members take off the “costumes” and return to their seats.  I feel it is very important to debrief this activity.  It can be overwhelming to some. We debrief further, discussing any observations they had, how they felt as our role play was happening. I ask what are the values that are important to them and their family, if a cesarean should be needed.  A discussion also takes place about what a cesarean recovery plan might look like and how the family’s needs might change if they do not have a vaginal birth.

How is this activity received?

IMG_0116During the activity, class members are usually very engaged and creative in answering questions, acting out their “roles” and brainstorming solutions to the situations I present.  The real magic happens when we debrief.  I can see the wheels turning as families articulate what they will want and need should they have a cesarean birth.  They learn that they have a voice and can share what is important with their medical team.

Time and time again, I receive emails and and notes from class members who ended up having a cesarean. They share how “accurate” our role play was and how it helped them to understand the steps involved with their cesarean.  They were able to speak up in regards to their preferences and felt like their class preparation helped to reduce their stress and anxiety.

Summary

This activity takes time and I often wonder if I should replace it with something much shorter that covers the same topic.  But, I continue to do this role play activity because I see how it really helps families to understand how to play an active role in the birth of their baby, even if it is by cesarean section.

Other resources that I share with the class are the following links:

How might you make a “cesarean apron” that you could use for this activity?  Do you have ideas on how you could modify this activity for your classes?  What other things do you do to help your families to be prepared for a cesarean birth?  I would love to learn how you cover this important topic.  Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

 

Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Medical Interventions, Newborns, Push for Your Baby, Series: BABE - Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators , , , ,

The Healthy Birth: Dyad or Triad? Exploring Birth and the Microbiome

April 28th, 2015 by avatar

By Anne Estes, PhD, Illustrated by Cara Gibson, PhD

There has been much discussion and burgeoning research on how the mode of birth affects the microbiome of the infant (and later on the adult).  It is becoming clear that how babies are born impacts the type of bacteria that take up residence in and on our bodies. Today, I would like to welcome researcher and writer Anne Estes, PhD, and researcher and illustrator Cara Gibson, PhD to Science & Sensibility.  Anne shares information on the research into a newborn’s (and later on the adult) microbiome and how it can be affected by the location of birth, the type of birth and the interventions that occur during birth.  Learn more about what this new field of research is telling us about the importance of the microbiome. Stay tuned for a future interview by Anne, with some of the research scientists attempting to supplement the microbiome of infants delivered by planned Cesareans. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

Birth plans often change. Neither my husband nor I anticipated the series of interventions with my first daughter’s birth. In the end, though we had the most important outcome – a healthy mom and baby dyad. How did these interventions influence the health of the third, silent, and invisible member of my daughter’s birth that I hadn’t included in her birth plan – her microbiome?

The helpful and harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in and on every environment, both living and nonliving, are the microbiome of that environment. The bacterial component of the microbiome is best understood to date and will be this post’s focus. An organism’s microbiome influences the development and health of those animals and plants, whereas the microbiome of soil and buildings influence organisms that reside in those non-living environments. Our helpful microbes provide services that range from vitamin synthesis and food degradation to preventing attacks by pathogens. However, in the last few centuries of human-microbe interactions, changes in our birth and medical practices and living conditions may have altered the acquisition of our microbial communities. Our altered microbiomes, especially in the industrialized world, may help explain the increase in allergies, asthma, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and autism.

Humans as ecosystems for microbes

To a bacterium, you are a planet made up of several different ecosystems. From the dry, UV-intense “deserts” of your skin to the warm, wet, nutrient-rich “lakes” of your mouth, specific bacteria live in different regions on a person, just as specific vertebrate animals live in different ecosystems on the Earth. As ecosystems of the human environment change during development, pregnancy, or with changing diets, which bacterial species remain or how these microbial species function may shift is slowly becoming understood. How do we first acquire these microbes? Previous posts here and other blogs have done excellent reviews of the human microbiome and birth, so my post will serve to provide updates and pose new questions for consideration.

Fig1_MapLadies6

 

The source of the infant microbiome

The infant microbiome is acquired during birth [1, 2], from first foods [3-5], and the environment [6], and may also be partially colonized in utero [7]. The Fig2_MicrobirthVagvC5microbiome of infants born vaginally most closely represents the microbiome of the mother’s vagina and feces [1], and is rich in beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis and Bacteroidetes [8, 9]. In contrast, the microbiome of infants born via planned Cesarean is more similar to that of the mother’s skin and hospital environment [1]. The microbiomes of planned Cesarean-born infants are more likely to have hospital-acquired pathogens such as Clostridium difficile, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and pathogenic Es. coli [1] and lack beneficial Bacteroidetes and Bi. longum subsp. infantis [10]. However, when beneficial Bifidobacterium were occasionally present in Cesarean-born infants, pathogenic Es. coli and C. difficile were not found [11] suggesting that one benefit of Bifidobacterium, especially Bi. longum subsp. infantis, may be outcompeting these potential pathogens.

Influence of birth mode on microbiome transmission

Repeatedly, studies in different countries, ethnic groups, ages, and health status have suggested that planned Cesarean-born infants are more likely to have more health issues and a different microbiome, as compared to vaginally born infants [2, 10, 12-14]. These differences in community composition can even be seen in adulthood [15]. A new Canadian study finds that the microbiome of infants born via unplanned Cesarean had increased bacterial richness and diversity, more similar to that of vaginally born infants than planned Cesarean [10]. Unfortunately, this was only a small study where fewer than ten mother-infant pairs were examined. Several variables such as length of time in labor or how far labor progressed, antibiotic use, natural vs. artificial rupture of membranes, and/or other interventions that may influence the microbiome were also not examined [10]. However, it does suggest that the process of labor, perhaps the hormonal or other physiological changes, may influence the microbiome. Additionally, some maternal bacteria may be transmitted when membranes rupture during labor [10]. Are bacteria “eavesdropping” on the chemical changes in the human to prepare themselves for transmission to the baby? Do these maternal hormone changes lead to increased vaginal or gut epithelial sloughing to transmit more or specific bacteria? Certainly, studies with larger sample sizes that can help control for these variables along with experimental studies on model animals are warranted.

Influence of birth place on microbiome transmission

Infants also acquire a proportion of their microbiome from their physical, inanimate surroundings. What proportion of the microbiome and which bacteria are acquired most likely depends on how many and what kinds of bacteria are acquired in utero, through birth method, and first foods. Since Cesarean delivered infants seem to be exposed to a lower density of maternal bacteria than vaginally delivered babies, the former may be more likely to acquire bacteria from their environment. However, this hypothesis has not been examined.

Fig3_Locations4

Just as living organisms are a microbial environment, so are non-living structures such as buildings. Scientists at several universities working together on The Microbiology of the Built Environment Project funded by the Sloan Foundation are comparing the microbes of homes and hospitals. They have found that buildings are quickly colonized by the microbes of the people living in them [16]. Such rapid colonization specific to the individual being housed is even seen in infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) [17, 18] . One group is surveying the microbiome of a hospital over time, as it is being built and then occupied. Hospital-acquired infections are an increasing concern for all patients, especially newborns. Infants born by Cesarean have an increased rate of MRSA, C. difficile, and other opportunistic pathogens [1]. However, different hospitals and even wards within a hospital might be expected to have disparate levels of pathogens depending on how prevalent the disease is within the hospital patients and staff. Whether freestanding birth centers, operating rooms dedicated to labor-and-delivery only, and mixed-use operating rooms have dissimilar microbiomes has yet to be investigated. Infants born in private homes would be exposed to the same microbiomes of members of the household.

Influence of first foods on microbiome transmission

First foods are a third source of the infant microbiome. Breastfed infants have two “moms:” their human mother and their Milk-Oriented Microbiota (MOM). The MOM are a diverse group of about 200 species of beneficial bacteria transmitted via breast milk and fed by the breast milk sugars. Fig4_MicrobirthBreastvBottle5The average breastfed baby receives between 1 and 10 million bacteria daily from their mother’s milk – quite the bacterial soup [5]! The bacterial diversity and concentrations of specific bacteria change dramatically between colostrum and mature milk with colostrum having over 1,000 different bacterial types [4]. The milk microbiome is a unique assemblage of bacteria, different from human skin, gut, oral, vaginal, and other specific site microbiomes [4]. Although only ten women were followed, it is intriguing that the milk microbiome of women delivering via planned Cesarean at birth, one month, and six months post-birth, was more similar to their gut microbiome than the breast milk of mothers who delivered vaginally [4]. Milk of mothers undergoing unplanned Cesarean and vaginally delivering mothers were most similar [4]. Breast milk also includes the food, or prebiotics, for the developing infant microbiome. Sugars found in breast milk, the human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), differ in sugar types and concentrations between pre-term and full term birth, vaginally delivering and planned Cesarean births (reviewed in [19]), and even between mothers with different types of “secretor” genes [20]. These HMOs are digested by the microbes, not the infant. Additionally, the changes in sugar types and concentrations seem to influence bacterial diversity, keeping strains of Bifidobacterium longum subsp infantis in highest abundance in the first few months of life [19]. How the presence of different microbes influences the developing infant immune system has yet to be determined.

Formula-fed babies have a more diverse and rich microbiome than breast-fed babies, with lower numbers of Bifidobacterium and higher abundances of Peptostreptococcaceae, which includes C. difficile [10, 21]. Gut bacterial diversity is essential in increasing the ability of adults to digest a wide variety of foods. However, bacterial diversity may be detrimental in the infant stage when the immune system is developing and learning to distinguish between microbes that are friends and those that are foes. Breast milk sugars may mediate the relative abundances of different bacterial species [22]. Through studies like the Milk Bioactives Program at University of California at Davis, more is learned about the interaction between breast milk sugars and specific bacteria that can lead to better probiotic and prebiotic formulas and improve infant health.

Influence of in utero environment on microbiome transmission

Many other factors surrounding birth may influence the infant microbiome. High levels of reported maternal stress and high cortisol concentrations during pregnancy, correlated with lower relative abundances of beneficial Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium sp. and higher abundances of Proteobacteria, such as Enterobacter and Escherichia. Infants of these highly stressed mothers had increased reports of gastrointestinal symptoms and allergic reactions, though these issues were reported by caregivers, not physicians, which may confound the findings [23]. A separate study found infants whose gestation lengths were less than 38 weeks had microbiome communities that were low in Bifidobacterium and took three to six months to reach a normal Bifidiobacterium-rich community as compared to infants born at 40 or more weeks [9]. Finally, the use of antibiotics during pregnancy [12] may also lead to infant health issues.

Do birth interventions change the microbiome?

The potential “eavesdropping” of bacteria on human hormones during pregnancy and labor lead me to wonder how the use of synthetic hormones such as Pitocin, especially during stalled labor, might influence the microbiome and overall infant health. There are so many variables to the birth process that many of these questions could only be answered with extremely detailed data of tens of thousands of mother-infant-microbiome triads over time. The influence of interventions such as epidurals, frequency of cervical checks, vaginal preparation with betadine, enemas, and other procedures used during labor and delivery also have not been extensively examined. In general, any procedure that “sterilizes” or cleans the vaginal and rectal area would most likely decrease the transmission of the mother’s microbial community. Whether cervical checks introduce skin or environmental microbes to the infant should also be considered. Finally, what effect does postponing baby’s first bath until 24 or 48 hours after birth have on microbial colonization? What role does the vernix have in facilitating the colonization of the infant’s microbiome?

From lab bench to birth room

Antibiotics, Cesarean delivery, and other interventions are valuable and life-saving for many women and infants; however, as they have become more commonly used we have seen an increase in many long-term diseases and disorders. Recent microbiome research suggests that we should consider birth as delivering and nurturing a healthy triad – mom, infant, and microbiome. Currently, studies are being conducted to swab Cesarean delivered infants with vaginal secretions immediately after birth. Should fecal microbiome members also be considered? If hormone surges are important for the microbiome transmission during labor and in breast milk, as the unplanned Cesarean data suggest, how could the natural hormone surges of labor be mimicked for planned Cesarean? When antibiotics are needed for mother or infant, how best can we quickly repopulate the disturbance to the native microbiome?

Humans, and all organisms, are planets with diverse ecosystems. In sequencing of the human genome, we learned that diseases rarely correlated to specific human genes. Most likely instead of focusing on only the human or only the microbes, we should be examining the intersection between human genomics and microbiome structure and function to best understand health and disease of human-microbe ecosystems. Both human genomics and microbiome work are in their infancy (pun intended). Researchers examine correlations to develop testable hypotheses that can be examined in non-human animal models. Yet many of the microbes of interest are currently unable to be cultivated for direct testing or probiotic use. At this time, directly translating research findings to the delivery room is difficult, but I hope that this post will stimulate thought and conversations about the silent, invisible, yet important third member of human birth and life.

References

  1. Dominguez-Bello, M. G., E. K. Costello, M. Contreras, M. Magris, G. Hidalgo, N. Fierer, and R. Knight. 2010. Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107:11971-11975.
  2. Mueller, N. T., E. Bakacs, J. Combellick, Z. Grigoryan, and M. G. Dominguez-Bello. 2015. The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends in Molecular Medicine 21:109-117.
  3. Zivkovic, A. M., J. B. German, C. B. Lebrilla, and D. A. Mills. 2011. Human milk glycobiome and its impact on the infant gastrointestinal microbiota. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:4653-4658.
  4. Cabrera-Rubio, R., M. C. Collado, K. Laitinen, S. Salminen, E. Isolauri, and A. Mira. 2012. The human milk microbiome changes over lactation and is shaped by maternal weight and mode of delivery. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96:544-551.
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  7. Prince, A. L., D. M. Chu, M. D. Seferovic, K. M. Antony, J. Ma, and K. M. Aagaard. 2015. The Perinatal Microbiome and Pregnancy: Moving Beyond the Vaginal Microbiome. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine.
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  11. Musilova, S., V. Rada, E. Vlkova, V. Bunesova, and J. Nevoral. 2015. Colonisation of the gut by bifidobacteria is much more common in vaginal deliveries than Caesarean sections. Acta Paediatrica 104:e184-e186.
  12. Mueller, N. T., R. Whyatt, L. Hoepner, S. Oberfield, M. G. Dominguez-Bello, E. M. Widen, A. Hassoun, F. Perera, and A. Rundle. 2014. Prenatal exposure to antibiotics, cesarean section and risk of childhood obesity. Int J Obes.
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  20. Lewis, Z., S. Totten, J. Smilowitz, M. Popovic, E. Parker, D. Lemay, M. Van Tassell, M. Miller, Y.-S. Jin, J. German, et al. 2015. Maternal fucosyltransferase 2 status affects the gut bifidobacterial communities of breastfed infants. Microbiome 3:13.
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  23. Zijlmans, M. A. C., K. Korpela, J. M. Riksen-Walraven, W. M. de Vos, and C. de Weerth. 2015. Maternal prenatal stress is associated with the infant intestinal microbiota. Psychoneuroendocrinology 53:233-245.

About Anne Estes

AnneMEstes_headshot 2015Anne M. Estes, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, MD. She is interested in how microbes and their host organisms work together throughout host development. Anne blogs about the importance of microbes, especially during pregnancy, birth, first foods, and early childhood at Mostly Microbes.

 

 

About Cara Gibson

cara gibson head shot 2015Cara Gibson, BSc (Hon), MS, PhD was trained as an entomologist (insect scientist) and her interests include ecology, biodiversity, and interactions with microbial symbionts. She has worked as a field ecologist, research scientist, educator, outreach coordinator, and scientific illustrator. Dr. Gibson would like to help bridge the gap between current practices and new research to improve women’s health and birth outcomes. Contact Cara at caramgibson at gmail dot com for illustration inquiries / permissions.

 

 

 

 

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