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Book Review: Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach Reviewed Through a Childbirth Educator’s Eyes

October 18th, 2012 by avatar

I had waited excitedly for the release of Henci Goer and Amy Romano’s new book for a long time and was delighted to receive it after it was published in May 2012. Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach was a robust, updated successor to Henci’s previous book; Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities which was a well used source on my office bookshelf.

Both authors have a long history with Lamaze International. Prior to her current position with Childbirth Connection, directing the Transforming Maternity Care Partnership, Amy launched Science & Sensibility, and provided a keen and critical eye when analyzing, reviewing and sharing research items with readers. Henci Goer has been the long time resident expert on the “Ask Henci” forum hosted by Lamaze International, providing and sharing resources on a wide variety of pregnancy and childbirth topics with consumers and professionals alike, as well as a regular contributor to this blog. Please read the full bios of Amy and Henci on their website, where you can find complete information on their work, background and other works that they have authored.

As the title clearly states, this book is about childbirth, and as such, you will not find information on pregnancy, breastfeeding or newborn topics. Nor is this the type of text that childbirth educators would hand out in class for consumers to use. This book is heavy with sources, study outcomes and insights into current obstetric practices. But, as a guide to best practice, the book becomes a great repository of information that allows consumers and professionals alike to learn and make decisions about care that can help keep birth as physiological as possible. The book focuses on what factors affect, both positively and negatively, birth, so that an optimal outcome can occur.

The authors define optimal outcomes as “the highest probability of spontaneous birth of a healthy baby to a healthy mother, who feels pleased with herself and her caregivers, ready for the challenges of motherhood, attached to her baby, and goes on to breastfeed successfully.”

The chapters are well organized, with the topic of cesareans starting things off. Cesarean rates have never been higher, and many of the topics that Goer and Romano discuss later in the book often have the unintended consequence of contributing to the skyrocketing cesarean rates in this country. I think it is an important topic and one that receives a thorough evaluation by the authors.

Each chapter starts off with “contradicting” quotes from researchers working in the field of obstetrics, and I have to say, that reading these at the beginning of each chapter was something I looked forward to, a nice added bonus and really made me pause and consider the different viewpoints and how they influence practice today. The lead in for chapter 12 on epidurals and spinals contains one of my favorites:

“There is no other circumstance in which it is considered acceptable for a person to experience untreated severe pain, amenable to safe interventions, while under a physician’s care.” ACOG 2006

“Epidural anaesthesia remains one of childbirth’s best exemplars of iatrogenesis. It is a wonderful intervention for managing labour complications, especially as an alternative to general anaesthetic for caesarean sections, but has significant side effects that constantly need weighing alongside benefits. Though its rising popularity almost grants it the status of normative practice on some [U.K.] maternity unites, it remains incompatable with physiological labour.” Walsh 2007

Each chapter begins with a wonderful perspective on each topic, sharing history and cultural practices so the reader can understand how standard protocols found in most birthing facilities have come to be, even when not backed up by research. I think it is critical to include this information, for if there is to be a shift to more evidence based care in the field of obstetrics, we need to be aware and acknowledge that some practices may have evolved for legal, cultural, social or policy reasons having nothing to do with sound research.

The authors ask and answer the very questions that I find myself asking out loud, helping the reader to understand why we continually observe care that is known to not improve outcomes. For example, when discussing electronic fetal monitoring, the question “Why does use of continuous EFM persist?” in normal low risk labors is asked (and thoroughly answered) with supporting references for further information.

Each chapter contains a brief summary of action steps that women can take to receive optimal care, along with the supporting research that backs up these steps. These lists are great talking points both for educators to integrate in their classrooms, but also for consumers to discuss with their health care providers and understand why their care might deviate from that supported by research.

The conclusion of each chapter has what the authors call a “mini-review” and neatly summarizes the important topic statements and provides (and references) outcomes of studies so that the reader can evaluate for himself or herself the validity of the research. Though these sections are called reviews, I found them to be a very helpful component of the book, when looking for solid sources.

At the end of each chapter, all of the sources referenced in that chapter are listed.

Henci Goer

I was very appreciative throughout the book, for the definitions that the authors provided when discussing a topic. It is important (and helpful) to know how terms are defined, so that the reader can best understand the discussion. For example, in one of the cesarean chapters, one can find a list of “rate” terms, so when “primaparous cesarean rate” is discussed, this term has already been explained.

Several places throughout the book, in various callout boxes, Goer and Romano discussed the selective language that health care providers use when talking about childbirth and presenting information to families. I found these small detours fascinating, as I am very interested in the language that HCPs use to discuss risk, procedures and events with their patients.

The last chapters of the book take a look at choice of birth location, what the ideal maternity care system might include and includes information on maternal mental health. The appendices speak to common “less than optimal” situations, such as the OP fetus in labor, meconium staining and other circumstances that frequently cause concern and labor interventions. Again, the authors include information on optimal care in these cases that can help.

It is clear from some of the phrasing, chapter titles and choice of words in some of the discussions, that the authors have a bias towards a childbirth process that unfolds in a natural and physiological manner. This language, while potentially off-putting to those who firmly believe in the medical model, is effective in causing the reader to consider standard practices that make no logical “sense”, and certainly, references are provided for further research should the reader wish to investigate further.

I must say that I very much enjoyed this book, and I will find it very useful in my doula and Lamaze childbirth education practice. It is the type of book that one thumbs through frequently, when asked a question by a student or client, or when helping a client to prepare to speak to their health care provider about best practices and birth preferences. I think that any birth professional would do well to have this book on their shelf and be able to refer to it when necessary. This book represents a significant amount of research and I find great comfort in knowing that all the resources and references supporting the statements made in the book are available for me to source myself.

Amy Romano

I look forward to the release of the e-book version of this title, expected this fall, for the Kindle, iPad and other tablets, so that I could have easy access from wherever I am. I would be delighted if the references and sources could be routinely updated as new research is released and published, so that I can use this guide for many years to come, confident that it reflects the newest and most valid research. I know that is a formidable task, but I would gladly pay a small subscription fee to have an updated version as often as necessary.

This book is available for purchase from both Amazon.com and the Optimal Care in Childbirth website. The book is on the expensive side, costing approximately $50.00, but very well may become the go-to source for evidenced based research on your office shelf, so worth the investment. If you choose to purchase from the book’s site, there are bulk and wholesale discounts available.  For purchases made from the book’s website, the authors are providing a 15% discount for our Science & Sensibility blog readers and conference attendees. Enter code UXJXI52F at checkout to receive the discount.

I hope that you are planning to attend the upcoming Lamaze International Innovative Learning Forum next week, where both Amy Romano and Henci Goer have been invited to speak. You will have an opportunity to meet these authors, ask them questions, purchase this book and hear their powerful presentations. As a General Session Speaker, Amy’s session will be available as part of the “Virtual Conference” option for those unable to attend the conference in person.

Have you read Optimal Care in Childbirth?  Are you using it already in your practice?  Please share your thoughts and comments in our comment section here on the blog.  I look forward to hearing your views. – SM

References

ACOG committee opinion. No. 339: Analgesia and cesarean delivery rates. Obstet Gynecol 206;107(6):1487-8.

Walsh D. Evidenced Based Care for Normal Labor and Birth. London: Routledge; 2007.

Book Reviews, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Epidural Analgesia, Fetal Monitoring, Healthcare Reform, informed Consent, Lamaze 2012 Annual Conference, Maternal Mental Health, Medical Interventions, New Research, Pain Management, Practice Guidelines, Research, Systematic Review, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , , ,

Hospital Charges Still All Over the Map

May 17th, 2012 by avatar

You can get from New Jersey to Maryland in less than an hour, but despite the proximity, New Jersey hospitals, on average, charge 3-4 times more than Maryland hospitals for both vaginal and cesarean births. This is just one of the notable facts gleaned from Childbirth Connection’s analyses of the latest maternity charges data. Although the data do not show whether higher charges reflect better care, researchers who look at price variation generally find no relation between prices and the quality of care, complexity of patient care needs, or costs of actually delivering care. Such unwarranted price variation amounts to billions in wasted spending across the health care system, according to a February report from Thomson Reuters that looked at various hospital procedures.

New charts compiled by Childbirth Connection (PDF) show the significant price variation across states that report average labor and birth hospital charges to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). The chart set also includes average prices charged by birth centers, which fall well below charges for uncomplicated vaginal births in hospitals. State-by-state analyses (PDF) show charges increasing year-to-year, and reveal differences by mode of birth and presence or absence of complications.

What do these figures mean for improving maternity care?

Labor, birth, and newborn care are the most common and costly hospital conditions for both Medicaid programs and private insurers. The data in Childbirth Connection’s Charges Charts reveal four potential strategies for reining in costs:

  1. increase the proportion of vaginal births – Hospital charges for cesareans are about 66% higher than hospital charges for vaginal births (a difference of $5,900- $8,400 depending on complications).
  2. provide safer care – Complications increase charges by about 35% (a difference of $2,800 – $5,400 depending on mode of birth). Some complications are preventable with hospital safety initiatives.
  3. remove barriers to out-of-hospital birth for low-risk women interested in these options - Birth center charges are $6,600 less than charges for uncomplicated vaginal births in hospitals.
  4. reduce charges for births in facilities and states where charges exceed average - Policy makers can work to increase price transparency and align payment with quality.

We can improve the quality and value of maternity care by identifying innovations that safely and fairly achieve these goals and reduce unintended consequences.

Resources from Childbirth Connection

State-by-state Charges Charts

Multi-state Charges Comparisons (PDF)

Quick Facts About Hospital Labor & Birth Charges

Thank you, Amy Romano, for this fascinating guest post on the economic side of birth.  Childbirth is the most common reason for hospital admission in the United States (AHRQ, 2002).  Simple changes that will improve the experience of the families, save significant money and reduce unnecessary interventions, Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practice #4. have been needed for a long time. Midwifery care for low risk women is one step in that direction. There are many other things that can happen to achieve the goal of healthy mothers, healthy babies while reducing costs. What do you think are some steps that can be taken to reduce the spiraling and often unnecessary medical costs of having a baby?  What should hospitals and health care providers be doing to get these costs under control?  How can consumers play a part in that?  Please share your ideas here, or programs that you are aware of that are working on this very issue!

Sharon Muza

 

Source

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, (2005). Hospitalization in the United States, 2002 (AHRQ Publication No. 05-0056). Retrieved from website: http://archive.ahrq.gov/data/hcup/factbk6/


 

Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Maternal Quality Improvement, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, Uncategorized , , , , , , ,

How to Get Good Maternity Care

December 20th, 2011 by avatar

As someone who is knowledgeable about pregnancy and birth, I often hear from far-flung friends and relatives who have questions. The questions run the gamut: “Can I take this medication?,” “Do I really need to be induced?,” “What does this test result mean?” But I hear in these questions a much more basic question: “How do I get good maternity care?”

Whether each woman can articulate it or not, all women want maternity care that is woman-centered, safe, effective, timely, efficient, and equitable. These are the domains of high-quality care.

So how can a woman get high quality maternity care? As part of our Join the Transformation Campaign, Childbirth Connection created a new resource to answer this question.

 

 

 

(You can download a PDF handout of these tips here.)

These ten tips give women the foundation they need to begin to engage as savvy consumers of high-quality care, but there’s so much casino online more work to be done to retool our system to fully enable this kind of engagement. How can women choose their caregiver and setting wisely without transparent performance data to evaluate quality? How can women understand the evidence without access to high-quality decision support tools that are appropriate for their literacy and numeracy levels? How can women control their health records if they can’t even access them electronically?

We launched our Join the Transformation campaign to strengthen our work to address these gaps. We’re working with partners to implement key recommendations from our consensus Blueprint for Action, so in the future when women ask “How Can I Get Good Maternity Care?” the answer is clear and the resources are at their fingertips.

 

Maternity Care With a Heart from Childbirth Connection on Vimeo.

 

 

Posted by:  Amy Romano, MSN, CNM

Films about Childbirth, Films about Pregnancy, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Patient Advocacy, Transforming Maternity Care, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

The Homebirth Summit: Providing Much-Needed Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration

November 15th, 2011 by avatar

With the recent Homebirth Summit that took place in Warrenton, VA October 20-22, our country has witnessed increased attention on the state and incidence of this birthing option in the United States.  The Summit organizers have published the outcomes of the event, including Consensus Statements which can be viewed here.  Additionally, you can read comments about the Summit from attendees on various blog sites like Rixa Freeze’s Stand and Deliver, pediatrician Mark Sloan’s blog site (part one and part two) and Childbirth Connection’s Transforming Maternity Care blog site—written by former S&S editor, Amy Romano.

When flipping through the fall issue of the peer-reviewed journal Birth, I landed on the study, United States Home Births Increase 20 percent from 2004 to 2008 (MacDorman, Declerq and Mathews, 2011).  This 20 percent increase isn’t really surprising to me—there is so much momentum in the taking back childbirth renaissance.  The opening paragraph of the article reminds us how much birth location has changed over the past ~ 100 years:

 

Major changes in United States childbearing patterns have occurred over the past century. At the beginning of the last century, almost all United States births took place outside a hospital, the vast majority at home. However, by 1940, only 44 percent of births occurred outside a hospital, and by 1969 this percentage had declined to about 1 percent, where it has remained relatively stable for several decades.”

 

When looking at the Trends by State section of the article, I was interested to find the state in which I live, Montana, boasts the highest homebirth rate (2.18%).  That’s compared to the country’s over-all current homebirth rate of 0.67% in 2008 (most recent data).  While this trend feels significant (especially to homebirth advocates here in the Big Sky state) philosophical dichotomies still exist.

As a part of an email conversation I had with a friend the other day, I was yet again reminded of the age-old  riff between hospital-based and home-based birth providers or, more accurately, the cracks birthing women fall into when attempting to traverse the chasm between these two models of care.

This friend of mine, a doula whose family recently relocated to a very small northeastern Montana town, is pregnant with her second child.  Her first birth was successfully attended by a midwife at a birthing center in the town from which they recently moved.  Desiring the same level of skilled, attentive, compassionate maternity care, my friend began her search for a midwife who would look after her throughout her current pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum care.  And yet, due to their rather remote location, she found a lack of midwifery care in her exact locale.  Hoping to piece together her prenatal care from readily available care providers (a local obstetrics clinic) and the philosophical maternity care she truly desires, she hoped to attend regular prenatal care appointments with an OB who was willing to co-supervise the pregnancy with a more distant midwife.  We’re talking true, interdisciplinary collaboration, here.  However, when the OB clinic got wind of this plan, they flat-out refused to work in conjunction with a midwife, or to provide my friend with prenatal care if she chose to also work with a midwife.  So, for now, my friend is tending to her own prenatal care, punctuated with telephone calls and intermittent visits with the midwife she has hired (who lives 270 miles away).

If this story is at all reflective of the state of maternity care collaboration in our country, then the multi-stakeholder conversations that took place at the Homebirth Summit are more important than ever.

 

What are your thoughts on the Homebirth Summit?

 

 

Posted by:  Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE, FACCE

 

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Reasonable Choices for Bringing Back VBAC

September 27th, 2011 by avatar

[Editor’s note:  This article by Amy Romano was originally posted on Childbirth Connection’s Transforming Maternity Care site, September 12, 2011 and is re-purposed with permission.]

 

When I recently updated Childbirth Connection’s VBAC or Repeat C-Section Topic to reflect the findings of a government-sponsored systematic review and national consensus recommendations, I was struck by how few of the facts have changed in the years since the government’s previous VBAC evidence report. While there are more data than before, we already knew that the risks of uterine rupture in labor were about 1 in 200, that accumulating cesareans sharply increases the likelihood of life-threatening complications in future pregnancies, and that there are few situations when planned VBAC is objectively unreasonable. Although the evidence has not abated the precipitous drop in VBACs, perhaps unprecedented national consensus about the importance of prioritizing VBAC services, an increasingly savvy grassroots movement, and urgent calls from obstetric leaders will begin to move the needle.

As we shift the conversation from whether to do VBACs to how to enable more of them, focus on quality and safety in the context of VBAC is long overdue. According to new government statistics (pdf), one in five of the more than 4 million births each year in the United States occur to women who have previously given birth by cesarean. If evidence supports VBAC as a “reasonable option” for most of this population – and indeed the better option for many – it is time to be reasonable about how to make VBAC as safe, accessible, and satisfying as it can possibly be.

In the absence of nationally endorsed quality measures for VBAC, payment reform to provide better incentives to offer and achieve VBAC, and care coordination to help pregnant women navigate the health care system (all urgently needed), we turn to the broader concept of maternity care quality to offer a framework for high-quality VBAC care. We’re interested in hearing what VBAC quality improvement projects exist in your community, and are eager to feature them in our TMC Directory.

A QUALITY FRAMEWORK FOR VBAC

1. Help more women make and implement choices that are informed by the best quality evidence and aligned with their own values and preferences.

Rationale: While much attention has been given to ACOG’s “Level C” recommendation to undertake planned VBAC “in facilities with staff immediately available to provide emergency care,” this recommendation is superseded by their “Level A” recommendation to “counsel women about VBAC and offer [trial of labor]” to appropriate VBAC candidates. In addition, “decision quality,” i.e., the extent to which choices align with a woman’s stated preferences and values and available evidence, is a marker of overall health care quality. Not to mention, honoring people’s informed choices is the legal and ethical standard, acknowledged by all major health care bodies.

Current approach: Few women have a choice at all. According to the VBAC Policy Database, a voluntary monitoring project by the International Cesarean Awareness Network, half of U.S. hospitals either ban VBAC outright or have no providers willing to attend VBACs. In our most recent national Listening to Mothers survey, more than half of women interested in a VBAC were denied the option, usually because of provider refusal or hospital policies. In areas where VBACs are “offered,” women must often meet eligibility criteria that are not supported by high-quality evidence. Informed consent processes typically solicit consent for VBAC but may not provide a special consent process for repeat cesareans, despite the fact that repeat cesareans pose different and in some cases much more serious risks than first cesareans.

Why this is inadequate: Both planned VBAC and planned repeat cesarean section are reasonable choices with important potential benefits and harms but the trade-offs are very different. The current approach, which ostensibly is intended to reduce the already low likelihood of avoidable perinatal death or injury and associated liability, has resulted in significant collateral damage: most notably an increased risk of maternal mortality and a growing prevalence of life-threatening complications for both mothers and babies in future pregnancies. We are also seeing troubling care patterns, including court-ordered repeat cesareans, women laboring in hospital parking lots so they can show up just in time to give birth and avoid the pressure for a cesarean, and a sharp increase in the number of women with prior cesareans choosing to give birth at home, sometimes with no skilled provider present at all. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) team that conducted the 2010 systematic review on VBAC versus routine repeat cesarean referred to the VBAC access issues as “chilling,” an assessment with which we at Childbirth Connection agree.

Another approach: We urgently need evidence-based, field-tested shared decision making tools to communicate the research evidence and help women clarify their preferences and values. We have seen a commitment to this approach in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, but thus far nothing in the U.S. (a situation we hope to change through our Shared Decision Making Maternity Initiative). Although decision support tools can help a woman select the best choice for her, system barriers including payment incentives, liability concerns, and clinician education must be addressed simultaneously to ensure that she can implement her choice. Assessing the potential for shared decision making tools and processes to reduce liability should be a research priority.

2. Maximize the proportion of women planning VBAC who experience uncomplicated vaginal births

Rationale: Morbidity in VBAC labors is concentrated in the subset of women who have unplanned repeat c-sections. These risks include infection, hemorrhage, blood clots and emotional distress. In addition, having a VBAC reduces risks in subsequent pregnancies and virtually ensures that future births will be vaginal, while having a repeat cesarean sharply increases risks in subsequent pregnancies and virtually ensures that future births will be surgical. Finally, repeat cesarean costs payers significantly more than VBAC and has significant downstream economic costs because of these effects in subsequent pregnancies.

Current approach: Clinicians and researchers seem to have responded by focusing on selecting the women most likely to have a vaginal birth. Several researchers have attempted to create prediction tools to select these women, and some clinicians and hospitals have imposed strict eligibility criteria for planned VBAC. Significantly less attention has been given to prenatal and intrapartum interventions and care processes that may enhance a woman’s likelihood of having a safe vaginal birth.

Why this is inadequate: Calculating the likelihood of vaginal birth can provide helpful information to women making an informed choice to plan a VBAC or repeat cesarean. However, even women with a lower-than-average likelihood of vaginal birth usually have a better than 50-50 chance. Moreover, some groups with lower likelihoods of vaginal birth, such as women with high BMI or multiple prior cesareans, also face significantly higher than average likelihood of harm if they end up with a cesarean. The AHRQ systematic review concluded that none of the available prediction tools adequately selected women for successful trial of labor.

Another approach: The AHRQ systematic review researchers emphasized the need to incorporate “non-medical factors” in prediction tools to enhance their usefulness. These factors, which include liability concerns, the nature and extent of informed decision-making, and provider and birth setting characteristics, appear to have a stronger effect on VBAC likelihood than factors intrinsic to the woman. In addition, research is urgently needed to identify labor care strategies to promote safe vaginal birth in women with prior cesareans, in particular the potential contribution of midwives and doulas. A randomized controlled trial examining the impact of doula care on VBAC labors is currently underway in Canada.

3. Provide the best possible response to obstetric emergencies including uterine rupture

Rationale: Uterine rupture occurs in about 4.7 per 1000 VBAC labors and is an obstetric emergency requiring prompt delivery. Although the outcome of uterine rupture is usually favorable for both infants and mothers, morbidity and mortality may be minimized if the team is prepared, communicates well, and responds quickly and in a coordinated fashion.

Current approach: The small chance of a sudden emergency with high risk of serious fetal and maternal harm resulted in ACOG’s recommendation that surgical and anesthesia staff should be “immediately available” for VBAC labors. Although in 2010 ACOG clarified that women should be able to make an informed choice for a VBAC despite this recommendation, or be referred to another facility, the response to the possibility of uterine rupture continues to favor simply prohibiting women from planning VBACs.

Why this is approach is inadequate: The singular focus on availability of a surgical team has created a situation where women in communities without these resources must consent to unwanted and potentially unneeded cesareans in order to access any maternity care at all. It also assumes that availability of surgical resources automatically translates into an optimal outcome, but unprepared or ineffective care teams may not be able to avert preventable poor outcomes despite being “available.” The AHRQ review researchers identified several other obstetric emergencies that occur with similar frequency as uterine rupture and result in similar likelihoods of serious harm but for which the obstetric community does not deem 24/7 cesarean capability to be necessary.  For these obstetric emergencies, rather than forbidding labor, hospitals have begun focusing on proven patient safety strategies like enhancing teamwork, implementing checklists, and conducting drills and simulations.

Another approach: As noted above, obstetric emergencies requiring prompt cesarean delivery can happen in any labor and in any birth setting. The emerging concept of “high reliability obstetrics” provides a framework for preventing adverse events and managing them in a consistent fashion when they occur despite prevention efforts. This requires a multi-disciplinary commitment to preparedness, teamwork, communication, and documentation. Various safety courses teach teamwork and management of emergencies in obstetrics. A systematic review of multi-disciplinary simulation training found that such programs improved knowledge, practical skills, communication, and team performance in acute obstetric situations and were associated with improved neonatal outcome.

BRINGING BACK VBAC

If VBAC is a reasonable option for most women, we need a reasonable approach to ensuring quality and safety in VBAC. Like maternity care generally, transforming VBAC care will take multi-stakeholder commitment to system reform. With so much inertia in the system, consumers and advocates must maintain a strong voice to push for positive change. Our newly updated VBAC or Repeat C-section Topic and the latest data on cesarean and VBAC trends are two resources to help women and their advocates. Our Action Center provides more ideas for engaging in maternity care transformation.

 

Posted by:  Amy Romano, CNM

 

Cesarean Birth, Research, Transforming Maternity Care, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , ,

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