Posts Tagged ‘cesarean’

Consider the Source: An Interview with Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM, co-author of The National Birth Center Study II

January 31st, 2013 by avatar


The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health has just published the results of the National Birth Center Study II. As the name suggests, this is the second time researchers have undertaken a multi-site study of U.S. birth centers to understand the process and outcomes of care in these settings. The first appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989, and concluded that “birth centers offer a safe and acceptable alternative to hospital confinement for selected pregnant women, particularly those who have previously had children, and that such care leads to relatively few cesarean sections.”

The current study describes birth centers as a “durable model” of care because, again, outcomes were excellent. 

Here are the key findings of the National Birth Center Study II:

  • Of more than 15,000 women eligible for birth center care when labor started, 93% had spontaneous vaginal births, and 6% had cesareans.
  • 16% of women transferred during labor, and approximately 2.5% of mothers or newborns required transfer to the hospital after birth. Emergent transfer before or after birth was required for 1.9% of women in labor or for their newborns. Most women who transferred in labor had vaginal births.
  • There were no maternal deaths. The intrapartum stillbirth rate was 0.47/1000, and the neonatal mortality rate was 0.40/1000 excluding anomalies.

I had an opportunity to interview one of the study authors, Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM. Dr. Osborne is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Nursing, a perinatal epidemiologist, and co-founder of Maternity Centers of America. I asked her what the study findings mean for women and families and what it will take to scale up the birth center model and expand access.

AR: Thanks for participating in this interview. First and foremost, what should expectant parents know about this study?

CO: The take away messages from this study for expectant parents are that birth center care is safe and minimizes the likelihood that their baby will need to be born by cesarean, and that if hospital care becomes necessary, that transfer is very unlikely (1.9%) to be an emergency.

(Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN of Evidence Based Birth has prepared an excellent summary that appears at the American Association of Birth Centers web site with more about the study findings and their implications for women and families.)

The study is based on the AABC Uniform Data Set. What are the strengths and limitations of the UDS? 

CO: The UDS data were collected prospectively, which means women were enrolled in the study before the outcome of the pregnancy was known. This is an important strength because it means that the ultimate outcome could not bias the data that were collected during the pregnancy. Also, the UDS is used across dozens of birth centers, so it also enables us to get much more data than would be possible from a single birth center site.

Cara Osborne, SD, MSN, CNM

A primary limitation is that the UDS does not capture information that describes the family’s experience of birth center care, which makes correlating the clinical findings with experiential information impossible. Also, the UDS isn’t used by physicians practicing in hospitals, so we could not compare our findings to typical hospital-based care.

AR: The first National Birth Center Study reported outcomes of births from 1985 to 1987. Even though this study took place two decades later, the results are strikingly similar. If we’ve known for decades that birth centers are safe and effective, and they provide high quality care without costly hospital overhead, why isn’t there one in every community?

CO: You’re right, the results were very similar. For example the c-section rate in birth centers remained stable, going from 4% in the first study to 6% in the current study, while the national c-section rate during the same period has increased dramatically from 18% to 33%. We’ve known all along that greater use of birth centers could curb or reverse this trend, but there are several obstacles that have prevented a broad expansion of the model. They fall into three categories: systems obstacles, business obstacles, and professional obstacles.

Systems obstacles:

  • Hospitals have been predominant place of birth in the U.S. for so long that associated processes such as payment by commercial insurers and state Medicaid, the filing of birth certificates, and administration of state required newborn screening tests have all been developed based on hospital timelines and protocols. Therefore, changing the place of birth requires changes in all the associated systems as well, which can be difficult.

Business obstacles:

  • The skill set that it takes to be a good care provider and the skill set that it takes to start and run an efficient business have very little overlap, and it’s the rare provider that has both.
  • It takes a considerable capital investment to get a birth center up and running, and that’s not something most providers can access.
  • Equitable reimbursement for provider fees to midwives and facility fees to birth centers from commercial insurers and state Medicaid plans has not been available in most areas of the U.S., so the return on investment has been low.

Professional obstacles: 

  • Many physicians have opposed the independent practice of midwives while also refusing to enter in to collaborative practice agreements, which are required for midwives to provide intrapartum care in many states.
  • Birth center regulations in many states require that a physician be the medical director of the center, and recruiting physicians to fill this role can be difficult.
  • Hospitals have seen birth centers as competition and thus have not offered access to referral and transport.

AR: You are part of an effort to change things so that we do one day have a birth center in every community. Can you tell us about that effort, and why you think you will succeed?

CO: My co-founder Shannon Bedore and I formed Maternity Centers of America (MCA) in order to create a vehicle for addressing the barriers described above. As you pointed out, birth centers are a good thing and there should be more, so we built MCA to bring together professionals from a variety of backgrounds including business, real estate, construction, and health policy to look at the big picture of how maternity care works and find new ways to make birth centers a part of the healthcare system. If our efforts are successful, I believe that this broad range of perspectives will be the reason.

Credit: Center for Birth http://centerforbirth.com

As our first step, we established a demonstration site in northwest Arkansas which will allow us to try new management strategies and find ways to leverage technology while staying true to the birth center model of care. From this flagship site, we hope to develop a replicable, scalable model for the development of birth centers around the U.S. This is not a new idea, nor one that only we are working to implement. Our colleagues at New Birth Company in Kansas City and at the Minnesota Birth Center in Minneapolis are also building replicable birth center models. Each of us has a slightly different approach, and all of us need to succeed in order to or build enough scale to have measureable impact on national outcomes.

AR: The American Association of Birth Centers and the American College of Nurse-Midwives are hosting a congressional briefing next month in Washington to share the study results. Why does this study matter to policy makers?

CO: This study is of particular interest to policy makers because of both its content and its timing. Maternity care makes up the largest proportion of the national hospital bill from a single condition, and a large proportion (45%) of that is paid by government programs. A recent report from the consumer advocacy organization Childbirth Connection entitled The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States highlights the striking cost of U.S. maternity care and its inverse relationship with clinical outcomes. The report showed that almost two-thirds (59-66% depending on payer and type of birth) of the total costs of maternity care went to cover facility fees charged by hospitals. Birth centers charge facility fees too, but they are a fraction of the typical hospital fee. In addition, c-sections cost commercial payers $19,000 more than vaginal births, and they cost Medicaid programs $9,500 more than vaginal births. Multiplied by the estimated number of excess cesareans in the United States, this means about $5 billion dollars could be saved each year by improving our ability to safely get babies born vaginally.

The low value of maternity care is coming into sharper focus for policy makers at the moment due to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which adds maternity care to the list of essential health benefits and increases the number of pregnancies that will be covered by the government through the expansion of state Medicaid programs. As policymakers attempt to realign costs and outcomes, they are looking for strategies that address the “triple aim” of healthcare championed by Don Berwick and his colleagues: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care. Birth centers are a viable, evidenced-based option for meeting all three aims, which is rare, particularly in maternity care. 

Are you surprised by the results of this new study?  Will  you share this information with your clients and students?  Do you think this study will have an impact on the choices that women make about their birth location? Do you believe that more birth centers can help solve many of the problems facing birthing women and maternity care today? Share your thoughts in our comment section. I’d like to hear from you.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager.

Cesarean Birth, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Home Birth, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, New Research, Research, Uncategorized , , , , , , , ,

Can We Prevent Persistent Occiput Posterior Babies?

January 29th, 2013 by avatar

Today, regular contributor Henci Goer, co-author of the recent book, Optimal Care in Childbirth; The Case for a Physiologic Approach, discusses a just published study on resolving the OP baby during labor through maternal positioning.  Does it matter what position the mother is in?  Can we do anything to help get that baby to turn?  Henci lets us know what the research says in today’s post. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager


In OP position, the back (occiput) of the fetal head is towards the woman’s back (posterior). Sometimes called “sunny side up,” there is nothing sunny about it. Because the deflexed head presents a wider diameter to the cervix and pelvic opening, progress in dilation and descent tends to be slow with an OP baby, and if OP persists, it greatly increases the likelihood of cesarean or vaginal instrumental delivery and therefore all the ills that follow in their wake.

Does maternal positioning in labor prevent persistent OP?

This month, a study titled “Is maternal posturing during labor efficient in preventing persistent occiput posterior position? A randomized control trial” reported on the use of maternal positioning in labor to rotate OP babies to occiput anterior (OA). Investigators randomly allocated 220 laboring women with OP babies either to assume positions designed to facilitate rotation or to recline on their backs. The positions were devised based on computer modeling of the mechanics of the woman’s pelvis and fetal head according to degree of fetal descent. The position prescribed for station -5 to -3, i.e., 3-5 cm above the ischial spines, a pelvic landmark, had the woman on her knees supporting her head and chest on a yoga ball. At station -2 to 0, i.e., 2 cm above to the level of the ischial spines, she lay on her side on the same side as the fetal spine with the underneath leg bent, and at station > 0, i.e., below the ischial spines, she lay on her side on the same side as the fetal spine with the upper leg bent at a 90 degree angle and supported in an elevated position.



The good news is that regardless of group assignment, and despite virtually all women having an epidural (94-96%), 76-78% of the babies eventually rotated to OA. The bad news is that regardless of group assignment, 22-24% of the babies didn’t. As one would predict, 94-97% of women whose babies rotated to OA had spontaneous vaginal births compared with 3-6% of women with persistent OP babies. Because positioning failed to help, investigators concluded: “We believe that no posture should be imposed on women with OP position during labor” (p. e8). 

Leaving aside the connotations of “imposed,” does this disappointing result mean that maternal positioning in labor to correct OP should be abandoned? Maybe not.

Of the 15 women with the fetal head high enough to begin with position 1, no woman used all 3 positions because 100% of them rotated to OA before fetal descent dictated use of position 3. I calculated what percentage of women who began with position 2 or 3, in other words fetal head at -2 station or lower, achieved an OA baby and found it to be 75%—the same percentage as when nothing was done. What could explain this? One explanation is that a position with belly suspended is more efficacious regardless of fetal station, another is that positioning is more likely to succeed before the head engages in the pelvis, and, of course, it may be a combination of both.

Common sense suggests that the baby is better able to maneuver before the head engages in the pelvis. If so, it seem likely that rupturing membranes would contribute to persistent OP by depriving the fetus of the cushion of forewaters and dropping the head into the pelvis prematurely. Research backs this up. A literature search revealed a study, “Associated factors and outcomes of persistent occiput posterior position: A retrospective cohort study from 1976 to 2001” finding that artificially ruptured membranes was an independent risk factor for persistent OP. Returning to the trial, all women had ruptured membranes because it was an inclusion factor. One wonders how much better maternal positioning might have worked had this not been the case, and an earlier trial offers a possible answer.

In the earlier trial, “Randomized control trial of hands-and-knees position for occipitoposterior position in labor,” half the women had intact membranes. Women in the intervention group assumed hands-and-knees for at least 30 minutes during an hour-long period while the control group could labor in any position other than one with a dependent belly. Twelve more women per 100 had an OA baby at delivery, a much bigger difference than the later trial. Before we get too excited, though, the difference did not achieve statistical significance, meaning results could have been due to chance. Still, this may have been because the population was too small (70 intervention-group women vs. 77 control-group women) to reliably detect a difference, but the trial has a bigger problem: fetal head position at delivery wasn’t recorded in 14% of the intervention group and 19% of the control group, which means we don’t know the real proportions of OA to OP between groups.

Take home: It looks like rupturing membranes may predispose to persistent OP and should be avoided for that reason. The jury is still out on whether a posture that suspends the belly is effective, but it is worth trying in any labor that is progressing slowly because it may help and doesn’t hurt.

Does maternal positioning in pregnancy prevent OP labors?

Some have proposed that by avoiding certain postures in late pregnancy, doing certain exercises, or both, women can shift the baby into an OA position and thereby avoid the difficulties of labor with an OP baby. A “randomized controlled trial of effect of hands and knees posturing on incidence of occiput posterior position at birth (2547 women) has tested that theory. Beginning in week 37, women in the intervention group were asked to assume hands-and-knees and do slow pelvic rocking for 10 minutes twice daily while women in the control group were asked to walk daily. Compliance was assessed through keeping a log. Identical percentages (8%) of the groups had an OP baby at delivery.

Why didn’t this work? The efficacy of positioning and exercise in pregnancy is predicated on the assumption that if the baby is OA at labor onset, it will stay that way. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. A  study, “Changes in fetal position during labor and their association with epidural anesthesia,” examined the effect of epidural analgesia on persistent OP by performing sonograms on 1562 women at hospital admission, within an hour after epidural administration (or four hours after admission if no epidural had been administered), and after 8 cm dilation. A byproduct was the discovery that babies who were OA at admission rotated to OP as well as vice versa.

Take home: Prenatal positioning and exercises aimed at preventing OP in labor don’t work. Women should not be advised to do them because they may wrongly blame themselves for not practicing or not practicing enough should they end up with a difficult labor or an operative delivery due to persistent OP.

Do we have anything else?

Larry P Howell aafp.org/afp/2007/0601/p1671.html

We do have one ray of sunshine in the midst of this gloom. Three studies of manual rotation (near or after full dilation, the midwife or doctor uses fingers or a hand to turn the fetus to anterior) report high success rates and concomitant major reductions in cesarean rates, if not much effect on instrumental vaginal delivery rates. One study, “Manual rotation in occiput posterior or transverse positions: risk factors and consequences on the cesarean delivery rate,” comparing successful conversion to OA with failures reported an overall institutional success rate of 90% among 796 women. A “before and after” study, “Digital rotation from occipito-posterior to occipito-anterior decreases the need for cesarean section,” reported that before introducing the technique, among 30 women with an OP baby in second stage, 85% of the babies were still OP at delivery compared with 6% of 31 women treated with manual rotation. The cesarean rate was 23% in the “before” group versus 0% in the “after” group. The third study, “Manual rotation to reduce caesarean delivery in persistent occiput posterior or transverse position,” compared 731 women having manual rotation of an OP baby in second stage with 2527 women having expectant management. The success rate of manual rotation was 74% and the overall cesarean rate in treated women was 9% versus 42% in the expectantly managed group.

Manual rotation is confirmed as effective, but is it safe? This last study reported similar rates of acidemia and delivery injury in newborns. As for their mothers, investigators calculated that four manual rotations would prevent one cesarean. The study also found fewer anal sphincter injuries and cases of chorioamnionitis. The only disadvantage was that one more woman per hundred having manual rotation would have a cervical laceration.Take home: Birth attendants should be trained in performing manual rotation, and it should be routine practice in women reaching full dilation with an OP baby.

What has been your experience with the OP baby?  Is what you are teaching and telling mothers in line with the current research?  Will you change what you say now that you have this update?  Share your thoughts in the comment section. – SM

References and resources

Cheng, Y. W., Cheng, Y. W., Shaffer, B. L., & Caughey, A. B. (2006). Associated factors and outcomes of persistent occiput posterior position: a retrospective cohort study from 1976 to 2001. Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine19(9), 563-568.

Desbriere R, Blanc J, Le Dû R, et al. Is maternal posturing during labor efficient in preventing persistent occiput posterior position? A randomized controlled trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2013;208:60.e1-8. PII: S0002-9378(12)02029-7 doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2012.10.882

Kariminia, A., Chamberlain, M. E., Keogh, J., & Shea, A. (2004). Randomised controlled trial of effect of hands and knees posturing on incidence of occiput posterior position at birth. bmj328(7438), 490.

Le Ray, C., Serres, P., Schmitz, T., Cabrol, D., & Goffinet, F. (2007). Manual rotation in occiput posterior or transverse positions: risk factors and consequences on the cesarean delivery rate. Obstetrics & Gynecology110(4), 873-879.

Lieberman, E., Davidson, K., Lee-Parritz, A., & Shearer, E. (2005). Changes in fetal position during labor and their association with epidural analgesia.Obstetrics & Gynecology105(5, Part 1), 974-982.

Reichman, O., Gdansky, E., Latinsky, B., Labi, S., & Samueloff, A. (2008). Digital rotation from occipito-posterior to occipito-anterior decreases the need for cesarean section. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology136(1), 25-28.

Shaffer, B. L., Cheng, Y. W., Vargas, J. E., & Caughey, A. B. (2011). Manual rotation to reduce caesarean delivery in persistent occiput posterior or transverse position. Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine24(1), 65-72.

Simkin, P. (2010). The fetal occiput posterior position: state of the science and a new perspective. Birth37(1), 61-71.

Stremler, R., Hodnett, E., Petryshen, P., Stevens, B., Weston, J., & Willan, A. R. (2005). Randomized Controlled Trial of Hands‐and‐Knees Positioning for Occipitoposterior Position in Labor. Birth32(4), 243-251.

Recommended resource: The fetal occiput posterior position: state of the science and a new perspective http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=simkin%202010%20posterior by Penny Simkin.


Babies, Cesarean Birth, Epidural Analgesia, Guest Posts, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Research , , , , , , , ,

Maternity Care On the National Agenda – New Opportunities for Educators and Advocates

January 17th, 2013 by avatar

Today, Amy Romano, CNM, MSN, Associate Director of Programs for Childbirth Connection (and former Community Manager for this blog) follows up last Thursday’s post, Have You Made the Connection with Childbirth Connection? Three Reports You Don’t Want to Miss with her professional suggestions for educators and advocates to consider using the data and information contained in these reports and offering your students, clients and patients the consumer materials that accompany them.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager.


As we begin 2013, it is clear from my vantage point at the Transforming Maternity Care Partnership that the transformation is underway. In Childbirth Connection’s nearly century-long history, we’ve never seen so much political will from leaders, so much passion from grassroots advocates, and so much collaboration among clinicians and other stakeholders. This new landscape presents many new opportunities for educators and advocates.

One area of maternity care that has garnered increasing attention is the overuse of cesarean section, especially in low-risk women. Last year, the multi-stakeholder Maternity Action Team at the National Priorities Partnership set goals for the U.S. health care system and identified promising strategies to reach these goals. One of the goals was to reduce the cesarean section rate in low-risk women to 15% or less. This work served as the impetus for Childbirth Connection to revisit and update our Cesarean Alert Initiative. We undertook a best evidence review to compare outcomes of cesarean delivery with those of vaginal birth. Based on the results, we also updated and redesigned our consumer booklet, What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know About Cesarean Section. These are powerful new tools to help educators and advocates push for safer care, support shared decision making, and inform and empower women.

Two of the biggest obstacles to change have been persistent liability concerns and the current payment system that rewards care that is fragmented and procedure-intensive. Efforts to make maternity care more evidence-based or woman-centered often run up against policies and attitudes rooted in fear of lawsuits or increasing malpractice premiums, or against the reality that clinicians can not get easily reimbursed for doing the right thing. But these barriers are shifting, 

Recently the literature has provided example after example of programs that reduced harm and saw rapid and dramatic drops in liability costs as a result. That’s right – one of the best ways to decrease liability costs is to provide safer care. Rigorous quality and safety programs are the most effective prevention strategy among the ten substantive solutions identified in Childbirth Connections new report, Maternity Care and Liability. The report pulls together the best available evidence and holds potential liability solutions up to a framework that addresses the diverse aims of a high-functioning liability system that serves childbearing women and newborns, maternity care clinicians, and payers.  

The evidence and analysis show that some of the most widely advocated reforms do not stand up to the framework, while quality improvement programs, shared decision making, and medication safety programs, among other interventions, all have potential to be win-win-win solutions for women and newborns, clinicians, and payers. If we are to find our way out of the intractable situation where liability concerns block progress, we must learn to effectively advocate for such win-win-win solutions.  Advocates and educators can better understand these solutions by accessing the 10 fact sheets and other related resources on our Maternity Care and Liability page.

Evidence also shows that improving the quality of care reduces costs to payers. As payment reforms roll out, there will be many more opportunities to realize these cost savings. To predict potential cost savings, however, it is necessary to know how much payers are currently paying for maternity care. Surprising, this information has been largely unavailable, and as a result we have had to settle for using facility charges as a proxy. This is a poor proxy because payers negotiate large discounts, and because charges data do not capture professional fees, lab and ultrasound costs, and other services. Childbirth Connection, along with our partners at Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, recently commissioned the most comprehensive available analysis of maternity care costs. The report, The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States shows wide variation across states, high costs for cesarean deliveries, and rapid growth in costs in the last decade. It also shows the sky-high costs uninsured women must pay – costs that can easily bankrupt a growing family. Even insured women face significant out-of-pocket costs that have increased nearly four-fold over six years. Fortunately, health care reform legislation has made out-of-pocket costs for maternity care more transparent by requiring a simple cost sample to each person choosing an individual or employer-sponsored health plan.

Educators and advocates have to be able to help women be savvy consumers of health care. That means being informed about their options and also being able to identify and work around barriers to high quality, safe, affordable care. Childbirth Connection produced this trio of reports to provide a well of data and analysis to help all stakeholders work toward a high-quality, high-value maternity care system.

How Childbirth Educators and Consumer Advocates Can Help

 What is the first thing that you are going to do to join this maternity care transformation? Can you share your ideas for using this information in your classroom or with clients or patients.  Can you bring others on board to help with this much needed transformation?- SM

Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Healthcare Reform, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Patient Advocacy, Research, Research for Advocacy, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , , , ,

It Takes a Professional Village! A Study Looks At Collaborative Interdisciplinary Maternity Care Programs on Perinatal Outcomes

September 19th, 2012 by avatar

The  Canadian Medical Association Journal, published in their September 12, 2012 issue a very interesting study examining how a team approach to maternity care might improve maternal and neonat aloutcomes.  The study, Effect of a collaborative interdisciplinary maternity care program on perinatal outcomes  is reviewed here.

The Challenge

Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jstownsley/28337593/

The number of physicians in Canada who provide obstetric care has declined in past years for reasons that include increasing physician retirement, closure of rural hospitals, liability concerns, dissatisfaction with the lifestyle and a difficulty in accessing maternity care in a variety of settings.  While registered midwife attended births may be on the rise, midwives in Canada attend less than 10% of all births nationwide.   At the same time as the number of doctors willing or able to attend births decline, cesarean rates are on the rise,  causing pressure on the maternity care system, including longer hospital stays both intrapartum and postpartum, which brings with it the associated costs and resources needed to accommodate this increase.

The diversity of the population having babies in many provinces is increasing, presenting additional challenges in meeting the non-French/English speaking population, who are more at risk for increased obstetrical interventions and are less likely to breastfeed.

The Study

In response to these challenges, the South Community Birth Program was established to provide care from a consortium of providers, including family practice physicians, community health nurses, doulas, midwives and others, who would work together to serve the multiethnic, low income communities that may be most at risk for interventions and surgery.

The retrospective cohort study examined outcomes between two matched groups of healthy women receiving maternity care in an ethically diverse region of South Vancouver, BC, Canada that has upwards of 45% immigrant families, 18% of them arriving in Canada in the past 5 years.  One group participated in the South Community Birth Program and the other received standard care in community based practices.

The South Community Birth Program offers maternity care in a team-based shared-care model, with the family practice doctors, midwives, nurses and doulas working together .  Women could be referred to the program by the health care provider or self refer.  After a few initial standard obstetrical appointments with a family practice doctor or midwife occur to determine medical history, physical examination, genetic history, necessary labs and other prenatal testing, the women and their partners are invited to join group prenatal care, based on the Centering Pregnancy Model.  Approximately 20% of the first time mothers choose to remain in the traditional obstetric care model.  10-12  families are grouped by their expected due date, and meet for 10 scheduled sessions, facilitated by either a family physician or midwife and a community nurse.  Each session has a carefully designed curriculum that covers nutrition, exercise, labor, birth and newborn care, among other topics.  Monthly meetings to discuss individual situations and access to comprehensive electronic medical records enhanced the collaboration between the team. Trained doulas, who speak 25 different languages, also meet with the family once prenatally and provide one on one continuous labor support during labor and birth. The admitting midwife or physician remains in the hospital during the patient’s labor and attends the birth.

After a hospital stay of 24-48 hours, the family receives a home visit from a family practice physician or midwife the day after discharge. Clinic breastfeeding and postpartum support is provided by a Master’s level clinical nurse specialist who is also a board certified lactation consultant.  At six weeks, the mother is discharged back to her physician, and a weekly drop in clinic is offered through 6 months postpartum.

The outcomes of the women in the South Community Birth Program were compared to women who received standard care from their midwives or family practice physicians.  Similar cohorts were established of women carrying a single baby of like ages, parity, and geographic region, and all the mothers were considered low risk and of normal body mass index.

The primary outcome measured was the proportion of women who underwent cesarean delivery.  The secondary outcomes measured were obstetrical interventions and maternal outcomes (method of fetal assessment during labor, use of analgesia during labor, augmentation or induction of labor, length of labor, perineal tramau, blood transfusion and length of stay) and neonatal outcomes (stillbirth, death before discharge, Apgar score less than 7, preterm delivery, small or large for gestational age, length of hospital stay, readmission, admission to neonatal intensive care unit for more than 24 hours and method of feeding at discharge).


There was more incidence of diabetes and previous cesareans in the comparison group but the level of alcohol and substance use was the same in both groups.  Midwives delivered 41.9% of the babies in the birth program and 7.4% of babies in the comparison group.

When the rate of cesarean delivery was examined for both nullips and multips, the birth group women were at significantly reduced risk of cesarean delivery and were not at increased risk of assisted vaginal delivery with forceps or vacuum.

Interestingly, the birth program women who received care from an obstetrician were significantly more likely to have a cesarean than those receiving in the standard program who also received care from an obstetrician.  More women in the birth program with a prior cesarean delivery planned a vaginal birth in this pregnancy, though the proportion of successful vaginal births after cesareans dd not differ between the two groups.

The women in the community birth program experienced more intermittent auscultation vs electronic fetal monitoring and were more likely to use nitrous oxide and oxygen alone for pain relief and less likely to use epidural analgesia (Table 3).  Though indications for inductions did not differ, the birth program women were less likely to be induced.  More third degree perineal tears were observed in the birth program group but less episiotomies were performed.  Hospital stays were shorter for both mothers and newborns in the community program.

When you look at the newborns in the birth program, they were at marginally increased risk of being large for gestational age and were readmitted to the hospital in the first 28 days after birth at a higher rate, the majority of readmissions in the community and standard care group were due to jaundice. Exclusive breastfeeding in the birth program group was higher than in the standard group.


The mothers and the babies in the community birth program were offered collaborative, multidisciplinary, community based care and this resulted in a lower cesarean rate, shorter hospital stays, experienced less interventions and they left the hospital more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding. Many of the outcomes observed in this study, especially for the families participating in the South Birth Community Program are in line with Lamaze International’s Healthy Birth Practices.  There are many questions that can be raised, and some of them are are discussed by the authors.

Was it the collaborative care from an interdisciplinary team result in better outcomes?  Was there a self-selection by the women themselves for the low intervention route that resulted in the observed differences?  Are the care providers themselves who are more likely to support normal birth self-selecting to work in the community birth program? Did the fact that the geographic area of the study had been underserved by maternity providers before the study play a role in the outcomes? Did the emotional and social support provided by the prenatal and postpartum group meetings facilitate a more informed or engaged group of families?

I also wonder how childbirth educators, added to such a model program, might also offer opportunity to reduce interventions and improve outcomes  Could childbirth educators in your community partner with other maternity care providers to work collaboratively to meet the perinatal needs of expectant families?  Would bringing health care providers interested in supporting physiologic birth in to share their knowledge in YOUR classrooms help to create an environment where families felt supported by an entire skilled team of people helping them to achieve better outcomes.

Would this model be financially and logistically replicable in other underserved communities and help to alleviate some of the concerns of a reduction in obstetrical providers and increased cesareans and interventions without improved maternal and newborn outcomes? And how can you, the childbirth educator, play a role?


Azad MB, Korzyrkyj AL. Perinatal programming of asthma: the role of the gut microbiota. Clin Dev Immunol 2012 Nov. 3 [Epub ahead of print].

Canadian Association of Midwives. Annual report 2011. Montréal (QC): The Association; 2011. Available: www .canadianmidwives.org /data/document /agm %202011 %20inal .pdf

Farine D, Gagnon R; Maternal Fetal Medicine Committee of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Are we facing a crisis in maternal fetal medicine in Canada? J Obstet Gynaecol Can 2008;30:598-9.

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Unintended Consequences: Cesarean Section, The Gut Microbiota, and Child Health

July 12th, 2012 by avatar

Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Mark Sloan, pediatrician and author of Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History and the Wonder of Childbirth.  Dr. Sloan takes a look at impact of cesarean birth on normal gut bacteria.  – SM

When I first learned some years ago that cesarean section was associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma and eczema, I eagerly awaited the rest of the story. What could the link possibly be? Epidurals? Anesthetics? Antibiotics? Something strange and exotic was afoot, I was certain.

Imagine my surprise, then, when a growing body of evidence pointed to an unexpected source: the newborn gastrointestinal tract and the microorganisms that live there.

How might intestinal bacteria play such a major role in the health and well-being of newborns and children? The answer lies in an ancient, mutually beneficial relationship between humans and bacteria, one that modern birth technology has dramatically altered.

* * *

Creative Commons photo by Eric Erbe, Colorization by Christopher Pooley. USDA

“Microbiota” is the term used to describe the community of microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, and fungi—that normally live in or on a given organ in the body. There’s a unique microbiota that inhabits the mouth, for example, another that lives on the skin, and still another that populates the intestine, or gut. Given an intestinal surface area of about 2,700 square feet—more or less the size of a tennis court—the microbiota inhabiting the gut is the largest and most diverse in the body.

How large and diverse? The gut microbiota contains roughly one quadrillion cells—at least ten times as many cells as does the human body itself. More than 1,000 bacterial species having been identified to date, with unknown numbers yet to be discovered.

How do all those bacteria get there? The fetal intestine, in the absence of congenital infection, is sterile in utero. The bacteria that come to colonize the bowel are acquired during birth and shortly afterwards, a process that is very much influenced by how a baby is born.

The gut microbiota and mode of delivery

In vaginally-born babies, the bacteria destined for the gut microbiota originate primarily in the maternal birth canal and rectum. Once these bacteria are swallowed by the newborn, they travel through the stomach and colonize the upper and lower intestine, a complicated process that evolves rapidly.

Infants born by cesarean section—particularly cesareans performed before labor begins—don’t encounter the bacteria of the birth canal and maternal rectum. (If a cesarean is performed during labor the infant may be exposed to these bacteria, but to a lesser degree than in vaginal birth.) Instead, bacteria from the skin and hospital environment quickly populate the bowel. As a result, the bacteria inhabiting the lower intestine following a cesarean birth can differ significantly from those found in the vaginally-born baby.

Whatever the mode of delivery, a core gut microbiota is well established within a few weeks of life and persists largely intact into adulthood. A less stable peripheral microbiota—one that is more sensitive to changes in diet and environmental factors, like antibiotics—is created as well. Between one and two years of age, when weaning from breast milk typically leads to a diet lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates, the gut microbiota takes on its final, mature profile.

Development of the newborn immune system 

The dramatic first steps in immune system development take place at the same time the core microbiota is being formed, and the gut bacteria play a key role in that process.

In the hours and days following birth, the newly-arrived gut bacteria stimulate the newborn to produce white blood cells and other immune system components, including antibodies directed at unwelcome, disease-causing microorganisms. The bacteria of the microbiota also “teach” the newborn’s immune system to tolerate their own presence—to differentiate bacterial friend from foe, in other words.

In a cesarean birth the fledgling immune system is confronted with unfamiliar, often hostile bacteria—including Clostridium difficile, a particularly troublesome hospital-acquired bug. In addition, the healthy probiotic bacteria associated with vaginal birth (e.g., lactobacillus) arrive later and in lower numbers. These changes in the composition of the normal gut microbiota occur during a critical time in immune system development.

The cesarean-asthma theory (in a nutshell) 

Here’s how cesareans and asthma are likely connected:

Creative Commons photo by hemangi28

Humans evolved right along with the gut microbiota normally acquired during vaginal birth. When the composition of the microbiota is imbalanced, or unusual germs like Clostridium difficile appear, the immune system doesn’t like it. A low-grade, long-lasting inflammatory response directed at these intruders begins at birth, leading to a kind of weakness and “leakiness” of the intestinal lining. Proteins and carbohydrates that normally would not be absorbed from the intestinal contents—including large, incompletely digested food molecules—make their way into the infant’s bloodstream.

To make a very long story short, inflammation and the abnormal processing of food that results appear to increase the risk of asthma and eczema—and diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions—later in life.

* * *

Normalizing the post-cesarean gut microbiota

 Reducing the cesarean rate is an obvious best practice in promoting a healthy gut microbiota. But there will always be a need for cesarean section, and so researchers are starting to focus on “normalization” of the gut microbiota of cesarean-born babies. Although there are as yet no proven therapies, here are some possibilities:

  • Probiotics. Though administering healthful probiotic bacteria to correct an imbalanced microbiota makes intuitive sense, studies to date have been disappointing, with only minor, short-lived changes changes to the gut microbiota. However, research into “good” bacteria and how they become established in the intestine is active and ongoing.
  • Direct transfer of maternal secretions. Placing maternal vaginal and rectal material into the newborn’s mouth has been proposed—more or less mimicking natural colonization—but to date there are no published studies to support the practice.
  • Fecal transplantation. Direct transfer of fecal material from healthy adults into the gastrointestinal tracts of people suffering from Clostridium difficile infections has shown promise. Could healthy parents serve as “donors” for their babies? Applying such technology to otherwise healthy newborns is highly impractical at present, to say the least. Still, refinements may someday make this a viable option.


A cesarean section doesn’t automatically condemn a child to a lifetime of asthma or eczema, just as a vaginal birth isn’t a guarantee of perfect health. But cesarean birth, by altering normal gut microbiota and immune system development, does appear to moderately increase the risk of these and other chronic health conditions. A woman who has the option of choosing her mode of delivery should add this to the many other factors she must weigh in deciding how her baby will be born.

Childbirth educators and other birth professionals, when you speak to your classes or clients about the benefits and risks of cesarean section, do you mention this information.  What do you think about this connection?  What should your students know about how to minimize the impact of cesarean on the future potential health of their children?  Please share your thoughts on the comment section,- SM

 Selected references:

1)    Effects of mode of delivery on gut microbiota composition 

Biasucci G, Rubini M, Riboni S, et al (2010). Mode of delivery affects the bacterial community in the newborn gut. Early Human Development 86:S13-S15

Penders J, Tjhijs C, Vink C, et al (2006). Factors influencing the composition of the intestinal microbiota in early infancy. Pediatrics 118(2):511-521.

Salimen S, Gibson GR, McCartney AL (2004). Influence of mode of delivery on gut microbiota in seven year old children. Gut 53:1388-1389.

2)    Development of the newborn immune system

Huurre A, et al (2008). Mode of delivery: Effects on gut microbiota and humoral immunity. Neonatology 93:236-240.

Johnson C, Versalovic J (2012). The human microbiome and its potential importance to pediatrics.  Pediatrics (published online April 2, 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds2011-2736).

Vael C, Desager, K (2009). The importance of the development of the intestinal microbiota in infancy. Current Opinion in Pediatrics 21(6):794-800

3)    Cesarean birth, gut microbiota, and asthma/atopic disease

Azad M, Korzyrkyj A (2012). Perinatal programming of asthma: The role of the gut microbiota. Clinical and Developmental Immunology Volume 2012; Article ID 932072; doi:10.1155/2012/932072

Thanvagnanam S, Fleming J, Bromley A, et al (2008). A meta-analysis of the association between caesarean section and childhood asthma. Clinical & Experimental Allergy 38(4): 629-633.

van Nimwegen F, Penders J, Stobberingh E, et al (2011). Mode and place of delivery, gastrointestinal microbiota, and their influence on asthma and atopy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 128(5):948-955.e3

About Mark Sloan, M.D.

Mark Sloan has been a pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics for more than 25 years. Since 1982, he has practiced with the Permanente Medical Group in Sacramento and Santa Rosa, California, where he was Chief of Pediatrics from 1997 to 2002. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Sloan’s first book, Birth Day: A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History and the Wonder of Childbirth was published in 2009 by Ballantine BooksHis writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, and Notre Dame Magazine, among other publications.  Dr. Sloan can be reached through his blog.



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