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Henci Goer – Fact Checking the New York Times Home Birth Debate

February 26th, 2015 by avatar
home birth

© HoboMama

An article in The New York Times Opinion Pages – Room for Debate was released on February 24th, 2015.  As customary in this style of article, the NYT asks a variety of experts to provide essays on the topic at hand, in this case, the safety of home birth. Henci Goer, author and international speaker on maternity care, and an occasional contributor to our blog, takes a look at the facts on home birth and evaluates how they line up with some of the essay statements. Read Henci’s analysis below.  – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

As one would predict, three of the four obstetricians participating in the NY Times debate “Is Home Birth Ever a Safe Choice?“assert that home birth is unacceptably risky. Equally predictably, the evidentiary support for their position is less than compelling.

John Jennings, MD president of the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, in his response- “Emergency Care Can Be Too Urgently Needed,” cites a 2010 meta-analysis by Wax and colleagues that has been thoroughly debunked. Here is but one of the many commentaries, Meta-Analysis: The Wrong Tool Wielded Improperly, pointing out its weaknesses. In a nutshell, the meta-analysis includes studies in its newborn mortality calculation that were not confined to low-risk women having planned home births with a qualified home birth attendant while omitting a well-conducted Dutch home birth study that dwarfed the others in size and reported equivalent newborn death rates in low-risk women beginning labor at home and similar women laboring in the hospital (de Jonge 2009).

The other naysayers, Grunebaum and Chervenak, in their response – “Home Birth Is Not Safe“, source their support to an earlier NY Times blog post that, in turn, cites a study conducted by the two commentators (and others) (Grunebaum 2014). Their study uses U.S. birth certificate data from 2006 to 2009 to compare newborn mortality (day 1 to day 28) rates at home births attended by a midwife, regardless of qualifications, with births attended by a hospital-based midwife, who almost certainly would be a certified nurse midwife (CNM) in babies free of congenital anomalies, weighing 2500 g or more, and who had reached 37 weeks gestation. The newborn mortality rate with home birth midwives was 126 per 10,000 versus 32 per 10,000 among the hospital midwives, nearly a 4-fold difference. However, as an American College of Nurse-Midwives commentary on the abstract for the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine presentation that preceded the study’s publication observed, vital statistics data aren’t reliably accurate, don’t permit confident determination of intended place of birth, and don’t follow transfers of care during labor.

As it happens, we have a study that is accurate and allows us to do both those things. The Midwives Alliance of North America study reports on almost 17,000 planned home births taking place between 2004 and 2009 (Cheyney 2014b), and therefore overlapping Grunebaum and Chervenak’s analysis, in which all but 1000 births (6%) were attended by certified or licensed home birth midwives. According to the MANA stats, the newborn death rate in women who had never had a cesarean and who were carrying one, head-down baby, free of lethal congenital anomalies was 53 per 10,000, NOT 126 per 10,000. This is less than half the rate in the Grunebaum and Chervenak analysis. (As a side note, let me forestall a critique of the MANA study, which is that midwives simply don’t submit births with bad outcomes to the MANA database. In point of fact, midwives register women in the database in pregnancy [Cheyney 2014a], before, obviously, labor outcome could be known. Once enrolled, data are logged throughout pregnancy, labor and birth, and the postpartum, so once in the system, women can’t fall off the radar screen.)

We’re not done. Grunebaum and Chervenak’s analysis suffers from another glaring flaw as well. Using hospital based midwives as the comparison group would seem to make sense at first glance, but unlike the MANA stats, which recorded outcomes regardless of where women ultimately gave birth or who attended them, hospital-based midwives would transfer care to an obstetrician when complications arose. This would remove labors at higher risk of newborn death from their statistics because the obstetrician would be listed on the birth certificate as the attendant, not the midwife. For this reason, the hospital midwife rate of 32 per 10,000 is almost certainly artificially low. So Grunebaum and Chervenak’s difference of 94 per 10,000 has become 21 per 10,000 at most and probably much less than that, a difference that I’d be willing to bet isn’t statistically significant, meaning unlikely to be due to chance. On the other hand, studies consistently find that, even attended by midwives, several more low-risk women per 100 will end up with cesarean surgery—more if they’re first-time mothers—then compared with women planning home births (Romano, 2012).

Hopefully, I’ve helped to provide a defense for those who may find themselves under attack as a result of the NY Times article. I’m not sanguine, though. As can be seen by Jennings, Grunebaum, and Chervenak, people against home birth often fall into the category of “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

photo source: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by HoboMama: http://flickr.com/photos/44068064@N04/8586579077

References

Cheyney, M., Bovbjerg, M., Everson, C., Gordon, W., Hannibal, D., & Vedam, S. (2014). Development and validation of a national data registry for midwife-led births: the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project 2.0 dataset. J Midwifery Womens Health, 59(1), 8-16. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12165 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24479670

Cheyney, M., Bovbjerg, M., Everson, C., Gordon, W., Hannibal, D., & Vedam, S. (2014b). Outcomes of care for 16,924 planned home births in the United States: the midwives alliance of north america statistics project, 2004 to 2009. J Midwifery Womens Health, 59(1), 17-27. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12172 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24479690

de Jonge, A., van der Goes, B. Y., Ravelli, A. C., Amelink-Verburg, M. P., Mol, B. W., Nijhuis, J. G., . . . Buitendijk, S. E. (2009). Perinatal mortality and morbidity in a nationwide cohort of 529,688 low-risk planned home and hospital births. BJOG 116(9), 1177-1184. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=1177%5Bpage%5D+AND+2009%5Bpdat%5D+AND+de+jonge%5Bauthor%5D&cmd=detailssearch

Grunebaum, A., McCullough, L. B., Sapra, K. J., Brent, R. L., Levene, M. I., Arabin, B., & Chervenak, F. A. (2014). Early and total neonatal mortality in relation to birth setting in the United States, 2006-2009. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 211(4), 390 e391-397. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2014.03.047 http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(14)00275-0/abstract

Romano, A. (2012). The place of birth: home births. In Goer H. & Romano A. (Eds.), Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach. Seattle, WA: Classic Day Publishing.

Wax, J. R., Lucas, F. L., Lamont, M., Pinette, M. G., Cartin, A., & Blackstone, J. (2010). Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 203(3), 243.e241-e248. http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378%2810%2900671-X/abstract

About Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer, award-winning medical writer and internationally known speaker, is the author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach She is the winner of the American College of Nurse-Midwives “Best Book of the Year” award. An independent scholar, she is an acknowledged expert on evidence-based maternity care.  

 

 

Babies, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Home Birth, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery , , , , ,

Thank You Midwives! join Lamaze in Celebrating National Midwifery Week!

October 7th, 2014 by avatar

midwifery week poster 2014Please join Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility as we celebrate National Midwifery Week.  Midwives can and should play an integral part of healthy and safe birth practices here in the United States and around the world. Maternal infant health organizations and consumers alike are now aware that we have reached a tipping point.  Our cesarean rate is too high, the availability of VBAC supportive providers is dismal, the rate of inductions, particularly before 39 weeks is cause for concern, labor augmentations are commonplace and infant mortality – particularly amongst babies of color, in our country puts the United States ranking at an embarrassing 56 amongst all the other countries.

The midwifery model of care offers women and babies care by qualified, skilled health care providers who are experts at normal physiologic birth and meeting the needs of healthy, low risk, pregnant women.  The midwifery model of care respects the shared decision making process between the mother and her health care provider, the importance of the mother’s emotional health as well as her physical health and recognizes pregnancy and birth as part of a woman’s normal lifecycle, rather than an illness or pathological condition.  There is respect for the normal physiological process of birth, and the recognition that when things deviate from normal, collaboration and referral to obstetricians and other specialists is appropriate.  When midwives have the opportunity to care for more healthy low risk women, the United States might start to see some of the dismal statistics reverse, and women and babies will benefit from the new trend.

The American College of Nurse Midwives has created a consumer website, Our Moment of Truth, where women can learn more about midwifery, increase awareness and understanding of the different care options available, make informed choices about the type of care they would like to receive and even find a midwife in their area.  There is also a brochure available – “Normal Healthy Childbirth for Women and Families: What You Need to Know” to download in English and Spanish and share with your students and clients. This document and the ACNM program “Our Moment of Truth” was supported and endorsed by Lamaze International along with many other maternal infant health organizations.

The ACNM has a very nice “Essential Facts about Midwives” info sheet that contains some great statistics and information about Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Midwives.  Midwives can catch babies in hospitals, birth centers and at home and Medicaid reimbursement is mandated for CNMS/CMs in all 50 states.  In 2012, CNMs/CMs attended over 300,000 births in the U.S.  When you add in Certified Professional Midwives/Licensed Midwives who also attend births at birth centers and homes, the number of midwife attended births goes up even further.

ACNM has created a fun video highlighting midwives and the care they provide.  I have also collected of a few of my favorite videos about midwives that you might enjoy viewing and sharing.

Mother of Many from emma lazenby on Vimeo.

What are you doing to celebrate and honor midwives this week?  Do you talk about the midwifery model of care in your childbirth classes and with your doula clients?  What resources do you like using to help your students understand the scope of practice and benefits of working with midwives?  Share with others in our comments below.

Babies, Childbirth Education, Healthy Birth Practices, Home Birth, Midwifery, Newborns , , , , , , ,

The Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Home Birth to Hospital – Collaboration Can Improve Outcomes

April 17th, 2014 by avatar

 By Lawrence Leeman, MD, MPH and Diane Holzer, LM, CPM, PA-C

© http://www.mybirth.com.au/

© http://www.mybirth.com.au/

On Tuesday, readers learned about the history and objectives of the Home Birth Consensus Summit, a collective of stakeholders, whose goal is to improve maternal infant health outcomes and increase collaboration between all those involved in serving women who are planning home births.  The interdisciplinary collaboration that occurs during the Summits brings representatives from many different perspectives to the table in order to improve the birth process for women and babies. You may want to start with the post “Finding Common Ground: The Home Birth Consensus Summit” and then enjoy today’s post on the Home Birth Consensus Summit’s just released “The Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Home Birth to Hospital.”  Today’s post was written by Dr. Lawrence Leeman and Midwife Diane Holzer, two of the members on the HBCS Collaboration Task Force, a subgroup tasked with developing these transfer guidelines.  Share your thoughts on these new guidelines and your opinion on if you feel that they will improve safety and outcomes for mothers and babies. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Leea Brady was a second-time mother whose first baby was born at home. One day past her due date, an ultrasound revealed high levels of amniotic fluid, which can pose a risk during delivery. Although she planned to have her baby at home, on the advice of her midwife, Leea transferred to her local hospital.

“I knew that we needed to be in the hospital in case anything went wrong,” said Brady. “I was really surprised when I arrived and the hospital staff told me they had read my birth plan, and they would do everything they could to honor our intentions for the birth. My midwife was able to stay throughout the birth, which meant a lot, because I had a trusting relationship with her. She clearly had good relationships with the hospital staff, and they worked together as a team.”

A recent descriptive study (Cheyney, 2014) reports that about ten percent of women who plan home births transfer to the hospital after the onset of labor. The reason for the overwhelming majority of transfers are the need for labor augmentation and other non-emergent issues. Brady’s transfer from a planned home birth to the hospital represents the ideal: good communication and coordination between providers in different settings, minimizing the potential for negative outcomes.

However, in some communities, lack of trust and poor communication between clinicians during the transfer have jeopardized the physical and emotional well being of the family, and been frustrating for both transferring and receiving providers. Lack of role clarity and poor communication across disciplines have been linked to preventable adverse neonatal and maternal outcomes, including death.(Guise, 2013,Cornthwaite, 2008) With optimal communication and cooperation among health care providers, though, families often report high satisfaction, despite not being in the location of their choice.

Recent national initiatives have been directed at improving interprofessional collaboration in maternity care.(Vedam, 2014) This is why a multi-disciplinary working group of leaders from obstetrics, family medicine, pediatrics, midwifery, and consumer groups came together to form a set of guidelines for transfer from home to hospital. The Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Planned Home Birth to Hospital are being officially launched today by the Home Birth Consensus Summit and will be highlighted at a series of upcoming presentations at conferences and health care facilities.

The authors of the guidelines, known as the Home Birth Summit Collaboration Task Force, formed as a result of their work together at the Home Birth Summits.

© http://flic.kr/p/3mcESR

© http://flic.kr/p/3mcESR

“Some hospital based providers are fearful of liability concerns, or they are unfamiliar with the credentials and the training of home birth providers,” said Dr. Timothy Fisher, MD, MS, at the Hubbard Center for Women’s Health in Keene, NH and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dartmouth Medical School. “But families are going to choose home birth, for a variety of cultural and personal beliefs. These guidelines are the first of their kind to provide a template for hospitals and home birth providers to come together with clearly defined expectations.”

The guidelines provide a roadmap for maternity care organizations developing policies around the transfer from home to hospital. They are also appropriate for transfer from a free-standing birth center to hospital.

The guidelines include model practices for the midwife and the hospital staff. Some guidelines include the efficient transfer of records and information, a shared-decision making process among hospital staff and the transferring family, and ongoing involvement of the transferring midwife as appropriate.

“When the family sees that their midwife trusts and respects the doctor receiving care, that trust is transferred to the new provider,” said Dr. Ali Lewis, a member of the HBCS Collaboration Task Force. She became involved with the work of the committee in part because of her experiences with a transfer that was not handled optimally. “It is rare that transfers come in as true emergency. But when they do, if the midwife can tell the family she trusts my decisions, then I can get consent much more quickly, which results in better care and higher patient satisfaction.”

The guidelines also encourage hospital providers and staff to be sensitive to the psychosocial needs of the woman that result from the change of birth setting.

“When families enter into the hospital and feel as if things are being done to them as opposed to with them, they feel like a victim in the process,” said Diane Holzer, LM, CPM, PA-C, and the chair of the HBCS Collaboration Task Force. “When families are incorporated in the decision-making process, and feel as if their baby and their body is being respected, they leave the hospital describing a positive experience, even though it wasn’t what they had planned.”

The guidelines are open source, meaning that hospitals and practices can use or adapt any part of the guidelines. The Home Birth Summit delegates welcome endorsements of the guidelines from organizations, institutions, health care providers, and other stakeholders.

References

Cornthwaite, K., Edwards, S., & Siassakos, D. (2013). Reducing risk in maternity by optimising teamwork and leadership: an evidence-based approach to save mothers and babies. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 27(4), 571-581.

Cheyney, M., Bovbjerg, M., Everson, C., Gordon, W., Hannibal, D., & Vedam, S. (2014). Outcomes of Care for 16,924 Planned Home Births in the United States: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

Guise, J. M., & Segel, S. (2008). Teamwork in obstetric critical care. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 22(5), 937-951.

Vedam S, Leeman L, Cheyney M, Fisher T, Myers S, Low L, Ruhl C. Transfer from planned home birth to hospital: inter-professional collaboration leads to quality improvement . Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, November 2014, In Press.

About the Authors:

leeman larry headshotDr. Lawrence Leeman, MD, MPH/Medical Director, Maternal Child Health, received his degree from University of California, San Francisco in 1988 and completed residency training in Family Medicine at UNM. He practiced rural Family Medicine at the Zuni/Ramah Indian Health Service Hospital for six years. He subsequently earned a fellowship in Obstetrics. He is board certified in Family Medicine. He directs the Family Medicine Maternal and Child Health service and fellowship and co-medical director of the UNM Hospital Mother-Baby Unit. Dr. Leeman practices the family medicine with a special interest in the care of pregnant women and newborns. He is Medical Director of the Milagro Program that provides prenatal care and maternity care services to women with substance abuse problems. Dr. Leeman is a Professor in the Departments of Family & Community Medicine, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is currently the Managing Editor for the nationwide Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics (ALSO) program. Areas of research include rural maternity care, pelvic floor outcomes after childbirth, family planning, and vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Clinic: Family Medicine Center

Diane Holzer head shotDiane Holzer, LM, CPM, PA-C, has been a practicing midwife for over 30 years with experience in both home and birth center. She was one of the founding women who passionately created an infrastructure for the integration of home birth midwifery into the system. She sat on the Certification Task Force which led to the CPM credential and also was a board member of the Midwifery Education and Accreditation council for 13 years. She served the Midwives Alliance of North America on the board for 20 years and is the chair of the International Section being the liaison to the International Confederation of Midwives. Diane is the Chair of the Collaboration Task Force of the Home Birth Summit and currently has a home birth practice and works as a Physician Assistant doing primary health care in a rural Family Practice clinic.

Babies, Guest Posts, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternal Mortality, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Midwifery, Newborns, Practice Guidelines, Transforming Maternity Care , , , , , , , ,

Finding Common Ground: The Home Birth Consensus Summit

April 15th, 2014 by avatar
© HBCS

© HBCS

While home birth has a proven safety record in countries outside the U.S., some attribute that to the fact that, in other countries, home birth takes place in the context of an integrated health care system. It is critical that all of the stakeholders in the maternal health care system are working together to ensure safe birth options in the U.S. as well.

The Home Birth Consensus Summit (HBCS) is a unique collaboration of all of the stakeholders currently involved in home birth in the United States. First held in 2011, the Home Birth Consensus Summit offers physicians, midwives, consumers, administrators and policy makers; (a varied group of representatives who do not often share common ground,) a chance to take a 360 degree look at the current maternal health care system and tease out the areas of conflict and common ground in order to increase safety in all birth settings.

Today on Science & Sensibility, our readers learn about the Home Birth Consensus Summit; its participants, purpose and process. Thursday, we will have the opportunity to review one of the groundbreaking products from the past two summits, when the HBCS releases the “Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Home Birth to Hospital” for consideration and adoption by maternal health organizations. Learn more about the HBCS from Summit Delegate Jeanette McCulloch as she interviews Saraswathi Vedam, RM FACNM MSN Sci D(hc), Home Birth Consensus Summit convener and chair. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

Jeanette McCulloch: What was the motivation behind launching the Home Birth Consensus Summit?

Saraswathi Vedam: Women want – and deserve – respectful, high quality maternity care regardless of their planned place of birth. Women and their families are not served by the interprofessional conflict and confusion that occurs in many regions in the US around place of birth.

While there may be points of disagreement, I know from numerous conversations with consumers, midwives, physicians, administrators, and policy makers that there are many more areas in maternity care where we all share a common set of principles and goals. Everyone is committed to working towards improved quality and safety for women and infants.

In 2011, a very intentionally selected group of stakeholders came together for the first Summit at the Airlie Center, in Warrenton, VA. These individuals represented all key leaders of the maternity care team, researchers, policy makers, payors, consumers, and consumer advocates. They came to the Summit with a wide variety of perspectives – including those for and against planned home birth. At the Summit, these delegates engaged in a unique process designed to help those with opposing viewpoints untangle complex issues. This process, called Future Search, guided the group through a complete exploration of every aspect of the maternal health care system. There were frank, challenging, and productive conversations, often among stakeholders who rarely, if ever, had been at the same table before. Once we were able to discover common ground, we were able to create a realistic and achievable strategic action plan together.

JM: Tell us about what common ground the Home Birth Consensus Summit has found so far.

SV:  As the delegates discussed their shared responsibilities and vision for providing the best possible care, we realized that the vision applied to all birth settings. The nine common ground statements describe a maternity care environment that respects the woman’s autonomy, ensuring she has safe access to qualified providers in all settings, and that the whole team that may care for her are well prepared with the clinical skills and knowledge that best applies to her specific situation. This will require attention to equity, cross-professional education, and research that includes the woman in defining the elements of “safety” and accurately describes the effects of birth place, or different models of care, on outcomes. The delegates shared a goal of increasing knowledge and access to physiologic birth, access to professional education and systems for quality monitoring for all types of midwives, from all communities; and reduction in barriers like cost and liability. Coming to this place of understanding and agreement, though, was only the beginning. Each of those action statements had to be turned into a concrete action plan that all of the stakeholders collaborated on developing.

© HBCS

© HBCS

JM: What is happening with the common ground statements now?

SV: Multi-disciplinary work groups have formed around each common ground statement. In 2013, the work groups came together for the second summit, again at the Airlie Center, to discuss progress made so far and tackle challenges.

Coming to this place of understanding and agreement, though, was only the beginning. The common ground statements are also encouraging a dialogue outside of our action groups that we could have never predicted. For example, the statements were read into the congressional record by Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, who said that the publication of the Home Birth Consensus document was “of critical importance to all current and future childbearing families in this country.” In the following year, several of the Summit delegates were invited panelists and presenters at an Institute of Medicine Workshop on Research Issues in the Assessment of Birth Settings.

JM: What are some of the top outcomes of the work groups?

SV: One exciting outcome – a set of Best Practice Guidelines to provide optimal care for mothers and families transferring from home to hospital – will be released by the Home Birth Consensus Summit later this week. This project represents what the Summits are all about: bringing together stakeholders to look at every facet of an issue, and work together on concrete initiatives to improve outcomes. These guidelines are based on the best available research on effective interprofessional collaboration. Delegates who are leading midwives, physicians, nurses, policy makers and consumers from across the U.S. formed the Collaboration Task Force. They met regularly over eight months on weekends and after hours to research and carefully design a concrete evidence-based tool to improve quality and safety for women and increase respectful communication among providers. Easing the friction that can sometimes occur when families arrive at the hospital can not only increase safety for families, but also build trust and collaboration between providers.

© HBCS

© HBCS

Another group is collaborating to develop a Best Practice Regulation and Licensure Toolkit – a resource for state policy makers that will provide a best practice model of midwifery regulation to be used as a template to enact or improve licensure in a particular state.

Another important outcome is a study of midwives and mothers of color to better understand social and health care inequities that lead to higher incidence of prematurity and low birth weight.

JM: What comes next for the Summit?

SV: The action groups are continuing their work on initiatives in each of the common ground areas. At Summit III, scheduled for Fall 2014 in Seattle, WA, each action work group will share the products of their collaborations, and address some remaining priorities. These include research and data collection, ethics, and access to equitable care during pregnancy. We plan to expand the participants to include more leaders from policy and practice to disseminate the documents and engage more in this exciting work.

I have been working towards ensuring equitable birth options for women and their families for nearly 30 years. My goal for the Summits is to increase the probability that my four daughters – and everyone’s daughters, wives, and sisters – will experience high quality, respectful maternity care.

What are your thoughts on the Home Birth Consensus Summits and this collaborative model?  How do you see this further maternal infant health and safety.  What would you like to see discussed by the stakeholders at Summit III in Seattle this fall?  Let us know in the comments and join us on Thursday to learn more about the details of the soon to be released “Best Practice Guidelines: Transfer from Home Birth to Hospital.”

Bios:

© Saraswathi Vedam

© Saraswathi Vedam

Saraswathi Vedam, RM FACNM MSN Sci D(hc), is the convener and chair of the Home Birth Consensus Summit. She has been active in setting national and international policy on home birth and midwifery education and regulation, providing expert consultations in Mexico, Hungary, Chile, China, Canada, and the United States. She serves as Senior Advisor to the MANA Division of Research, Chair of the ACNM Transfer Task Force, and Executive Board Member, Canadian Association of Midwifery Educators. Over the past 28 years she has cared for families in all birth settings. Professor Vedam’s scholarly work includes critical appraisal of the literature on planned home birth, and development of the first US registry of home birth perinatal data. Contact Saraswathi Vedam.

© Jeanette McCulloch

© Jeanette McCulloch

Jeanette McCulloch, IBCLC, is the co-founder of BirthSwell an organization improving infant and maternal health by changing the way we talk about birth and breastfeeding. She has been using strategic communications and messaging to change policy, spread new ideas, and build thriving businesses for more than 20 years. Jeanette is honored to be working with local, national, and international birth and breastfeeding organizations (including the Home Birth Consensus Summit) and advocates ensuring that women have access to high-quality care and information.

Babies, Healthcare Reform, Home Birth, Legal Issues, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Newborns, Practice Guidelines, Uncategorized , , , , ,

Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections – A Research Review by Jessica English

April 3rd, 2014 by avatar

By Jessica English, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA)

Today’s research examines the factors that influenced women who chose home birth for the subsequent child, after their previous child was born in a hospital.  Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator Jessica English, along with midwifery colleagues just published “Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections” in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health.  Jessica shares about the research, some of the findings and wraps up speaking about the role that childbirth educators can play in helping women to find satisfaction in their chosen birth location. Are you an LCCE and have published research?  Consider writing a review for S&S.  I would love to highlight our LCCEs.  – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

As a childbirth educator and doula, I have been listening to women’s birth stories for many years. I’m honored that they trust me again and again with the details of their triumphs, frustrations, joys and sometimes outright trauma. When my agency, Birth Kalamazoo, organized a meeting in 2011 to discuss the midwifery model of care, I didn’t think much of it when the attendees introduced themselves and shared a few details about their births. After all, I knew most of them very well (having taught them or in some cases even attended their births), and I knew their stories.

But one of the midwives we’d invited to speak that day took special note of those stories. Ruth Zielinski, PhD, is a hospital-based nurse-midwife, university professor and researcher in my community. She noticed that a handful of the women who spoke mentioned that they had given birth to their first baby in the hospital, then chose home birth for later babies. She approached me after the meeting, curious about why the women might have chosen home birth after their hospital experiences. I shared my perceptions based on my experience listening to women. Intrigued, Ruth wondered if this was something we could research? Neither of us had ever seen academic research on the topic of women who chose home birth after a hospital experience. Soon enough, we had a four-woman research team in place: Ruth; myself; Kelly Ackerson, an academic colleague from Ruth’s department of nursing; and one of Ruth’s undergraduate students, an honors nursing student who was planning a career in midwifery.

Our first task was to identify the structure of the research process. How would we get the information we needed? We settled quickly on focus groups, and wrote a series of open-ended questions that we expected to elicit the participating women’s honest assessments of both their home and hospital experiences, as well as the reasons behind their decision to choose home birth. The next step was to recruit the participants. Through Birth Kalamazoo’s Facebook page, our e-newsletter and via local midwives, we invited women who fit our criteria to participate in a focus group. The primary requirement was that they needed to have had at least one hospital birth followed by at least one home birth within the past 10 years.

Five focus groups followed, each with four participants and two researchers (one who asked the questions and one who took field notes). The focus groups were transcribed verbatim by members of the research team. After each focus group, team members conferred to make sure that we were in agreement about the themes that were starting to emerge. After the fifth focus group, we agreed that no new themes were emerging and we had reached “saturation of the data.” Led by Ruth and her student Casey Bernhard, the research team identified five themes that summarized what the mothers had shared. A sixth focus group of women (one from each prior focus group) provided “member checking” – we shared the themes we’d identified and asked them to verify whether or not they were in keeping with what they had heard during the focus groups.

The resulting research, “Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections,” is published in the current issue of the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

Some Key Findings: Women’s Choices and Reflections

To summarize, five recurring themes were identified from the women’s reflections on both their hospital and home births: choices and empowerment; intervention and interruptions; disrespect and dismissal; birth space; and connection.

Choices and empowerment. The women in our groups reported that with their hospital births they felt they did not actually have much choice in the direction of their care. Although a few women in the study had generally positive hospital experiences, most reported feelings of disempowerment and limited choices associated with their hospital birth and more meaningful choices and feelings of empowerment with their home births.

Interventions and interruptions. During their hospital births, women experienced significantly more interventions compared to their home births. Many of the women in our study perceived these interventions as unnecessary. They commented on timetables, hospital “agendas” and interruptions both during the birth and postpartum period for their hospital births.

Disrespect and dismissal. Many of the women in our study said they felt that their hospital-based providers tended to focus more on anatomical parts and the medical process of birth, rather than on them as whole people. With their home births, they reported a much more holistic model with great respect for their decisions.

Some women who wanted to continue care with both a home birth provider and a hospital-based provider (known as “dual” or “concurrent” care) were dismissed from their hospital-based practice when they revealed that they were planning a home birth.

Birth space. Universally, women reported feeling more comfortable laboring in their own homes, surrounded by only the people they chose to invite into that space. Several women mentioned the appeal of having their older children with them for the birth, or at least having that option.

Connection. When women in our study reported positive hospital births, they also spoke of their positive connections to their providers. For both home and hospital settings, women said that feeling a sense of trust and connection to their doctor or midwife was important and even helped them to feel more comfortable with the process of birth. That theme of connection extended to women’s reflections that during their home births they also generally felt more connected to their bodies, to their babies and to other family members.

Reflections and Implications for Childbirth Educators

As an experienced Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and doula, I wasn’t surprised by the findings of our research. The reflections of the women participating were very much in keeping with the stories I have heard for almost a decade from my students, clients and even random women (and men!) who want to share their experiences. It does help me, however, to see the themes identified so clearly. I can envision sharing this research with women who are choosing a home birth for a second, third or fourth baby after a prior hospital birth. It may be validating to them to see many of their own feelings and reflections mirrored in other women’s experiences.

When I think about limitations of this study, I think about the natural differences between first and subsequent births. First births are often longer and more complex, with second and later births often shorter and more straightforward. Could that have influenced women’s feelings of empowerment? As an educator and doula, I also have observed that, after their first baby, many women in general feel more assertive and empowered to take control of their choices for their later birth experiences, whatever the birth setting.

In fairness to the hospital environment, it’s also important to remember that our study was limited to women who felt compelled to make a change for subsequent births. Women who have had very positive, respectful, low-intervention hospital births often choose that same setting for future babies, and their voices were not represented in our focus groups.

Our research may also have been influenced by the specific birth culture in Southwest Michigan. For example, women in our area sometimes want to receive care from both a hospital-based provider and a home birth midwife, but they are typically discharged from their hospital-based practice if they reveal they are planning a home birth. I know this isn’t the case in all areas of the country, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s due in part to the lack of licensing for Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) in our state. Fellow LCCEs and doulas in states where CPMs are licensed have shared that women in their communities may have easier access to this kind of dual care. I think this issue merits further exploration, with research comparing the home birth experiences of women in various states where CPMs are licensed, unlicensed and specifically outlawed.

As I analyze our results with my childbirth educator hat on, I keep mulling the impact of feelings of safety and comfort on oxytocin. When women feel safe, nurtured, supported and comfortable, we know that the hormones of labor work more efficiently. Did the women in our study have more straightforward births at home in part because the environment allows their bodies to work optimally? I have given talks to labor and delivery nurses on ways they can boost oxytocin in the hospital environment, and as a doula trainer I also address this issue with new doulas. For many women, the home birth setting is inherently designed to maximize oxytocin.

The connection theme that arose in our study is also closely tied to oxytocin. In attending hospital births as a doula, I try to facilitate moments of connection between a woman and her care providers. Penny Simkin’s landmark research on women’s lasting birth memories also points to the importance of such relationships. (Simkin, 1991) Connection comes very naturally between a doula and her client, and often between a home birth midwife and a laboring woman as well. Those connections can be more difficult in a busy hospital environment where a woman is working with a nurse she has likely never met, and often with a provider who is one of many in a busy practice, and who may have several other patients in labor. Can we make more space within our medical system for nurture, if not for the emotional benefits then for the biological effect on the chemical balance in women’s bodies?

In addition to the connection challenges, the themes identified in our research also point to other weaknesses inherent in the medical model of birth. As an educator, I’m already thinking about how I can use these findings to help prepare families for more positive hospital-based experiences. How can they navigate the system to help prevent some of the pitfalls many of these women experienced during their hospital births? I believe so strongly that meaningful change in our system begins with families who speak up for what they need and want for their births. Childbirth educators are on the front lines to help educate families about what a positive, healthy birth experience can look like, and to prepare our students to advocate within the system they’ve chosen to support them.

As leaders in our birth communities, educators can also directly work for change by talking with nurses, midwives and physicians about what women are looking for in their births. Respectfully discussing both the points of dissatisfaction and satisfaction mentioned in this study can help reinforce positive behaviors and change those that may be detrimental to women and to birth. Many of the things women say they want for their births are strongly supported by quality scientific evidence. Take kangaroo care as an example. Ten years ago, a woman in our community might have said in this focus group that she wanted a home birth in part because her hospital providers refused to allow uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for a few hours after the birth. Today, we have a hospital in our community that is a national leader in kangaroo care for all families and another that is trying to reach that benchmark.

Change is slow, but childbirth educators can help make it happen! Better birth is not just an issue of physical health and emotional well being, it is also financially beneficial to hospitals to flex to provide the compassionate, evidence-based care that will keep families within their system, coming back for subsequent births.

However, the intention of our research was not to dissuade women from home birth. For those who continue to choose that setting for later babies, it may be helpful for educators, doulas, midwives, physicians and others within the maternity care system to understand the factors that motivate them to make that informed choice for their families.

Would you share this research with your childbirth education students and expecting families?  How would you use it?  Do you think that the conclusions are valid?  Do you see things differently? Discuss with us in the comments section. – SM

References

Bernhard, C., Zielinski, R., Ackerson, K. and English, J. (2014), Home Birth After Hospital Birth: Women’s Choices and Reflections. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12113

Simkin, P. (1991). Just Another Day in a Woman’s Life? Women’s Long‐Term Perceptions of Their First Birth Experience. Part I. Birth, 18(4), 203-210.

About Jessica English

jessica english-bw head shotJessica English, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA) is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, birth doula and DONA-approved birth doula trainer. She is the owner of Birth Kalamazoo, which offers birth and postpartum doula services, natural childbirth and breastfeeding classes, birth photography, in-home lactation consulting and renewal groups for mothers. She is currently producing a short film about birth, due out in the fall.

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