Childbirth Connection’s Listening to Mothers Initiative just released the Listening to Mothers III (LTMIII) results late last week. For the third time in the past 11 years, this organization has gone out and queried women on a variety of topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum and breastfeeding. They have questioned thousands of women to accurately assess how the actual experiences hold up against what we know to be best practice and evidence based maternity care. I have relied on the past two survey results frequently during my professional career in maternal health and am thrilled to have the new survey results now available.
I thought it would be interesting to run some of the LTMIII results through the filter of Lamaze International’s Healthy Birth Practices. The Healthy Birth Practices were most recently updated by Lamaze in 2009, and consist of six simple, evidence based practices that greatly contribute to keeping birth safe and healthy for mothers and babies. Each easy to remember practice has its own short video that parents can watch that talks about that specific care practice and safe alternatives. Additionally, each Healthy Birth Practice has an accompanying Practice Paper with all the citations for the peer-reviewed, gold standard research that supports that particular practice.
Some useful links and information upfront
Interesting facts before we get started
While the LTMIII survey only looked at 2400 women, please be aware that one percentage point change in results would represent approximately 40,000 mother/baby pairs, based on a US birth rate of around 4 million births a year.
35% of women had not intended to be pregnant at the time of this pregnancy, including 5% who stated that they had never intended to become pregnant at all.
52% of those planning to get pregnant did have a preconception meeting with a health care provider, (which could be viewed as a wonderful time to determine if this health care provider might be a good match for their maternity care needs.)
85% of women based their maternity care provider on insurance requirements or restrictions.
78% of women worked with an obstetrician (this has dropped over the course of the three studies.)
9% of women worked with a family practice doctor
8% of women worked with a midwife who practiced in a hospital, as one of the requirements of the study was that the mother was having a hospital birth.
The average length of time spent actually in a prenatal appointment, with health care provider or their nurse was 32 minutes. (OB: 31 min, Family Practice/MW 35 min.) I was pleasantly surprised that it was this long, I expected less.
Over the course of the three studies, the cesarean rate of study participants went up, (24% to 31%), the VBAC rate went down and labor augmentation was cut in half from 53% to 26%. More women used nitrous oxide for pain relief during their labor in the most recent study (6%, up from 2% in the first study)
30% of the women chose not to ask a question that they wanted answered at least once during their prenatal appointments.
Overall, women were unable to make choices in line with the Healthy Birth Practices, and did not know that deviating from these practices was not evidence based and resulted in increased interventions.
Let’s see how things stack up
Research shows that in the absence of medical issues, mothers, babies and labors do best when labor starts spontaneously on its own. The final few weeks of pregnancy are vital for the putting the “finishing touches” on baby and helping to make the transition to life on the outside as smooth as possible.
41% of all women surveyed attempted a medical (involved a care provider) induction and of those induced, 74% were successful, (the woman went into labor) for an overall medically induced labor rate of 31%
Reasons why women were induced
- 44% were full term
- 19% wanted to get the pregnancy over
- 11% wanted to control the timing of birth
- 16% were induced for a large baby (note: the average weight of these babies induced for suspected macrosomia was 7 lbs 15 ounces.)
- 18% were induced for being “overdue” (note: the average gestational age of those babies induced for being overdue was 39.9 weeks)
- 18% were induced for a maternal health problem
Interestingly, 26% of women had their due date changed toward the end of their pregnancy; 66% of those were given an earlier due date and 34% were given a later one.
68% of women had a late third trimester ultrasound to estimate fetal weight
Women with the ability to move and change positions are able to use this movement to help cope with the pain of labor. Access to water in the form of a shower or tub can be a valuable coping technique. Having access to intermittent fetal monitoring or telemetry movements can facilitate movement and promote labor progress for many women.
Only 43% of women walked around after being admitted to the hospital in labor
40% of women used position changes and movement for non-pharmacological pain relief
Many women will thrive in labor if surrounded by a caring, supportive birth team. Adding a skilled birth doula to the team has been shown in many studies to improve the outcome of birth and reduce interventions and cesareans. While more and more birthing women are aware of a doula, many are still not having one in attendance at their birth.
99% of mothers had at least one support person present, (most often this was a partner, then a family member or friend)
6% women used a doula
75% of mothers were aware of what a doula does and of those 75% who knew, 27% would have liked a doula supporting them at their birth.
Although research shows that routine and unnecessary interference in the natural process of labor and birth is not likely to be beneficial—and may indeed be harmful—most U.S. births today are intervention-intensive.
98% of the women had at least one ultrasound during pregnancy and 70% had three or more over the course of their pregnancy
68% of women had a late third trimester ultrasound to estimate fetal weight.
83% of women had some type of pain medication
67% had an epidural or spinal, and 92% of those who did reported this to be “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful.”
62% of women surveyed had an IV during labor
51% of women had one or more vaginal exams in labor. (I was surprised at this, I would have suspected higher)
47% had bladder (Foley) catheters
31% of women had a labor augmented with pitocin
50% of birthing women had their labor either induced or augmented with pitocin
20% had their membranes ruptured artificially (AROM) after labor began
36% of women had their labor started or augmented by AROM
1% of women requested and had a maternal request cesarean for non-medical reasons
40% of women drank fluids during their labor
21% of the women ate during labor
85% of women birthing vaginally did so without forceps or vacuum
87% of women responding had at least one of the five big interventions (attempted labor induction, epidural, pitocin augmentation, assisted delivery with vacuum or forceps or cesarean.
60% of the women had at least two of the above five interventions listed above
Women push most effectively when permitted to push in the positions that feel best for them. Allowing the baby to “labor down” even after reaching full dilation until moms feel the urge to push can help women to push a baby out quicker and under their own steam. Pushing in positions that allow the pelvis to open as much as possible and making space by getting the sacrum out of the way can help promote descent during pushing.
68% of women surveyed birthed on their backs
23% birthed in a semi-sitting position
8% gave birth in a position off their back, either side-lying, squat or hands & knees
Experts now recommend that right after birth, a healthy newborn should be placed skin-to-skin on the mother’s abdomen or chest and should be dried and covered with warm blankets. Any care that needs to be done immediately after birth can be done with your baby skin-to-skin on your chest. This early time together promotes breastfeeding, helps stabilize the newborn’s temperature and blood sugar and also offers a unique chance for high levels of natural oxytocin that promote bonding and help with immediate postpartum bleeding.
47% of mothers responding had their baby in their arms within the first hour
40% of mother-baby pairs were not skin to skin when they were first held
33% of all babies were with hospital staff the first hour
60% of mother-baby pairs roomed in together
18% of babies spent time in the NICU
25% of babies spent their days with mom and their nights in the nursery
49% of mothers who stated that they intended to exclusively breastfeed were given formula samples or offers.
29% of newborns were supplemented with water or formula during the hospital stay
After reading through the LTMIII report, I found myself discouraged by the current results. It was clear that women were making choices and/or being informed by their care providers to choose practices that have long been known to create a cascade of interventions, do not improve outcomes for mothers or babies and are not evidence based. For the majority of the women who responded to this survey, the Healthy Care Practices are still a pipe dream and not a reality in their hospitals and with their current providers. I know change comes slowly, and it can take years for protocols to catch up with the evidence but frankly, after reading the summary of how things did or did not change over the course of the three studies I was still shocked.
Have you had a chance to go through the study yet? What were your thoughts? Anything surprise you? Can you share a bright point that you noticed?
Join us later this week as I examine what the LTMIII survey had to say about childbirth education and how women are receiving pregnancy and birth information and from where.