In case you’ve wondered where I have wandered off to recently, let me cordially invite you to Lamaze International’s Science & Sensibility research blog site–which I am now managing. I am thrilled, humbled and excited to be steering my writing and childbirth education work toward an actively (and internationally) accessed social media site where I gain the honored opportunity to interact with brilliant writers, researchers, maternity care clinicians and professionals and normal birth advocates. Please drop on by, sign up for an RSS feed from Science & Sensibility and, most importantly, join the conversation! (And invite your friends and colleagues to do the same!)
Category Archives: natural childbirth
Check out this interesting debate, spear-headed by Henci Goer on Lamaze International’s blog, Science & Sensibility, over what constitutes “normal” in terms of labor length. Gone are the days when every first time mom ought to be held to the expectation that her baby should be delivered in 12-14 hours following the onset of labor. But still, plenty of folks are holding women to that standard. Read up on the debate (and my response) here.
Last week, in response to a blog post I wrote entitled In the News: Stores About Childbirth, I received some heated comments from one of my frequent readers. The sentiments in her comments are highlighted here:
“This article from the UK just today…
“Home births are three times riskier for babies than those which take place at hospital, new research suggested yesterday.
Doctors warn that women could be putting their unborn children at risk by not given birth on traditional maternity wards with specialist care and equipment on hand.”
Also this for consideration of all sides to the debate..
“A newborn baby died from an infection just days after two midwives told the mother not to bother giving him antibiotics.”
(She added a third comment, pointing to the same article above, as if it was evidence of another study.)
So, here’s my response:
Yes, of course, you can always find a study to support your point of view. Just like this article, from the very same newspaper “Shelly” referred to, about a newborn who died of hemorrhage and heart failure do to a lethal overdose of hospital-administered glucose.
And what about and this study, published in the same medical journal as the study referred to in Shelly’s second point, which concludes, “Planned home birth for low risk women in North America using certified professional midwives was associated with lower rates of medical intervention but similar intrapartum and neonatal mortality to that of low risk hospital births in the United States.”?
And how about this article (again, same newspaper as referred to above) about a new mom who died hours after giving birth to her son, following a legal narcotic overdose administered by hospital staff?
Shall I go on?
How about this article on CNN.com about how the US has the second worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world (incidentally, maternal mortality rate here is 15.1/100,000–worse than several northern European countries, Australia and Japan–many of those communities in which midwife-attended births are more common than here).
Have you ever heard about the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project by esteemed midwife Ina May Gaskin? Go here to see actual quilt squares that represent hundreds of women who have died surrounding their baby’s births–a vast majority of them having delivered in hospital.
An article on Our Bodies Ourselves reviewed a couple recent studies (one being the study from BMJ–referred to above) including a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (follow link above to OBO website, then click on link to CMAJ article–mid way through the post) about a retrospective study of almost thirteen thousand women who gave birth at home with a midwife, in hospital with a midwife and in hospital with a physician in attendance. Although outcomes were similar, the neonatal mortality rates (death of the infants) were best among the home birth cohort, second best among those who delivered in hospital with a midwife and third best when attended by a physician. (The leap of an implication is, of course, that the physicians handled the more complicated cases and, therefore, realized higher rates of neonatal mortality.)
And yes, there are also other articles and studies out there that will further defame the practice of midwifery (heck, The American College of Gynecologists has an official statement on their website denouncing the practice of delivering babies in a home environment. In some cases, I totally and completely agree with this: when a pregnant woman is deemed high risk–due to cardiac or other significant health conditions, gestational diabetes requiring insulin, moderate to severe high blood pressure to name a few–she absolutely should have her baby’s birth attended to in a hospital and most likely by an OB. (other definitions of high risk are well outlined in the OBO article, linked to above) But for low-risk women with no foreseeable complications, birth should not be attended to as if it is a medical disease state from which she needs saving.
Delivering a baby in a hospital includes having quick access to medical intervention. In the small percentage of cases when in-depth intervention becomes life saving, there is, in my opinion, no legitimate argument against this (that’s why the best of the best midwives out there always have some transfers each year to the hospital from a home birthing environment.) But the truth about medical interventions (aka-hospital births) is that much of the high-tech/high intervention practices (labor induction/augmentation, breaking the bag of waters, constant fetal heart beat monitoring, episiotomies, c-sections) are employed unnecessarily…carrying with them well documented risks.
Take labor induction with the use of Cytotec, for example. While prohibited in some hospitals due to its risk of uterine rupture, uterine over stimulation and fetal stress, Cytotec is widely used in other hospitals as a labor induction medication. From nursingcenter.com, regarding labor induction medications including Cytotec:
“Cytotec, a brand of misoprostol, is FDA approved for prevention of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-related gastric ulcers. It is listed as Category X (not to be used) in pregnancy. Physicians in the United States, however, may use FDA-approved drugs for “off label” indications. Hofmeyer and Gulmezoglu (2003) recommended further research to establish the ideal route of administration, dosage, and safety for this drug and stated that information on informed consent for misoprostol use and women’s views of the drug are “conspicuously lacking” (Hofmeyer & Gulmezoglu, 2003).
The risk of maternal or fetal death among Cervidil, Prepidil, and misoprostol is comparable. In 25 trials that involved 3,651 subjects, however, misoprostol was shown to be more effective and had more rapid onset of action. There was an increased rate of uterine hyperstimulation with FHR changes and meconium-stained amnionic fluid. Clinicians were advised in this study to be concerned about this apparent increase in uterine hyperstimulation, because it might increase the risk of uterine rupture (Hofmeyer & Gulmezoglu, 2003). These same authors found that the cesarean birth rate for failed induction after misoprostol was not significantly reduced compared to the other prostaglandins or oxytocin. Evidence for its use, aside from cost savings and rapidity of action, is no stronger than for other prostaglandin preparations.”
Translation? US doctors are granted the privilege, by the FDA, to use approved medications for non-FDA researched purposes. (In some cases, this IS a good thing–but that is the topic for another post.) While Cytotec forces a woman into labor quite efficiently, it puts both mom and baby at risk because of how hard and fast the uterus begins to contract. Cytotec is a Category X medication for pregnancy–meaning there is no way, no how a pregnant woman should be consuming this medication. And yet, despite all facts above, it is still widely used intervaginally to synthetically begin a woman’s labor for her.
My point here? Allopathic medicine is not infallible, either. Nobody is. That’s a part of being human and having the power of choice.
Are there midwives out there employing less than best-practices maternity care? Sure. I had a sixteen-year-old young lady attend my Lamaze class series a couple years ago, as a part of a distance learning midwifery program. If she graduated from said program “on-time” she’d be practicing home birth midwifery by the time she was nineteen. She may have been extremely smart, applied, motivated and well instructed in one form or another, but she was sixteen.
The potential of this scared the heck out of me. Because, really, how many teenagers in present-day USA do you know who have the maturity to safely and logically handle the (rare) birth-related true emergency–like a retained placental postpartum hemorrhage, a severe shoulder distocia, or a newborn in respiratory distress?
My very long-winded point here is this: it’s easy to quickly cite one or two articles or studies and use those to make a big, sweeping statement that supports your opinion. But before doing so, I would encourage anyone to look closely at the data:
1. Is the study/article truly unbiased?
2. Does the study compare apples to apples? (similar patient populations in each cohort)
3. Are the numbers and percentages represented statistically significant?
4. Are individual articles cited worthy of applying to a whole system or group of people, or are they just that–individual stories about isolated events?
5. Do larger bodies of work support conclusions made by smaller studies? Is the result of a study reproducible? What do studies conducted by organizations like the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health and Cochran Database say?
I have always been leery about sweeping generalizations and I would encourage you, dear reader, to follow suit.
I also encourage and invite feedback on my thoughts contained herein. What are other folks out there reading/teaching/learning?
The world finally gets it (OK, some parts of the world). Childbirth does not have to be as dangerous as it is for many women and fetuses in developing countries. For that matter, it does not have to be dangerous for the vast majority of women in developed countries, either, but that is a whole other ball of wax (in short, think: high rates of medical intervention in low-risk women have the propensity to create more problems that require fixing, than they necessarily do solve or prevent potential problems).
Here is yet another example of a relatively simple technology with a focus on reducing perinatal maternal mortality, as presented at the American College of Nurse Midwives‘ annual convention. The device? A strap-on belly with uterus, baby and blood contained within. The goal? To get as many birth attendants around the world–especially in areas like Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and rural India– trained with basic life-saving knowledge of how to catch a baby (or help to deliver a malpositioned fetus) and intervene when postpartum hemorrhage is occurring. Truthfully, most of the life-threatening scenarios surrounding childbirth can be handled successfully, as long as the knowledge of how to handle those scenarios is there, and well practiced.
As described in this article, “Using both hands, the teacher wearing the device can move the baby through the birth canal, which is formed from a flexible plastic frame. Simulated blood flows out of the vagina, controlled by a thumb-operated roller valve. To simulate the contraction of the uterus after delivery, the teacher squeezes air from a large bladder into a smaller one while pulling the latter lower in the pelvis. She can tap on a piece of hard plastic inside the mannequin to create a heartbeat, varying the rate and loudness to simulate fetal distress. In all cases, the sense of reality is heightened because the equipment is connected to and manipulated by a human being.”
The “Mama Natalie” simulator can even replicate a retained placenta fragment–the primary cause of third stage and postpartum hemorrhage. When would-be birth attendants know how to recognize this condition, they can also learn how to remedy it (by manually removing the left-over piece of placenta that is stuck to the internal uterine wall, thus allowing continued bleeding). In extremely rural areas or home birth scenarios where high-tech intervention is miles away, the performance of this relatively simple procedure, and appropriate follow-up techniques and care, can be a matter of life and death.
Kudos to Laerdal Medical for creating this device, making it available to poor countries at cost ($100/each), and adding to the overall trudge toward the Millennium Development Goal 5 which “seeks to cut the 1990 maternal mortality ratio of 320 deaths per 100,000 births by 75 percent.”
We all know it: the collective media including television, radio, newspapers (and, in my mind, the film industry, too) has enormous power. Even if its various news companies have consolidated under a couple massive corporate umbrellas. So when I see articles or images about childbirth–newspaper blogs, print media or otherwise– I perk up right away, my interest tainted by an undercurrent of pessimism. “How bad is it going to be, this time?”
Although I’d like to think that folks are becoming progressively savvy about the mass of information flooding their consciousness on a regular basis, I know there are still plenty of other people out there who accept “the news” as gospel truth.
Just think for a second on how childbirth tends to be represented in film and media. What images come to mind? Blue gown-draped women strapped into narrow hospital beds raised half way up to the ceiling so everyone in the room has a front row view of her intimate space…wide opened legs secured into stirrups…sweating, screaming and panicking as a ten-pounder comes barreling out the birth canal? If we’re talking mainstream media and film, this is the type of image most typically portrayed.
Thankfully, there are more and more documentaries arising that demonstrate the softer side of birth–the emotionally empowering, life celebrating, ecstatic side of giving birth. Unfortunately, the mainstream media refuses to embrace this image of women during labor and delivery.
This morning, I came across a newspaper blog post in which the author, a mother of a three-year-old who is pregnant with her soon-to-arrive second child, comparatively discusses her emotions during her first baby’s birth, and the impending change in her family’s life as baby #2 arrives. The title of her post: Childbirth Means Your Life’s Forever Changed.
A great title, really.
Suddenly optimistic, and hoping to read about how this woman might have been empowered during her first baby’s birth–how she scaled her own personal wall of difficulty, only to emerge on the other side stronger and more confident in her ability to handle the difficult challenges life will inevitably throw her way–how childbirth changed her for the better, having given her a glimpse into the true depths of her being… I read about a woman who approached her first birth encompassed by fear and hesitation.
In her own words, recalling her emotions prior to her first child’s birth, “The path is set and you have few options but to grin and bear it. Or in my case, hit the epidural early and hit it hard.”
Few options? What a regretful mindset to be in.
When I read an article like this, my response is two-fold: 1) What a missed opportunity this person bypassed to learn the true depths of her strength as a woman, a mother, an individual. 2) How many women have read this same article and, once again, have had reiterated for them the unfair notion that childbirth is little more than a sentence to hours of optionless misery that you can do nothing other than “grin and bear it” through?
For women who are so frightened of birth, I wish them the time, courage and opportunity to watch films like this and this and this. And then, perhaps one or even a few of those women would be willing to go here for ongoing support in seeking/considering/planning for a gentle childbirth experience.
Check out my guest post on Lamaze International’s blog, Science and Sensibility. It’s about new research being done on noise in hospitals, and how that impacts women and babies during and following birth.
I am assuming by now, you’ve heard about the announcement Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation made this week about the $1.5billion the Foundation is poised to spend over the next five years for the purpose of saving maternal and child lives surrounding childbirth, as well as improving over all maternity care, in developing nations.
Gates’ announcement was made at the Women Deliver 2010 conference this past Wednesday, and according to the Women Deliver website, on a global scale, “at least one woman dies every 90 seconds from [childbirth] and another 20 suffer infection or disability, while four million newborns die every year. These grim numbers actually represent improvements over the last 20 years….”
What’s important to understand here, is that a majority of these deaths (particularly in developing nation environments) are EASILY prevented–given access to basic medication (antibiotics), trained birth attendants (in most cases, we’re not talking about trained surgeons, we’re talking knowledgeable midwives) and simple postpartum hemorrhage tools and techniques.
Again, from the Women Deliver website:
- Every year, between 350,000 – 500,000 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes. Almost all of these deaths (99%) occur in the developing world.
- Ten million women are lost in every generation.
- Four million newborn babies die every year, also from causes that are mainly preventable and typically linked to the mother’s health.
- Huge disparities exist between rich and poor countries, and between the rich and poor in all countries.
- One in eight Afghan women will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and one in seven in Niger.
- One in 4,800 women will die of these causes in the United States, and one in 17,400 in Sweden.
If that doesn’t give you pause, it darned-well should. Imagine seven or eight of your girlfriends…your aunts/sisters/mothers…which one of those seven or eight can you imagine losing to pregnancy-related causes? Despite efforts by people like famed midwife Ina May Gaskin who continues her work on the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, many of us living in developed nation environments can scarcely imagine what it would be like to lose a loved-one during the perinatal time period. And those of us who do know someone who died following a pregnancy-related complication, may have experienced that tragedy as an aberration rather than a commonality. Imagine the anxiety surrounding that time in a woman’s life when the stakes are so much higher than which we here in the US, UK, Australia, or most of Europe will ever experience.
(Interestingly enough, considering the amazing access to medicine and well-informed maternity care, US women are still at an unacceptably increased risk when it comes to pregnancy and birth, especially when you compare our statistics to places like The Netherlands where the maternal perinatal mortality rate is approx. 9/100,000 births compared to our ~16/100,000. In our reality, the problem most often boils down to overuse of technology…but that’s a whole different story.)
I’m excited to see what improvements will be orchestrated through The Gates Foundation contribution, and the global work being undertaken by researchers, activists, care providers, educators and citizens who choose to exercise their voices…all for the sake of improved outcomes for mothers and babies!