The Safety of Home Birth – New Study of 530,000 Women

A recent study in the Netherlands, a country known for it’s fantastic maternal and infant outcomes, has proven that home birth is safe.  It is the largest study of it’s kind and found that low-risk women planning to give birth at home had as good outcomes as low-risk women birthing in the hospital.

Check it out!

Home births ‘as safe as hospital’

Newborn baby

There have been few comprehensive studies into home births

The largest study of its kind has found that for low-risk women, giving birth at home is as safe as doing so in hospital with a midwife.

Research from the Netherlands – which has a high rate of home births – found no difference in death rates of either mothers or babies in 530,000 births.

Home births have long been debated amid concerns about their safety.

UK obstetricians welcomed the study – published in the journal BJOG – but said it may not apply universally.

The number of mothers giving birth at home in the UK has been rising since it dipped to a low in 1988. Of all births in England and Wales in 2006, 2.7% took place at home, the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed.

The research was carried out in the Netherlands after figures showed the country had one of the highest rates in Europe of babies dying during or just after birth.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

It was suggested that home births could be a factor, as Dutch women are able and encouraged to choose this option. One third do so.

But a comparison of “low-risk” women who planned to give birth at home with those who planned to give birth in hospital with a midwife found no difference in death or serious illness among either baby or mother.

“We found that for low-risk mothers at the start of their labour it is just as safe to deliver at home with a midwife as it is in hospital with a midwife,” said Professor Simone Buitendijk of the TNO Institute for Applied Scientific Research.

“These results should strengthen policies that encourage low-risk women at the onset of labour to choose their own place of birth.”

Hospital transfer

Low-risk women in the study were those who had no known complications – such as a baby in breech or one with a congenital abnormality, or a previous caesarean section.

Nearly a third of women who planned and started their labours at home ended up being transferred as complications arose – including for instance an abnormal fetal heart rate, or if the mother required more effective pain relief in the form of an epidural.

The NHS is simply not set up to meet the potential demand for home births
Louise Silverton
Royal College of Midwives

But even when she needed to be transferred to the care of a doctor in a hospital, the risk to her or her baby was no higher than if she had started out her labour under the care of a midwife in hospital.

The researchers noted the importance of both highly-trained midwives who knew when to refer a home birth to hospital as well as rapid transportation.

While stressing the study was the most comprehensive yet into the safety of home births, they also acknowledged some caveats.

The group who chose to give birth in hospital rather than at home were more likely to be first-time mothers or of an ethnic minority background – the risk of complications is higher in both these groups.

The study did not compare the relative safety of home births against low-risk women who opted for doctor rather than midwife-led care. This is to be the subject of a future investigation.

Home option

But Professor Buitendijk said the study did have relevance for other countries like the UK with a highly developed health infrastructure and well-trained midwives.

Women need to be counselled on the unexpected emergencies which can arise during labour and can only be managed in a maternity hospital
RCOG

In the UK, the government has pledged to give all women the option of a home birth by the end of this year. At present just 2.7% of births in England and Wales take place at home, but there are considerable regional variations.

Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said, the study was “a major step forward in showing that home is as safe as hospital, for low risk women giving birth when support services are in place.

“However, to begin providing more home births there has to be a seismic shift in the way maternity services are organised. The NHS is simply not set up to meet the potential demand for home births, because we are still in a culture where the vast majority of births are in hospital.

“There also has to be a major increase in the number of midwives because they are the people who will be in the homes delivering the babies.”

Mary Newburn, of the National Childbirth Trust, said: “This makes a significant contribution to the growing body of reassuring evidence that suggests offering women a choice of place of birth is entirely appropriate.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said it supported home births “in cases of low-risk pregnancies provided the appropriate infrastructures and resources are present to support such a system.

But it added: “Women need to be counselled on the unexpected emergencies – such as cord prolapse, fetal heart rate abnormalities, undiagnosed breech, prolonged labour and postpartum haemorrhage – which can arise during labour and can only be managed in a maternity hospital.

“Such emergencies would always require the transfer of women by ambulance to the hospital as extra medical support is only present in hospital settings and would not be available to them when they deliver at home.”

The Department of Health said that giving more mothers-to-be the opportunity to choose to give birth at home was one of its priority targets for 2009/10.

A spokesman said: “All Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) have set out plans for implementing Maternity Matters to provide high-quality, safe maternity care for women and their babies.”

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Scheduled Inductions/C-sections – Why Every Week Counts

I recently read a great article in the Wall Street Journal about some new trends to induce or schedule c-sections prior to an estimated due date.  Past 34 weeks the baby’s lungs are done “cooking” and the chance that Baby will survive is pretty good, but scientists are finding more and more evidence that those precious few weeks mean more to fetal development than we previously thought.

A word on starting labor:

  • Labor is usually started by the BABY when Baby’s lungs are ready and Baby has reached good maturity in the womb
  • It is well within normal limits for babies to be born healthy anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks (and sometimes beyond!)
  • The average length of pregnancy for a first time mom is 41 weeks, 3 days (or 10 dates past estimated due date)
  • Methods of induction can seriously mess up natural body chemistry and function and cause other serious measures (failed induction, infection, c-section, etc.)
  • If your body isn’t ready to go into labor, it won’t.  Oftentimes inducing labor (either natural remedies or with drugs) will fail if your body and your baby aren’t ready

Here is that great article from the Wall Street Journal:

This time of year, some hospitals see a small uptick in baby deliveries thanks to families eager to fit the blessed event in around holiday plans or in time to claim a tax deduction. Conventional wisdom has long held that inducing labor or having a Caesarean section a bit early posed little risk, since after 34 weeks gestation, all the baby has to do was grow.

But new research shows that those last weeks of pregnancy are more important than once thought for brain, lung and liver development. And there may be lasting consequences for babies born at 34 to 36 weeks, now called “late preterm.”

[Why Every Week of Pregnancy Counts] New research shows that the last weeks of pregnancy are more important than once thought for brain, lung and liver development.

A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in October calculated that for each week a baby stayed in the womb between 32 and 39 weeks, there is a 23% decrease in problems such as respiratory distress, jaundice, seizures, temperature instability and brain hemorrhages.

A study of nearly 15,000 children in the Journal of Pediatrics in July found that those born between 32 and 36 weeks had lower reading and math scores in first grade than babies who went to full term. New research also suggests that late preterm infants are at higher risk for mild cognitive and behavioral problems and may have lower I.Q.s than those who go full term.

What’s more, experts warn that a fetus’s estimated age may be off by as much as two weeks either way, meaning that a baby thought to be 36 weeks along might be only 34.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the March of Dimes are now urging obstetricians not to deliver babies before 39 weeks unless there is a medical reason to do so.

“It’s very important for people to realize that every week counts,” says Lucky E. Jain, a professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine.

It’s unclear how many deliveries are performed early for nonmedical reasons. Preterm births (before 37 weeks) have risen 31% in the U.S. since 1981 — to one in every eight births. The most serious problems are seen in the tiniest babies. But nearly 75% of preterm babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks, and much of the increase has come in C-sections, which now account for a third of all U.S. births. An additional one-fifth of all births are via induced labor, up 125% since 1989.

Many of those elective deliveries are done for medical reasons such as fetal distress or pre-eclampsia, a sudden spike in the mother’s blood pressure. Those that aren’t can be hard to distinguish. “Obstetricians know the rules and they are very creative about some of their indications — like ‘impending pre-eclampsia,'” says Alan Fleischman, medical director for the March of Dimes.

Why do doctors agree to deliver a baby early when there’s no medical reason? Some cite pressure from parents. “‘I’m tired of being pregnant. My fingers are swollen. My mother-in-law is coming’ — we hear that all the time,” says Laura E. Riley, medical director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital. “But there are 25 other patients waiting, and saying ‘no’ can take 45 minutes, so sometimes we cave.”

There’s also a perception that delivering early by c-section is safer for the baby, even though it means major surgery for the mom. “The idea is that somehow, if you’re in complete control of the delivery, then only good things will happen. But that’s categorically wrong. The baby and the uterus know best,” says F. Sessions Cole, director of newborn medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

He explains that a complex series of events occurs in late pregnancy to prepare the baby to survive outside the womb: The fetus acquires fat needed to maintain body temperature; the liver matures enough to eliminate a toxin called bilirubin from the body; and the lungs get ready to exchange oxygen as soon as the umbilical cord is clamped. Disrupting any of those steps can result in brain damage and other problems. In addition, the squeezing of the uterus during labor stimulates the baby and the placenta to make steroid hormones that help this last phase of lung maturation — and that’s missed if the mother never goes into labor.

[Why Every Week of Pregnancy Counts] Gail Zuniga/WSJ

“We don’t have a magic ball to predict which babies might have problems,” says Dr. Cole. “But we can say that the more before 39 weeks a baby is delivered, the more likely that one or more complications will occur.”

In cases where there are medical reasons to deliver a baby early, lung maturation can be determined with amniocentesis — using a long needle to withdraw fluid from inside the uterus. But that can cause infection, bleeding or a leak or fetal distress, which could require an emergency c-section.

Trying to determine maturity by the size of the fetus can also be problematic. Babies of mothers with gestational diabetes are often very large for their age, but even less developed for their age than normal-size babies.

Growing beyond 42 weeks can also pose problems, since the placenta deteriorates and can’t sustain the growing baby.

Making families aware of the risks of delivering early makes a big difference. In Utah, where 27% of elective deliveries in 1999 took place before the 39th week, a major awareness campaign has reduced that to less than 5%. At two St. Louis hospitals that send premature babies to Dr. Cole’s neonatal intensive-care unit, obstetricians now ask couples who want to schedule a delivery before 39 weeks to sign a consent form acknowledging the risks. At that point, many wait for nature to take its course, says Dr. Cole.

Join a Discussion

Are parents too eager to induce labor or schedule an early C-section for sheer convenience? Are doctors too willing to go along? Share your views.

Great Midwifery Article in the LA Times

Here’s a wonderful pro-midwifery article in the LA Times!

I also have the text here:

Midwives deliver

America needs better birth care, and midwives can deliver it.

By Jennifer Block
December 24, 2008
» Discuss Article (23 Comments)

Some healthcare trivia: In the United States, what is the No. 1 reason people are admitted to the hospital? Not diabetes, not heart attack, not stroke. The answer is something that isn’t even a disease: childbirth.

Not only is childbirth the most common reason for a hospital stay — more than 4 million American women give birth each year — it costs the country far more than any other health condition. Six of the 15 most frequent hospital procedures billed to private insurers and Medicaid are maternity-related. The nation’s maternity bill totaled $86 billion in 2006, nearly half of which was picked up by taxpayers.

But cost hasn’t translated into quality. We spend more than double per capita on childbirth than other industrialized countries, yet our rates of pre-term birth, newborn death and maternal death rank us dismally in comparison. Last month, the March of Dimes gave the country a “D” on its prematurity report card; California got a “C,” but 18 other states and the District of Columbia, where 15.9% of babies are born too early, failed entirely.

The U.S. ranks 41st among industrialized nations in maternal mortality. And there are unconscionable racial disparities: African American mothers are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers.

In short, we are overspending and under-serving women and families. If the United States is serious about health reform, we need to begin, well, at the beginning.

The problem is not access to care; it is the care itself. As a new joint report by the Milbank Memorial Fund, the Reforming States Group and Childbirth Connection makes clear, American maternity wards are not following evidence-based best practices. They are inducing and speeding up far too many labors and reaching too quickly for the scalpel: Nearly one-third of births are now by caesarean section, more than twice what the World Health Organization has documented is a safe rate. In fact, the report found that the most common billable maternity procedures — continuous electronic fetal monitoring, for instance — have no clear benefit when used routinely.

The most cost-effective, health-promoting maternity care for normal, healthy women is midwife led and out of hospital. Hospitals charge from $7,000 to $16,000, depending on the type and complexity of the birth. The average birth-center fee is only $1,600 because high-tech medical intervention is rarely applied and stays are shorter. This model of care is not just cheaper; decades of medical research show that it’s better. Mother and baby are more likely to have a normal, vaginal birth; less likely to experience trauma, such as a bad vaginal tear or a surgical delivery; and more likely to breast feed. In other words, less is actually more.

The Obama administration could save the country billions by overhauling the American way of birth.

Consider Washington, where a state review of licensed midwives (just 100 in practice) found that they saved the state an estimated $2.7 million over two years. One reason for the savings is that midwives prevent costly caesarean surgeries: 11.9% of midwifery patients in Wash- ington ended up with C-sections, compared with 24% of low-risk women in traditional obstetric care.

Currently, just 1% of women nationwide get midwife-led care outside a hospital setting. Imagine the savings if that number jumped to 10% or even 30%. Imagine if hospitals started promoting best practices: giving women one-on-one, continuous support, promoting movement and water immersion for pain relief, and reducing the use of labor stimulants and labor induction. The C-section rate would plummet, as would related infections, hemorrhages, neonatal intensive care admissions and deaths. And the country could save some serious cash. The joint Milbank report conservatively estimates savings of $2.5 billion a year if the caesarean rate were brought down to 15%.

To be frank, the U.S. maternity care system needs to be turned upside down. Midwives should be caring for the majority of pregnant women, and physicians should continue to handle high-risk cases, complications and emergencies. This is the division of labor, so to speak, that you find in the countries that spend less but get more.

In those countries, a persistent public health concern is a midwife shortage. In the U.S., we don’t have similar regard for midwives or their model of care. Hospitals frequently shut down nurse-midwifery practices because they don’t bring in enough revenue. And although certified nurse midwives are eligible providers under federal Medicaid law and mandated for reimbursement, certified professional midwives — who are trained in out-of-hospital birth care — are not. In several state legislatures, they are fighting simply to be licensed, legal healthcare providers. (Californians are lucky — certified professional midwives are licensed, and Medi-Cal covers out-of-hospital birth.)

Barack Obama could be, among so many other firsts, the first birth-friendly president. How about a Midwife Corps to recruit and train the thousands of new midwives we’ll need? How about federal funding to create hundreds of new birth centers? How about an ad campaign to educate women about optimal birth?

America needs better birth care, and midwives can deliver it.

Jennifer Block is the author of “Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care.”

Choosing a Birth Attendant

Most people see pregnancy as a time to prepare for the baby.  I see early pregnancy as a time to figure out what you want before you even go to your first appointment.  A lot of women don’t even think about the actual birth until a few months or weeks before the baby is born!  It can be difficult to make a change that late in the game.  You should choose the provider who has the same philosophy as you instead of hoping to change them by the end of the pregnancy.

Tips for choosing a birth attendant

  • Think about your core birthing philosophy.  Do you feel that birth is a natural physiological process?  If so, a midwife is your best bet.  Do you have physical issues that dictate that there could be a potential problem?  Do you see birth as dangerous with lots of opportunities for things to go wrong?  Then an OB might be your preferred provider.
  • Visit The Birth Survey, a consumer reporting site dedicated to birth.  Go to rate your OB, midwife, and place of birth.  As of now the site is just up and running and they should have formulated the results by Fall of 08
  • Get recomendations from people who share your birthing point of view, visit online forums (like mothering.com) and ask questions.
  • Interview your potential care provider.  Remember, they are working for you, not the other way around.  Related posts:  Interviewing your OB, Interviewing your Midwife, and Interviewing your Place of Birth
  • Create a birth plan well before your second or third trimester.  Going to your provider interview with a birth plan or at least an idea of what you want can help you ask the right questions.  Just make sure to not be negative or badger the doctor!
  • How much one-on-one, hands-on support do you want during pregnancy? Midwives generally treat the whole woman:  mentally, physically, socially, psychologically, spiritually.  Prenatal appointments generally last about an hour and they are usually there for the majority of labor and birth.  OBs on the other hand are primarily surgical specialists who have a prenatal appointment time of about five minutes and generally just come in at the end to catch the baby.
  • How much involvement do you want in your pregnancy and birth? Many times in midwifery practices the mom gets to do her own urine dip and weigh herself at her appointments.  The midwife tries to explain things to her and tries to get her to interact during her visits.  An OB visit is more in-and-out with the nurses doing everything behind the scenes.
  • Where do you want to give birth? Some women just go to an OB because they think they’re supposed to and then realize late in pregnancy that they want a home birth!  Where you give birth automatically dictates who will be there.  For example in Colorado at this time, OBs work in the hospital, only Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM) can work at a birth center, and Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) and CNMs can do home births.  Most CNMs (90-95%) work with doctors in the hospital.
  • Do you want to have a waterbirth? Some hospitals allow it, some do not.  If you have to give birth in a hospital and want to fight a policy that does not allow waterbirth, having a provider who supports it can go a long way.  Yes, it is possible to change hospital policy!  In Gentle Birth Choices Barbara Harper talks about how to do this.
  • Choose someone you’re comfortable with. If you’re not comfortable with your provider there is no way you can let your body open up and relax enough to have a baby.
  • If a provider or place (like home or birthing center) is out of your insurance network, talk to your insurance provider.  Also, often times a home birth or birthing center is cheaper even though you have to pay in full.  For example, in Colorado a typical, no-intervention birth in a hospital usually costs around $12,000-13,000.  In an insurance plan where you pay 10% of hospital and doctor’s costs you’re looking at a few thousand dollars.  A home birth or birth center birth usually costs around that if you’re paying in full.
  • Do you feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor?  Remember that just because a doctor is female doesn’t mean she believes in the same birthing philosophy as you do.