I found this http://www.consumerreports.org/health/medical-conditions-treatments/pregnancy-childbirth/maternity-care/overview/maternity-care.htm over at a good friend's blog. Very interesting stuff!
Back to basics for safer childbirth
Too many doctors and hospitals are overusing high-tech procedures
Noninvasive measures can mean better outcomes for baby and Mom.
When it's time to bring a new baby into the world, there's a lot to be said for letting nature take the lead. The normal, hormone-driven changes in the body that naturally occur during delivery can optimize infant health and encourage the easy establishment and continuation of breastfeeding and mother-baby attachment. Childbirth without technical intervention can succeed in leading to a good outcome for mother and child, according to a new report.
"Evidence-Based Maternity Care: What It Is and What It Can Achieve," co-authored by Carol Sakala and Maureen P. Corry of the nonprofit Childbirth Connection analyzed hundreds of the most recent studies and systematic reviews of maternity care. The 70-page report was issued collaboratively by Childbirth Connection, the Reforming States Group (a voluntary association of state-level health policymakers), and Milbank Memorial Fund, and released on Oct. 8, 2008.
Overuse of high-tech measures
The report found that, in the U.S., too many healthy women with low-risk pregnancies are being routinely subjected to high-tech or invasive interventions that should be reserved for higher-risk pregnancies. Such measures include:
*Inducing labor. The percentage of women whose labor was induced more than doubled between 1990 and 2005
*Use of epidural painkillers, which might cause adverse effects, including rapid fetal heart rate and poor performance on newborn assessment tests
*Delivery by Caesarean section, which is estimated to account for one-third of all U.S births in 2008, will far exceed the World Health Organization's recommended national rate of 5 to 10 percent
*Electronic fetal monitoring, unnecessarily adding to delivery costs
*Rupturing membranes ("breaking the waters"), intending to hasten onset of labor
*Episiotomy, which is often unnecessary
In fact, the current style of maternity care is so procedure-intensive that 6 of the 15 most common hospital procedures used in the entire U.S. are related to childbirth. Although most childbearing women in this country are healthy and at low risk for childbirth complications, national surveys reveal that essentially all women who give birth in U.S. hospitals have high rates of use of complex interventions, with risks of adverse effects.
The reasons for this overuse might have more to do with profit and liability issues than with optimal care, the report points out. Hospitals and care providers can increase their insurance reimbursements by administering costly high-tech interventions rather than just watching, waiting, and shepherding the natural process of childbirth.
Convenience for health care workers and patients might be another factor. Naturally occurring labor is not limited to typical working hours. Evidence also shows that a disproportionate amount of tech-driven interventions like Caesarean sections occur during weekday "business hours," rather than at night, on weekends, or on holidays.
Underuse of high-touch, noninvasive measures
Many practices that have been proven effective and do little to no harm are underused in today's maternity care for healthy low-risk women. They include:
*Use of midwife or family physician
*Continuous presence of a companion for the mother during labor
*Upright and side-lying positions during labor and delivery, which are associated with less severe pain than lying down on one's back
*Vaginal birth (VBAC) for most women who have had a previous Caesarean section
*Early mother-baby skin-to-skin contact
The study suggests that those and other low-cost, beneficial practices are not routinely practiced for several reasons, including limited scope for economic gain, lack of national standards to measure providers' performance, and a medical tradition that doesn't prioritize the measurement of adverse effects, or take them into account.
Quiz: Maternity care, beware
Despite growing evidence of harm, many obstetricians and maternity hospitals still overuse high-tech procedures that can mean poorer outcomes for baby and Mom. Test your knowledge with our quiz below, and then learn more in our report.
1. An obstetrician will deliver better maternity care, overall, than a midwife or family doctor.
False. Studies show that the 8 percent to 9 percent of U.S. women who use midwives and the 6 to 7 percent who choose family physicians generally experienced just-as-good results as those who go to obstetricians. Those who used midwives also ended up with fewer technological interventions. For example, women who received midwifery care were less likely to experience induced labor, have their water broken for them, episiotomies, pain medications, intravenous fluids, and electronic fetal monitoring, and were more likely to give birth vaginally with no vacuum extraction or forceps, than similar women receiving medical care. Note that an obstetric specialist is best for the small proportion of women with serious health concerns.
2. Induced labor can halt fetal development.
True. The vital organs (including the brain and lungs) continue to develop beyond the 37th week of gestation. There is also a five-fold increase in the brain’s white matter volume between 35 and 41 weeks after conception. Inducing labor (with synthetic oxytocin, for example) might stop this growth if the fetus is not fully developed. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of women whose labor was induced more than doubled.
3. Due-date estimates can be off by up to two weeks.
True. This inaccuracy can lead to a baby being delivered by induction or Caesarean section up to two weeks earlier than its estimated due-date, cutting off important weeks of fetal development.
4. “Breaking the waters” helps hasten labor.
False. There is no evidence to support the fact that this common practice (about 47% of women) shortens labor, increases maternal satisfaction, or improves outcomes for newborns.
5. Induced labor increases the likelihood of Caesarean section in first-time mothers.
True. The cervix may not be ready for labor. Other effects of induced labor include an increased likelihood of an epidural, an assisted delivery with vacuum extraction or forceps, and extreme bleeding postpartum.
6. Once you’ve had a C-section, it’s best to do it again.
False. Studies show that, as the number of a woman’s previous C-sections increased, so did the likelihood of harmful conditions, including: trouble getting pregnant again, problems delivering the placenta (placenta accreta), longer hospital stays, intensive-care (ICU) admission, hysterectomy, and blood transfusion.
7.Labor itself can benefit a newborn’s immunity.
True. When babies do not experience labor (if the mother has a C-section before entering into labor, for example), they fail to benefit from changes that help to clear fluid from their lungs. That clearance can protect against serious breathing problems outside the womb. Passage through the vagina might also increase the likelihood that the newborn’s intestines will be colonized with “good” bacteria after the sterile womb environment.
8. Epidural anesthesia is a low-risk way to make labor easier.
False. Many women welcome the pain relief, but might not be well-informed about the increased risk of its side-effects, including lack of mobility, sedation, fever, longer pushing, and serious perineal tears.
9. Epidural anesthesia presents risks to newborns.
True. Babies whose mothers received epidurals during labor are at risk for rapid heart rate, hyperbilirubinemia (the presence of an excess of bilirubin in the blood), need for antibiotics, and poorer performance on newborn assessment tests.
10. Episiotomies reduce the risk of perineal tearing.
False. Evidence shows that routine use of episiotomy offers no benefits but rather increases women’s risk of experiencing perineal injury, stitches, pain and tenderness, leaking stool or gas, and pain during sexual intercourse. Yet in 2005, 25 percent of women with vaginal births continued to experience this intervention. Episiotomy is one of several obstetric practices adopted into common usage before being adequately studied.
Source: “Evidence-Based Maternity Care: What It Is and What It Can Achieve,” a detailed review of clinical evidence by Carol Sakala and Maureen P. Corry published by the Childbirth Connection, the Reforming States Group, and the Milbank Memorial Fund, October 2008.