Midwives

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OB Talks About Home Birth, Midwives And Re-Engineering U.S. Maternity Care

Dr. Neel Shah (Courtesy)

Dr. Neel Shah (Courtesy)

Just mention the phrase “home birth,” and controversy will surely follow.

One example: a recent opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Neel Shah, an obstetrician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. In the piece, Shah suggests that for many pregnant women, giving birth in the U.K. — with its streamlined system of midwives and greater acceptance of births in the home — may be better than the high-intervention childbirth system that dominate U.S. labor wards.

Shah wrote the piece in response to the release of new guidelines from the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), recommending healthy women with low-risk pregnancies opt for home or midwife-led births. Shah’s conclusion? “The majority of women with straightforward pregnancies may truly be better off in the United Kingdom.” In other words, the intense treatment U.S. obstetricians are trained to provide is unnecessary in many cases.

Dr. Shah continued the conversation on Radio Boston earlier this week. Highlights from the segment include his analysis of why the U.S. and U.K. have such different approaches to childbirth and discussion of the possible movement towards a model more like the U.K. Listen to the segment or read an excerpt below:

Host Meghna Chakrabarti: You also point out in your piece — and we spoke with people in preparing for this conversation — that these are relatively new recommendations, and the vast majority of women in the U.K. as of today still have their babies in hospitals there.

Dr. Neel Shah: They do. So about 90 percent of babies in the UK are born in hospitals, although I’ll say that the model even for babies born in hospitals is that midwives provide the first level of care and the obstetricians are there for complexity, even if you’re in the hospital. But here it’s more like 99 out of 100, so there’s still a big difference.

MC: But how do we change that, though? If in the U.K., from what you’re describing, it seems that obstetricians are viewed upon as highly trained specialists who should be called on in the event of specialty care when it’s needed, and midwives provide more of the primary care. It feels like we don’t have that framework here in the United States. When a woman gets pregnant, her first thought is “I need to go see an obstetrician to provide what’s essentially primary care during a pregnancy.”

NS: That’s exactly right. I think there’s a few different things that we could do to move forward. There are a lot of strategies and, like I said in the piece, I think there are lessons in the U.K., but I think our model will obviously need to look different from the U.K. One of the things I think we should start to think about is health care systems in 2015 in the United States are starting to take responsibility for populations and trying to think about not just the surgery but your health care overall. And 25 percent of all hospitalizations are childbirth related; it’s the number one reason to come into the hospital. So it seems like this should be a big piece of the pie, and I think as big health systems start to take ownership over the health of people that they serve there’s an opportunity to reinvent and re-engineer the way we approach it.

MC: Let’s take a couple more calls. Emily is calling from Westford; you’re on the air, Emily.

Emily: Hi. Thank you for taking my call, and I’m thrilled that Dr. Shah is young and freshly out of medical school and doing what he’s doing. My experience was very different. I was 30 and 34 when I had my two children, and I worked with midwives both times in the Boston area. The first was Beth Israel’s Ambulatory Care Unit, and the two midwives there were ex-nuns, and they were both at the birth, and the obstetrician actually took pictures; he had nothing to do with the birth, which was great. And then the next one, four years later, was in Beverly, at the North Shore Birth Center, which was a house setting across the driveway from the hospital. So both of them were under the umbrellas of the hospital. Now I have to say this was in 1979 and 1983, but I was starting at an OB/GYN practice, and a friend of mine said, “You know, the OBs look for the abnormal. When you go to a midwife, they’re looking for the normal.” And I felt that was so true because all my appointments with my husband with me were an hour and a half at the midwife. Continue reading

What To Expect When You’re Birthing At Home: A Hospital C-Section (Possibly)

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By Ananda Lowe
Guest Contributor

The term “homebirth cesarean” didn’t exist before 2011, when Oregon mother and student midwife Courtney Jarecki coined it. But now, a Google search returns almost 2,000 entries on the topic.

The term refers to a small but emerging community of mothers who have experienced the extremes of birth: They’d planned to have their babies at home, but ended up in a hospital, most often in the operating room having a cesarean section, major abdominal surgery. Needless to say, the effect of such a dramatic course change takes a toll, and can often be overwhelming.

(“Homebirth cesarean” can also refer to births that were planned to occur at a freestanding birth center outside of a hospital, but eventually were transferred to the hospital for a cesarean.)

How often does this happen?

Home births, though a small fraction of the approximately 3.9 million births a year in the U.S., are on the rise. Based on the most recent birth data from the National Center for Health Statistics, “the 36,080 home births in 2013 accounted for 0.92% of all U.S. births that year, an increase of 55% from the 2004 total.”

Eugene Declercq, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, studies national birth trends. He said in an email that while there are no nationwide numbers on homebirth transfers to the hospital, “the studies that have been done usually report about a 12% intrapartum transfer rate.”

But beyond the numbers, what happens emotionally when your warm and fuzzy image of natural childbirth in the comfort of home suddenly morphs into the hard reality of a surgical birth under fluorescent lights?

A woman who'd planned a homebirth but ended up having a cesarean in the hospital. (Photo courtesy: Courtney Jarecki)

A woman who’d planned a homebirth but ended up having a cesarean in the hospital. (Photo courtesy: Courtney Jarecki)

Jarecki founded the homebirth cesarean movement to figure that out. She connected women who, like herself, shared the experience of giving birth through full surgical intervention, despite their original plans of having their babies at home or outside of the established medical system.

In Jarecki’s case, she labored at home for 50 hours until her midwives detected a rare complication known as a constriction ring, or a thickened band of tissue in her uterus that was impeding progress. Shortly after this, meconium appeared, and Jarecki knew it was time to go to the hospital. Her emotional response to the intensity of the situation, however irrational, was one of anger, shame and failure at her ability to give birth normally. A cesarean followed.

Over the next several years, Jarecki began helping other homebirth cesarean mothers emerge from the silence and shame they felt confronting their unexpected surgeries. Some of these women also report that their postpartum recovery was tougher because their unique needs were not adequately addressed by their home birth midwives or their hospitals.

Jarecki started by launching a (now busy) Facebook page as a support group for these mothers and their health care providers.

Childbirth Expectations vs. Reality

Rule number one in childbirth is that it rarely unfolds as you expect. Continue reading

Opinion: License Professional Midwives For More Childbirth (And Home Birth) Options

Home birth announcement (Courtesy Sarah Whedon)

Home birth announcement (Courtesy Sarah Whedon)

By Sarah Whedon
Guest Contributor

When I was expecting my first baby in 2009, I planned a home birth with a wonderful midwife. My pregnancy was healthy and normal, my prenatal care with my midwife was both empowering and attentive to my health needs and my labor began spontaneously at full term.

Everything was going according to plan, until about 20 hours into active labor at home when my midwife alerted me that my baby’s heart rate indicated a serious problem and we needed urgent medical attention.

In the amount of time it took the ambulance to arrive at my Somerville home, my midwife cut an episiotomy (a skill in which home-birth midwives are trained but don’t practice as a matter of routine) and performed an emergency delivery. My baby had aspirated meconium (the sticky tar-like substance in a newborn’s bowels that is occasionally expelled during birth) and was having trouble breathing even with the aid of the oxygen my midwife carried with her. She needed a transfer to the level III NICU at Children’s Hospital, where she made a complete recovery.

I had a home birth because I wanted the kind of low intervention pregnancy and birth that Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) offer. But I tell my birth story publicly because it demonstrates something important that people don’t often realize about CPMs: they are skilled professionals who are prepared to handle emergencies, including facilitating transfer to medical care when needed.

CPMs are midwives who are specially trained in out-of-hospital care. They differ from Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) who are trained as nurses and typically practice in hospital settings. Currently, Massachusetts licenses CNMs but has no licensing system for CPMs, who provide care for approximately 500 women across the state each year.

So when I recently learned of a petition asking me to support licensing of CPMs in Massachusetts, I immediately wanted to get more involved. I found other moms who want this bill to pass and I’ve had the pleasure of lending my support to this work being carried out by a coalition of advocates from the Massachusetts Midwives Alliance, Massachusetts Friends of Midwives and others. More than 500 Massachusetts residents have now signed the petition.

The bills (HB 2008 and SB 1081) would require all midwives practicing out of hospital to become CPMs, create state licensing requirements for CPMs and establish a Committee on Midwifery under the Board of Registration in Medicine. The nine-member committee will include five CPMs, one obstetrician, one CNM and one consumer of midwifery services.

Supporters of the measures that would license and regulate home birth midwives were energized by an amazing turnout at a Committee on Public Health hearing last month, testifying to the professional skill of these midwives and the valuable ways they serve Massachusetts families. Several moms even brought their charming home birth babies along for the day at the State House.

I have heard from some midwifery supporters who oppose licensing, worrying that new regulations will hamper midwives’ ability to truly practice the midwifery model of care. But midwives themselves will be involved in determining details of regulation. Overall, licensing of our midwives would mean more moms will feel able to choose home birth, because they’d have the security of knowing that in order to hang out her shingle, a midwife must meet state licensing standards.

The Massachusetts Medical Society has also opposed the bills, expressing disapproval of any health care that is delivered outside the team context with immediate M.D. supervision. Continue reading

A Snapshot Of Massachusetts Midwifery Care: 6 Surprising Facts

The number of midwives attending births in the state nearly tripled from 1990-2008

The UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy today released the first comprehensive study of midwives in Massachusetts: who they serve, who they are and the challenges they face. Here are a few facts from the report — which includes responses from 290 certified nurse midwifes — that may surprise you:

1. Midwife-Assisted Births On The Rise

In Massachusetts, the number of nurse-midwife-attended vaginal births nearly tripled between 1990 and 2008  (from 7.9% to 21.6%) and there has also been a recent uptick in the rate of home births.

2. Beyond Childbearing Women

While midwives are more commonly known for the care they provide to childbearing women, midwives serve women in all stages of life. A substantial number of Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) care for young women (under 20 years of age), recent immigrants, and women whose first language is not English. About one-third (33%) of CNMs indicated that at least 31% of their patients are Hispanic or Latina. The majority of CNMs noted that a significant proportion of their service reimbursement comes through government-assisted health care.

Also, the age range of patients that CNM’s care for is vast, the report notes: from 8 years old up to 100.

3. Providing Primary Care

According to the report, 38.5% of those surveyed said that primary care constitutes some portion of their practice.

4. Docs Still Supervising Midwives

Massachusetts is one of the few remaining states (there are five others) that require certified nurse midwives to work under a physician’s supervision in a hospital setting. That’s a result of legislation enacted in 1977; a bill now pending would do away with that requirement.

5. What They Earn

The majority of CNMs (71.5%) work full-time and 28.5% work part-time. Full-time CNMs earn a median of $92,000 and part-time CNMs earn a median of $65,500.

6. Midwives Age Too

Nearly half of all midwives in Massachusetts have been practicing for over 10 years and many for more than two decades, the report says. Over 30% of CNMs indicated possible retirement by 2020. With an average age of 53, it is likely that CPMs/DEMs will soon also face a workforce shortage. A midwifery workforce shortage would pose challenges in meeting women’s reproductive and maternal health needs, particularly for the vulnerable populations served by CNMs.

The overall goal of the report is to “bring attention to the midwifery workforce, which we think is largely invisible in the system, but is profoundly important,” said Christa Kelleher, the study’s co-principal investigator, and research director at the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Nurse midwives are becoming the lead maternity caregivers for many women in the Commonwealth and primary care givers for certain women, particularly those in underserved communities.”