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Midwives’ social and emotional competence key to quality maternity care

Midwives social and emotional skills matter – they matter to women and families, and they matter when working in a maternity care team.  Social and emotional competence starts with self-awareness, identifying one’s own reactions to situations and people, then developing the ability to widen the gap between our reaction and our response. Managing and self-regulating the emotional response when communicating with others is key to sustaining positive relationships – including when conflict arises. But empathy, self-regulation and conflict resolution skills may not come naturally and are rarely taught in undergraduate midwifery programs (Hastie & Barclay, 2021).

Interactions within the healthcare team

Positive workplace culture and effective teams are built by staff who demonstrate social and emotional competence (Hughes & Albino, 2017; Black et al., 2019). When teamwork is compromised, often through negative workplace culture, it harms mothers and babies (Rönnerhag et al., 2019), and leads to staff burnout and high turnover (Catling et al., 2017). An Australian national survey of midwifery workplace culture largely described poor communication, lack of leadership and support, and bullying (Catling et al., 2020). Teamwork function is undermined by poor communication between team members, an absence of shared goals, or lack of social and emotional skills (Best & Kim, 2019).

Skills required for teamwork can be taught

PhD candidate Carolyn Hastie recently examined whether teaching and assessing teamwork skills prepares undergraduate midwifery students to be effective team members when they graduate (Hastie & Barclay, 2021 – see article here). The researchers analysed interviews with 19 early career midwives who had learnt, practised, and assessed each other on teamwork skills developed through group assignments in their Bachelor of Midwifery program.

Teamwork central to practice

The research found that in their first year, midwifery students did not appreciate how central teamwork was to their future practice as a midwife (Hastie & Barclay, 2021). Participants described that group assignments were hard and tiresome, and some wrote off social and emotional skills as less important and “fluffy”. However, as new graduates they reflected that teamwork at university had prepared them for teamwork in the hospital setting.

Conflict inevitable but manageable

The participants acknowledged that conflict was an inevitable part of midwifery work (Hastie & Barclay, 2021). Participants found they had learnt how not to take rude or challenging behaviour personally. They reflected that they were more likely to see the situation from the other person’s viewpoint. This stance helped them to regulate their emotional reactions and to respond in a more considered and constructive way.

Advocating for self and others

These midwives used strategies they had learnt to have courageous conversations and address issues early, with one stating “rather than letting it fester, nip it in the bud”. When interacting with colleagues, that could mean asking direct questions (e.g., what was your rationale?) – or providing an alternative viewpoint (i.e., politely disagreeing, and explaining why). These skills are particularly important in terms of speaking up for safety and advocating for women.

Recommendations for practice

Midwives can strengthen their social and emotional competence by increasing their self-awareness. This might include reflecting on difficult interactions in practice through journaling or debriefing with a trusted colleague, participating in clinical supervision, or learning and practising mindfulness. Maternity services should consider the social and emotional competencies managers and midwives need to contribute to an effective team and positive workplace culture – and which steps would increase staff capability. Social and emotional competence matters to safe, quality maternity care.

References 

Best, J. A., & Kim, S. (2019). The FIRST curriculum: Cultivating speaking up behaviors in the clinical learning environment. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 50 (8) (2019), pp. 355-361. https://doi.org.10.3928/00220124-20190717-06

Black, J., Kim, K., Rhee, S., Wang, K., & Sakchutchawan, S. (2019). Self-efficacy and emotional intelligence. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 25(1/2), 100-119. https://doi.org/10.1108/tpm-01-2018-0005

Catling, C. J., Reid, F., & Hunter, B. (2017).  Australian midwives’ experiences of their workplace culture. Women and Birth, 30(2) (2017), pp. 137-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2016.10.001

Catling, C., & Rossiter, C. (2020). Midwifery workplace culture in Australia: A national survey of midwives. Women Birth, 33(5), 464-472. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2019.09.008

Hastie, C. R., & Barclay, L. (2021). Early career midwives’ perception of their teamwork skills following a specifically designed, whole-of-degree educational strategy utilising groupwork assessments. Midwifery, 102997. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2021.102997

Hughes, M., & Albino, J. (2017). Assessing emotional and social intelligence for building effective hospital teams. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 20(4), 208-221. https://doi.org/10.1037/mgr0000058

Rönnerhag, M., Severinsson, E., Haruna, M., & Berggren, I. (2019). A qualitative evaluation of healthcare professionals’ perceptions of adverse events focusing on communication and teamwork in maternity care. Journal of Advanced Nursing75(3), 585–593. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.13864

Midwives are leaving the profession – could group clinical supervision help?

The world needs midwives

Maternal and infant health are a global priority. Midwives are pivotal to the wellbeing of women and their babies. Indeed, there is an urgent call to upscale midwifery to stem the rates of women and babies who are injured or die in childbirth. However, in Australia, like many other high-income countries, there is another type of crisis occurring that we can no longer ignore – midwives in significant numbers are leaving the profession.

Why midwives leave

Midwives are feeling demoralised, disempowered, and overwhelmed. Some of the reasons for this are medicalisation of birth, a lack of autonomy and under-staffing. These factors are leaving midwives emotionally fragile and feeling unsupported by their managers (Catling & Rossiter, 2020; Hunter et al, 2018; Pezaro et al. 2016).

There are heartbreaking accounts of midwives responding to this blog discussing the results of the Work, Health and Emotional Lives of Midwives (WHELM) study (Hunter et al, 2018). The WHELM study surveyed the wellbeing of nearly 2000 midwives in the UK and found significant levels of emotional distress, burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression. Two thirds of participants stated that they had thought about leaving their profession in the last six months, and alarmingly, early career midwives were over-represented in those leaving (Harvie et al, 2019).

Australian research echoes findings about midwives who have left the profession (Matthews, 2021), along with similar findings about work-related distress (Creedy et al., 2017; Catling & Rossiter, 2020). A Royal College of Midwives document Why midwives leave – revisited (2016) reported that 88% of midwives who had left the profession might consider returning if there were appropriate staffing levels. Eighty percent of midwives said they would return if their workplace culture was changed for the better, although this report did not outline what a positive workplace culture was.

Positive workplace culture

We suggest the following list (although not exhaustive) highlights some important things that midwives want from maternity services:

  • fully staffed ward/unit with adequate resources for staff to do their jobs;
  • visible managers who provide support to their staff to excel and flourish
  • support to engage in educational opportunities, support to attend conferences / seminars / complete higher degrees
  • emotional support following adverse events
  • timely feedback and assistance with relationships in the workplace including zero tolerance for bullying behaviour
  • autonomy in practice with multi-disciplinary assistance when indicated
  • opportunity to work in midwifery continuity of care

In essence, a positive workplace culture would have trust in, and collegiality with, work colleagues and knowledge that your work with women was high-quality and valuable.

How best to support midwives?

Clinical supervision is a well-known supportive strategy that has been used in many health disciplines to help promote staff professional development and health and wellbeing. Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative’s Director of Workforce, Associate Professor Christine Catling, gained a National Health and Medical Research Council investigator grant over the next 5 years to investigate whether group clinical supervision makes a difference to Australian midwives and the midwifery workplace culture.

The trial of group clinical supervision

The cluster randomised controlled trial (for maternity units in Greater Sydney) will involve 12 maternity sites (the ‘clusters’). Each cluster will be randomised to either receive the intervention (group clinical supervision) or not.

The trial will measure midwifery burnout rates (using the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory), the perceptions of their workplace culture (using the Australian Midwifery Workplace Culture tool), and intentions to leave the profession. For the intervention sites, the efficacy of the clinical supervision will be measured through using the Clinical Supervision Evaluation Questionnaire (Horton, 2008).

The results of this 5-year study are forthcoming. This year the research team will conduct a review of all available research evidence (both qualitative and quantitative) on group clinical supervision. Pending the study results, midwives and managers of maternity units could think about their workplace culture. Specifically, what they can do to build an environment where staff want to work, feel supported and feel safe.

References

Catling, C. & Rossiter, C. (2020). Midwifery workplace culture in Australia: A national survey of midwives. Women and Birth, 33(5), 464-472.

Creedy, DK., Sidebotham, M., Gamble, J., Pallant, J. & Fenwick, J. (2017). Prevalence of burnout, depression, anxiety and stress in Australian midwives: a cross-sectional survey. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 17(1), 1-8.

Harvie K., Sidebotham, M. & Fenwick. J. (2019) Australian midwives’ intentions to leave the profession and the reasons why. Women and Birth, 32(6), e584-e593.

Horton S, de Lourdes Drachler M, Fuller A, de Carvalho Leite JC. (2008). Development and preliminary validation of a measure for assessing staff perspectives on the quality of clinical group supervision. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 43, 126–34.

Hunter B, Henley J, Fenwick J et al. (2018). Work, Health and Emotional Lives of Midwives in the United Kingdom: The UK WHELM study. School of Healthcare Sciences, Cardiff University.

Matthews, R. (2021). Impact of stage of career on burnout and experience of work for midwives and neonatal nurses working in a tertiary service. Paper presented at the PSANZ Digital Congress.

Pezaro, S., Clyne, W., Turner, A., Fulton, E. & Gerada, C. (2016). ‘Midwives Overboard!’ Inside their hearts are breaking, their makeup may be flaking but their smile still stays on, Women and Birth, 29(3), e59-e66.

Royal College of Midwives. (2016). Why midwives leave – revisited. RCM, London.

Home-visiting in early labour may reduce fear and better meet women’s needs

Key issues in early labour

Early labour at home is a significant component of women’s birth experience. Women commonly feel fear and uncertainty in early labour and seek reassurance (Barnett, Hundley, Cheyne, & Kane, 2008), yet midwifery support is often limited. Fear, stress, and anxiety during childbearing inhibit labour progress (Buckley, 2015) and increase their perception of pain (Floris & Irion, 2015). If women are admitted in early labour, clinicians are more likely to intervene too soon by augmenting labour and offering epidural analgesia (Davey, McLachlan, Forster, & Flood, 2013; Neal et al., 2014) – even if labour progress is within normal limits (Zhang, 2010).

Regardless of model of care, telephone triage is routinely used for early labour assessment (Kobayashi et al., 2017). When women experience signs of labour, they usually contact either their own midwife (caseload midwifery) or the midwife on shift in the hospital assessment unit (standard care). When midwives assess  that women are in early labour, they advise them to stay at home, rest, eat, hydrate, mobilise and consider comfort strategies (Queensland Health Guidelines, 2018). However, research has shown that women are largely dissatisfied with telephone assessment in early labour. Participants describe unclear advice, unmet needs, unaddressed anxieties, and negative midwife manner (Green, Spiby, Hucknall, & Richardson Foster, 2012).

The M@NGO trial 6-week survey

A study from a large RCT of caseload midwifery, called the M@NGO trial, was the first to look at Australian women’s experience of early labour care (Allen et al., 2020). Participants were allocated to either caseload midwifery or standard fragmented care. Neither group were provided with midwife home visits during early labour. About 1,000 women (58% of M@NGO trial participants) completed a survey 6-weeks after birth. The 6-week survey included five questions that invited free-text answers. The free text data were analysed to determine categories – early labour care was one of them.

Analysis of women’s survey responses

The joint first authors searched the free text data to identify relevant phrases (such as ‘early’, ‘went to hospital’, ‘telephone’, ‘sent home’, ‘return’). They determined which comments were about early labour and analysed them to develop three themes to capture what women said. The researchers selected quotes to illustrate and validate the themes. Finally, the researchers used a critical lens to synthesise and explain the findings. To do this, they focussed on larger social forces and structures that impact how labour and birth is constructed (as something frightening and needing medical attention) and how maternity care is provided (institutionalised vs. individualised care).

Women’s experiences

The data included unique responses from 84 women: 44 in caseload care and 40 in standard care. Women’s views about early labour care were:

  1. they needed permission to come to hospital;
  2. they felt like if they came to hospital in early labour, they had done the “wrong” thing;
  3. midwives dismissed their experiences in early labour.

Critical analysis of the data generated two further themes to explain women’s experiences: women seeking and midwives shielding. Women in early labour sought care because they wanted to be close to those who knew what was going on. Medicine sends the message that birth is dangerous outside of hospital (Roome, Hartz, Tracy, & Welsh, 2015) – so this is understandable behaviour. Whereas by delaying presentation to hospital or sending women home, midwives were effectively shielding the hospital (and in caseload midwifery, their time) to protect resources. Midwives may also have been shielding women from the cascade of intervention.

Limitations of this study

This study did not collect data from midwives about early labour care. For the women who answered the survey, having their own midwife in caseload midwifery did not protect women against having negative experiences of early labour care. However, it remains possible that women who had positive experiences did not report on them in the survey.

Strategies to improve early labour care

Three strategies have been trialled to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes include: 1) early labour assessment vs. immediate admission;  2) home visits vs. telephone triage, and 3) one-to-one structure care vs. usual care) (Kobayashi et al., 2017). Of these three strategies, only early labour assessment made a difference to outcomes – shorter labour duration (average 5 hours), less epidural analgesia (13% less likely), and much less oxytocin augmentation (43% less likely) (Kobayashi et al., 2017). While early labour home visits do not appear to impact outcomes, they are  known to increase women’s satisfaction with care (Janssen & Desmarais, 2013). Another strategy is a dedicated early labour area for women who prefer to stay in hospital rather than return home. A comparison of intervention rates and birth outcomes before, and after, this area was introduced in a large Australian maternity hospital, found it made no difference to outcomes (Williams et al., 2020).

How can health services respond to women’s needs in early labour?

Women require support in early labour, not just assessment (Allen et al, 2020).  Midwives need to understand that emotional support is a valid and important part of their role (O’Connell & Downe, 2009). Health service managers should recognise that early labour is important to women and adjust the service model accordingly. To do this, services could evaluate women’s current satisfaction with early labour care (in all models of care) and then codesign a strategy to promote positive experiences. For caseload midwifery models in particular, evaluation of early labour home-visiting may be a feasible and valuable option.

References

Allen, J., Jenkinson, B., Tracy, S. K., Hartz, D. L., Tracy, M., & Kildea, S. (2020). Women’s unmet needs in early labour: Qualitative analysis of free-text survey responses in the M@NGO trial of caseload midwifery. Midwifery, 88, 102751. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2020.102751

Barnett, C., Hundley, V., Cheyne, H., & Kane, F. (2008). ‘Not in labour’: impact of sending women home in the latent phase. British Journal of Midwifery, 16(3), 144-153. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjom.2008.16.3.28692

Buckley, S. J. (2015). Executive Summary of Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care. Journal of Perinat al Education, 24(3), 145-153. https://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.24.3.145

Davey, M., McLachlan, H., Forster, D., & Flood, M. (2013). Influence of timing of admission in labour and management of labour on method of birth: Results from a randomised controlled trial of caseload midwifery (COSMOS trial). Midwifery, 29(12), 1297 – 1302.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2013.05.014

Floris, L., & Irion, O. (2015). Association between anxiety and pain in the latent phase of labour upon admission to the maternity hospital: a prospective, descriptive study. J ournal of Health Psychology, 20(4), 446-455. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105313502695

Green, J. M., Spiby, H., Hucknall, C., & Richardson Foster, H. (2012). Converting policy into care: women’s satisfaction with the early labour telephone component of the All Wales Clinical Pathway for Normal Labour. J ournal of Adv anced Nursing, 68(10), 2218-2228. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2011.05906.x

Janssen, P., & Desmarais, S. L. (2013). Women’s experience with early labour management at home vs. in hospital: a randomised controlled trial. Midwifery, 29(3), 190-194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2012.05.011

Kobayashi, S., Hanada, N., Matsuzaki, M., Takehara, K., Ota, E., Sasaki, H., . . . Mori, R. (2017). Assessment and support during early labour for improving birth outcomes. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4(4), Cd011516. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD011516.pub2

Neal, J. L., Lamp, J. M., Buck, J. S., Lowe, N. K., Gillespie, S. L., & Ryna, S. L. (2014). Outcomes of nulliparous women with spontaneous labor onset admitted to hospitals in preactive versus active labor. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 59(1), 28-34. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.12160

O’Connell, R., & Downe, S. (2009). A metasynthesis of midwives’ experience of hospital practice in publicly funded settings: compliance, resistance and authenticity. Health, 13(6), 589-609. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363459308341439

Queensland Clinical Guidelines. (2018). Queensland Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guideline: Normal birth. (MN17.25-V3-R22). Brisbane: Queensland Health Retrieved from https://www.health.qld.gov.au/qcg/documents/g_normbirth.pdf

Williams, L., Jenkinson, B., Lee, N., Gao, Y., Allen, J., Morrow, J., & Kildea, S. (2020). Does introducing a dedicated early labour area improve birth outcomes? A pre-post intervention study. Women and Birth, 33(3), 259-264. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2019.05.001

Zhang, J., Landy, H. J., Branch, D. W., Burkman, R., Haberman, S., Gregory, K. D., . . . Reddy, U. M. (2010). Contemporary Patterns of Spontaneous Labor With Normal Neonatal Outcomes. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(6), 1281-1287. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181fdef6e

The two most common reasons women have a first caesarean section

 

Research in context

In Australia and many high-income countries, the rate of caesarean section (CS) is increasing. There is no evidence that higher rates of CS improve health outcomes, which raises concerns about overuse of the surgical procedure (ACOG et al., 2014).

In 2000, 1 in 5 Australian women had a caesarean section. That rate is now more than 1 in 3 (AIHW, 2018). For women having their first baby in Australia the risk of CS is 37% (AIHW, 2020). Once a woman has experienced a CS, future vaginal birth is much less likely. In Australia, 7 out of 8 women will have a repeat CS for their next baby (AIHW, 2020). Therefore, preventing the first caesarean section (called a “primary CS”) is paramount wherever safely possible (ACOG et al., 2014).

Some have attributed the significant rise in CS rates to the increase in older and more obese pregnant women (RANZCOGAIHW releases data on caesarean section in Australia). Indeed, age ≥35 years and obesity can increase the chances of health issues including high blood pressure, diabetes, and multiple pregnancies. Nevertheless, this change alone is unlikely to explain the magnitude of the rise in CS rates, nor the differences in CS rates in different settings (WHO, 2018).

What the research did 

New research led by PhD candidate Haylee Fox, supervised by TMCC Deputy-Director, Associate Professor Emily Callander, aimed to build our knowledge in this area: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/birt.12530

Fox et al. (2021) used routinely collected hospital data to analyse the main reasons recorded by clinicians for primary CS in Queensland Health hospitals. Nearly 100,000 women either having their first baby or having a subsequent baby after previous vaginal birth were included in the study. Women who had experienced a previous CS were excluded.

What the research found

The top two reasons women in Queensland public hospitals had a primary CS were: ‘abnormal fetal heart rate’ (23%) and ’primary inadequate contractions’ (23%). Medical interventions including artificial rupture of membranes (ARM), oxytocin augmentation or induction of labour, and epidural analgesia predicted CS for fetal heart rate concerns (as did obstructed labour). Where a primary CS was performed due to “inadequate” contractions, epidural analgesia, ARM, fetal stress, and oxytocin augmentation or induction were predictive factors.

So what does this mean?

Induction of labour and epidural analgesia predict the two most common reasons for primary CS.  Accurate, evidence-based information about the potential consequences of induction of labour or epidural should be provided to all women (Fox et al, 2021). Indeed, these results warrant professional reflection on the use of induction of labour and epidural analgesia, alongside critical review of relevant policies, given the clear link with primary CS.

An Australian study including 1.25 million reported women who accessed birth centre or homebirth had lower rates of oxytocin augmentation and epidural use. Maternal and perinatal outcomes by planned place of birth in Australia 2000 – 2012: a linked population data study | BMJ Open. The Cochrane systematic review found women receiving midwife-led care in a hospital setting were less likely to receive an epidural, although it appeared to make no difference to rates of induction of labour or oxytocin augmentation. Midwife-led continuity models of care compared with other models of care for women during pregnancy, birth and early parenting | Cochrane

Midwifery continuity of care models and out-of-hospital birth protect against overuse of medical interventions including CS. Universal access to continuity of midwifery care should be a national policy priority.

References

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (College); Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Caughey AB, Cahill AG, Guise JM, Rouse DJ. (2014). Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 210(3), 179-93. https://doi.10.1016/j.ajog.2014.01.026

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Australia’s Mothers and Babies 2018 – In Brief. AIHW.

Fox, H., Topp, S. M., Lindsay, D., & Callander, E. (2021). A cascade of interventions: A classification tree analysis of the determinants of primary cesareans in Australian public hospitals. Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, 00, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12530

Homer, C.S.E., Cheah, S.L., Rossiter, C. et al. (2019). Maternal and perinatal outcomes by planned place of birth in Australia 2000 – 2012: a linked population data study. BMJ Open, 9, e029192. https://doi.10.1136/bmjopen-2019-029192

Sandall, J., Soltani, H., Gates, S., Shennan, A., & Devane, D. (2016). Midwife-led continuity models versus other models of care for childbearing women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD004667. https://doi.10.1002/14651858.CD004667.pub5

World Health Organization. (2018). WHO Recommendations Non-Clinical Interventions to Reduce Unnecessary Caesarean Sections. WHO.

Does intrapartum CTG monitoring save lives?

Dr Kirsten Small is a project lead with the Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative. Yesterday she delivered the closing keynote address at the GOLD Obstetric Conference, speaking about why it is so difficult to align clinical practice with the research evidence. Kirsten hosts the Birth Small Talk blog and her post today reviews the research evidence she summarised in her address. She has kindly shared it here as well. 

If you are interested in pursuing research relating to the use of fetal heart rate monitoring in labour please connect with us via our contact form

 

Today’s post examines the research evidence about CTG monitoring with regards to stillbirth and neonatal death. This is a deep dive for my fellow data geeks who like to read the fine print, not the executive summary. The short version is – no. Using a CTG to monitor a woman in labour doesn’t prevent the death of her baby. If you are keen to know the details, read on!

Intrapartum CTG monitoring in low risk populations

This is the least controversial area of evidence, and the one most maternity clinicians are familiar with. Of the eleven randomised controlled trials that have compared CTG monitoring with intermittent auscultation (IA) during labour, three were done in low risk populations, five in high risk populations and the remaining three in mixed risk populations or where risk was not specified (Alfirevic et al., 2017).

The three low risk trials were Kelso et al., 1978, Leveno et al., 1986 and Wood et al., 1981. A total of 16,049 births were included in this analysis, which showed no statistically significant difference in the perinatal mortality rate (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.29 – 2.58).

It has been almost 40 years since the last of these trials was performed. It could be argued that CTG technology has improved, or that we are better at CTG interpretation now. Heelan-Fancher et al. (2019) examined a large population data set from two states in the United States, specifically looking at birth outcomes for low risk women. This was not a randomised controlled trial – rather it was a non-experimental analysis of what happens in practice when women are monitored by CTG or by IA, with a very large sample size (1.5 million births). They didn’t report on intrapartum stillbirth. They found no significant difference in the neonatal mortality rate when CTG monitoring was used.

On the basis of available evidence, there is nothing that suggests that use of CTG monitoring rather than IA reduces the perinatal mortality rate in women considered to be at low risk. That’s not all that controversial. Most people in maternity care know this particular bit of information.

Intrapartum CTG monitoring in mixed, unknown, and high-risk populations

There is a widespread assumption that the absence of mortality benefit derived from CTG monitoring in labour ONLY applies to women considered to be low risk. We wouldn’t be using CTGs so widely if they didn’t save lives, right? But what does the evidence actually say regarding the use of intrapartum CTG monitoring in women who are not at low risk?

The randomised controlled trial evidence regarding high risk populations consists of five studies published over 6 papers, over a thirty-year period, starting in 1976 and continuing to 2006 (Haverkamp et al., 1979; Haverkamp et al., 1976; Luthy et al., 1987; Madaan and Trivedi, 2006; Renou et al., 1976; Shy et al., 1987). In addition, there are four studies published over five papers which were conducted in populations with both women considered to be at lower and higher risk or where the risk profile of the population was not described (Grant et al., 1989; Kelso et al., 1978; MacDonald et al., 1985; Neldam et al., 1986; Vintzileos et al., 1993). With my co-authors Associate Professor Mary Sidebotham, Professor Jenny Gamble, and Professor Jennifer Fenwick, we have synthesised the findings from these populations (Small et al., 2020).

In the high-risk population (n = 1,975), perinatal mortality was not significantly different when CTG was compared with IA (RR 1.17, 95% CI 0.62 – 2.22). There was also no statistically significant difference in mortality in the mixed-risk population (n = 15,994, RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.36 – 1.23). The mortality rate was higher in the mixed risk population than it was for the low risk population, and higher again for the high-risk population, indicating that researchers have correctly identified populations of women with higher risk.

Note that the number of women in the high-risk population is small. It has been argued that with a larger sample size a difference would be detected but that it would be unethical to recruit women considered to be a high-risk to further RCTs because the non-experimental evidence supporting the use of intrapartum CTG monitoring is so compelling. We set out to examine this assertion and examined the nonexperimental evidence (Small et al., 2020).

Non-experimental research

Our searches located 27 papers published between 1972 and 2018 which provided evidence about the use of intrapartum CTG monitoring in high-risk populations. We then used a tool (ROBINS-I) to assess the degree to which the findings of the research might be affected by bias – that is that the findings were due to something other than CTG use. 22 papers were at critical risk of bias and another was a serious risk. Most of these papers compared a time period prior to the introduction of CTG monitoring with a period after it was introduced, without controlling for any of the other changes to practice which might improve outcomes over time. Given the high risk of bias, the findings from these papers should not be relied on to guide practice as a consequence. The remaining five studies were assessed to be at moderate risk of bias. According to the ROBINS-I tool, studies at moderate risk of bias can be relied upon to inform clinical practice.

Starting with the studies at critical or serious risk of bias, only five of these studies showed a statistically significant reduction in perinatal mortality out of fourteen where this could be calculated. In the studies at moderate risk of bias (which ranged in size from 235 to 1.2 million women), no significant differences in perinatal mortality rates were reported. The argument that the non-experimental evidence presents a compelling argument for intrapartum CTG monitoring can’t be sustained on the basis of the available evidence.

Where to next?

Where does that leave us as clinicians and what recommendations can we make on the basis of these findings? We have an ethical obligation to include information regarding the lack of effectiveness of CTG monitoring in our discussions about intrapartum fetal monitoring with birthing women, regardless of their risk profile (Sartwelle et al., 2020) and to support their informed decision making. However, doing currently places clinicians at odds with professional guidelines. Professional guidelines are meant to be evidence informed, yet this is clearly not the case for intrapartum fetal monitoring. In order to support clinicians to provide evidence-informed care, there needs to be stronger recognition in professional guidelines that the evidence in favour of intrapartum CTG monitoring is far from compelling and that using IA instead is not proof of unprofessional practice.

The full reference list is available on the post on Birth Small Talk. 

 

New research from the Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative Team

Collectively, the Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative generate a large volume of high quality, impactful research. This week has seen the publication of five new papers from our team members in the Women and Birth journal. You can access the full text of each of these via the links below. Settle in with a cuppa and enjoy getting up to date.

Intrapartum CTG monitoring does not improve perinatal outcomes.

Authors: Dr Kirsten Small, Associate Professor Mary Sidebotham, Professor Jennifer Fenwick, Professor Jenny Gamble.

This systematic literature review identified all randomised controlled trials and non-experimental evidence which has examined whether the use of CTG monitoring during labour rather than intermittent auscultation reduces perinatal mortality or cerebral palsy rates in babies born to women considered to be at high risk. No improvement in mortality was found, while an increase in the cerebral palsy rate was noted when CTG monitoring was used during preterm labour.

“High-quality research is urgently required to identify which women, if any, obtain a perinatal benefit from intrapartum CTG monitoring.”

Access this paper here.

Measuring midwifery students’ experiences of learning in clinical practice environments.

Authors: Ms Marnie Griffiths, Professor Jennifer Fenwick, Professor Jenny Gamble, Professor Debra Creedy.

Learning in a clinical environment is a key component of a comprehensive midwifery education program. Being able to measure how well specific learning environments support midwifery students as they develop the knowledge and skills required for professional practice is important. This paper reports on the development and testing of the MidSTEP tool which offers a robust way to capture students’ perceptions of the clinical practice component of their degree. Students indicated high level support for the statements that the clinical environment supported their learning, enabled them to work across the full scope of practice, and fostered a self-directed approach to learning.

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Placing students in the driver’s seat.

Authors: Ms Valerie Hamilton, Professor Kathleen Baird, Professor Jennifer Fenwick

This research reports on students’ experiences of learning to provide midwifery care in a student-led midwifery clinic providing antenatal and postnatal care. Students who were on-call for individual women were supported to provide antenatal and postnatal care under the supervision and guidance of their university practice lecturer. “Being in the driver’s seat” was the major theme of the findings, with students reporting a sense of being in control and feeling like “a real midwife”. Students described growing in confidence over time and feeling competent to step into practice.

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Stepping from student to employment through simulated employment interviews.