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Midwifery students and birthing women: a valuable relationship

Women value midwifery students and midwifery students value women. One Australian university has begun to collect routine, ongoing, web-based feedback from all women who complete a continuity of care experience (CCE) with a midwifery student. Analysis of the first 12 months of data found that women value CCE with student midwives and midwifery students are providing above and beyond the minimum requirements for care. Continuity of midwifery care (CMC) has long been recognised as the cornerstone of quality midwifery care but how does this manifest in pre-registration midwifery programs?

CCE was introduced to Australian pre-registration midwifery programs as a way to provide students “experience in woman-centred care” (ANMAC, 2015, p. 24). Currently Australian midwifery students must support a minimum of 10 women within a CCE including a minimum of four antenatal visits, attendance at the majority of women’s labour and births as well as a minimum of two postnatal visits (ANMAC, 2015). The number of CCE students are required to undertake has been reviewed periodically by accreditation board ANMAC since 2010 and has reduced from a total of 30 in 2010 to the current 10 (Teirney et al., 2018). Some midwifery students and accredited midwifery education providers have previously argued that they have found complexities when managing clinical placements, CCE experiences, assessment, course requirements, employment and family responsibilities (Gray et al., 2013; McLaughlan et al., 2013). It was thought that reducing the number of total CCE would provide a higher quality of CCE experiences for students and women (ANMAC, 2014).

Although minimum requirements of a Bachelor of Midwifery (BMid) program at one Australian university are double the number (20) of minimum CCE and a minimum of five antenatal visits, all labour and births, and three postnatal visits (to six weeks postpartum), a recent study has shown that midwifery students at this university provide women even more support than this (Tickle et al., 2020). Students in this program completed a mean average of 5.83 antenatal visits, attended 92.6 percent of women’s labour and births and a provided a mean average of six postnatal contacts. The authors state that the midwifery program in this study is flexible in its design to privilege the CCE (Tickle et al., 2020). This may have allowed students to prioritise women’s care where necessary.

From previous statements made regarding the reduction of CCE requirements with intention to increase the quality of a CCE, you may be mistaken for believing that although student attendance in this study was high, the quality of the experience for women was lacking, however this is untrue. The study, where 57 percent of women provided feedback, found that the majority of women were satisfied with the student in the antenatal period (86.6 percent), labour and birth (86.4 percent) and postnatally (79 percent) (Tickle et al., 2020). Women were more satisfied when their CCE student attended their labour and birth (Tickle et al., 2020). Additionally, there was a positive correlation between a woman’s level of satisfaction and respect (measured on standardised scales) and the number of antenatal visits and postnatal contacts midwifery students had with women (Tickle et al., 2020). Nearly all women would recommend a midwifery student (97.6 percent) (Tickle et al., 2020). It could be argued that in order for the original purpose of the introduction of CCE by ANMAC (to provide experience in woman-centred care) to be fully realised, women should remain at the centre of a CCE. Women clearly value their midwifery student providing CCE and therefore the authors recommend midwifery standards be revised to increase both the total number and minimum requirements of CCE  for pre-registration midwifery students (Tickle et al., 2020).

Providing all women the opportunity to feedback their experiences gives women a voice and exemplifies respectful, woman-centred, professional practice. Feedback from women affords students and faculty a unique perspective for reflection, practice and program review and revision to help ensure women remain at the centre of learning and teaching in midwifery.

For women to receive continuity of midwifery care the midwifery workforce requires midwives to work within continuity models (Gamble et al., 2020). Midwifery students placed in CMC models are more likely to want to work in these models after graduation (Carter et al, 2015; Cummins et al., 2017). Over one third (34.7 percent) of women in the Tickle et al. (2020) study received a midwifery continuity primary model of care meaning that many students are being exposed to CMC models which may contribute to a growing CMC workforce.

CCE is important for women, students and the future midwifery workforce. Increasing pre-registration midwifery program standards to include a larger number of CCE, increased minimum requirements, routine feedback from women and maintaining quality is both feasible and optimal. In the same way women’s satisfaction with a midwifery student providing CCE echoes current research with midwives providing CMC (Sandall et al., 2016), it is possible clinical outcomes for women receiving a CCE will follow the same trajectory.

References

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council. (2014). Midwife accreditation standards. ANMAC. https://www.anmac.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/ANMAC_Midwife_Accreditation_Standards_2014.pdf

Carter, A., Wilkes, E., Gamble, J., Sidebotham, & Creedy, D.K. (2015). Midwifery students׳ experiences of an innovative clinical placement model embedded within midwifery continuity of care in Australia, Midwifery, 31(8), 765. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2015.04.006

Cummins, A.M., Denney-Wilson, E., & Homer, C.S.E. (2017). The mentoring experiences of new graduate midwives working within midwifery continuity of care models in Australia. Nurse Education in Practice, 24, 106-111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nepr.2016.01.003

Gamble, J., Sidebotham, M., Gilkison, A., David, D. & Sweet, L. (2020). Acknowledging the primacy of continuity of care experiences in midwifery education. Women and Birth, 33(2), 111-118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2019.09.002

Gray, J., Leap, N., Sheehy, A. & Homer, C.S. (2013). Students’ perceptions of the follow-through experience in 3 year bachelor of midwifery programmes in Australia. Midwifery, 29(4), 400-406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2012.07.015

McLachlan, H.L., Newton, M., Nightingale, H., Morrow, J., Kruger, G. (2013). Exploring the ‘follow-through experience’: a statewide survey of midwifery students and academics conducted in Victoria, Australia. Midwifery, 29(9), 1064-1072. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2012.12.017

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, 4. https://doi.org/ 10.1002/14651858.CD004667.pub5

Tickle N., Gamble J. & Creedy DK. (2020) Women’s reports of satisfaction and respect with continuity of midwifery care experiences by students: Findings from a routine, online survey. Women & Birth, in press. doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2020.11.004

Tierney, O., Sweet, L., Houston, D. & Ebert, L. (2018). A historical account of the governance of midwifery education Australia and the evolution of the continuity of care experience. Women and Birth, 31(210-215). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2017.09.009

VBAC: How risk perception contributes to the caesarean section rate. An opinion piece.

During the final year of the Bachelor of Midwifery at Griffith University, midwifery students are asked to write an opinion piece focussed on normal birth that could be published. Dr Jyai Allen convenes this course and supported the students to complete this work. Several of these were of such good quality that we offered students the option of having them published here. This is the final one of five articles in a series. The author of this article preferred to publish anonymously. 

The current caesarean section birth rate in Australia is approximately 34% (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2019). After a caesarean section, most Australian women choose to have an elective caesarean section for subsequent births, with only 12-13% of women choosing to attempt a vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC) (Meredith & Hugill, 2016). The reason for this seems to be the perceived risks of VBAC as opposed to an elective caesarean, with the primary concern for women being an increased risk of uterine rupture (Black et al., 2016). Repeat elective caesarean births contribute to Australia’s high caesarean section rate, far above the World Health Organization’s recommendation based on evidence that caesarean section rates over 10% do not improve health outcomes. Given that the success rate for vaginal birth after caesarean section is 72-75%, increasing to 85-90% for women who have had a vaginal birth before (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2019), the question can be asked why the VBAC attempt rate is so low, considering the risks of this type of birth is low.

Birth has biological, cultural, social, and political influences (Behruzi et al., 2013). Socially, birth is shaped by the society women live in, with culture, social class, and resources contributing to decision-making (Behruzi et al. 2013). Research shows that decisions regarding the mode of birth are partially influenced by discussions of birth stories with other women, which often focus on negative aspects and experiences of their births (Latifnejad Roudsari et al., 2015). Social conformity also influences birth and birth choices, with values and ideas of women often reflecting the views of those around them, including family, friends and health professionals (Behruzi, et al., 2013). In a society and country where birth primarily takes places in a medicalised environment where maternity care providers are influenced by medical culture, these views can be projected onto women in a direct or indirect way. This is certainly true during consultation and provision of information regarding mode of birth after caesarean section, with evidence showing that both direct and subtle influences by maternity care providers greatly impacting women’s decisions on mode of birth (Black et al., 2016). How statistics and information are presented to women alters their perception of risk, with VBAC often being perceived by woman as much more risky than in actuality (Meredith & Hugill, 2016).

Medicalisation of birth is an issue that women and midwives are constantly contending with while trying to achieve normal birth. Medical models of birth take a risk-based approach that assumes birth to be risky and leads women to believe that these risks can be managed and reduced with the aid of medical technology (Cummins, 2020). Media contributes to the medicalisation of birth, as most portrayals of birth in film and television are overly medicalised. While most women might be consciously aware that these depictions of birth are not factual nor a reality, it has been shown that media representations of birth are subconsciously still informing women and providing them with expectations (Cummins, 2020). With this expectation that birth should be medically managed, trust in birth decreases and women are more easily influenced into birth interventions. Research also shows that births portrayed in film and television generates fear of birth and this affects the birth choices made by women (Luce et al., 2016). Takeshita (2017) finds that as well as creating fear of birth, media trivialises women’s capacity to give birth and overlooks midwifery. Collectively this contributes to the culture of birth in Australia, where many women and families consider birth to be considerably risky. In a birth culture focused on risk, perception of risk can be disproportionate to actual risk and this is apparent when looking at the low rates of VBAC in Australia.

One way to help combat these socio-cultural issues is through provision of an antenatal care environment that is encouraging of active participation by the woman in care and discussions (Chen et al., 2019). This is especially important for women making decisions on mode of birth after a caesarean section and improves the VBAC attempt rate (Chen et al., 2019). Continuity of care with a known midwife would be the ideal model of care for active participation and holistic conversation, however fragmented care is still the norm in maternity care in Australia. Women planning VBAC who had continuity of care with a midwife felt more in control of decision- making, more confident, and more supported than those who received fragmented care or care with a doctor (Keedle et al., 2020). Midwives have a professional obligation to promote normal birth (Australian College of Midwives [ACM], 2018). However, midwives also acknowledge the necessity to remove bias when presenting women with evidence-based information and this can lead them to omit the positive aspects of vaginal birth. When providing information on VBAC, midwives should present evidence to women on both the actual risk of VBAC as well as risks associated with caesarean section birth. In addition to this, in order to promote holistic health and wellbeing, midwives should also discuss the positive benefits of vaginal birth for women and babies, rather than focusing solely on the risks of both modes of birth. According to women seeking VBAC this in not demonstrated in practice, with communication being mostly risk-orientated (Nilsson et al., 2017). In a culture that is both risk adverse and reliant on technology, failing to highlight the benefits of normal birth focusses on risk and women are more inclined to choose a medicalised technocratic approach to birth (Behruzi, 2013). Understanding social attitudes about birth is important to foster a positive understanding and attitude towards vaginal birth, in order to decrease population caesarean section rates and promote health (Latifnejad Roudsari et al., 2015). Thus fulfils midwives’ professional standards to promote health and wellbeing by identifying what is important to women as the foundation for using evidence to promote informed decision-making, participation in care, and self-determination (ACM, 2018).

Analysis of successful VBAC in countries with high VBAC rates has confirmed the importance of provision of information in a supportive manner, understanding of benefits of VBAC, the support of trusting maternity care provider during birth, letting go of past negative birth experiences, and viewing VBAC as the goal when no other complications are present (Nilsson et al., 2017). Continuity of care with a midwife for women would help all of these factors associated with increased VBAC rate. Given the low risk involved in VBAC for most women, midwives and doctors can have confidence in recommending and supporting VBAC to change the default mode of birth after caesarean section from a repeat caesarean to VBAC.

References 

Australian College of Midwives. (2018). Midwife standards for practice. Retrieved from https://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/documents/default.aspx?record=WD18%2f252 81&dbid=AP&chksum=kYbO0%2bO7kx9I%2fBlvmKH%2bwg%3d%3d

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). National Core Maternity Indicators. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/per/095/ncmi-data-visualisations/contents/labour- birth/b5

Behruzi, R., Hatem, M., Goulet, L., Fraser, W., & Misago, C. (2013). Understanding childbirth practices as an organizational cultural phenomenon: A conceptual framework. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 13(1), 205. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-205

Black, M., Entwistle, V. A., Bhattacharya, S., & Gillies, K. (2016). Vaginal birth after caesarean section: Why is the uptake so low? Insights from a meta-ethnographic synthesis of women’s accounts of their birth choices. BMJ Open, 6(1), e008881. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 008881

Chen, M. M., McKellar, L., & Pincombe, J. (2017). Influences on vaginal birth after caesarean section: a qualitative study of Taiwanese women. Women and Birth, 30(2), e132-e139. doi:1016/j.wombi.2016.10.009

Cummins, M. W. (2020). Miracles and home births: The importance of media representations of birth. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 37(1), 85-96. doi:10.1080/15295036.2019.1704037

Keedle, H., Peters, L., Schmied, V., Burns, E., Keedle, W., & Dahlen, H. G. (2020). Women’s experiences of planning a vaginal birth after caesarean in different models of maternity care in Australia. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 20(1), 1-15. doi:10.1186/s12884-020-03075-8

Latifnejad Roudsari, R., Zakerihamidi, M., & Merghati Khoei, E. (2015). Socio-cultural beliefs, values and traditions regarding women’s preferred mode of birth in the north of Iran. International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery, 3(3), 165-176.

Luce, A., Cash, M., Hundley, V., Cheyne, H., van Teijlingen, E., & Angell, C. (2016). “Is it realistic?” the portrayal of pregnancy and childbirth in the media. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1), 40. doi:10.1186/s12884-016-0827-x

Meredith, D., & Hugill, K. (2016). ‘Once a caesarean, always a caesarean’? Challenging perceptions around vaginal birth after caesarean. British Journal of Midwifery, 24(9), 616-623.

Nilsson, C., van Limbeek, E., Vehvilainen-Julkunen, K., & Lundgren, I. (2017). Vaginal birth after caesarean: Views of women from countries with high VBAC rates. Qualitative Health Research, 27(3), 325-340. doi:10.1177/1049732315612041

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2019). Birth after previous caesarean section. https://ranzcog.edu.au/RANZCOG_SITE/media/RANZCOG-MEDIA/Women%27s%20Health/Statement%20and%20guidelines/Clinical-Obstetrics/Birth-after-previous-Caesarean-Section-(C-Obs-38)Review-March-2019.pdf?ext=.pdf

Takeshita, C. (2017). Countering technocracy: “Natural” birth in The Business of Being Born and Call the Midwife. Feminist Media Studies, 17(3), 332-346. doi:10.1080/14680777.2017.1283341

No Pain, No Gain? An opinion piece

During the final year of the Bachelor of Midwifery at Griffith University, midwifery students are asked to write an opinion piece focussed on normal birth that could be published. Dr Jyai Allen convenes this course and supported the students to complete this work. Several of these were of such good quality that we offered students the option of having them published here. This is the fourth articles in a series of five. This article was written by Monique Matthews.

No Pain, No Gain?

Many women express wanting a ‘drug free labour’ or a ‘natural/normal birth’. The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) definition of normal birth, requires the process to occur without any surgical, medical, or pharmacological intervention.

Pharmacological pain relief are interventions that include, epidural, opioids (morphine) and nitrous oxide (happy gas). Women not using pharmacological pain relief have many options. These include heat, hydrotherapy/water immersion (shower/bath), acupressure and acupuncture, hypnosis, relaxation, breathing, massage, yoga, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), aromatherapy, sterile water injections, and a birth ball. These techniques are termed non-pharmacological pain relief.

In 2018 in Australia, 21% of women exclusively used only non-pharmacological pain relief, whereas, 78% of women used pharmacological pain relief during labour. With a high rate of pharmacological pain relief and the known negative impacts of these techniques, the question needs to be asked: why have non-pharmacological techniques, that are less invasive and more natural, become the alternative rather than the standard option?

History

Techniques for pain relief in labour have changed throughout history, largely influenced by their availability and the values of practitioners. The earliest techniques were midwifery based, which facilitated the natural physiology of labour in the home with family support and only intervened in life threatening difficulties. Many of these non-pharmacological techniques are still used today.

In the early 1700s birth moved from midwifery to obstetrics as formal biomedical training started institutionalising birth in the hospital. Doctors perspectives became greatly influential. Doctor Joseph Lee likened women’s experience of childbirth to falling on a pitchfork and he wanted to rid childbirth of “unskilled” labour assistance. This enforced the idea that women were unable to cope with labour pain and they required professional help to survive. Pain became a target of medical intervention.

Pain relief techniques in labour through the 1800s and 1900s introduced pharmacological pain relief such as chloroform, nitrous oxide and a mixture of morphine (pain relief) and scolimeine (memory loss) coined ‘twilight sleep’. Women were barely conscious while giving birth, dehumanising the process and causing extensive trauma. In the 1960s, epidural pain relief gained popularity. An interest in returning to non-pharmacological birthing practices also emerged around this time, as the experience of pain was considered empowering for women. By 1990, women’s rights to pain relief were again promoted for a technological, pain free birth.

Today, the primary healthcare provider for a woman in labour in Australia can be a doctor or midwife. Women’s views on what techniques they will use during labour are diverse, as they are impacted by their social and cultural learning, the media, and the ongoing medicalisation of birth.

Biomedical Paradigm

While the ICM’s definition of normal birth excludes the use of pharmacological intervention, the Queensland Clinical Guidelines definition includes the use of nitrous oxide, normalising pharmacological pain relief. Within the guideline the term ‘non-pharmacological support’ is consistently used. This situates these techniques within a biomedical paradigm, with risk and pathology as the dominant discourse. This implies that these natural and traditional techniques are inferior, by stating that they are ‘other’ than the dominant pharmacological techniques.

This position is often supported in media representations where women are unrealistically shown lying on a bed, out of control, screaming for pain relief. Today, this is a more common source of information than having been present at an actual birth. The expectations women form, impact their experience of pain as it is a subjective experience, influenced by social and cultural learnings.

Physiological vs medical approaches to pain

When women experience uterine contractions, the pain is physiological rather than pathological. This pain is considered beneficial, as it emphasises the need for support, heightens elation and triggers hormones to support wellbeing. During labour, women naturally produce hormones (oxytocin and endorphins) that counter the intensity of the pain experienced. Stress hormones (catecholamines and cortisol) can override this natural pain relief when women experience fear or a lack of trust. If women and midwives understand these hormonal processes and use non-pharmacological techniques to enhance them, the fear cascade can be avoided.

If labour pain is a subjective experience, why is a medical approach, based on objective principles, used?

The biomedical paradigm views birth as a mechanical process requiring intervention for efficacy and safety. Using pharmacological pain relief changes labour from a physiological process to a medical procedure as side effects require management.

Nitrous oxide can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and drowsiness. Morphine crosses the placenta lowering the baby’s breathing rate and alertness at birth. Women can also experience excessive sedation, a lowered breathing rate and nausea. Epidurals increase instrumental vaginal birth rates by 500% and can increase the use of synthetic oxytocin, length of labour, low blood pressure, and a less positive birth experience.

As non-pharmacological techniques have less side effects, why are they not better promoted? The answer may lie in the cost effectiveness of these techniques, which do not make manufacturers as much money, causing them to be understudied, which lessens practitioner’s confidence in the techniques. Sara Wickham articulates this point well when she said “Ethically, medical intervention has to prove itself against nature. Not the other way around”.

Power Play

Women can be empowered during their birth experience through woman-led, self-generating techniques that involve partners. However, pharmacological pain relief shifts power from the woman to the practitioner. This phenomenon occurs as standard monitoring is required to deem whether the situation is ‘safe’ to continue labour, creating parameters that may exclude women from decisions.

The power of suggestion can impact which techniques women use during labour. If midwives and practitioners are afraid of being with women in pain, they may offer increased pain relief when they feel the woman needs it, rather than upon request. Women have described feeling coerced and being presented with false dilemmas with limited choices. Consent is not valid in these situations if the risks of pharmacological pain relief are not fully disclosed, or the information is tailored by midwives. Research on epidurals, found they are sometimes used as a substitute for continuous support.

This raises the question: Is pain relief used more often for the convenience of practitioners, rather than to meet the needs of women?

Pain relief is a human right!

Access to pain relief is considered a human right. Some women accessing maternity care may state that they want an epidural immediately or make the decision to use pharmacological pain relief when they were not initially planning to. This is their right. However, pain perception is influenced by social and cultural learnings, medicalisation, and the media. This may not include evidence-based information on birth physiology and adequate support for non-pharmacological pain relief techniques.

A study on pain relief in labour found epidurals were considered the most effective pain relief, nonetheless, water birth was associated with higher levels of satisfaction than epidural use. Predictors for a positive birth experience include a positive attitude and support from midwives, ability to mobilise, confidence & autonomy, inclusion of partners and a safe birthing environment. Birth satisfaction does not solely depend on the level of pain experienced, but the care provided. Women’s autonomy is promoted when non-pharmacological techniques are appropriately explained and used.

Reframing non-pharmacological pain relief

Non-pharmacological pain relief needs to be reconceptualised. Labour is not a problem to be solved but an experience to be worked through. Non-pharmacological techniques enhance this experience and most are easily implemented, affordable, and effective in helping women and their partners actively engage in their care. Midwives, as the protectors of normal birth, should be confident to inform, promote and facilitate the use of non-pharmacological techniques during labour.

Pain relief techniques offered to women during labour are influenced by the opinions and values of their care provider. A mindset change in the way midwives and practitioners present choices to women could increase understanding of the benefits of non-pharmacological pain relief in labour. Discussing non-pharmacological pain relief options not defined by the medical paradigm, but rather, validated in their own right, could improve women’s confidence in their labour choices. Using words such as intuitive or natural techniques would be more appropriate.

Women’s decisions are influenced by social and cultural norms. Birthing choices can be positively influenced, by providing information around birthing techniques based on evidence, that focuses on women’s needs. Comprehensive discussion during antenatal care of physiology in labour and all of the pain relief techniques available, including the risks and benefits, would ensure women are adequately informed.

Current labour care is not always focused on women’s needs. Social and cultural learnings from media sources informed by a biomedical paradigm have influenced midwives and women to discount the benefits of non-pharmacological pain relief. Pharmacological pain relief techniques are being used in a majority of births without necessarily providing the best experiences. Non-pharmacological pain relief techniques, which have been effective since traditional midwifery care, enhance the physiological process, support women’s autonomy and can facilitate a positive birth.

So, I challenge you, instead of questioning whether non-pharmacological pain relief techniques are adequate labour care, question whether all pain relief techniques are being adequately facilitated and ask – who is benefiting from these choices?

References

Abdul-Sattar Khudhur Ali, S., & Mirkhan Ahmed, H. (2018, 2018/06/01/). Effect of change in position and back massage on pain perception during first stage of labor. Pain Management Nursing, 19(3), 288-294. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmn.2018.01.006

Amiri, P., Mirghafourvand, M., Esmaeilpour, K., Kamalifard, M., & Ivanbagha, R. (2019). The effect of distraction techniques on pain and stress during labor: a randomized controlled clinical trial. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 19(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-019-2683-y

Aune, I., Brøtmet, S., Grytskog, K. H., & Sperstad, E. B. (2020). Epidurals during normal labour and birth — Midwives’ attitudes and experiences. Women and Birth, in press. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2020.08.001

Australian College of Midwives. (2016). Scope of Practice for Midwives in Australia. https://www.midwives.org.au/sites/default/files/uploaded-content/field_f_content_file/acm_scope_of_practice_for_midwives_in_australia_v2.1.pdf

Bonapace, J., Gagné, G.-P., Chaillet, N., Gagnon, R., Hébert, E., & Buckley, S. (2018). No. 355-Physiologic basis of pain in labour and delivery: An evidence-based approach to its management. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 40(2), 227-245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jogc.2017.08.003

Brennan, F., Carr, D., & Cousins, M. (2016). Access to pain management—Still very much a human right. Pain Medicine, 17(10), 1785-1789. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnw222

Czech, I., Fuchs, P., Fuchs, A., Lorek, M., Tobolska-Lorek, D., Drosdzol-Cop, A., & Sikora, J. (2018). Pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods of labour pain relief—Establishment of effectiveness and comparison. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(12), 2792. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15122792

Fockler, M. E., Ladhani, N. N. N., Watson, J., & Barrett, J. F. R. (2017, 2017/06/01/). Pregnancy subsequent to stillbirth: Medical and psychosocial aspects of care. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 22(3), 186-192. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.siny.2017.02.004

Gönenç, İ. M., & Dikmen, H. A. (2020, 2020/03/01/). Effects of dance and music on pain and fear during childbirth. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 49(2), 144-153. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jogn.2019.12.005

Happel-Parkins, A., & Azim, K. A. (2016). At pains to consent: A narrative inquiry into women’s attempts of natural childbirth. Women and Birth, 29(4), 310-320. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2015.11.004

Health, A. I. o., & Welfare. (2020). Australia’s mothers and babies 2018—in brief. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mothers-babies/australias-mothers-and-babies-2018-in-brief

International Confederation of Midwives. (2014). Position Statement: Keeping Birth Normal. https://www.internationalmidwives.org/assets/files/statement-files/2018/04/keeping-birth-normal-eng.pdf

Keedle, H., Schmied, V., Burns, E., & Dahlen, H. G. (2019). A narrative analysis of women’s experiences of planning a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) in Australia using critical feminist theory. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 19(1), 142-115. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-019-2297-4

Luce, A., Cash, M., Hundley, V., Cheyne, H., van Teijlingen, E., & Angell, C. (2016, 2016/02/29). “Is it realistic?” the portrayal of pregnancy and childbirth in the media. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1), 40. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0827-x

Lundgren, I., Healy, P., Carroll, M., Begley, C., Matterne, A., Gross, M. M., Grylka-Baeschlin, S., Nicoletti, J., Morano, S., Nilsson, C., Lalor, J., Sahlgrenska, a., Göteborgs, u., Gothenburg, U., Institutionen för vårdvetenskap och, h., Institute of, H., Care, S., & Sahlgrenska, A. (2016). Clinicians’ views of factors of importance for improving the rate of VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean section): a study from countries with low VBAC rates. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1), 350. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-1144-0

MacIvor Thompson, L. (2019). The politics of female pain: women’s citizenship, twilight sleep and the early birth control movement. Medical Humanities, 45(1), 67. https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2017-011419

Mills, T. A., Ricklesford, C., Heazell, A. E. P., Cooke, A., & Lavender, T. (2016, 2016/05/06). Marvellous to mediocre: findings of national survey of UK practice and provision of care in pregnancies after stillbirth or neonatal death. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1), 101. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0891-2

Nodine, P. M., Collins, M. R., Wood, C. L., Anderson, J. L., Orlando, B. S., McNair, B. K., Mayer, D. C., & Stein, D. J. (2020). Nitrous oxide use during labor: Satisfaction, adverse effects, and predictors of conversion to neuraxial analgesia. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 65(3), 335-341. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.13124

Queensland Clinical Guidelines. (2017). Normal Birth. https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/142007/g-normalbirth.pdf

Sanders, R. (2015, 2015/09/01/). Functional discomfort and a shift in midwifery paradigm. Women and Birth, 28(3), e87-e91. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2015.03.001

Sanders, R. A., & Lamb, K. (2017). Non-pharmacological pain management strategies for labour: Maintaining a physiological outlook. British Journal of Midwifery, 25(2), 78-85. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjom.2017.25.2.78

Skowronski, G. A. (2015). Pain relief in childbirth: changing historical and feminist perspectives. Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, 43, 25-28. http://hy8fy9jj4b.search.serialssolutions.com/directLink?&atitle=Pain+relief+in+childbirth%3A+changing+historical+and+feminist+perspectives&author=Skowronski%2C+G+A&issn=0310057X&title=Anaesthesia+and+Intensive+Care&volume=43&issue=&date=2015-07-01&spage=25&id=doi:&sid=ProQ_ss&genre=article

Smith, L. A., Burns, E., & Cuthbert, A. (2018). Parenteral opioids for maternal pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(6). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD007396.pub3

Spendlove, Z. (2018). Risk and boundary work in contemporary maternity care: tensions and consequences. Health, Risk & Society, 20(1/2), 63-80. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698575.2017.1398820

Thomson, G., Feeley, C., Moran, V. H., Downe, S., & Oladapo, O. T. (2019). Women’s experiences of pharmacological and non-pharmacological pain relief methods for labour and childbirth: a qualitative systematic review. Reproductive health, 16(1), 71-20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-019-0735-4

Wickham, S. (2016). Whatever happened to the precautionary principle? https://www.sarawickham.com/articles-2/whatever-happened-to-the-precautionary-principle/

Wood, W. (2018). Shifting understandings of labour pain in Canadian medical history. Medical Humanities, 44(2), 82-88. https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2017-011417

World Health Organisation. (2015). WHO Statement on Caesarean Section Rates. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/161442/WHO_RHR_15.02_eng.pdf;jsessionid=9813B3D2910219254542B7A550D264B7?sequence=1

Do soft fairy lights matter during birth? An opinion piece

During the final year of the Bachelor of Midwifery at Griffith University, midwifery students are asked to write an opinion piece focussed on normal birth that could be published. Dr Jyai Allen convenes this course and supported the students to complete this work. Several of these were of such good quality that we offered students the option of having them published here. This is the third of five articles in a series. The author of this article preferred to publish anonymously. 

Do soft fairy lights matter?

There is an increasing interest in women customising and changing their birthing environments by adding such things as candles, fairy lights, and motivational posters to make the space their own.  In addition, we are seeing more consumer demand for birthing rooms that feel less like a hospital room and more like a hotel or home environment.  But does the birthing environment actually matter? Are there environments that promote normal physiological birth?  Does creating a birth environment that feels safe and secure to the woman affect outcomes?  Do midwives have a role in facilitating this?

Modern day Australia says the birth environment doesn’t matter…

Generally speaking, modern day, mainstream Australia doesn’t value the birth environment and its effect on birth.  Research shows that women who want to engage in changing their birth environment – having music, candles, and the room dimly lit – are often received with disrespect and perceived to be controlling by the general public. Birth stories are told and passed down through generations, shared between friends over coffee, and often focus more on the negative than the positive. Any pregnant woman will tell you that unsolicited labour and birth horror stories start the moment her pregnancy is public. The main storyline? It’s terrifying. It is rare to hear of women birthing at home, with very few publicly funded home birth options available.  While this is slowly changing, the norm is still a hospital birth, under the care of an obstetrician, with midwives providing care during labour and birth.

Has birth become over-medicalised?

In the 18th century most women gave birth in their own home, with a midwife in attendance, surrounded by female family members.  Yet currently in Australia, 96% of women birth in a hospital, with less than 4% birthing at home, in a birth centre or before arrival at hospital.  Australia, like most developed countries, is over-medicalised and operates from a bio-medical model of care (Germov, 2014).  This bio-medical model looks primarily at physical illness and focuses on diagnosis and treatment.  Over-medicalisation and the biomedical model is a widely accepted norm in western societies and which regards pregnancy and birth in the same way: diagnosis (pregnancy) and treatment (delivery of the baby) (Germov, 2014).  Over the last one hundred or so years, birth has slowly been taken out of the community and put into the medical model.  This process, of separating the woman from her own home and familiar environment, and surrounding her with strangers and technology at such an intimate and private time, has only worked to de-humanise birth.

Most Australians, in most circumstances, submit to this medical model, leaving power in the hands of doctors and medical practitioners, and holding them as the ultimate experts.  This medicalised model places an emphasis on risk, and a pressure to conform and accept the environment.  Midwives are required to be the guardians that facilitate this birth environment.

What does media tell us about birth?

Not surprisingly, the media portrays childbirth as a painful, dramatic, and distressing experience.  Women are rarely seen off the bed, and doctors are seen as the experts who arrive in just time to “deliver” the woman from this difficult situation.  A birth room analysis study, completed in 2015, collected images from Google, Wikipedia etc. of midwifery units in developed countries to ascertain the message being sent about labour rooms.  While three primary categories were identified; the technological, the home-like and the hybrid domesticated birth room, the dominant was the technological birth room.  This type of room pictured the bed in the centre, surrounded by medical equipment.  The message? Birth is risky and dangerous and you need this technological environment to give birth.  One needs to ask: What does this do to the woman? How does it make her feel?

As identified earlier, the media plays a role in framing birth for the general public (Germov, 2014).  In 2014, a survey of young Australian women who had no children, highlighted that a disproportionate number of births on TV showed disasters and emergency situations.  However, the landscape has changed since the advent of social media sites, with many traditional media trying to adapt over the last decade.  With the advent of social media, streaming sites, and a plethora of podcasts, different types of birth stories are being told and seen.  More stories of women birthing at home or in a birthing pool, in a birth centre and stories of women owning their birth space are emerging.

Tell me about the hormones…

Physiology teaches us about the way the body works: that oxytocin, what we call the “love” hormone, is needed for the uterus to contract, and labour to continue.  In fact it is a manufactured oxytocin that is often given to women to induce or speed up a slow labour (Stables & Rankin, 2010).  Oxytocin is released into the brain as a result of a stimulus, such as social contact, physical touch, or skin to skin contact (Stables & Rankin, 2010).  When we are fearful, our ‘fight or flight’ reaction kicks in, releasing adrenaline into our system.  This disrupts the production of oxytocin and interferes with labour (Stables & Rankin, 2010).  Research has shown that the ideal birthing space is a sanctum in which women feel they have privacy, and are at ease and comfortable. This comfort is key for optimum physiological function and for women’s emotional wellbeing during labour and birth.  Birth room surveillance, and use of high technology, has been shown to increase stress for women; and may continue to cause a cascade of hormonal imbalances that have negative consequences.  As identified earlier, the increase in adrenaline results in a decrease in oxytocin; slowing down labour.  Additionally, the vasoconstrictive effect of adrenaline may divert blood from the placenta, which can lead to a decrease in fetal oxygenation and therefore fetal distress.

Women need to feel safe and secure in labour and birth to have that natural increase in oxytocin and encourage physiologic birth.  The Room4birth study currently being undertaken in Sweden, allocates women in spontaneous labour to either a standard medicalised room or a newly designed birthing room that can be adapted to the woman’s desires (lights, media installation, silencer, bathtub).  The study will measure physical outcomes as well as women’s experiences.  In addition, another study on the effects of the birthing room is currently being undertaken in Germany, again assessing physical outcomes and maternal satisfaction.

What do midwives say…?

Midwives know that to facilitate normal, physiological birth they influence the birth environment to create a safe and private space.  While home is cited as the ideal place for normal birth, hospital birthing rooms can be designed and adapted to create a home-like environment that is low tech. Midwives believe it is part of their role to guard the space for women, not just physically but emotionally too,  particularly in a bio-medical model that emphasises risk and where surveillance is commonplace.

Midwives consider a supportive environment to be critical and of paramount importance to facilitating a physiologically normal birth.  Dim lighting, a quiet space, and limiting people coming in and out of the room are all considered important in creating this intimate space.  Additionally, midwives often consider themselves protectors of this space and an emotional support for the woman and her family, while encouraging mobility and movement.  Midwives are not only best placed to educate and inform women about their rights and the benefits of creating such a space, and are well placed to protect this birthing space physically and emotionally, it is also part of their professional obligation.

But what about…?

The question is often asked – what about women who have their babies on the side of the road? Or during natural disasters? In situations where they don’t feel safe?  This is the wrong question to ask, because it dismisses women’s right for birthing in an environment that they feel comfortable, private and secure in.  These situations are rare and extreme, and preclude any control of the environment.  Because women can and do give birth in stressful and traumatic situations does not negate the fact that women have the choice to change and alter their birth environment.  While more research should be undertaken for women birthing in these emergency situations, it does not negate what we already know about the effect of hormones and environment on labouring women.

Birth environment does matter

Current research shows that the birthing environment does matter, and that, to increase the chance of a physiologically normal birth, women need to feel safe and secure.  Research also shows that women reported greater satisfaction with care and a decrease in pain intensity after birthing rooms had been redesigned. Women should be encouraged to take control of their birthing environments, to do what they need in order to create a space that feels peaceful, secure and safe.  That space will look different for each woman and may well include fairy lights!

References

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018). Australia’s mothers and babies data visualisations https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mothers-babies/australias-mothers-babies-data-visualisations/contents/labour-and-birth/place-of-birth

Ayerle, G. M., Schäfers, R., Mattern, E., Striebich, S., Haastert, B., Vomhof, M., Icks, A., Ronniger, Y., & Seliger, G. (2018). Effects of the birthing room environment on vaginal births and client-centred outcomes for women at term planning a vaginal birth: BE-UP, a multicentre randomised controlled trial. Trials, 19(1), 641-613. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-018-2979-7

Berg, M., Goldkuhl, L., Nilsson, C., Wijk, H., Gyllensten, H., Lindahl, G., Uvnäs Moberg, K., Begley, C., Göteborgs, u., Gothenburg, U., Centrum för personcentrerad vård vid Göteborgs, u., Sahlgrenska, A., Sahlgrenska, a., University of Gothenburg Centre for person-centred, c., Institutionen för vårdvetenskap och, h., Institute of, H., & Care, S. (2019). Room4Birth – the effect of an adaptable birthing room on labour and birth outcomes for nulliparous women at term with spontaneous labour start: study protocol for a randomised controlled superiority trial in Sweden. Trials, 20(1), 629-612. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-019-3765-x

Bowden, C., Sheehan, A., & Foureur, M. (2016). Birth room images: What they tell us about childbirth. A discourse analysis of birth rooms in developed countries. Midwifery, 35, 71-77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2016.02.003

Butler, M. M. (2017). Exploring the strategies that midwives in British Columbia use to promote normal birth. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 17(1), 168-112. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-017-1323-7

Carolan-Olah, M., Kruger, G., & Garvey-Graham, A. (2015). Midwives׳ experiences of the factors that facilitate normal birth among low risk women at a public hospital in Australia. Midwifery, 31(1), 112-121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2014.07.003

D’Cruz, L., & Lee, C. (2014). Childless expecttions: an Australian study of young childless women. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 32(2), 199-211. https://doi.org/10.1080/02646838.2013.875134

Fahy, K. M., & Parratt, J. A. (2006). Birth Territory: A theory for midwifery practice. Women and Birth, 19(2), 45-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2006.05.001

Foureur, M., Davis, D., Fenwick, J., Leap, N., Iedema, R., Forbes, I., & Homer, C. S. E. (2010). The relationship between birth unit design and safe, satisfying birth: Developing a hypothetical model. Midwifery, 26(5), 520-525. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2010.05.015

Germov, J. (2014). Second Opinion: An Introduction to Health Sociology (5th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Happel-Parkins, A., & Azim, K. A. (2016). At pains to consent: A narrative inquiry into women’s attempts of natural childbirth. Women and Birth, 29(4), 310-320. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2015.11.004

Moscucci, O. (1993). The Science of woman: Gynaecology and Gender in England, 1800 – 1929. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=szmnVZs_ImsC&pg=PA42&source=gbs_toc_r&hl=en – v=onepage&q&f=false

Nusing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2018). Midwife Standards for Practice. https://doi.org/https://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Professional-standards/Midwife-standards-for-practice.aspx

Seibold, C., Licqurish, S., Rolls, C., & Hopkins, F. (2010). ‘Lending the space’: Midwives perceptions of birth space and clinical risk management. Midwifery, 26(5), 526-531. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2010.06.011

Stables, D., & Rankin, J. (2010). Physiology in Childbearing with Anatomy and Related Biosciences (3rd Edition ed.). Elsevier Limited.

Stenglin, M., & Foureur, M. (2013). Designing out the fear cascade to increase the likelihood of normal birth. Midwifery, 29(8), 819-825. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2013.04.005

Wagner, M. (2001). Fish can’t see water: the need to humanize birth. International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 75 Suppl 1, S25. https://birthinternational.com/article/birth/fish-cant-see-water/

Welbers, K., & Opgenhaffen, M. (2018). Social media gatekeeping: An analysis of the gatekeeping influence of newspapers’ public Facebook pages. New Media & Society, 20(12), 4728-4747. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444818784302

 

Optimising infant gut health in midwifery practice: An opinion piece

During the final year of the Bachelor of Midwifery at Griffith University, midwifery students are asked to write an opinion piece focussed on normal birth that could be published. Dr Jyai Allen convenes this course and supported the students to complete this work. Several of these were of such good quality that we offered students the option of having them published here. This is the second of five articles in a series. The author of this article preferred to publish anonymously. 

Optimising infant gut health in midwifery practice: An opinion piece

Women are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their baby’s gut health. Asthma, allergies, diabetes type 2, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and cancer are on a growing list of chronic illnesses linked to disruptions of the gut microbiota (Azad et. al., 2013). The benefits of probiotics and prebiotics in infant and toddler formulas are heavily promoted by advertisers persuading parents to buy their products. Microbiota Transfer Therapy (MTT) has recently been found to improve autism symptoms (Kang, et. al., 2019). This treatment involves the transfer of faecal bacteria and microbes from a healthy individual to another person to improve their depleted gut microbiome.

How science is changing our approach health and chronic diseases

Many parents are unaware of how the mode of birth plays a vital part in establishing a healthy gut microbiome. Babies born vaginally have a gut microbiome akin to their mother’s vaginal and faecal flora. This transfer occurs as the baby passes through the birth canal absorbing the mother’s microbes. (Azad et. al., 2013; Dominguez-Bello et. al., 2010; Dunn et al., 2017; Yang, et. al., 2016).

In contrast, babies born by planned c-sections develop a gut microbiome that resembles the mother’s skin flora and microbes in the hospital environment (Dominguez-Bello et. al., 2010). This is because the baby’s first points of contact are the mother’s skin and the surfaces and air in the operating theatre in the moments following birth. Babies born by caesarean section are extracted from a relatively sterile womb therefore avoiding exposure to the birth canal and the mother’s microbiota (Mueller et. al., 2019). Babies born by unplanned caesarean section fare a little better, acquiring more bacterial abundance and diversity than those born by planned caesarean section. Babies born after unplanned caesarean section had a similar microbiome to vaginally born babies (Azad, et. al., 2013), suggesting that some microbe transfer from the mother to baby occurs during the labour process.

As the rates of caesarean sections continue to rise across the globe, information sharing with parents about the potential impacts this form of birth on the baby’s gut microbiome is important. Other interventions are also commonly used during birth such as: the use of antibiotics, vaginal examinations, and artificial rupturing of the membranes (Johansson et. al., 2012; Yang et. al., 2016). These too can disrupt the baby’s gut microbiome.

The human microbiome is a new field of research…

Midwives need to be informed about the latest research and be confident to educate parents about the impact of the mode of birth on their baby’s gut microbiome. This is no easy feat considering the flood of evidence recently published on the topic (Lokugamage & Pathberiya, 2019). To provide some perspective, very little was known about human microbiome before April 2003 when the human genome was first sequenced (National Human Genome Institute, 2020). Since then, the science has grown exponentially and there remains much yet to be understood. But what we do know is that preventative health approaches will be the way of the future for eliminating chronic disease (Lewis et. al., 2020). Midwives in continuity of care models are ideally placed to maximise this opportunity as part of woman-centred care. This requires a great deal of open mindedness, continuous learning, and expansion in practice.

Vaginal seeding as prevention during planned caesarean sections

Vaginal seeding is a preventative intervention to help counter a baby’s compromised microbiome after a caesarean section. It involves the swabbing of the baby’s face, mouth, and nose with secretions from the mother’s vagina immediately after birth. Growing awareness of the benefits of healthy gut bacteria for newborn infants has parents demanding vaginal seeding as part of planned caesarean section (Wissemann, 2018). The feature-length documentary Microbirth was a powerful film which showed the microscopic world of microbes and how seeding takes place around the time of birth. The short and long-term effects of changes in the newborn’s microbiome are explored in the film along with the implications of altered microbiomes on the health of future generations. This documentary did much to raise public awareness about the importance of the human microbiome for health (Harman & Wakeford, 2014).

Vaginal seeding can modify the baby’s microbial composition which may help override the disturbance caused by  caesarean section (Dominguez-Bello et. al., 2010). To date only one pilot study has investigated the efficacy of this intervention. Although the sample group was very small (four babies), within the first week of life the results showed these babies had developed microbiomes that compared to babies born vaginally (Wissemann, 2018). Although the seeded microbiomes were only partially restored, the results were promising. Clearly, more research into this intervention is needed before it can be implemented into clinical practice on a wide scale.

The information age

The deluge of information available means healthcare is becoming increasingly consumer driven. This is not a bad thing. Consumer involvement helps to move our health systems in the right direction. Public access to science journals means astute parents have more information at their fingertips about health than ever before. Well informed parents can leave doctors and midwives underprepared when asked about vaginal seeding for a planned caesarean. The lag in time between the announcement of an exciting new discovery and the reality of its safe introduction into practice often means consumer expectations are way ahead of practice.

Midwives may serve women better by promoting normal birth as the preferred option for protecting a baby’s microbiome when a planned caesarean section is negotiable. Supporting and encouraging women to birth vaginally, followed by immediate skin to skin and early breastfeeding, is the ideal for establishing a baby’s healthy gut microbiome.

Home is where the good bacteria live

There is also strong evidence to support home as the optimal birth environment for protecting a newborn’s microbiome. Every person has a unique microbial thumb print which transfers to our living environments. Skin shedding, respiratory activity and skin to surface contact permeates our habitats with our unique flora. This creates microbial diversity within our homes which effects immune defence and disease transfer among the inhabitants. People who live together share the same microbiome (Lax et. al, 2014). A baby born at home is entering an environment where there is already a shared microbiome established. This is in direct contrast to clinical environments which expose a baby to unfamiliar microbes which can be very harmful to health.

Vaginal seeding… is it safe?

Concerns about infectious diseases are at the centre of the argument against vaginal seeding. Chlamydia, HIV, group B streptococci (GBS) and bacterial vaginosis are among the pathogens under the spotlight (Haahr et. al., 2017). The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist [RANZCOG] (2016) offers scant information about vaginal seeding. Instead it refers to a British Medical Journal [BMJ] article (Haahr et. al., 2017) via a link for those seeking further information. The BMJ article does not recommend the practise of vaginal seeding in maternity wards. The Danish Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology’s stance strongly opposes the intervention, highlighting significant risks to babies exposed to GBS and those less than 37 weeks gestation. Early skin to skin to encourage breastfeeding is recommended which is said to “indirectly” boost beneficial gut microbiota (Haahr et. al., 2017, p. 3).

There is notable hesitance from RANZCOG to formalise an opinion about the safety of vaginal seeding. This ambivalence is highlighted in the infection argument with a suggestion that all vaginal births are inherently risky due to inadvertent exposure to pathogens. A hint of resignation is evident in the conclusion which states that the risk associated with vaginal seeding is “probably very low, but in contrast to vaginal birth, vaginal seeding is not a natural process” (Haahr et. al., 2017, p. 3).

So how does a midwife approach vaginal seeding in practice?

The best option to addressing the ongoing debate and controversy surrounding vaginal seeding is to bring it into a women-centred framework. Discussions with women about the general risks associated with caesarean section should also include the changes to the baby’s gut microbiome and the possible long-term effects this can have on immunity and health. It is appropriate to share this information in order to ensure women are supported in the informed decision making process. Health institutions and their employees are not under any obligation to provide vaginal seeding as part of their maternity services. However, conversations should take place with parents about the current evidence. Furthermore, there should be no overt or covert obstructions from doctors or midwives for parents who do wish to practise vaginal seeding independently (Lokugamage, & Pathberiya, 2019).

Thinking outside the square

The World Health Organisation states that caesarean sections are medically necessary in 10 to 15% of cases. However, in Brazil over 60% of babies are now born by caesarean section. This is a global trend and it is not sustainable (Mueller, et. al, 2019). In fact, it is vital to robustly challenge the rising rate as the evidence increasingly shows the long-term damage we are inflicting on the health of future generations. The science behind the human microbiome may well be in its infancy but it offers hope for the rebirth of normal birth.

References

Azad, M., Konya T., Maughan, D., Guttman, C., Field, R., Chari, M., Sears, A., Becker, J., Scott, A. & Kozyrskyj. (2013). Gut microbiota of healthy Canadian infants: profiles by mode of delivery and infant diet at 4 months. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 185(5), 385-394. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/pmc/articles/PMC3602254/?tool=pmcentrez&report=abstract

Dunn, A., Jordan, S., Baker, B. & Carlson, N. (2017). The maternal infant microbiome: Considerations for labor and birth. The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 42(6), 318–325. https://oce-ovid-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/article/00005721-201711000-00003/HTML

Dominguez-Bello, M., Costello, E., Contreras, M., Magrisd, M., Hidalgod, G., Fierere, N.& Knight, R. (2010). Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(26), 11971-11975. https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/pmc/journals/2/

Haahr, T., Glavind, J., Axelsson, P., Bistrup Fischer, M., Bjurström, J., & Andrésdóttir, G. et al. (2017). Vaginal seeding or vaginal microbial transfer from the mother to the caesarean-born neonate: a commentary regarding clinical management. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 125(5), 533-536. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.14792

Harman, T. & Wakeford, A. (2014). Microbirth. Alton Film Production. www.microbirth.com

Johansson M., Saghafian-Hedengren S., Haileselassie, Y., Roos, S., Troye-Blomberg, M., Nilsson, C. & Sverremark-Ekström, E. (2012). Early-life gut bacteria associate with IL-42, IL-102 and IFN-c production at two years of age. PLoS One, 7(11), e49315. https://search-proquest-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/docview/1326742861/fulltextPDF/F5F59B02EE29464APQ/1?accountid=14543

Kang, D., Adams, J., Coleman, D., Pollard, E., Maldonado, J., McDonough-Means, S., Gregory Caporaso, J., Krajmalnik-Brown, R. (2019). Long-term benefit of Microbiota Transfer Therapy on autism symptoms and gut microbiota. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 1-9. https://search-proquest-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/docview/2206214105?pq-origsite=summon

Lax, S., Smith, D., Hampton-Marcell, J., Owens, S., Handley, K., Scott, N., Gibbons, S., Larsen, P., Shogan, B., Weiss, S., Metcalf, J., Ursell, L., Vázquez-Baeza, Y., Van Treuren, W., Hasan, N., Gibson, M., Colwell, R., Dantas, G., Knight, R. & Gilbert, J. (2014). Longitudinal analysis of microbial interaction between humans and the indoor environment. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 345(6200), 1048-1052. https://science-sciencemag-org.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/content/sci/345/6200/1048.full.pdf

Lewis, C., Obregón-Tito, A., Tito, R., Foster, M. & Spicer, P. (2012). The Human Microbiome Project: lessons from human genomics. Trends in Microbiology, 20(1), 1-4. https://www-clinicalkey-com-au.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/service/content/pdf/watermarked/1-s2.0-S0966842X11001934.pdf?locale=en_AU&searchIndex=

Lokugamage, A. & Pathberiya, S. (2019). The microbiome seeding debate – let’s frame it around women-centred care. Reproductive Health, 16(91). 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-019-0747-0

Mueller, N., Dominguez‐Bello, M., Appel, L., & Hourigan, S. (2019). ‘Vaginal seeding’ after a caesarean section provides benefits to newborn children: FOR: Does exposing caesarean‐delivered newborns to the vaginal microbiome affect their chronic disease risk? The critical need for trials of ‘vaginal seeding’ during caesarean section. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 127(2), 301-301. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.1597

National Human Genome Institute. (2020, September 16). The Human Genome Project. https://www.genome.gov/human-genome-project

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. (2016). Vaginal seeding. https://ranzcog.edu.au/news/vaginal-seeding

Wissemann, K. (2018). Exploring Western Australian midwives’perspective on vaginal seeding and how it will affect their practice. Women and Birth, 31(S1), S45-S46. https://www-sciencedirect-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/science/article/pii/S1871519218305663

Yang, I., Corwin, E., Brennan, P., Jordan, S., Murphy, J., & Dunlop, A. (2016). The infant microbiome. Nursing Research, 65(1), 76-88. https://doi.org/10.1097/nnr.0000000000000133

 

 

Access to water immersion for labour and birth during the pandemic: an opinion piece

During the final year of the Bachelor of Midwifery at Griffith University, midwifery students are asked to write an opinion piece focussed on normal birth that could be published. Dr Jyai Allen convenes this course and supported the students to complete this work. Several of these were of such good quality that we offered students the option of having them published here. This is the first of five articles in a series. The author of this article preferred to publish anonymously. 

Access to water immersion for labour and birth during the pandemic: an opinion piece

There is no denying that COVID-19 has completely changed the world (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2020). Many populations have been unequally disadvantaged by the global pandemic, including childbearing women (Gausman & Langer, 2020). It has been a period of heightened anxiety as new policies aimed at flattening the curve have limited women’s birth preferences and choices (Australian College of Midwives [ACM], 2020a). This includes the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (RANZCOG) recommendation to suspend the use of water immersion for all labouring women within COVID-19 hotspots (ACM, 2020a). Whilst staunchly opposed by ACM (2020a), this position statement has been adopted by health services across the nation including the Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS] in Victoria (2020). The topic is controversial as the suspension of access to water immersion is not supported by evidence (Centres for Disease Control [CDC], 2020a) and devalues a woman’s autonomy and right to self-determination.

Midwives have a professional obligation to advocate for evidence-based practices that empower women and promote normal birth. Water immersion during labour is associated with positive outcomes and should be available to all low-risk women who are presumed or confirmed COVID-19 negative.

Arguments for the suspension

Let us consider the evidence for suspending water immersion in the context of a woman with a confirmed positive COVID-19 test result. The rationale behind RANZCOGs recommendation was the protection of healthcare workers (ACM, 2020a; 2020b). Concerns have been raised regarding the level of protection provided by personal protective equipment when immersed in water (DHHS, 2020; Royal College of Midwives [RCM], 2020). It was also believed the moist atmosphere of the birth pool room could increase the risk of droplet transmission (RCM, 2020).

Some evidence contradicts this viewpoint, however, finding the virus is less likely to be transmitted in humid environments (Qi et al., 2020). Given that COVID-19 is not a waterborne virus, it is believed that liquid may dilute contamination and therefore reduce the potential risk of transmission (ACM, 2020a). Another potential benefit from water immersion is that the birth pool aids in physical distancing by providing a barrier between women and care providers (Burns et al., 2020; Ulfsdottir et al., 2018).

Another concern that was raised was faecal-oral transmission of COVID-19 within a birth pool. While some studies suggest the virus can be transmitted through faeces (Wang et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2020a), there has been no evidence of faecal-oral transmission to date (World Health Organization, 2020). Some argued that if faeces were highly contagious for COVID-19, healthcare workers would be at greater risk during land birth as the particles are not diluted (ACM, 2020a). So while water immersion has been framed as posing a risk to clinical staff, women and babies; there is limited evidence to suggest it is easily spread to humans through birth pools (CDC, 2020a).

Benefits of water immersion

It is important to recognise the known benefits of water immersion during labour and for birth. Water immersion facilitates positive birth experiences (Cooper & Warland, 2019; Lathrop et al., 2018; Neiman et al., 2019). When immersed in water during labour, women have increased feelings of empowerment and experience a greater sense of privacy, safety, control and focus (Fair et al., 2020; Ulfsdottir et al., 2018). It is also an effective pain management method which can help to avoid a cascade of intervention and therefore promotes normal birth practices (Cluett et al., 2018). Women who were prevented from accessing water immersion as a consequence of their COVID-19 status would not access these benefits. The arbitrary decision to suspend water immersion for all labouring women is consistent with historical practices in maternity care that value subjectivity over evidence-based recommendations (Cooper et al., 2017).

What the suspension really represents

It can be assumed that broader socio-cultural factors have influenced RANZCOGs recommendation. RANZCOG is an obstetric organisation that aligns itself with the technocratic model of care and values surveillance, intervention, and hierarchy (Davis-Floyd, 2001). This is demonstrated by their staunch and public opposition to practices such as homebirth – which is discussed in the context of obstetric outcomes and perinatal mortality (Licqurish & Evans, 2015).

RANZCOGs position statement on water immersion is similar. By standardising institutional practices and banning all women from using water immersion, the individual needs of women are deemed unimportant. Consequently, these clinicians retain their position at the top of the organisation’s hierarchy (Davis-Floyd, 2001). The recommendation represents authority and responsibility inherent in the healthcare provider, not the woman –  as the woman’s personal preferences are disregarded by the institution (Davis-Floyd, 2001).

Loss of choice and failing to make decisions in partnership with women may also add to women’s feelings of stress and anxiety (Jago et al., 2020). This further impacts normal birth outcomes as women are passive in decision-making and do not challenge recommended practices (Carolan- Olah et al., 2015). The prohibition of water immersion also fails to demonstrate a holistic approach to care as the social and emotional needs of women are neglected (Jago et al., 2020) during a period in history that has elevated anxiety and depression amongst pregnant women (Lebel et al., 2020).

Medicalisation of childbirth also likely influenced the decision to suspend water immersion. An obstetric approach views water immersion as inherently risky and therefore requires medical management (Licqurish & Evans, 2016; Milosevic et al., 2019). This is demonstrated by RANZCOGs recommendations for water immersion statement (2017) which focuses on rigorous protocols, exclusion criteria, and obstetric emergency drills. Their value of a medicalised approach is also apparent when considering that they have not recommended suspending the use of nitrous oxide for all labouring women (RANZCOG, 2020c), despite posing a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 through droplet or aerosol transmission (ACM, 2020a; CDC, 2020b).

The influence of medicalisation is even more obvious in the recommendation to site an epidural early in labour, in case an emergency caesarean section becomes ‘indicated’ (DHHS, 2020). This practice has been adopted by Barwon Health, along with the recommendation of continuous fetal heart rate monitoring, should a woman be suspected of COVID-19 (2020). Normal birth outcomes then become even more difficult to achieve as interventions such as instrumental birth are increased (Alfirevic et al., 2017).

To affect any sort of change, it is important for midwives to gain confidence in water immersion (Plint & Davis, 2016). Lack of training creates a workplace culture where water immersion is feared (Klein et al., 2011). Consequently, medicalised approaches are promoted as midwives do not feel confident advocating for normal birth practices.

The media also plays a pivotal role in the depiction of childbirth, often shaping public opinion irrespective of evidence (Petrovska et al., 2017). Normal birth practices are vastly underrepresented, with childbirth often portrayed as medicalised and risky (Luce et al., 2016). Commonly associated with fear, pain and intervention, high-impact dramatic stories are more often depicted in the media rather than calm, normal births (Maclean, 2014). Media portrayals will influence women’s perceptions of water immersion given that two out of three women source information from the media instead of their healthcare provider (Carlsson & Ulfsdottir, 2020). Combined with media coverage on COVID-19, it is no wonder water immersion is scarcely supported. As women become fearful of childbirth, they are disempowered to advocate for normal birth practices (Plint & Davis, 2020). It is imperative for midwives to support women in making informed choices to ensure their decisions are not influenced by fear perpetuated by the media
(Jago et al., 2020).

How do we move forward?

Maintaining the health and safety of women, babies, and healthcare workers is paramount.

Measures can be taken to minimise the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission whilst still promoting normal birth practices. Screening women for COVID-19 and fast-track testing will inform care management more accurately (RCM, 2020). Individualised risk assessments should be undertaken and midwives should demonstrate effective clinical decision making (RCM, 2020). Being up-to-date with infection control practices would be supportive (Liang & Archarya, 2020; Public Health England, 2020) along with access to appropriate personal protective equipment (RCM, 2020). Burns et al. (2020) found wearing long gauntlet gloves that are one size too small can improve the seal when immersed in water. Maintaining proper cleaning and hygiene practices reduces the risk of transmission (ACM, 2020a) as well as removing faecal matter should it contaminate the water (Gu et al., 2020).

Empowering women to guide their babies into the world while immersed in water facilitates physical distancing practices (RCM, 2020). This would be supported by antenatal education as it  instills confidence and allows women to engage in their care (ACM, 2020a; Milosevic et al., 2019; Plint & Davis, 2016). Arguably the most important factor, is that midwives must be trained in water immersion. This will ensure competence and develop a workplace culture that supports normal birth practices (Nicholls et al., 2016). Midwives should also engage in respectful conversations that promote midwifery care by challenging practices that are deemed unnecessary or not based on evidence.

In summary

Midwives have a professional obligation to protect choices for women and promote normal birth practices (ACM, 2020b). Water immersion should be available to all women. RANZCOGs recommendation is not based on evidence and has been influenced by technocratic ideologies. As gatekeepers to normal birth, midwives are in a powerful position to influence maternity reform and must continually advocate for evidence-based practices to ensure women are supported throughout their childbearing journey (McIntyre et al., 2012).

References

Alfirevic, Z., Gyte, G., Cuthbert, A., & Devane, D. (2017). Continuous cardiotocography (CTG) as a form of electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) for fetal assessment during labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (5), 1-141. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD006066.pub3

Australian College of Midwives. (2020a). ACM’s updated position on use of water in labour. https://www.midwives.org.au/news/acm-s-updated-position-use-water-labour

Australian College of Midwives. (2020b). Midwifery philosophy and values. https://www.midwives.org.au/midwifery-philosophy-values

Barwon Health. (2020). COVID-19 (coronavirus) and pregnancy.
https://www.barwonhealth.org.au/maternity-services/component/zoo/item/covid-19- coronavirus-and-pregnancy

Burns, E., Cooper, M., Feeley, C., Hall, P., Roehr, C., & Venderlaan. (2020). Coronavirus COVID-19: Supporting healthy pregnant women to safely give birth. https://www.brookes.ac.uk/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=2147622699

Carlsson, T., & Ulfsdottir, H. (2020). Waterbirth in low‐risk pregnancy: An exploration of women’s experiences. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 76(5), 1221-1231. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jan.14336

Carolan-Olah, M., Kruger, G., & Garvey-Graham, A. (2015). Midwives׳ experiences of the factors that facilitate normal birth among low risk women at a public hospital in Australia. Midwifery, 31(1), 112-121. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2014.07.003

Center for Disease Control. (2020a). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [Topic: Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/faq.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2 019-ncov%2Fphp%2Fwater.html#COVID-19-and-Water

Center for Disease Control. (2020b). How COVID-19 Spreads. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid- spreads.html

Cluett, E., Burns, E., & Cuthbert, A. (2018). Immersion in water during labour and birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6), 1-171. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd000111.pub4

Cooper, M., McCutcheon, H., & Warland, J. (2017). A critical analysis of Australian policies and guidelines for water immersion during labour and birth. Women and Birth, 30(5), 431-441. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2017.04.001

Cooper, M., & Warland, J. (2019). What are the benefits? Are they concerned? Women’s experiences of water immersion for labor and birth. Midwifery, 79, 102541-102551. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2019.102541

Davis-Floyd, R. (2001). The technocratic, humanistic, and holistic paradigms of childbirth. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 75(1), 5-23. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0020-7292(01)00510-0

Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Maternity and neonatal care during coronavirus (COVID-19). https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/covid-19-maternity-and-neonatal- care-during-coronavirus

Fair, C., Crawford, A., Houpt, B., & Latham, V. (2020). “After having a waterbirth, I feel like it’s the only way people should deliver babies”: The decision-making process of women who plan a waterbirth. Midwifery, 82, 102622-102628. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2019.102622

Gausman, J., & Langer, A. (2020). Sex and gender disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Women’s Health, 29(4), 465–466. https://dx.doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2020.8472

Gu, J., Han, B., & Wang, J. (2020). COVID-19: Gastrointestinal manifestations and potential fecal-oral transmission. Gastroenterology, 158(6), 518-519. https://dx.doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2020.02.054

Jago, C., Singh, S., & Moretti, F. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and pregnancy: Combating isolation to improve outcomes. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 136(1), 33-36. https://dx.doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000003946

Klein, M., Liston, R., Fraser, W., Baradaran, N., Hearps, S., Tomkinson, J., Kaczorowski, J., & Brant, R. (2011). Attitudes of the new generation of Canadian obstetricians: How do they differ from their predecessors? Birth, 38(2), 129-139. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1523- 536x.2010.00462.x

Lathrop, A., Bonsack, C., & Haas, D. (2018). Women’s experiences with water birth: A matched groups prospective study. Birth, 45(4), 416-423. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/birt.12362

Lebel, C., MacKinnon, A., Bagshawe, M., Tomfohr-Madsen, L., & Giesbrecht, G. (2020). Elevated depression and anxiety symptoms among pregnant individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Affective Disorders, 277, 5-13. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.126

Liang, H., & Acharya, G. (2020). Novel coronavirus disease (COVID‐19) in pregnancy: What clinical recommendations to follow? Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 99(4), 439-442. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/aogs.13836

Licqurish, S., & Evans, A. (2016). ‘Risk or Right’: A discourse analysis of midwifery and obstetric colleges’ homebirth position statements. Nursing Inquiry, 23(1), 86-94. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nin.12111

Luce, A., Cash, M., Hundley, V., Cheyne, H., van Teijlingen, E., & Angell, C. (2016). “Is it realistic?” the portrayal of pregnancy and childbirth in the media. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1), 40. https://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0827-x

Maclean, E. (2014). What to expect when you’re expecting? Representations of birth in British newspapers. British Journal of Midwifery, 22(8), 580-588. https://dx.doi.org/10.12968/bjom.2014.22.8.580

McIntyre, M., Francis, K., & Chapsman, Y. (2012). Primary maternity care reform: Whose influence is driving the change?. Midwifery, 28(5), 705-711. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2011.08.004

Milosevic, S., Channon, S., Hunter, B., Nolan, M., Hughes, J., Barlow, C., Milton, R., & Sanders, J. (2019). Factors influencing the use of birth pools in the United Kingdom: Perspectives of women, midwives and medical staff. Midwifery, 79, 102554-102561. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2019.102554

Neiman, E., Austin, E., Tan, A., Anderson, C., & Chipps, E. (2019). Outcomes of waterbirth in a US hospital‐based midwifery practice: A retrospective cohort study of water immersion during labor and birth. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 65(2), 216-223. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.13033

Nicholls, S., Hauck, Y., Bayes, S., & Butt, J. (2016). Exploring midwives’ perception of confidence around facilitating water birth in Western Australia: A qualitative descriptive study. Midwifery, 33, 73-81. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2015.10.010

Petrovska, K., Sheehan, A., & Homer, C. (2017). Media representations of breech birth: A prospective analysis of web‐based news reports. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 62(4), 434-441. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.12609

Plint, E., & Davis, D. (2016). Sink or Swim: Water immersion for labor and birth in a tertiary maternity unit in Australia. International Journal of Childbirth, 6(4), 206-222. https://dx.doi.org/10.1891/2156-5287.6.4.206

Public Health England. (2020). COVID-19: infection prevention control guidance. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection- prevention-and-control

Qi, H., Xiao, S., Shi, R., Ward, M., Chen, Y., Tu, W., Su, Q., Wang, W., Wang, X., & Zhang, Z. (2020). COVID-19 transmission in Mainland China is associated with temperature and humidity: A time-series analysis. Science of the Total Environment, 728, 138778. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138778

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2017). Warm water immersion during labour and birth. https://ranzcog.edu.au/RANZCOG_SITE/media/RANZCOG- MEDIA/Women%27s%20Health/Statement%20and%20guidelines/Clinical- Obstetrics/Warm-water-immersion-during-labour-and-birth-(C-Obs-24)-Review-July- 2017.pdf?ext=.pdf

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2020a). COVID-19: Protection of midwives and doctors in the birth unit. https://ranzcog.edu.au/news/covid-19-protection-of-midwives-and-doctors-in-th

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2020b). RANZCOG statement. https://ranzcog.edu.au/news/ranzcog-statement

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2020c). A message for pregnant women and their families. https://ranzcog.edu.au/statements- guidelines/covid-19-statement/information-for-pregnant-women

Royal College of Midwives. (2020). RCM Professional briefing on waterbirths for women without symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/4034/rcm-professional-briefing-on-waterbirth-in-the- time-of-covid-v-3-7-may-2020.pdf

Ulfsdottir, H., Saltvedt, S., Ekborn, M., & Georgsson, S. (2018). Like an empowering micro- home: A qualitative study of women’s experience of giving birth in water. Midwifery, 67, 26-31. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2018.09.004

United Nations Children’s Fund. (2020). How COVID-19 is changing the world. https://data.unicef.org/resources/how-covid-19-is-changing-the-world-a-statistical-perspective/#

Wang, J., Tang, K., Feng, K.,; Li, X., Lv, W., Chen, K., & Wang, F. (2020). High temperature and high humidity reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Centre for Evidence- Based Medicine. https://www.cebm.net/study/covid-19-high-temperature-and-high- humidity-reduce-the-transmission-of-covid-19/

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Zhang, Y., Chen,C., Zhu, S., Shu, C., Wang, D., Song, J., Song, Y., Zhen, W., Feng, Z., Wu, G., Xu, J., & Xu, W. (2020). Isolation of 2019-nCoV from a stool specimen of a laboratory- confirmed case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). China CDC Weekly, 2(8), 123-124. http://weekly.chinacdc.cn/en/article/doi/10.46234/ccdcw2020.033

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. 

 

Midwives’ mental health during the COVID19 pandemic

Identifying as a midwife is a source of joy and purpose for most midwives, but many midwives describe their midwifery work as challenging. Researchers from the Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative have been co-ordinating the Work, Health, and Emotional Lives of Midwives (WHELM) project. The project has identified high levels of burnout, depression, anxiety, and stress in Australian midwives (Creedy, et al., 2017) and also internationally (Cull, et al., 2020; Dixon, et al., 2017, Pezaro, et al., 2016, Stoll & Gallagher, 2019). Many midwives with high levels of burnout planned to leave midwifery practice, creating the potential for a significant shortfall in the number of qualified midwives available to provide safe maternity care.

This research was conducted prior to the arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has transformed the maternity care workplace. Concerns have been raised regarding the potential for the pandemic to have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of health professionals (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). Recent research has shown high levels of anxiety among doctors, midwives, and nurses working in maternity services (Uzun, et al., 2020). Rapid and significant changes to the workplace have been required, particularly in places with large numbers of cases. Whether there will be further waves of infection is unpredictable. It is therefore highly likely that midwives’ emotional coping resources are under pressure.

It is important that we continue to measure the emotional health of midwives. To do that we need tools which are fit for purpose and have been used previously so there is a secure baseline to measure against. The WHELM team have developed, tested, and deployed such tools for a number of years (Pallant, et al., 2015; 2016), and are therefore well placed to provide advice this area.

Previous research from the WHELM consortium has demonstrated that a key protector of midwives’ mental wellbeing is working in a midwifery continuity of carer model (Sidhu, et al., 2020). Prioritising a shift away from traditional, fragmented models of maternity care to midwifery continuity of care is likely to enhance the sustainability of maternity care services through this and any future significant external challenges.

You can access the most recent paper from the WHELM consortium for free for a limited time – here.

References

Creedy, D. K., 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, 13.

Cull, Hunter, Henley, Fenwick, Sidebotham. (2020). “Overwhelmed and out of my depth”: Responses from early career midwives in the United Kingdom to the Work, Health and Emotional Lives of Midwives study. Women and Birth, 33(6), e549-557.

Dixon,L., Guilliland,K., Pallant,J., Gilkison,A., Sidebotham,M., Fenwick,J.,McAra-Couper,J. (2017).The emotional wellbeing of New Zealand midwives: comparing responses between employed, self-employed (case loading) and midwives who do both. New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 53, 5-14

Pallant, J. F., Dixon, L., Sidebotham, M., & Fenwick, J. (2015). Further validation of the Perceptions of Empowerment in Midwifery Scale. Midwifery, 31(10), 941– 945.

Pallant, J. F., Dixon, L., Sidebotham, M., & Fenwick, J. (2016). Adaptation and psychometric testing of the Practice Environment Scale for use with midwives. Women and Birth, 29(1), 24– 29.

Pezaro, S., Clyne, W., Turner, A., Fulton, E. A., & 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– 66.

Pfefferbaum, B., & North, C.S. (2020). Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine, in press. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2008017

Sidhu R, Su B, Shapiro K & Stoll K. (2020). Exploring prevalence of and factors associated with Burnout in Midwifery: A Scoping Review. European Journal of Midwifery, 4(February), 4.

Stoll K & Gallagher J. (2019). A survey of burnout and intentions to leave the profession among Western Canadian midwives. Women and Birth, 32(4): e441-e449.

Uzun, N, Teki̇n, M, Sertel, E, Tuncar, A. (2020). Psychological and social effects of COVID-19 pandemic on obstetrics and gynecology employees. Journal of Surgery and Medicine, 4(5), 355-358. DOI: 10.28982/josam.735384

Red flags and gut feelings: midwives’ perceptions of screening for domestic and family violence

Domestic and family violence is significant problem affecting women in all countries. Defined as physical, sexual, or psychological harm at the hands of a current or former partner, domestic and family violence is the most common reason for hospital admission of women aged 15 – 54 years in Australia. Violence can begin for the first time in pregnancy or if already occurring, the frequency and intensity of violence can escalate. Midwives play an important role in helping women to recognise that they are experiencing domestic and family violence and linking women to appropriate support services to reduce the risk of serious harm.

A team of Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative researchers, led by Associate Professor Kathleen Baird, have recently published new research in this area (Baird, et al., 2020). Their research set out to explore midwives’ experiences in relation to screening for domestic and family violence.

Ten midwives, all with experience of working with women experiencing violence during pregnancy were interviewed. Key findings from the research were:
• Midwives valued ongoing training about working with women experiencing domestic and family violence,
• Midwives felt uncertain or unprepared to deal with domestic and family violence even after training and recognised that developing hands on experience is important,
• Midwives were reluctant to screen if they were not confident about what to do when a woman discloses a history of violence,
• Midwives described recognising “red flags” or having a “gut feeling” that something wasn’t right for some women who did not disclose a history of violence on routine questioning, and
• Having strong interpersonal relationships with women removed barriers to disclosure.

The authors concluded that “the best way to determine if the woman requires support is simply to ask her. However, it is important that this work with women is carried out in a supportive environment by a knowledgeable and trained midwife.”

References
Baird, K., Brandjerporn, G., Gillespie, K., Callander, E.J., & Creedy, DK. (2020). Red flags and gut feelings – midwives’ perceptions of domestic and family violence screening and detection in a maternity department. Women & Birth, in press.

How well does midwifery education prepare graduates to work in continuity of care models?

Access to continuity of midwifery care (CoMC) models in Australia is increasing but the capacity of the emerging midwifery workforce to provide this care remains largely unknown. Continuity of midwifery care has been a required component of Australian midwifery education programs since 2009 (ANMAC, 2009). This has been primarily achieved through the concept of the ‘Continuity of Care Experience’ (COCE), where midwifery students follow a woman on her journey through the pregnancy, birth, and postnatal period (ANMAC, 2014). COCE are undertaken within all models of maternity care and the requirements surrounding these experiences vary widely by educational institution (Gamble et al., 2020). Midwifery education programs are required to contain equal parts theoretical and clinical hours and those clinical hours not achieved through COCE are undertaken via clinical placements, most often within standard (or fragmented) maternity care models (ANMAC, 2014; Gamble et al., 2020).

Researchers from the Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative recently published an integrative literature review which set out to discover how well pre-registration midwifery education prepares and motivates Australian midwifery students to work in continuity of midwifery care models when they enter practice (Carter et al., 2020). The findings reveal that access and exposure to CoMC is a crucial component of midwifery education. The full text of the paper is available free via this link for a short time.

Midwifery students consistently expressed that their COCE  equipped them with increased knowledge, skills, and confidence in midwifery practice (Browne et al., 2014; Dawson et al., 2015; Fenwick et al., 2016; McKellar et al., 2014; Sidebotham et al., 2015). Their COCE enabled them to build trusting relationships with women, enabling them to recognise and provide woman-centred midwifery care (Browne et al., 2014; Dawson et al., 2015; Fenwick et al., 2016; McKellar et al., 2014; Sidebotham et al., 2015). These factors improved work satisfaction amongst midwifery students and motivated them to provide CoMC upon entry to practice (Brown et al., 2014; Evans et al., 2020; McLachlan et al., 2013; Sidebotham et al., 2015; Sidebotham & Fenwick 2019). Midwifery support played an important role in influencing students learning and future career aspirations (Carter et al., 2015; Sidebotham & Fenwick 2019). Continuity of mentorship from a midwife, who worked in, and whose midwifery philosophy aligns with continuity of care, improved students’ understanding of the role, providing opportunity for them to gain insight into what working in these models really ‘looks like’ (Carter et al., 2015; Sidebotham & Fenwick, 2019).

Some midwifery students reported challenges in the achievement of their COCE. The most common concern was that of the impact on their work/ life balance and, to some extent, their finances (Brown et al., 2014, Carter et al., 2015; Dawson et al., 2015; Fenwick et al., 2016; McLachlan et al., 2013; Sidebotham & Fenwick 2019). It was evident from this research that existing methods of education program delivery and institutional structures often presented students with challenges, detracting from the value of their learning experiences. This was not the case however, when students’ clinical experiences took place within an established CoMC model (Sidebotham & Fenwick, 2019). When academic institutions actively support CoMC by prioritising and embedding it within program delivery, the challenges associated with CoMC are minimised (Sidebotham & Fenwick, 2019). These findings are in alignment with work by Gamble et al. (2020), who suggest that CoMC should become the core principle around which midwifery education programs are designed and delivered.

This integrative review found that while most midwifery students wished to work in continuity of midwifery care, not all felt able or capable to do so upon completion of their education. With motivation high, it is important to identify, expand, and promote factors that increase new midwives’ preparedness to work in CoMC. With little evidence as to how well theoretical and non-CoMC clinical learning prepares students to work in CoMC, further research is required to identify educational factors that enable and inhibit midwives from working this way upon entry to practice. Such research could be used to inform and implement a consistent approach to midwifery education internationally.

References

ANMAC (2009). Midwife accreditation standards 2009. 

ANMAC. (2014). Midwife accreditation standards 2014. 

Browne, J., Haora, P. J., Taylor, J., & Davis, D. L. (2014). “Continuity of care” experiences in midwifery education: Perspectives from diverse stakeholders. Nurse Education in Practice, 14, 573-578.

Carter, J., Dietsch, E., & Sidebotham, M. (2020). The impact of pre-registration education on the motivation and preparation of midwifery students to work in continuity of midwifery care: An integrative review. Nurse Education in Practice, 48, 102859.

Dawson, K., Newton, M., Forster, D., & McLachlan, H. (2015). Exploring midwifery students׳ views and experiences of caseload midwifery: A cross-sectional survey conducted in Victoria, Australia. Midwifery, 31, e7-e15. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2014.09.007

Evans, J., Taylor, J., Browne, J., Ferguson, S., Atchan, M., Maher, P., Homer, C. & Davis, D. (2020). The future in their hands: Graduating student midwives’ plans, job satisfaction and the desire to work in midwifery continuity of care. Women and Birth, 33(1), e59-e66.

Fenwick, J., Gamble, J. & Sidebotham, M. (2016). Being a young midwifery student: A qualitative exploration. Midwifery, 39, 27-34.

Gamble, J., Sidebotham, M., Gilkison, A., Davis, D., & Sweet, L. (2020). Acknowledging the primacy of continuity of care experiences in midwifery education. Women and Birth, 33(2), 111-118.

McKellar, L., Charlick, S., Warland, J. & Birbeck, D. (2014). Access, boundaries and confidence: The ABC of facilitating continuity of care experience in midwifery education. Women and Birth, 27(4), e61-e66.

McLachlan, H. L., Newton, M., Nightingale, H., Morrow, J. & Kruger, G. (2013). Exploring the ‘follow-through experience’: A statewide survey of midwifery students and academics conducted in Victoria, Australia. Midwifery, 29(9), 1064-1072.

Sidebotham, M., Fenwick, J., Carter, A. & Gamble, J. (2015). Using the five senses of success framework to understand the experiences of midwifery students enrolled in an undergraduate degree program. Midwifery, 31(1), 201-207.

Sidebotham, M. &Fenwick, J. (2019). Midwifery students’ experiences of working within a midwifery caseload model. Midwifery, 74, 21-28.