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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

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

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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

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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

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Water birth: Is your health service ready to offer this to women?

There is increasing demand for access to water immersion (being in a bath or pool during labour) and water birth (where a baby is born in water) in Australia (Dahlen, 2011). Birthing in water enhances women’s sense of being in control (Clews, 2019) and women’s experience of waterbirth is more positive compared to uncomplicated non-waterbirth (Lathrop, et al., 2018; Ulfsdottir, et al., 2018). Women who use water immersion during labour are less likely to request an epidural (Cluett, 2018).

A recent large retrospective study analysed outcomes for 2,567 water births and 23,201 conventional births, concluding that waterbirth was as safe for the baby and the birthing woman as non-waterbirth (Hodgson, et al., 2020). Previous large studies have shown the same (Bovbjerg et al., 2016). Three particular concerns regarding waterbirth are commonly raised (water aspiration, infection, and issues with thermoregulation), but are not supported by available evidence (Young & Kruske, 2013). These concerns can be managed by  evidence-informed guidelines, knowledgeable maternity care providers, and access and use of appropriate equipment.

Despite growing interest from women in using birth pools during labour and birth, availability is limited. In Queensland, approximately one in every five hospitals that provide maternity care offer waterbirth. Introducing waterbirth is a more complex task than simply installing birth pools. Health services need time to develop guidelines, educate care providers, and to be confident that the facility is ready to offer waterbirth. Women who use hospital birth services have an appropriate expectation that the services provided are safe.

In 2020, a hospital in Queensland installed birth pools to provide access to water immersion and water birth. Before offering waterbirth, health services managers wanted to be sure that they were ready. Our team, Dr Jyai Allen and Professor Jenny Gamble, were commissioned to conduct an independent assessment of the health service’s readiness and preparedness for waterbirth. Our consultants worked closely with health service managers to understand what was needed and co-designed the assessment project with them. They conducted a literature review which determined that no specific tools existed which could be used to accurately determine whether the hospital was ready to provide waterbirth services. A key part of the project, therefore, involved adapting relevant published documents, clinical guidelines, professional position statements and research evidence to develop a readiness and preparedness checklist which we could apply.

The project was conducted in two phases: initial assessment and final assessment. Our consultants conducted an on-site visit to observe the physical environment including birth suite rooms and pool facilities, equipment and supplies, and emergency facilities which might be required. We observed training sessions and interviewed staff members and reviewed key organisational documents and resources. The checklist supported our assessment of the service and ensured that judgements were based on internationally accepted best practice standards. We generated an interim report which provided guidance to the health service and outlined recommended changes prior to final site assessment.

After our final site assessment, our report concluded that the service was ready to offer water immersion and waterbirth for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. It also provided recommendations for further enhancement and quality improvements following the introduction of water immersion and waterbirth. The health service was delighted with the process, and with our rigorous application of the best available evidence to their specific situation. As a result, they had confidence to offer water immersion and water birth to women with uncomplicated pregnancies – a service enhancement that women had been seeking for several years.

We believe that our waterbirth preparedness checklist can be applied by any maternity service as they plan and prepare to introduce waterbirth. Using the checklist makes it clear what progress has been made and what work remains to be done to ensure the service is ready for waterbirth. We believe that the checklist offers a means to help support the expansion of waterbirth options.

References:

Bovbjerg, M. L., Cheyney, M., & Everson, C. (2016, Dec 31). Maternal and newborn outcomes following waterbirth: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009 Cohort. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, 61(1), 11-20. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmwh.12394

Clews, C., Church, S., & Ekberg, M. (2019). Women and waterbirth: A systematic meta-synthesis of qualitative studies. Women & Birth, in press. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2019.11.007

Cluett, E.R., Burns, E., & Cuthbert, A. (2018). Immersion in water during labour and birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 5, CD000111. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000111.pub4

Dahlen, H., Jackson, M., Schmied, V., Tracy, S., & Priddis, H. (2011). Birth Centres and the National Maternity Services Review: Response to consumer demand or compromise?  Women & Birth, 24(4), 165- 72. https://doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2010.11.001

Hodgson, Z. G., Comfort, L. R., & Albert, A. A. Y. (2020). Water Birth and Perinatal Outcomes in British Columbia: A Retrospective Cohort Study. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 42(2), 150-155. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jogc.2019.07.007 

Lathrop, A., Bonsack, C.F., & Haas, D.M. (2018). Women’s experiences with water birth: A matched groups prospective study. Birth, 45(4), 416-23. https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12362

Ulfsdottir, H., Saltvedt, S., Georgsson, S. (2019). Women’s experiences of waterbirth compared with conventional uncomplicated births. Midwifery, 79, 102547. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2019.102547

Young K, Kruske S. How valid are the common concerns raised against water birth? A focused review of the literature. Women Birth. 2013;26(2):105-109. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2012.10.006