Tag Archives: cesarean risks

California Reseachers Call For Fewer Cesareans and More VBACs

30 Jan

In a recently published White Paper by the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative researchers in California confirmed that the high number of cesarean sections performed in the United States and in California put mothers and babies at increased risks and add significantly to healthcare costs with little evidence of health benefits.

The report also confirmed that there are psychological costs that are often overlooked. Postpartum anxiety, depression,  and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cesareans affect maternal-infant attachment and breastfeeding as well.  The cesarean rate in California and the United States increased by 50 percent between 1998 and 2008. It rose from 22 percent to 33 percent in ten years. Researchers found no data to document any population-level benefit to mothers or newborns associated with the  increased rate of cesareans.

The authors state, “Today providers seem to see no ‘downside’ to a high cesarean rate; and women seem increasingly accepting of the prospect of a cesarean.”

California healthcare payers pay hospital charges of $24,700 for a cesarean compared to $14,500 for a vaginal birth. The authors state physicians, healthcare payers, employers who pay for childbirth costs, and public health officials are not aware of the “disconnect” between the amount of dollars spent and the health outcomes in U.S. maternity care.

The authors of  Cesarean Deliveries, Outcomes, and Opportunity for Change in California: Towards a Public Agenda for Maternity Care Safety and Quality found that the increasing cesarean rates can be attributed to two main reasons: cesareans performed on mothers having their first baby and the dramatic decline in VBACs.

The number of cesarean performed during labor vary widely and reflect individual physician discretion rather than clear medical indications.  In fact researchers found that 90 percent of the variation in cesarean rates during labor is due to only two indications: failure to progress and non-reassuring fetal heart tones (fetal distress).  The number of cesareans performed for these two indications vary widely and depend on the physicians’ individual response to these two conditions.  Attitudes of physicians and nurses on the labor and delivery unit also play a part.

The White Paper showed that overall, hospital cesarean rates in California varied from 18 percent to over 50 percent of all births. Hospital cesarean rates for low-risk mothers giving birth for the first time varied from 9 percent to 51 percent. More recent data showed that in 2009 hospital cesarean rates in California varied from 16 percent at Sutter Davis Hospital in Davis to 68 percent at Los Angeles Community Hospital.

The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 19,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, states, “Hospitals with CS rates at 15-20% have infant outcomes that are just as good and better maternal outcomes. There are no data that higher rates improve any outcomes, yet the CS rates continue to rise.” 

The argument has often been made that hospitals with high cesarean rates have a higher proportion of high-risk births and that rising cesarean rates are due to “maternal request.” This report clearly shows that there is no foundation to these arguments.

With regard to the decline of  VBACs, researchers say it will take persistent pressure from childbearing women and advocates for evidence-based practice in childbirth, public reporting of  hospitals who support VBAC and increased awareness by childbearing women about the safety and benefits of VBAC. Citing a national survey  of women’s experience of childbirth, the authors found that reality-based television shows on childbirth and many websites send an incorrect message that cesareans are easy, pain-free, and risk-free. Most women have very little knowledge of  common hospital procedures and their impact on the normal progress of labor.

Based on interviews of California careproviders, the report found that VBAC is also “not popular” with physicians due to the longer time commitment needed for a vaginal birth and their perception of increased liability.

“Whatever the motivation for today’s more ‘defensive’ approach to delivery,” the authors state, ” it is not resulting in better outcomes for babies or their mothers.”

The White Paper is an extensive and insightful study of the rising cesarean rate in California, the health risks of surgical birth, the medical factors driving the trend, and the socio-cultural factors that keep cesarean rates high. It also dispells several myths about cesarean section.

The report includes a valuable, multi-faceted response to reducing cesareans. Strategies include, quality improvement measures, examining hospital practices that lead to cesareans, public reporting of hospital cesarean and VBAC rates, payment reform, and an education campaign to increase awareness about the short- and long-term health risks of cesareans for mothers and babies.

The authors make a  strong recommendation to use several facility-appropriate approaches at the same time since many of  “these interventions interact positively with and reinforce each other, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

The White Paper is a collaborative report by researchers from the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, the Pacific Business Group on Health, and the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative.

 

Resources

To find out more about reducing the odds for “failure to progress,” during labor, see

Six Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices

To see how Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in California made changes to support women who want to plan a VBAC, see the video

The Birth After Cesarean Improvement Project

To find out more about what some hospitals are doing to reduce cesareans, see

Michigan Health & Hospital Association Keystone Center- Obstetrics

Sutter Health, California,

West Virginia Perinatal Partnership- First Baby Clinical Initiative

For a list of support groups for mothers who experience psychological stress after a cesarean see,

Support Groups 

To find out more about hospital intervention rates and what mothers think of their careproviders, see

The Birth Survey

One More Reason to Support VBAC: Fewer Maternal Deaths

24 Aug

Cesarean section is major abdominal surgery can put mothers and babies at risk for several complications.  Pulmonary embolism, a blockage in a lung artery,  is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.  It is caused by a blood clot in the leg (deep vein thrombosis) that breaks free and travels through the blood stream to the lungs. Cesarean section is an independent risk  factor for deep vein thrombosis.

If given the option to labor for a VBAC, about 75 percent of women would give birth normally and avoid exposure to the risks of a surgical delivery.

On August 22nd ACOG issued this press release to raise awareness about the risk of pulmonary embolism related to cesarean section and published Practice Bulletin #123 “Thromboembolism in Pregnancy” in the September 2011 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

New Recommendations to Prevent Blood Clots
During Cesarean Deliveries Issued

Washington, DC — In an effort to reduce maternal mortality due to blood clots—a leading cause of maternal death in the US—The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) now recommends that all women having a cesarean delivery receive preventive intervention at the time of delivery. The new recommendation was released today along with updated guidance for the prevention, management, and treatment of blood clots during pregnancy.

Thromboembolism—blood clots which can potentially block blood flow and damage the organs—is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality in the US. The majority of blood clots in pregnant women are venous thromboembolism (VTE), usually occurring within the deep veins of the left leg. “Cesarean delivery is an independent risk factor for thromboembolic events—it nearly doubles a woman’s risk,” said Andra H. James, MD, who helped develop the guidelines. Most women who develop clots in the lower extremities will have pain or swelling in the leg. Sometimes, clots travel to the lungs causing a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism. Symptoms include sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing.

“Fitting inflatable compression devices on a woman’s legs before cesarean delivery is a safe, potentially cost-effective preventive intervention,” said Dr. James. “Inflatable compression sleeves should be left in place until a woman is able to walk after delivery or—in women who had been on blood thinners during pregnancy—until anticoagulation medication is resumed.” The College notes, however, that an emergency cesarean delivery should not be delayed for the placement of compression devices.

Pregnancy is associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of thromboembolism. Clotting problems are more common among pregnant women because of the physiological changes that accompany pregnancy, such as blood that clots more easily, slower blood flow, compression of pelvic and other veins, and decreased mobility. Other risk factors include a personal history of VTE, an increased tendency for excessive clotting (thrombophilia), and medical factors such as obesity, hypertension, and smoking.

“VTE is a major contributor to maternal mortality in this country. The risk of VTE is increased during pregnancy and the consequences can be severe,” said Dr. James. The recommendations explain how to monitor women for these events, address certain risk factors, and treat suspected or acute cases of VTE. “It’s important for ob-gyns to adopt these recommendations to help reduce maternal deaths.”

The College recommends preventive treatment with anticoagulant medication for women who have had an acute VTE during pregnancy, a history of thrombosis, or those at significant risk for VTE during pregnancy and postpartum, such as women with high-risk acquired or inherited thrombophilias. Women with a history of thrombosis should be evaluated for underlying causes to determine whether anticoagulation medication is appropriate during pregnancy. Most women who take anticoagulation medications before pregnancy will need to continue during pregnancy and postpartum.

“Because half of VTE-related maternal deaths occur during pregnancy and the rest during the postpartum period, ongoing patient assessment is imperative,” Dr. James noted. “While warning signs in some women may be evident early in pregnancy, others will develop symptoms that manifest later in pregnancy or after the baby is born.”

# # #

According to a World Health Organization report on maternal mortality, in 2010 the United States ranked 50th among 59 developed countries.

In the September issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Howard Blanchette, MD of New York Medical College wrote an article entitled, The Rising Cesarean Delivery Rate in America, What Are the Consequences?

He writes, “In 1998 when the cesarean delivery rate was 21.2% in the United States, the maternal mortality rate was 10 per 100,000. In 2004, with a cesarean delivery rate of 29.1%, the maternal mortality rate increased to 14 per 100,000…To reverse the trend of the rising cesarean delivery rate in America, we as obstetricians must reduce the primary cesarean delivery rate, and avoid the performance of a uterine incision unless absolutely necessary for fetal or maternal indications. For women with one previous low transverse cesarean delivery we must promote a trial of labor after previous cesarean delivery…We must constantly remind ourselves, Primum non nocerum (First do no harm).


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