Maternity Experience

Pregnancy Complications

Caesarean sections

On Monday, to begin #ExpOfCare week, we had an insightful blog from Dr Sarah Winfield reflecting on her experience of taking part in the ‘Lithotomy Challenge’. And today, to end #ExpOfCare week, another #FabObs, Dr Florence Wilcock – the originator of the #LithotomyChallenge and co-founder of #MatExp – tells us all about Caesarean sections and what really happens…

Dr Florence Wilcock

As we come to the end of #ExpOfCare week, I would like to share a blog about Caesarean sections, to demystify the birth that mothers and partners may unexpectedly experience. I originally wrote this blog at the request of Milli Hill & the positive birth movement in October 2016 , subsequently this has been included as a contribution to Milli’s book ‘The Positive Birth Book’ published 16th March 2016.

Why do we need to talk about Caesarean sections?

Unfortunately, sometimes people can be prone to making value judgements about different types of birth. One of the most common examples is vaginal birth = good and Caesarean section = bad. The truth is that in the UK current statistics show 25% of women will give birth by Caesarean section, 10% planned so called ‘elective’ and 15% unplanned ‘emergency’. We can argue these rates back and forth; we can aspire to improve care and change these facts, but for the moment given that 1in 4 women will meet their baby in the operating theatre it is vital that we talk openly about this experience and how it can be a positive, emotional & fulfilling birth for each new family.

Even in an unexpected ‘emergency’ there are still choices to be made. Nice guidance on Caesarean section CG132 section 1.4.3.4 recommends 4 categories of urgency; only category 1, the most urgent suggests delivery within 30mins. Far more common is the ‘emergency’ caesarean category 2, delivery within 75mins of decision making. This gives a woman time to express contingency birth preferences and ensure that even if she did not plan a caesarean birth it remains a calm and positive start for her and her baby. Skin to skin in theatre, optimal cord clamping, birth partner announcing the sex of the baby, choice of music are all possible. I would love to say these are all standard in every hospital but unfortunately that wouldn’t yet be true, however the more women know and ask, the more these will become universally accepted. As I often say ‘Wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it and right is right even if nobody is doing it’. I wish you all an interesting and positive month discussing Caesarean birth and would like thank Milli for inviting me to contribute & become part of it. If you want to know more about how I am working to try and improve maternity services do check out matexp.org.uk

Caesarean Section a theatre experience & Who is who in the operating theatre? 

The majority of caesarean sections in the UK will be done under a spinal anaesthetic, that is numb from the nipples downwards. It’s a peculiar feeling as one can feel touch but not pain. It means that women will be awake and aware of people milling around them which can be daunting but it also means they are awake and ready to meet their new baby. Lying on the operating table we tilt women slightly to their left to keep the bump of the baby off the major blood vessels, this prevents dizziness from low blood pressure. If you lie on the operating table in the maternity theatres at my Trust you will look up and find butterflies & cherry blossom on the ceiling, something nice to focus on while you wait for your baby to arrive. I know this is unusual & we are lucky but there is nothing to stop you tucking your favourite picture or photo in your birthing bag so that you have something familiar and relaxing to look at.

It might seem odd that at the start everyone in the theatre will introduce themselves to one another. It isn’t that we have never met but its start of the World Health Organisation (WHO) safety checklist. There is a special checklist just for maternity theatres and it is routine to start by checking simple information such as the woman’s name and date of birth and move onto clinical issues and equipment and it is all aimed at making the experience as safe as possible. So, who are all these people around you and what are their roles, why are there so many people there?

Anaesthetist: At least one sometime two; these are doctors who will administer the anaesthetic ad monitor you closely during the surgery. They will be standing just by your head and often chat to you and reassure you as the operation progresses. 

Operating Department Practitioner (ODP): at least one; their role is to assist the anaesthetist, getting & checking the required drugs, drips or equipment, the anaesthetist cannot work without one being present.

Obstetricians: at least two; one will be performing the Caesarean section (the surgeon) the other will be assisting (the assistant) e.g. cutting stiches, holding instruments.

Midwife: At least one; to support the woman and help her with her newborn baby when it arrives

Scrub nurse or midwife: At least one; To check, count all needles, stiches and instruments and to hand them to the surgeon when needed.

Midwifery assistant or runner: This person double checks the swab and instrument count with the scrub midwife or nurse and ‘runs’ to get any additional equipment required as they are not ‘scrubbed up’ so can go in & out of theatre to fetch things.

Paediatrician: asked to attend any ‘emergency’ situation or if there are known concerns about the baby.

So, you see in theatre there is a minimum of seven people caring for any woman all with specific tasks to perform, any complication may result in us calling in extra members of the team.

So back to the woman, she will be on the operating table with her birth partner by her side and the anaesthetist and ODP close at hand. She can often choose the music she would like her baby to be born to. The anaesthetist needs to monitor her heart with sticky labels but these can be put on her back and her gown left loose leaving her chest free and ready for skin to skin with her baby. A sterile drape will be placed over her bump and this is usually used to make a ‘screen’ so that the woman doesn’t see and surgery she doesn’t wish to see however usually we drop this when the baby is ready to be born.

Many hospitals are starting to explore options of optimal cord clamping (waiting to clamp the cord) and passing the baby straight to the mother if the baby is in good condition. These can be done but need to be thought through so as not to contaminate the sterile surgical area, and the surgeon needs to be confident no harm such as excessive bleeding from the womb is happening whilst these things occur. Surgical lights need to be on so the surgeon can see clearly and operate safely but I know one anaesthetist who works in a hospital where the rest of the theatre lights can be dimmed. The mum and new baby can be enjoying skin to skin whilst the rest of the operation proceeds. Weighing and checking babies can be also done at this time but also can be done later on.

Traditionally if we operate with women under a general anaesthetic (asleep) her birth partner has not been in in theatre as their role is to support the woman. Recently on several occasions I have challenged this so that a baby is welcomed to the world with at least one of its family present and awake rather than by a group of strangers caring for the unconscious mother. There are safety considerations to be talked through for this to be successful but it is possible. However, kind and caring staff are, they are no replacement for a birth partner whom the mother has chosen to support her in the intimacy of birth.  

I hope I have given you a brief glimpse in to life in a maternity theatre. As an obstetrician, I am privileged to help bring many women and babies together for those special first moments. The emotions are always different for me: sometimes it is a couple I know very well and have bonded with over months or years, sometimes a woman I have only just met who has had to put her absolute trust in me immediately. The theatre atmosphere can range from almost party like jollity to quiet intimacy. Every birth is different; each birth is extremely special just as much as the births that happen in a less clinical environment and each birth will stay with that woman forever. 

Useful CS references

Ref NICE CG132 https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg132/chapter/1-Guidance#procedural-aspects-of-cs https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg132/ifp/chapter/About-this-information

RCOG Consent advice No 7

https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/consent-advice/ca7-15072010.pdf

 

 

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#MatExp Whose Shoes? update

Some really exciting developments with #MatExp Whose Shoes? at the moment.

Bromley MSLC produced a ‘one year on’ report following up on their Whose Shoes? workshop at King’s College hospital using “I said, I did” as a framework to list all the fantastic outcomes that had come from pledges made on the day.

Language continues to be a big issue for women and families, but some great initiatives are now happening. Building on the Whose Shoes? workshops, Leeds and Colchester in particular are working on specific language challenges. I came up with a ‘Negativity Bingo’ and had great fun with my team at the NHS Fab Change Day #DoAthOn event launching #DumptheDaftWords.

I have been getting some exciting invitations to speak about building social movements and of course gave #MatExp a big shout out in my talk at the launch of #AHPsIntoAction, they have invited me back for a longer keynote session at their annual conference in June.

More hospitals are coming on board with the Whose Shoes? approach – the energy is particularly strong in London, the West Midlands and the South West regions. It has been great to present on several occasions now with Catherine MacLennan and Emma Jane Sasaru and to see people learning so much from their courageous sharing of their lived experience.

Last Friday, 3 Feb 2017, we were invited to present a #MatExp Whose Shoes? session to get some good discussions going as part of a packed event launching #PanStaffsMTP in Stafford. We concentrated specifically on continuity and perinatal mental health. This is the county-wide transformation programme to improve maternity experience in Staffordshire to implement the national ‘Better Births’ vision. This informal film gives you a flavour.

We are proud of the crowdsourced ‘Nobody’s Patient’ project and thank everyone for your fantastic contributions. We now have over 120 new Whose Shoes? scenarios and poems and the new resources will be made available shortly to all the hospitals who were existing customers. Florence Wilcock, Sam Frewin and I are finalising the supporting toolkit and collating the case studies, ahead of our ‘wrap up’ event in March. We are trying to pull together lots of ideas for positive change, with or without a workshop. I hope you are enjoying the regular Steller stories, including Florence’s monthly reports.

Wonderful to see everyone doing such amazing work, speaking all over the place, building networks, spreading the word and generally making great things happen.

Keep up the good work!

Gill Phillips @Whose Shoes

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Women’s Voices in #MatExp – your Anaesthetist

I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University in January on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care.  As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience.  “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.

So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the sixth of those. This is Carolyn Johnston’s experience as an anaesthetist – thank you so much to Carolyn for agreeing to write for us.  You can read the other blogs in the series here:

Your Midwife

Your Doula

Your Breastfeeding Supporter

Your Sonographer

Your Obstetrician

And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too.  Because this campaign is about all voices.

Helen.x

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Carolyn is a consultant anaesthetist in St George’s hospital in London.

Cynergy_Carolyn_Johnston_643

Anaesthetics is usually the biggest department of doctors in most hospitals. We cover services including intensive care, operating theatres for all specialties and patient groups, resuscitation teams, pain management, and many other areas as well as maternity care. For those of us with a special interest and training in obstetrics are usually on the maternity unit for the day, but on other days we may be working on general (abdominal) surgery, transplant or any other kind of surgery, intensive care or whatever our other specialty interests may be.

In our unit, my day starts with a handover from the night team. The registrar (senior doctor in training) who has been on the maternity unit overnight tells us who has had anaesthetic input with pain relief (usually epidurals), any women who have been to the operating theatre and require ongoing care and highlighting anyone who may require extra vigilance during the coming day. This might be because of a pre-existing medical issue or developments in labour that may make care more complex. Because all anaesthetists have training that includes caring for people who are critically unwell and are part of resuscitation teams, we have the skills to help the maternity team care for lots of conditions that maternity teams may see very rarely (like heart disease) or those that are more common but might be serious if not treated early (like infection/ sepsis or heavy bleeding).

We also start the day by checking our equipment in the operating theatre and emergency medications. We must be ready to move at a moments notice if the situation arises, for urgent surgery or some other intervention, as we all know, maternity situations can change rapidly! These are scenarios we practice and refine until we can do them as safely as possible. Safety is a key part of anaesthetic practice, in our training we learn a lot about teamwork, safety theories such as ‘human factors’ and communication, and we check and practice a lot, so when we need to act quickly we can do so safely.

We will be involved in any planned (elective) caesarian sections during that day, in my hospital there are usually 2 or 3 cases planned per day. It must be so intimidating for a woman to come to the operating theatre; such a foreign environment and the idea of surgery whilst you are still awake must be so daunting. And then of course the nerves and excitement about finally meeting your baby! I see it as a big part of my job to help make that experience as positive as it can be, and help make women and their partners feel welcome, secure and hopefully even relax. Maybe even some skin-to-skin contact in the theatre.

scrubs

Maternity work is very different from all other anaesthetic practice because unlike most of our other work, our patients are (usually) awake. This adds to the challenge: undertaking potentially difficult anaesthetic procedures, communicating with the theatre team, maintaining safety by monitoring and reacting to any changes in your patient’s condition but all whilst being mindful that the patient and her partner have holistic needs. Reacting to these needs and helping them to feel safe and secure is very important. There is always a balance to be struck with maintaining our best and usual practice for safety, and providing individualized holistic care. I think this is best achieved by talking and understanding each other’s perspectives. Perhaps we don’t do this enough.

We will, of course, respond to any requests for pain relief for epidurals, which is what most people think of when they think of anaesthetic involvement on delivery suite. It can sometimes be the case that women is distressed, distracted or even scared; so there is a real need for thoughtful communication and co-operation to help her and undertake the epidural safely. This balance of technical and people working skills is a common theme for us in obstetric anaesthetics.

I am lucky that our maternity team values co-operation and team working, and anaesthetists are an important part of that. It isn’t always the case that we are fully included in the team, and this can be a real source of frustration, because so many patients tell us our involvement is very helpful. We have a reputation (unfairly?) of being the epitome of intervention, so I guess we aren’t welcomed by some who hold strong views that birth should be natural. I have no desire to force my interventions on anyone- I would much rather put my feet up! Ultimately, I think the woman can make up her own mind, and as we pride ourselves on knowing the evidence, she should always get impartial advice about risks and benefits from an anaesthetist.

I’ve been trying to avoid the word ‘risk’- I know it’s becoming unpopular in maternity discussions. There is no avoiding it: anaesthetists deal in risk. We train and work in very high-risk areas including emergency surgery, trauma teams, heart surgery, intensive care and in those roles we’ve all seen someone die in front of us as we care for them. Anyone we look after is a patient, and rarely a client- it’s hard to switch this off when we come to maternity and so we often use terminology and even a more risk-based attitude that can clash with the modern ethos of maternity care.

I guess the solution to improving this is to talk more- to all our colleagues in maternity care and to our patients- we all have the same aims and aspirations to provide the best care for healthy happy mums, dads and babies. We also have a reputation for loving coffee, so my suggestion is to grab an anaesthetist on your precious coffee break and ask each other: “why are we all here and what skills do we bring to make that happen?”

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Women’s Voices in #MatExp – your Obstetrician

I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University last month on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care.  As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience.  “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.

So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the fifth of those. This is Ruth-Anna Macqueen’s experience as an obstetrician in training, and it includes an introduction and follow up comments from #MatExp founder Florence Wilcock.  Thank you so much to Ruth-Anna for agreeing to write for us.  You can read the other blogs in the series here:

Your Midwife

Your Doula

Your Breastfeeding Supporter

Your Sonographer

And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too.  Because this campaign is about all voices.

Helen.x

*********************

Florence Wilcock writes:

Flo

“One of the strengths of #MatExp is to try and hear all voices with respect and understand different perspectives so that we can work together to improve maternity experience.

Obstetricians have been an especially hard group to involve , I have written before about the traditional ‘bad press’ we seem to receive. I included it as a topic in the #matexpadvent Steller series you can read it here  https://steller.co/s/5AduBaxWL6v

I am therefore especially delighted to introduce a brave #FabObs blog, one of a couple that are hopefully coming our way. Some of this may be distressing, some of it may be unpalatable but I ask you to take a deep breath challenge your assumptions & read!  Don’t ‘bash’ the author she is giving you a peek into her world, a world fairly typical of many obstetricians in todays’ NHS . Take this unique opportunity to have sight of what it is like to be in ‘our shoes’ that way we can have the difficult conversations that move us forward.”

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My name is Ruth-Anna, I’m 32 and a Mum of two busy, lively and opinionated little people aged 2.5 and 5. I’m also privileged to work as a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology. My official title is ST5 doctor, which means I’ve been specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology for 5 ‘years’ (after 6 years at medical school and 2 years of moving around specialities). However it’s actually nearer 6.5 years since I started specialising, because of having time out for having babies, and working part time (I work 35 hours a week and spend two days at home with the kids). At the end of my ST7 ‘year’ of training, all being well, I’ll be able to apply for jobs as a Consultant but right now that feels a long way off!

This is a day in my life… (all events and women are fictionalised, of course)

Ruth-Anna

My alarm is set for 6.45 but the kids usually wake me up first. I get up & dressed, grab some breakfast (if I’m organised enough!) wave goodbye to the kids & husband and jump on my bike. It’s a Saturday so the cycle into work is pleasantly peaceful and I enjoy a bit of headspace. My job is incredibly varied and over the course of a week I could be seeing women in antenatal clinic, gynaecology clinic, on our day assessment unit (walk in for pregnant women with concerns about themselves or their baby), operating in gynaecology theatres, scanning women, looking after women who are inpatients for any gynaecological or pregnancy-related problems, seeing women in A&E with acute gynaecological problems, or covering the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit.

Today, however, I’m working as the Labour Ward ‘registrar’. I’ll be working with an ‘SHO’ (in newer terminology, this could be an FY2, an ST1 or ST2 doctor), who may or may not be specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, as well as my Consultant.

I’m in work by 7.45 and change into my scrubs, to head into our handover meeting for a prompt start at 8am. All the midwives, obstetricians and anaethetists for that day on Labour Ward are there. Our night team counterparts inevitably look pretty knackered and relieved to see us.

Some days we take over and there are only one or two women on the Labour Ward but today it’s a busy one. As we talk through the women, one by one, I’m thinking what the risks might be for that woman and baby, predicting and preventing any problems and pre-empting potential issues. Hopefully none of those will happen but our job is largely about predicting problems that never happen, so that we can be prepared for when they do. Even so, a day on Labour Ward is unpredictable and filled with surprises. My current hospital saw around 6000 babies delivered here last year and it serves a fairly ‘high-risk’ population, with above average numbers of women with a high BMI, older mothers, women who may have come into the UK recently, women with multiple pregnancies or concurrent medical problems. We also have women who are transferred in to us from other places where the NICU or SCBU don’t have the facilities to look after the smallest or sickest babies.

Women expected to have totally uneventful labours are normally on our Birth Centre and I won’t generally be involved in their care unless there’s an issue that the midwives ask me to help with. Myself, the Consultant, SHO, the Anaesthetist and the Labour Ward Co-ordinator (Midwife in charge) do a ‘ward round’ of all the other women – to introduce ourselves, find out more about her and how things are progressing, and make a plan, if anything else needs to be done. This morning there are 12 women on Labour Ward. The first woman we see had a Caesarean section overnight and lost a lot of blood. She’s having ‘high dependency unit’ care and is currently having her third unit of blood transfused as she had a very low haemoglobin level due to the blood loss. We assess whether she has had enough blood replaced, whether there are any signs of further bleeding, and whether she needs any further treatment. She’s understandably shell-shocked and we go through the events of the night with her and her husband. Her baby was taken to the NICU and her priority is getting well enough to get into a wheelchair so she can go and see him there.

Next we see a woman who’s tragically had a stillbirth. She attended the day unit at 38 weeks into a normal pregnancy with reduced fetal movements, and it was confirmed the baby had died. Her labour was induced yesterday and she’s spent the night trying to come to terms with what has happened. Understandably she has lots of questions for us, which we do our best to answer. I offer her some medication to suppress her breastmilk production and give her some information to consider about a possible post mortem examination for the baby. We offer her the choice of going home today or staying another day and she will think about it and let her midwife know.

We complete the ward round, seeing a woman with a straightforward labour who is on the Labour Ward only because she has an epidural, a woman who previously had a Caesarean but is in spontaneous labour and all is well, a woman who is being induced for a post-dates pregnancy and a woman who has been admitted in possible preterm labour at 28 weeks.

The next few hours is a whirlwind of emergency buzzers and bleeps. Another woman has been admitted from the day unit – she’s had an uneventful pregnancy so far but at her midwife appointment today at 32 weeks her blood pressure was found to be dangerously high, with protein in her urine. Her midwife suspects she has pre-eclampsia and has sent her in to us. She needs urgent assessment my myself and my anaesthetic colleague, a cannula (drip), bloods taken, and medication to lower her blood pressure. She starts complaining of a headache and when we test her reflexes they are abnormal so we also recommend that she starts another medication (magnesium sulphate) to reduce the risk of having seizures. We need to see how she responds to the treatment but it’s likely we will need to deliver her baby imminently to treat the pre-eclampsia, so we also recommend the first of two doses of steroid to help mature the baby’s lungs. Her midwife calls the Neonatal team to check that our NICU have a cot available for this premature baby. She also asks them to come and speak to the woman to explain what to expect if her baby needs to be born prematurely. I perform a scan under the supervision of my Consultant which shows the baby is small and its fluid is reduced – this is a common effect of pre-eclampsia. We ask her not to eat and drink in case the baby needs delivering imminently (if she needed a general anaesthetic it’s important to have an empty stomach).

I leave my SHO administering the first dose of the magnesium sulphate as the Co-ordinator calls me to see a woman who is in the second stage of labour (fully dilated and pushing) whose baby is showing signs of significant distress. I assess the woman, and the fetal monitoring, and explain that I would recommend an instrumental delivery, to which she agrees. As the baby is already quite low in the birth canal I decide this can be safely achieved in her delivery room, so after giving an injection of local anaesthetic to block the my SHO and I perform a ventouse delivery and her baby is delivered with no complications.

I finally see a woman who has been waiting several hours to progress to the next stage of her induction of labour. We haven’t been able to proceed with things as we would have hoped due to the other situations that have arisen and the effect on available staffing levels. I explain this to her but she’s understandably upset and frustrated, as well as exhausted, and I leave the room feeling pretty downheartened.

It’s 3pm and I suddenly realise I haven’t eaten anything so grab a sandwich and a drink before heading back to see the unwell woman with pre-eclampsia. Her blood pressure still isn’t under control despite high doses of medication and my Consultant decides that we can’t wait any longer and that she will need to have her baby delivered today. At 30 weeks in her first pregnancy, with a growth restricted baby, the team decide that Caesarean will be the quickest and safest way of delivering her baby. She’s shocked – it certainly wasn’t what she was expecting when she headed to her midwife appointment that morning, but her partner has now arrived and she is willing for us to proceed. I talk her through the operation and explain the risks and benefits, before she signs a consent form. The Co-ordinator speaks to the theatre team to prepare everything, as I call my anaesthetic colleagues. Her midwife gives her ‘pre medications’, tight stockings to wear and gets scrubs for her partner to wear.

While with my sick woman I was asked to attend the Birth Centre to check whether a woman who has just delivered has a ‘second degree’ tear (that can be sutured by the midwife in her room) or a ‘third degree’ tear that would need to be sutured in theatre by me. As the anaesthetists perform their anaesthetic for the woman in theatre, I finally make it across to the Birth Centre and thankfully for the woman it’s a second degree tear. I apologise she’s been waiting so long for me – she’s lovely about it but I still feel bad.

I’m bleeped from theatre to say the spinal anaesthetic is working and they are ready for us to start the operation. I do her Caesarean, with my Consultant supervising in view of how sick she is and the fact the baby is premature. Thankfully it is an uneventful procedure and the baby is born in reasonable condition, although he still needs to go to the NICU. His mum comes back to the Labour Ward as she is still unwell and the next 24-48 hours can actually see a deterioration in her condition.

tea phone

We sit down for a quick cup of tea and I feel guilty I haven’t tackled any of the computer-based tasks I have piling up, and the audit I’m trying to finish before my appraisal next month. Still, they’ll have to wait for another day. I check my phone and see 15 messages from home – thankfully it’s nothing urgent; they are just photos from my husband of the family party he and the kids are at today.

The night team start to arrive and I feel relieved. Today I’ll manage to get away pretty much on time, once we’ve finished handover. I need to send some electronic tickets to my Consultant so she can sign to say what she’s witnessed me doing today, for my appraisal. I know that if I don’t do it now I’ll forget. I’m out of the building by 20.45 and head home to wolf down the dinner leftovers. I spend the cycle home thinking about the women and babies I’ve looked after today, hoping all will be well, and wondering what I could have done differently. After 8.5 years as a doctor I’m pretty good at trying to leave all those thoughts behind – at least temporarily – when I put my key in the lock, although I do drop my night colleagues a quick text before bed to ask how the woman with pre-eclampsia is doing. She’s stable and I finally let myself switch off. Tomorrow is one of my days at home with the kids and I’m looking forward to taking my 5 year old to school and my 2 year old to toddler group.

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Florence Wilcock writes:

“When I first read the blog I felt it pretty accurately captured a fairly ‘standard’ day on labour ward for an obstetrician. I recognized it absolutely & have spent many days similar to this over the years. The multitasking, prioirtising, constant juggling of clinical situations is quite typical. Some of it may feel dispassionate and lacking emotion, that doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t feel anything or that she doesn’t treat the women she sees with compassion and care it just means there is an element of self-preservation to enable one to take split second clinical decisions we need maintain an exterior calm. It is also essential so that we are not sobbing halfway through the shift or at the end of the day it enables us to be resilient and get up and do it all again the next day or to care for our own family. Imagine what it would be like if you were trying to do this job pulled from pillar to post how would you feel? This is where working as part of a fantastic multidisciplinary team becomes important, those of us that are lucky have wonderful midwives, nurses, midwifery assistants alongside us. If we are less lucky or those relationships are adversarial that can be very difficult as the support isn’t there. No obstetrician sets out to hurt or upset women or become a barrier they may be under huge pressure, having a bad day, feeling scared of that responsibility, worrying about an exam or appraisal. We are human too.

There is no fluff here , this is obstetrics in reality. There are one or two particular clinical situations that may distress you: such separation of mother and babies is never ideal & making the focus getting a mum to see her baby in NNU sounds so simple but can be harder than it sounds if people don’t work together & make it happen, A bereaved mum seemingly given cursory information and a very short hospital stay after such a life changing event is hard to read but sadly is the current reality , we know this needs improving hugely with better support during and after and a birth environment separate from the main maternity wards. A shocking sudden decision to deliver a baby preterm at 30 weeks. It is hard to write and hard to read and some elements can’t be changed they are clinical reality but amongst that the words we use, the understanding we have of how it might feel both for families and those caring for them there are plenty of things that can be done to improve care.

A mile in my shoes

A few ideas:

Look at #Hugoslegacy #Saytheirname & cards for bereaved parents.

Watch Abigail’s Footsteps’ video ‘The deafening Silence’.

Look at the campaign to have a bereavement suite in every maternity unit started by Ben Gummer MP.

Think about what language you are using in that short time you have to see someone.

Think about the importance of the team to the obstetrician often junior on whose shoulders there is massive responsibility; if you are a midwife or other healthcare professional support them and work with them.

Think about self-care.  What is available to you as a healthcare professional at your Trust, have you had a break, did you eat or drink today?  Looking after yourself is the first step to being able to look after others.”

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Women’s Voices in #MatExp – your Sonographer

I was asked to do a talk to student midwives at Salford University last month on the topic of “Women’s Voices” in maternity care.  As part of my presentation I included the voices of the midwives who work in maternity care, and a reminder that there are many other women for whom maternity care is their professional, as well as perhaps their personal, experience.  “Women’s Voices” in maternity care should cover the midwives, obstetricians, health visitors, doulas who care for us, as well as the women giving birth.

So I decided to start a series of blog posts on “Women’s Voices in #MatExp” from the point of view of those working in maternity, and this is the fourth of those.  Unlike the others, this one is anonymous.  You can read the other blogs in the series here:

Your Midwife

Your Doula

Your Breastfeeding Supporter

And yes, I will be doing a “Men’s Voices in #MatExp” series too.  Because this campaign is about all voices.

Helen.x

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Ultrasound

I have been a sonographer for 13 years, and I’ve asked to be anonymous because I want to be honest, and I don’t think my managers would appreciate every aspect of this.

I’ve worked in a few different NHS trusts over the years, and now work in a small, rural hospital.

I do both pregnancy and non-pregnancy scans, and enjoy the variety in my work. There are more complaints around pregnancy scans, but my overwhelming impression of pregnancy scans is that it can be very hard to meet parents expectations in the NHS.

For routine, screening scans parents generally expect the reassurance that all is well, without necessarily fully considering that the scan findings may be devastating. I have a moment with the notes (hopefully, if the mum remembered them) to quickly obtain a bit of history which may give me an indication that the parents may actually be extremely anxious- but some things aren’t written down, and I struggle to determine the body language differences between anxiety, or that I’m interrupting an argument between the parents, or there is worry about something unrelated to the scan, all while the mum may have a desperately full bladder.

Once the parents are in the room, its usually only a minute or so before the lights are dimmed, if they were ever turned up in the beginning. Myself, and older colleagues have noted how our eyes adjust more slowly to sudden darkness- I used to have no trouble going from bright light to darkness in a scan room, but now I’m older I can’t see very well when the lights go off- not very helpful for the scan, but keeping the room dim all the time adds more barriers to communication.

I have been scanning a number of years, but I only learned a couple of years ago the importance of eye contact in those first seconds of the scan. I think if I’d learned that sooner, I could have easily made more clients feel more welcome. Right at the beginning is when I’m usually checking I’ve got the right patient on the computer screen or paper details, probably staring at a screen, and I expect I really came across rushed or off-hand, before I knew better. I have asked for customer skills training, but the training I have had has been more about dealing with challenging behaviour, and when I asked for training around breaking bad news I ended up on a course which was more about end of life conversations, which was interesting, but geared to spending a lot more time setting the scene for breaking end of life news without interruptions, rather than sonographers specific task of breaking bad news very quickly, with little warning.

Something that comes up time and again, is how rude sonographers are, prodding bellies and saying how fat our clients are. I’m sure a lot of us could gain from some training in customer service, but there is a reason behind the hurtful words. A scan can be uncomfortable- pressing on a full bladder isn’t great at the best of times, but sonographers end up pressing harder on larger tummies trying to see the detail that is required for that scan. We try not to, not only because we don’t intend to hurt our clients, but most sonographers are in physical pain scanning and pressing harder makes it worse. We are our own worst enemies at times though, because we concentrate so hard on what we are looking at on the ultrasound screen. So, brains may not be fully engaged on saying tactful comments, we may not realise how hard we are pressing (I rarely notice the pain I am in until I finish up the scan, and realise I shouldn’t have pressed so hard).

At the end of the scan, the other vital part of our job is communicating the findings, which usually involves giving a copy of the report to the parents in their notes.

We have to explain what limitations there are on the scan- have I seen everything perfectly like the text books? Usually not, and then we have to explain why. I’m not aware of too many people feeling insulted when its baby’s position that is a limitation, but the various ways we say we lost detail because the sound waves were travelling further (which happens if there is a layer of fat in the way) can be perceived as insulting. I know in my trust the midwives try to mention this to larger ladies before they come for any scans, and I feel that being forwarned helps when the sonographers then are repeating something already said. It doesn’t seem too shocking if I’m trying to explain the extra layers around where I’ve been scanning have limited what I can see, if its already been mentioned, hopefully by someone they trust. Sometimes that hasn’t happened, or the parents haven’t taken it on board, and some of us sonographers manage to say things quite badly. Probably in fear of saying it badly, some of us don’t mention it all, and leave it to the midwife to explain the terms on the report, which can be just as upsetting.

Sonographers sometimes across as grumpy, and one possible reason is that we are usually rushed. My day in obstetrics is divided into 15 minute slots- with double slot for first trimester screening and the 20 week anatomy / anomaly scan (different places give it slightly different names), and a bit extra for twins. In that time we really need to allow about 5-7 minutes for trying to document the findings accurately, and producing a copy for the parents to keep in the notes (IT technical issues can easily double this, and are a regular problem where I work now).

Some scans take longer than the allotted time, and sometimes in that short time interval I have to give devastating news, try to be supportive but also find another health care professional to handle the initial grief and arrange what happens next. With no time to reflect I must carry on and scan a lady who might have been kept waiting longer, with a desperately full bladder. I try hard, but part of me is probably still processing the blow I dealt the previous lady, and hoping that while distracted/upset I am doing my job well enough for both clients, and I really hope the lady who has been kept waiting is kind, because I can’t tell her any of this.

The 15 minute break slot I get each list is rarely a break, but just a little leeway so I can try to take a minute or two extra with with each lady I meet without running too late by the end. My lunch break is officially 30 minutes, where I’d love to step outside and enjoy the beautiful grounds my hospital is in, but many days in obstetrics I barely have time to eat in the scan room, before washing my hands and continuing to run late.

I’d love to spend longer, explaining each part of the report, going into the parents particular concerns and signposting them to the appropriate person if I am not the one who can help.

Officially I need to work on my time management. I take too long, I must scan too slow or talk too much. My rescan rate is too high (at the 20 week scan, if we can’t see everything in one visit we are allowed to offer one rescan, which where I worked previously wasn’t ever counted or limited, but now I use that option too freely apparently and I must have less than 10% rescan rate), but that means I must scan for longer to see everything- it is unthinkable that I would say I had seen something when I hadn’t, but I do wonder what will happen when sonographers who aren’t as honest as I am, or feel more pressured than I do, get to this point.

I have been specifically told to talk less to parents before the first trimester screening test, because after a conversation, some mums decided against it. In my old trust we were told, as Band 7 staff in the process and the person about to do the test, that we had to be sure the ladies really wanted it- and check they have heard the potential outcomes including that the diagnostic test, with a risk of miscarriage, may be offered. Where I work now I may ask if they’ve discussed the test with their midwives, have they seen the booklet, but I must not ask enough for me to be confident about the information they have, because their community midwife takes responsibility for this.

Screening tests are an option, not compulsory part of pregnancy. Many women I meet wouldn’t dream of having a pregnancy without a scan, but its not an informed choice if the mum gets in the scan room before she realises the scan is optional-this is something that happened last week.

My personal choices around scans have changed over the years, going from wanting everything going first time around, to having none with my third. I found the anatomy scan with my second child a hugely anxious time, knowing the potential conditions that could be diagnosed, and the huge number of abnormal but unexplained things that might be seen, and of course the range of conditions that a scan would never detect.

A dear friend had a devastating diagnosis at a 20 week scan before my third pregnancy, which meant baby needed delivering at a specialist centre for the best chance of survival, and I was hugely affected by how the family were affected by the diagnosis and the stress throughout the final 20 weeks of pregnancy. Their experience and my attempts to support them made me evaluate exactly what I would gain or lose from scans in my third pregnancy, and, for me, at that time, the decision was not to have scans. The same events affected other people differently, and they tell me they wouldn’t dream of not having a scan after being involved with such a tough experience, which I can completely understand, appreciate and support. I’m not planning more children, but if I did I would have to consider it all very carefully- I don’t know if I would opt for scans or not.

In the first trimester screening scan, sometimes called the NT scan, sonographers are audited in a few different ways. Where I work we have one 30 minute appointment, and if we can’t obtain measurements that meet the national screening committees criteria, then we must offer the quad test. So, we get audited on how many ladies end up being offered the quad. We are audited that our images meet standard criteria. We are audited that our measurements fit a national expected scale- and steps are taken if we don’t meet all these criteria. It isn’t too hard to meet these criteria in a baby that is lying in the perfect position, but the position of baby is one thing outside of our control.

I imagine this scan will be around for a while yet, though I am glad to know non-invasive prenatal screening has been around in private practices a while and hopefully will become more widespread in the NHS in years to come – this blood test is a much more sensitive and specific screening tool, but it is currently quite expensive.

Something else sonographers do that causes conflict is limit the number of people in the scan room, and warn that noisy or disruptive children may need to leave. If there is an accompanying adult then they miss the scan by having to leave with the child, or the scan may be abandoned if the mum is the only adult with unsettled children. I have tried to continue to scan while a child was working very hard to stick their fingers in the fan, run around, screamed constantly, but these are situations where I have to stop before I make a mistake.

It is also very difficult to concentrate when an excited parent/grandparent has someone extra to talk to. The rare time I break the rules and allow someone extra in, I have usually regretted it. I must need further training in being politely assertive to obtain the quite atmosphere I absolutely need to concentrate on seeing all the structures I need – in the given time.

If I scan in silence, I am complained about for being too serious- so I try to keep a light hearted, pleasant line of conversation going while I stare at the screen intently concentrating, looking for potentially life threatening problems with baby. Its a situation perfect for misunderstandings.

Keeping the chatting going is much harder on those days I have a bit of a headache, or my 3 year old has had a bad night, or my 7 year old had a nightmare. I suppose I might call in sick for not being on top form, but the team I work with is so small so I know parents may turn up for long-awaited appointments and be forced to rebook, or my colleagues might try to squash extra scans in an already full list- with all the usual pressures still standing for making it a pleasant scan, not rebooking, etc. And of course, like any business, sickness records are kept and if you take sick time too often, then steps are taken.

I’m struggling at the moment. Concentrating non-stop, knowing mistakes mean huge potential consequences for families, doing it all against the clock and targets is draining me. By the end of my working week I usually feel too exhausted to cuddle my kids before I crawl into bed, unable to cook or eat tea, straight from work, hoping I can take time out of family life to recover from my week. My head hurts, I keep going faint, but the GP says there’s nothing to worry about. My sickness record is something else to worry about. I can’t cut my hours- I think I could probably cope if I were doing it less. If I could have some time for catching up at the end of my lists, I think I could do a better job.I work with a good team, but the managers don’t seem to get the pressure they are putting on us. But then, I don’t know what pressure they are under. I suspect my manager is struggling, but trying to keep it private. She is taking unpaid leave to try to keep going, but scheduling it has been almost impossible. The needs of the service come first.

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Top Ten Things NOT To Say To A Preemie Parent

Language is a huge theme for #MatExp, and one of our six Heart Values.  Francesca Tucker kindly agreed to write this post for us looking at people’s inadvertent language trip ups when talking to parents of premature babies.  Francesca is a part-time working Mum, who lives in the New Forest with her husband Murray, baby Harry and their three cats. Harry was born at 28 weeks, whilst his parents were on holiday in France. He’s now a happy, healthy 18 month old!

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As I sit and write this now, I can do it with a smile on my face.  But 18 months ago, if you’d said any of the following “Top 10” to me, my reaction would have been vastly different.  Depending on how my day had gone / how many Brady’s baby Harry had decided to scare us with / how much milk I’d managed to express etc., you may have had a response of tears, anger or stony silence. Because, quite frankly, there are just some things you don’t say to the parent of a premature baby!

Speaking on behalf of “The Premature Club” which no-one wants membership to, we understand that it’s difficult to know what to say.  The pure joy of the newborn news is tinged by the elephant in the room- “what if they don’t make it”?  We know that as our family, friends and loved ones you are thinking of us (we do appreciate it!) and you want to say the right thing, but we’re not expecting you to – there are no magic words that will break the spell and make everything better.  Just being there for us, letting us cry, shout, or just sit in silence helps.  And that silence can be golden – far better than the following “Top 10 Things not to say to a Preemie Parent”! (As compiled by myself and another Prem-Mum whilst we were in neonatal, both with boobs out, trying to get our babies to practice their breastfeeding!)…..

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1. You’re lucky!  You got to meet your baby early!

Yep, at this time, we’re feeling really lucky-said no-one EVER!  Last time I checked, there was no calendar hung in my uterus, so I’m pretty sure the baby had no concept of ETAs.

2. Your baby was just keen to meet you.

I was creating quite a nice little home in my womb which I was quite proud of- food on demand, good thermostat, nice sounds, and a lovely landlady who was providing everything.  I think my baby was quite happy to stay put for a while longer, and wasn’t that eager to meet me. He/she had heard me chatting enough already, so I’m pretty sure the baby knew me already!

3. Oooh, having such a small baby must have made labour easy!

Putting aside the obvious fact that childbirth is painful, what a lot of people forget is that Prems often arrive in emergency situations. This may involve tearing, C-sections, episiotomies as well as the wider delivery tool-kit of forceps, ventouse etc.  This is NOT easy! (And don’t even get me started on the emotional aspects of labour)

4. Lucky you!  You’ve got less baby weight to lose!

Why is it that when someone has a baby, everyone feels it’s acceptable to start commenting on your weight?!  It’s no-one else’s business that you weigh, it’s the last thing on your mind whilst listening to the endless beeping in neonatal. And chances are that with the stress of the situation, you’ll be losing weight anyway

5. Well, at least with the baby in hospital, you get a good night’s sleep!

Erm, no!!  At night, most Prem parents are trying to cram in a day’s work of general life into a couple of hours (unfortunately bills still need to be paid, housework done etc.), prepare supplies that need to go to the hospital the next day, express milk through the night to keep supply up, and are generally stressing.  A good night sleep is not anticipated for months!

6. With those nurses around, you’re getting far more support than most Mums.

Yes, the nurses are a fantastic support (they become your extended family!), and it’s a hard job to do, but they are by no means doing it single-handedly.  They encourage the parents to get involved wherever and whenever possible. I can’t think of many parents that have a baby just to hand them over to someone else to look after – you are the parents, and you want the job!  But also remember, the medical team is desperately needed- many Prems need a lot of medical support…surely no-one can begrudge a baby that?!

7. But tiny babies are so cute!

True, but would you swap your baby being dangerously small for “cute”?  I thought not.  And trying to find the “adorably small” premature outfits is tricky…and very expensive!

8. When will the baby be coming home?

We don’t know, and if we do, we often won’t want to say.  It is upsetting thinking you’re about to take your baby home, only for your child to take a downturn and your excitement turns to disappointment and fear.  Sometimes it’s easier for the parents to say nothing, rather than having to explain why the baby is remaining in hospital.  And when we finally take our little family home, we may well want a day or two to take it all in-it’s a long journey to get home!

9. How are you doing?

Mmmm, a tricky one.  Some days will be good, some days will be bad.  With 1001 thoughts and emotions running through a Prem parents head, it’ll probably take too long for them to give an honest answer- default option is option to be “Okay, thanks. You?”  A better thing to say if the offering of help for a specific thing e.g. “Would you like me to bring you a meal around, so you don’t need to cook?”

10 Will he/she be okay?

A very personal question, and again one that is completely dependent on individual circumstances.  Define “okay”?  The baby may have long-term health issues, but with the prospect of excellent quality of life, the outlook is overall positive.  Or the baby may be going through a serious complication, where the outcome is an unknown. No-one wants to answer “No, he/she is not okay”, as it’s upsetting for all concerned.  I personally think such questions are best avoided, and simply substituted by as much love and support as you can provide.

Harry

These are some of the favourite options I had for you from our early days of the neonatal journey.  Now, a favourite is “Isn’t he walking yet?” – nope! But bear in mind, his peers have a 3month developmental head-start!  Maybe I should do a Top 10 comments for the “Advancing Prem Baby”?!……….

But to anyone reading this, currently supporting a neonatal family – thank you.  Even though the family may not show it (they are probably too overwhelmed presently), having you present in their lives is helping them more than you’ll know.  And if you’re the parents of the little baby/babies lying in hospital- I welcome you to “The Premature Club”- it’s tough, and at times you may feel so wholly overwhelmed it can engulf you.  But remember, you are doing a great job and making the best of your situation. I send my love and support to you.

By Rosiepics
Francesca and Harry by Rosiepics

Francesca Tucker

2016

For more “What Not To Say” and other Preemie Top Tens please visit The Smallest Things website.

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Induction – Cascade – Caesarean Section?

I have great pleasure in introducing a guest blog from Kirsty Sharrock, a.k.a. SouthwarkBelle.  Kirsty is mum to two girls and lives in London. Her other day job involves biological samples, powerful lasers and badly fitting lab coats. When her first child was born in 2009 she became fascinated, and often infuriated, by the amount of misleading information aimed at new parents. Her response was the SouthwarkBelle blog where she tries to make sense of some of the dubious science or at least have a good rant about it.

Thank you so much to Kirsty for writing for us on the topic of Induction of Labour.

Kirsty Sharrock
Kirsty Sharrock – SouthwarkBelle

It’s a well known fact of modern childbirth: Inducing labour sets off a chain of other interventions which often result in an emergency caesarean.

But is this actually true?

Would you be surprised if I said it’s not? I certainly was. The idea goes against so much that I had heard from other women and from midwives, my antenatal teacher and of course the internet.

When I went overdue with my first baby I dreaded being induced. I’d heard nothing but horror stories saying it was entirely awful and unnecessary, it would almost certainly make the birth more painful and complicated and would probably set off a “cascade of interventions” leading, with grim inevitability, to the one thing I was most afraid off – an emergency Caesarean. It would also completely scupper my plans for a natural birth in a midwife led unit. But at the same time I was MASSIVE, it was August, and hot, I was desperate to meet my baby and had had quite enough of being pregnant. So I agreed to book an induction, then did everything I could think of to make that booking unnecessary. In the event I got my wish, sort of.

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41 weeks and feeling massive

So was I right to fear the induction?

It seems the answer to that is no.

A 2014 study showed that being induced doesn’t increase the likelihood of having a caesarean. In fact women who were induced at term or when overdue were 12% LESS likely to have a C section than those who hung on for nature to do her thing. Their babies were also less likely to be stillborn or admitted to the NICU.

But can we believe this study?

We often see piles of scientific “evidence” that contradict each other. One minute coffee causes cancer the next it cures it etc. etc. so how reliable is this publication, given that it goes so strongly against the generally accepted view?

In this case the authors of the paper didn’t set up their own experiment or trial. Instead they did what is known as a meta-analysis. This is important because a meta-analysis is far more reliable than most of the scientific studies that make it into the media. The authors took the data from 157 different trials and did some serious number crunching. Looking not just at the results of those trials but at their weaknesses too. For example, many of the individual trials were pretty small, meaning their results are less reliable than bigger studies. Others were quite old or asked slightly different questions to the rest. But this variation is the whole point of a meta-analysis. By putting it all together it’s possible to overcome many of the errors and biases that inevitably influence the results of individual studies and to find a more reliable consensus.

We rarely get perfect answers in anything associated with biology. For obvious ethical and practical reasons we can’t do loads of enormous, randomly controlled trials to answer questions about human childbirth. So a meta-analysis, although still imperfect, is about as good as it gets.

But how can it be true when it contradicts so many people’s experiences?

This is the really tricky part. These results fly in the face of something many of us have learned to be true: In the experience of many women, midwives, etc. inductions tend to end in C sections. As yet I don’t know of any scientific studies to explain this difference, but if we step away from numbers and statistics for a moment, there are a few, very human, possibilities:

Relying on personal experiences is tricky. We’re all inclined to notice and trust things that confirm our existing beliefs. That’s just human nature, and it happens to everyone (I’ve known a few, usually logical, scientists get carried away over flimsy results that fit their current theory). In this case perhaps midwives and doctors who expect inductions to end in c sections are just a little more likely to remember the ones that do. Those births may also stick in the mind more than the less eventful, straight forward ones.

A similar thing can also happen with women’s own experiences. Even with everything seemingly perfect, births don’t always go to plan. Difficult births happen and sometimes they happen after an induction. If a woman has heard many times that inductions cause c sections, then it’s only natural to assume the induction was to blame if she does end up in theatre. Maybe that was the cause, but there is no way to be completely sure that the same things wouldn’t have happened with a spontaneous labour.

There is also the risk of self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s possible that some women are ending up in theatre just a little earlier than they need to because they, or those caring for them, suspected it was inevitable. Perhaps most importantly, there is the issue of fear. It is thought that fear can be a big cause of problems in childbirth. If a women is induced, and terrified of the procedure and what she’s been told it will lead to, then it could be the fear itself which causes the problems.


So should every woman be induced at full term?

What this study doesn’t do is prove that all women should be induced the second they hit 40 weeks.

There are many reasons why a woman may decide to delay or refuse an induction. I went into labour naturally but still ended up having some of the interventions that can be used in an induction and I found them pretty unpleasant. Every woman and every birth is different and each comes with a unique set of considerations. Meta-analysis and big data sets give us a clearer and more objective view of the big picture but they can’t say what is right or wrong for any individual mother. That choice must be hers and to make it women need good, evidence based information and often help from skilled, knowledgeable, health care professionals.

This paper also doesn’t give us is a very clear picture of just how likely it is that an individual induction will prevent a c section, still birth or NICU admission. What I hope we will see in the future is more user friendly data. Every women will have their own tipping point for where the numbers add up to choosing induction.

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Looking pretty rough after a labour that started naturally, but still ended in an emergency caesarean

So what now?

Like many pregnant women I was taught to fear induction of labour and the cascade of interventions it would cause. Now it seems that fear was based on a myth. So it’s important that the evidence, challenging though it may feel, gets out to pregnant women and to those giving them advice. Unnecessary fear in childbirth is potentially harmful and certainly unfair. All the more so for those women who feel they have little choice but to be induced for urgent medical reasons.

This study also has implication beyond individual decisions. There is often a binary division of births. On one side the “low risk”, “normal” births that can be handled entirely by midwives and on the other “high risk” births, which are, effectively, everything else. Being induced can push an otherwise low risk woman over that line.

In the hospital where I gave birth this made a big difference. The Midwife led unit didn’t just have lower all round intervention rates, it also housed built in birthing pools and lovely en-suite rooms where mum, dad and baby could recover together after the birth. If I’d been induced I wouldn’t have been allowed on this unit. So, in choosing weather to be induced or not, I wasn’t just weighing up the risks of induction v continued pregnancy. I was also deciding if I should risk higher intervention rates, sacrifice the more welcoming facilities and deny my husband the opportunity to share the first precious hours of his child’s life. Now we have strong evidence that induction can reduce C section rates and in some cases save lives, should it really be the determining factor in where some women can give birth? Or in the standard of care they receive?

For me, spontaneous labour didn’t prevent an emergency C section. Perhaps I’d have stayed out of surgery if I had been induced? I doubt it, although I’ll never know for sure. But I can be glad that when other new mums are overdue, concerned about their baby’s health or just hot, heavy and sick of being pregnant, the myth of induction-cascade-caesarean section will be one less thing to fear.

Kirsty Sharrock / SouthwarkBelle

2015

Kirsty MatExp pals
Kirsty with #MatExp pals Leigh, Louise and Jen

A version of this blog first appeared on the SouthwarkBelle website: http://www.southwarkbelle.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/induction-cascade-caesarean-section.html

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It is time to talk about the ‘perinatal’ aspect of Perinatal Mental Health (PMH): the ‘missing link’ in the national campaign

I am delighted to be able to publish today a guest blog for the #MatExp campaign from Mr Raja Gangopadhyay.  Raja is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist with special area of clinical interest in Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) from West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust. He is a member of the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologist (RCOG).

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I would like to take this opportunity to share my views on why I feel so strongly about the role of the Maternity Services in Perinatal Mental Health (PMH).

Perinatal Mental Health (PMH) has two important components in its terminology: ‘Perinatal’ (period during pregnancy, delivery and post delivery) and ‘Mental Health’. Therefore the care of mums in the Maternity Services during this vital period is of utmost importance in PMH: it should be a no-brainer.

But sadly, PMH is the only one area of Maternal Health where I do not see a strong voice of the Maternity Services in the national campaign.

This has remained ‘Cinderella’ within Maternity Units in spite of the glaring facts:

  • PMH is still one of the leading causes of maternal death in the UK.

  • This is one of the most prevalent conditions mums suffer from during their pregnancy and postpartum period (at least 10% of mums suffering from this).

I strongly believe that without robust ‘perinatal’ care, women would continue to suffer and die from PMH illnesses, no matter how much we spend to expand specialist Mother and Baby Units (MBUs).

Therefore this is the time when we must recognise this important area and raise awareness.

I am trying to address this issue through my campaign on social media and as the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologist’s (RCOG) Representative to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA).

What do I mean by PMH ‘within’ Maternity Services?

Suffering and deaths from PMH illnesses are often preventable if appropriate measures are taken during pregnancy and in the immediate postpartum period.

A prevalent health condition like PMH must be managed with the same readiness as managing other medical conditions in pregnancy such as diabetes, high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia) or heart disease.

The only way to ensure that the women with PMH are appropriately cared for according to the NICE guideline (2014) is to have:

  • A dedicated PMH team within every Maternity Service:

A Consultant Obstetrician, Specialist Midwife, a Perinatal Psychiatrist, a Specialist Psychiatry Nurse and a Paediatrician should jointly lead this service locally. The service should be easily accessible to the mums.

  • A dedicated Obstetric-Psychiatry Antenatal clinic

  • Communication with Community Team:

This Maternity Service should have clear links with GP, Health Visitor (HV), community MH Team, Liaison Psychiatry services, Mental Health Crisis Team, Children and Young People services, Peer Support groups and other charitable organisations.

  • Robust Care Pathway:

There should be a clear pathway for risk assessment (at the booking visit and at every consultation), early identification and treatment. There also should be provision of a multi-professional team meeting on a regular basis.

  • Dedicated specialist service and support:

For conditions such as PTSD / birth trauma, fear of pregnancy and child birth (‘tocophobia’), bereavement and support for mums and dads whose babies are admitted to NICU.

  • Pre-pregnancy advice service:

It is important to have specialist advice and support for women (with PMH illness/ traumatic experience in previous pregnancy) who are considering pregnancy.

  • Patient involvement : ‘Patients first and foremost’

PMH is an area where patients’ opinion must be considered in developing local care pathways. Services must be evaluated on a regular basis based on patient experience.

I firmly believe that all the health conditions should be treated in the same way with professional expertise and kindness and without any prejudice. I am not sure why we still classify health conditions into ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ when there is often an overlap.

Psychological care in pregnancy, delivery and beyond…

It is unfortunate that psychological care has remained a very neglected part within Maternity Services. The reason given for this is ‘the staff are too busy’.

However pregnancy is probably a period of life where psychological support from the HCPs is needed the most.

It is especially important when mums could potentially have severe stress during pregnancy and the postpartum period due to the following factors:

  • Previous history of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, IVF, traumatic childbirth.

  • Any other family member or friend has had complicated childbirth experience.

  • Sudden life event such as breakdown in family relation/divorce, loss of employment, bereavement in the family or loved one, relocation/migration and domestic violence.

  • Sexual abuse in childhood or pregnancy as a result of sexual violence.

  • Associated pregnancy complications (for example premature rupture of membrane, high blood pressure, diabetes, concerns on baby’s growth or SPD).

PMH is not only PND and Puerperal Psychosis (PP)…

Many believe that PMH is a term equivalent to the care of Postnatal Depression (PND) and PP.

PMH includes specialised care for women (during pregnancy and one year after the childbirth) with any mental health condition (such as anxiety, depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorder, and personality disorders).

PMH must include bereavement care (miscarriage, still birth and neonatal death), traumatic birth experience/PTSD, support services for mums and dads whose babies are admitted to NICU and tocophobia (fear of pregnancy and childbirth).

Another important component should be the psychological care of mums and dads throughout the journey of pregnancy, delivery and postpartum period.

PMH, in my view, must be recognised as a separate subspecialty in the training of Obstetricians and Midwives.

Womb

Why is identification in pregnancy and immediate postpartum period so important?

  • Effects of psychological stress in pregnancy:

There are now plenty of research results, which indicate the long-term impact of stress during pregnancy on the brain development of the baby while it is in mum’s womb. Prof Vivette Glover, an eminent Professor of Perinatal Psychology from Imperial College London, explains this: http://www.beginbeforebirth.org/for-schools/films#womb

Therefore timely intervention and adequate support during pregnancy can prevent long-term effects on the child.

  • Care Planning to prevent serious illness:

All pregnant women with risk factors to develop worsening mental health conditions should have a plan of care during delivery and postpartum period.

Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths have repeatedly pointed out that in the majority of cases of deaths from suicide, there is a lack of care planning during pregnancy.

This is only possible through appropriate care within the Maternity Services and multiagency communication.

  • Enjoying the journey of pregnancy:

Experience of pregnancy and birth creates a lasting memory for the mums and dads for the years to come. Therefore this should be an enjoyable experience for the woman and her family to cherish in happiness in the future.

As HCPs our role is to ensure we support and empower women to make informed choices for the safety of her and the baby and most important of all a very positive birth experience.

  • Helping mums to make informed decision regarding medications:

Mums should get proper advice regarding the use of medication in pregnancy and after delivery.

Pregnancy is a short window but an excellent opportunity to address health conditions.

  • Bonding and attachment:

PMH conditions can adversely affect the bonding with the baby and the mum.

‘A stitch in time saves nine’: Prevention of serious PMH illnesses is only possible through good care in Maternity Services.

Guardian capture

Having discussed the importance of the role of Maternity Services in PMH, now let us find out what is happening in the Maternity Units……

A journey of revelations…

I contacted many Maternity Units across the country to find out the provision of PMH services within their Units. What I found was extraordinary.

I raised my concerns in a letter published in The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/14/perinatal-mental-health-provision-badly-lacking .

I raised this issue with the Maternity Review Team, during my meeting in September (2015).

Although there are examples of good service, the overall structure within the Maternity Units is very poor:

  • Often there is no dedicated Lead Obstetrician and/or Specialist PMH midwife

  • Many Units do not have formal debriefing services (for traumatic birth experience), specialist bereavement midwives and support system for parents with babies admitted to NICU.

  • There are hardly any dedicated services for women with fear of childbirth.

Delving deep into the challenges….

To have a better understanding of the need, I embarked on a journey to meet professionals from all the relevant Royal Colleges (RCOG, RCM, RCPsych, RCGP), Health Visitor organisations, Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), MPs and All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), NHS England, CCGs and other national Campaign Groups.

It was revealed that overall there is very little understanding of the vital role of the Maternity Services in PMH.

Thankfully RCM is campaigning for a Specialist Midwife in every Maternity Unit.

But the main barriers are the following:

  • Lack of Mapping of the existing services in PMH within Maternity Units (such as the MMHA map of the available Perinatal Psychiatry services).

  • Lack of a national standard of the service provision within Maternity Units (according to the number of deliveries and complexity of cases).

  • Poor collaborative work among HCPs: as often the Maternity Electronic record system is not accessible to other HCPs and vice versa.

  • Lack of standard Training programme for the Obstetricians and the Midwives.

  • Lack of adequate focus on PMH illnesses in Antenatal Education.

I have concerns that unless these issues are resolved appropriately, we cannot provide the best quality of care for women with PMH illnesses.

With the best of my abilities, I am currently working closely with other national organisations to address these areas.

Maternity HCPs: Please, please do something and don’t wait for things to happen….

Charles Dickens

It is true that funding is necessary to set up specialised PMH services and Mother and Baby Units (MBU). However Maternity Units should not wait for the approval of their business cases.

In my humble opinion, funding is not everything. Our professional values are the most important factors in patient care:

  • Kindness:

Simple measures such as a smile, empathy and a willingness to listen to the concerns of the mums and dads could make a huge difference in patient experience.

  • Communication:

Take every opportunity to explain the situation and ensure that appropriate wording is used during communication.

  • Continuity of care:

Try to ensure continuity whenever possible or communicate adequately with the rest of your team.

  • Local Alliance:

Please try to develop Local Alliances with Community Midwives, Health Visitors, GPs, all available community mental health services, Peer Support groups and children’s services.

This could significantly improve communication among the multi-agency teams in caring for mums with PMH illnesses.

  • Listen to concerns:

Please create opportunities to listen to the concerns of the user group. This may be in the form of promoting your local Maternity Service Liaison Committee (MSLC) or Patient Panels.

If possible, please read the real life stories of the Lived Experiences on the Internet: it would help you to think ‘outside the box’, have a better insight into the PMH illnesses and give you inspiration.

  • Raise awareness:

Arrange patient engagement events, Road shows or Community Events with local CCGs.

Participate in Social Media support, such as #PNDHour (Wednesday 8-9pm) and #BirthTraumaChat (Monday 8-9pm):

This would help to raise awareness, remove stigma and give mums and dads a ray of hope.

  • Arrange training on PMH:

Please ensure all staff are adequately trained in your local Units.

  • Get involved in your Regional PMH network:

Many regions now have regional PMH Networks. This could be an important place for information sharing among the Maternity Units.

  • Please do not forget dads:

There is now good evidence to support that dads can suffer from PTSD/PND. Please take every opportunity to support and communicate with dads.

  • Keep yourself updated:

PMH is a rapidly evolving area; therefore HCPs must keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date through continuous professional development.

If unsure, please seek help and escalate to your senior colleagues: an unsafe advice from a HCP could endanger an invaluable life.

Working together to make a difference…

We ALL need to work together to prevent suffering and death from PMH illnesses.

If you have any suggestions for improving PMH services within Maternity Units, I would be very keen to know (Twitter: @RajaGangopadhyay3).

If you are involved in good projects locally or are aware of any good practice, please share with everyone through #MatExp.

Acknowledgement

I am grateful to #MatExp for giving me this opportunity to write this blog.

I am immensely grateful to all the Lived Experiences for sharing their stories, which have enriched my knowledge on PMH much more than any textbook and journal article.

My thoughts are with all the bereaved families who have lost their loved ones due to this dreadful illness.

Raja Gangopadhyay

2015

 

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Safety, Experience, or Both?

A blog post from #MatExp founder Florence Wilcock.

Flo

There has been much discussion recently about safety within maternity services including a discussion on #MatExp Facebook group. A particular issue that bothers me is the idea that safety and experience might be two separate and mutually exclusive issues and it is this thought that drives me to write today.

Safety is paramount. The purpose of maternity services is to provide safe care through the journey of pregnancy and early newborn life. Every appointment in the NICE pathway is designed to screen for potential problems and ensure they are managed effectively. Every healthcare worker know this is the aim. The 20 week ‘anomaly’ scan might be considered the time to discover the sex of your baby if you wish and to get some photos but the medical purpose is to ensure the baby is growing well, with no abnormalities and to check where the placenta is localised to exclude placenta praevia (low lying placenta) which can cause life threatening bleeding.

But there is more to pregnancy and becoming a parent than safety isn’t there? I am currently reading Atul Gawande ‘Being Mortal’ where he eloquently demonstrates that keeping elderly people ‘safe’ is not enough, there is more to life and living than safety alone. He describes a number of times when giving elderly people purpose such as a plant or animal to look after or more freedom to live the way they wish despite disability it makes a significant difference to their wellbeing. Sometimes this path may deemed ‘less safe’ but for that individual may make all the difference. This comes back to choice. Safety & choice can be tricky ones to combine successfully.

This does not mean I am belittling safety. As a consultant obstetrician it falls to me to talk to couples when the worst has happened and their baby has died. I also care for women who have had unexpectedly life threatening complications. I know I am with them during probably some of the darkest hours they will ever experience. I cannot pretend to understand how they feel but I do know I have been part of those intimate moments of grief and with some families that has followed through into supporting them sometimes for years. As a hospital we have a robust process of incident reporting and the feedback from a Serious Incident investigation (SI) again will sometimes fall to me. In some cases there is nothing that we think could have been done differently in some cases I have to sit and tell an anguished couple that we have failed them and that maybe things could have been different. It is a devastating thing to do, there is absolutely nothing that can be said that will make the situation better. It feels as if you have personally have taken their existing despair and dragged them into an even more unthinkable place and the only thing you can say is ‘sorry’ which feel hopelessly inadequate and trite for such a situation.

So if I could guarantee safety I would in a flash but it is not that simple. Maternity care is delivered by people and unfortunately to err is human. We cannot design a system free of risk because however hard we try the variable of human error gets in the way. We can introduce systems that help minimise the impact of these errors but we can’t eliminate them. My favourite analogy for risk management is James Reason’s model of Swiss cheese. The event only happens when the holes in the ‘cheese’ line up the rest of the time the barriers put in place prevent the error. An example in maternity care might be the introduction of what we call ‘fresh eyes’. A midwife looking after a woman on electronic fetal heart monitoring might misinterpret this or not see the subtle changes over time if she has it in front of her constantly. ‘Fresh eyes’ means another midwife or obstetrician comes and looks at the trace on an hourly basis. This means if unusually the first midwife has made an error there is a system that means it is more likely to be corrected.

The concept of a ‘No Blame’ culture is another example designed to minimise human error. The idea that if one sees or makes an error one should report it without fear so that learning can be gained from it. It may be the learning will be the need for some individual training but equally it might be something totally different. If staff are fearful of consequences then under reporting might be the result and safety gaps may not be identified. Encouraging openness about mistakes and errors is vital but difficult. In maternity it isn’t as if we can just operate our way out of this problem .We know the huge rise in Caesareans sections in the last 30 years has not improved the outcomes for babies but has instead cause maternal health problems. So in maternity as other medical specialties we have to constantly refresh and re-invent what we are doing to try and improve safety. As obstetricians we tread a difficult path trying constantly to call correctly just the right amount of intervention at just the right time.

BirthJourneys

So where does experience fit in I hear you ask? There is abundant published evidence of positive association of patient experience with clinical safety and effectiveness, in other words if your patients (or I prefer users) are having positive experiences then you are running a safer service. It’s hardly surprising if we communicate and explain things to women and their families that we will be more likely to communicate effectively to other members of the multidisciplinary team. If we are open and honest then woman can challenge assumptions and make sure we haven’t missed something critical, a woman knows her own history inside out whereas we might omit a key point. To me one of the most shocking things that was said at our ‘Whose shoes’ #MatExp workshop last year was that women can feel intimidated and unable to ask questions. Trust and understanding between health professionals and those we care for are vital. We cannot possibly hope to improve safety in isolation, experience has to improve too.

There are two specific elements of #MatExp of which I think epitomise the safety -experience overlap. The first is an on-going ever growing constructive conversation between women, families, obstetricians, midwives, health visitors, paediatricians, families and anyone involved in maternity services. Only by tackling the difficult conversations without hierarchy in an equal and respectful way can we improve maternity care. Listening and talking to one another is critical not only as we work with women but in dissolving those barriers and difficulties that sometime exist between different professionals. Flattening of hierarchy, team work and the ability of anyone to challenge is a well-recognised component of a safety culture. We are doing this both locally using the workshops and board game and more broadly via social media and the website.

The second element of #MatExp is that personal sense of responsibility to take action. Own what you are doing and why you are doing it. ‘Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it’ that doesn’t mean leave it to someone else. It means that health professionals and women can take action and influence maternity experience up and down the country and through that impact on and improve the safety of maternity care. So in final answer to my question I do not think it is a choice safety or experience I believe the two are fundamentally intertwined. So what will you do to improve #MatExp?

What will

Florence Wilcock, 2015

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“I was told I was going to have a big baby….” And then what happened?

A while ago on a Facebook birth forum I saw the phrase “you won’t grow a baby too big for you to birth”. It was a familiar phrase as it was something I would hear regularly on the homebirth e-group I was a member of back in 2010 when I was pregnant with my first. Back then I accepted it as the truth, but having been involved in #MatExp for nearly a year I have learned that few things to do with birth are that simple. So I asked the question on the #MatExp Facebook group:

Big Baby Capture

What followed was a fascinating discussion. Information was shared from lots of different quarters, and evidence was linked to. Experienced birth practitioners shared their views and a few themes started to appear. All along I knew I was intending to write up the discussion as a blog post so I was trying to keep up with the information and understand what was being said. As I opened up links to studies, trials, journal articles and so on my heart sank as I am not the best at analysing that kind of thing and it seemed at first glance that the evidence shared was somewhat contradictory. So I was concerned that I would end up inadvertently talking rubbish in this post.

And then I realised that this is exactly the problem. I am a woman of childbearing age who has had an education to degree level, English is my first language and I discuss birth and maternity pretty much every day. When we talk about informed choice we mean sharing all of the evidence plus the benefit of experience with pregnant women and their families, so that they can go through it and make their own decisions. Yet if I were writing this today as a woman who had been told she was likely to have a “big” baby I would be confused. And a little scared.

So it’s a good job I didn’t know any of this when I confidently went on to give birth to my 8lbs 13oz son on all fours on our bathroom floor.

From http://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-for-induction-or-c-section-for-big-baby/
From http://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-for-induction-or-c-section-for-big-baby/

Let’s pretend for a moment that I am in my third trimester and have been told by my midwife that she suspects baby is going to be a big ‘un. Probably a bouncing 9lbs tot. Before I go down the route of “doing” anything about that, or amending my birth plans, I have asked the #MatExp group for some information. What have I discovered?

Well, firstly we need to know a little bit more about this fictitious me. Do I have gestational diabetes? Am I classed as overweight? No? Okay then, we can stick with our issue being only the predicted size of my baby and keep questions of GD and BMI for another day if we may. Similarly, we will assume that I am physically able. So why are people sucking their teeth and looking concerned that baby might be of a generous size?

This is where we come to shoulder dystocia. “Shoulder dystocia is when the baby’s head has been born but one of the shoulders becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone, delaying the birth of the baby’s body. If this happens, extra help is usually needed to release the baby’s shoulder. In the majority of cases, the baby will be born promptly and safely.” (From https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/shoulder-dystocia/

In the majority of cases, the baby will be born promptly and safely?  So what’s all the fuss about then?  Well let’s look at this passage from the abstract of this article:

“Shoulder dystocia remains an unpredictable obstetric emergency, striking fear in the hearts of obstetricians both novice and experienced. While outcomes that lead to permanent injury are rare, almost all obstetricians with enough years of practice have participated in a birth with a severe shoulder dystocia and are at least aware of cases that have resulted in significant neurologic injury or even neonatal death. This is despite many years of research trying to understand the risk factors associated with it, all in an attempt primarily to characterize when the risk is high enough to avoid vaginal delivery altogether and prevent a shoulder dystocia, whose attendant morbidities are estimated to be at a rate as high as 16–48%. The study of shoulder dystocia remains challenging due to its generally retrospective nature, as well as dependence on proper identification and documentation. As a result, the prediction of shoulder dystocia remains elusive, and the cost of trying to prevent one by performing a cesarean delivery remains high. While ultimately it is the injury that is the key concern, rather than the shoulder dystocia itself, it is in the presence of an identified shoulder dystocia that occurrence of injury is most common.

The majority of shoulder dystocia cases occur without major risk factors. Moreover, even the best antenatal predictors have a low positive predictive value. Shoulder dystocia therefore cannot be reliably predicted, and the only preventative measure is cesarean delivery.”

Ah, okay.  So whilst MOST cases are not a problem, when there is a problem it can be very serious.  And most experienced obstetricians will have seen this happen, inevitably influencing their perception of the risks involved.  The teeth sucking is a bit more understandable now.

Apparently if I have a small pelvis it is more likely that baby will get his shoulders stuck. How do you know if you have a small pelvis? Small compared to what or whom? I have no idea but it appears to be a consideration.  One birth professional observed that “to me that ‘big’ is subjective in a lot of cases. A 7lb baby could be big to one woman whereas a 10lb baby could be average to another. There needs to be far more than just the picture provided by a (often inaccurate) scan. Woman’s own birthweight for example, her stature etc.” It was mentioned that pelvimetry used to be widely used but has been abandoned in favour of scans, due to a Cochrane review that found these measurements did more harm than good.

There is a higher likelihood of shoulder dystocia in bigger babies, that much is undisputed. Yet the language used when discussing this risk makes a big difference to how a pregnant woman might view the risk.  Contrasted with the passage above is this from Evidence-Based Birth:

Death capture

I suspect as with so many birth choices, women are likely to get the reassuring language from midwives who have confidently dealt with many instances of stuck shoulders, and more wary language from obstetricians who have seen first hand what can go tragically wrong.  

So in summary shoulder dystocia is more likely in bigger babies but on the whole it can’t be predicted and can usually be dealt with. It turns out that there are arbitrary cut offs for recommending Caesarean to prevent SD – 5kg in a non-diabetic woman. That means nothing to me but a quick Google tells me that is an 11lbs baby. My hypothetical nine pounder doesn’t warrant an automatic recommendation for a c-section then. So far so good.

But what position is my baby in? This is an important factor. I would argue that all pregnant women should be aware of foetal positioning and how to optimise it, but in this case it is particularly important as a malpositioned big baby could cause trouble. Let’s assume though that I have been on spinningbabies.com, haven’t been reclining on the sofa, have been doing headstands for nine months or whatever it is that is recommended. Baby is now head down and engaged and we’re ready for the off.

At this point it’s good to know that there is no evidence to suggest that it hurts more to give birth to a big baby. I cannot comment as my firstborn is the only child I have birthed vaginally so have nothing to compare it to. But the midwives on the group have been reassuring that being predicted a “big” baby does not mean increased pain in labour. Good stuff.

What I haven’t done (but what might have been recommended to me) – I have not had a growth scan. It appears that growth scans should be used to identify small babies (a discussion for another day no doubt) but not big ones. One group member commented “Ultrasound scans become increasingly unreliable the further along in pregnancy they are performed. Weight is an ESTIMATION can be up to 25% out either way. They base it on the abdominal circumference, head circumference & femur length – try doing it with yourself & see how accurate it is!”  

A birth professional went on to say “Growth scans are pretty hopeless in the third trimester – the only thing that is useful is a regular plotting of growth to try to identify a sudden growth spurt that could indicate a problem. A one off growth scan late on in pregnancy basically just leads to unhelpful fears on all sides.”

Which begs the question, how do we identify the potential 11lbs babies who “require” a c-section birth?

So I haven’t allowed anyone to worry me further with a most likely inaccurate scan reading. We think baby is going to be big but not so big that I am going to be encouraged to have an elective c-section, so I’m happy to go ahead with my vaginal birth.

This is where we come to the issue that dominated the discussion. The position that women labour in can make a HUGE difference to the outcome when they are birthing a large baby. Labouring on their back is most likely to be unhelpful. Labouring on all fours is most likely to enable them to birth without intervention. Certainly my experience – I could not bear to be in any position other than kneeling up for my entire labour, simply could not bear it. Lying down was absolutely out of the question.

One group member had a wealth of information to contribute and commented “There’s plenty of evidence to support programs like birth ball use, not just gentle bouncing but using as a structured exercise plus also designing maternity units/rooms to encourage movement and position changes and upright movement.”

A midwife explained “I worked with a lovely obstetrician a few years ago (I have worked with many wonderful obstetricians). She was leading the skills and drills component for obstetric emergencies of the yearly mandatory training. We were practicing what to do in the case of a shoulder dystocia with a mannequin. She looked at me and said, of course we all know that if we do this (turning the model over in to what would be an all fours position) we wouldn’t have to be doing this at all.”

And one of our obstetricians added “in terms of labour progression, size is not nearly so important as baby’s positioning and flexion.”

The impact of pain relief was also mentioned:Of course this is impacted by maternal position too, often compounded by an epidural that softens the pelvic floor muscles reducing the baby’s ability to rotate on the pelvic floor.”

Let’s recap. My midwife has said that it is her experienced opinion that I am going to have a big baby. I have declined a growth scan but we are both confident that baby won’t be topping 11lbs. So we’re going for a vaginal birth, and have done everything we can to ensure baby is in a good position. I am then being encouraged to be active in labour, labour on all fours and so on. There is no reason to believe that I will experience more pain due to baby’s size. There is an elevated risk of shoulder dystocia but my birth team are trained to deal with that. Hmm, okay, on reflection I would make the same choice I made back in 2011 when I hadn’t had this conversation. Home waterbirth with experienced midwives please! Especially, for me as an individual, “big” babies are normal – I was 9lbs 11oz at birth myself.

Does the above sound like the experience most women have when a big baby is predicted? Let’s ask some real life women shall we? Here I am indebted to the fabulous women on my other Facebook group who have shared their stories with me.

I was told I would have a big baby. The midwife measured me way off the chart at 36 or 38 weeks can’t remember which. Went for growth scan. Again measured me pretty big. Appointment with consultant, he measured me big. Straight aways did a growth scan. I was then booked in for an induction the following week. Was in from the 25th and had him on 29th (due on 5th July) he was only 8lb 2oz.” What was the reason for the induction? “Not sure. They said as it was my first I probably would go over so as he was measuring big now it could be more of an issue in 3 or 4 weeks.”

My 1st baby was 9lb 14oz and got stuck with shoulder dystocia and born with the ventouse.” And what positions were you labouring in with baby no. 1? Were you on all fours at all?  “No! I believe position/ventouse were what caused her to be stuck! I was dehydrated so they made me stay in the bed on my back to be monitored!”

“I was told my little boy was a big baby and I had to have a growth scan. I was then induced a week early due to his size. He weighed 8lb 15oz and I had a 4th degree tear and had to be rushed to theatre.” What did they say were the risks with him being big? Did they explain why they wanted to induce you?  “The explanation for me being induced was if I was left and went over I would have had a tough time, but looking back now I wish I had opted out of being induced as I blame that for the complications.”

I was measuring big for dates at my midwife appointments from about 24 weeks. I was eventually sent for a scan to rule out polyhydraminos at about 32 weeks. The scan results were ok and showed that my baby’s measurements were on the 95th centile. I was then changed to higher risk consultant led care. They told me it was due to the baby’s size and the increased need for intervention during delivery, e.g. forceps, etc. My baby was predicted to be 9lb 9oz maximum and she was actually 10lb 6oz. I was in slow labour for 6 days. I had to have an oxytocin drip to get me from 7cm but I couldn’t get passed 8cm as her big shoulders meant her head wouldn’t press down on my cervix! As a result of being on the drip, I wasn’t able to get in different positions in labour and was mainly confined to the bed. I then had an emergency c-section due to failure to progress.” How did all the talk of having a “big” baby affect how confident you felt in being able to give birth?  “To be honest, it did affect how confident I felt giving birth. I was then very nervous at the prospect of tearing or that I’d have difficulties during the birth and would need forceps, etc. I was very worried that something would go wrong. To be honest, I felt very relieved when the consultant said I needed a c-section.” 

I commented that I wondered whether that was the reason the mum above struggled to dilate. Rather than failure to progress perhaps her caregivers should be have been labelled with “failure to encourage”.

There was one rather different story, although the mum in question was surprised by how her consultant’s advice varied from what others were experiencing: Was told based on my daughter being 10lb that my little boy would be big. The midwife referred me to a consultant as my fundal height was bigger than even my little girl was! Tested me for GD which I didn’t have. Consultant said he was going to do absolutely nothing about it which varied massively from my peers at nearby hospitals who were being induced early. He said inducing a large baby is dangerous as they’re more likely to get stuck and if I got my little girl out this one would be fine! Bit worried but I trusted him.”

And what of those women who had not been told to expect a big baby?

“I had a 9lb 4oz baby but wasn’t expecting him to be ‘big’ I had a tiny bump and was told he was only going to be about 7lb.  I had him naturally with no complications at all. A few stitches externally but that was all.”

“My 2nd baby was 9lbs 6oz and no one knew he would be that big as my first was 7lb 11oz. Labour was very quick and vaginally delivered with 1 stitch.”

If 9lb2oz is classed as a big baby then mine was! He was 13 days over so probably wouldn’t have been so big if I’d gone on time. Nobody told me he was going to be big at any of the extra monitoring appts I had the week before he arrived all on his own, no help, drugs or hospital. I did tear slightly but midwife was happy for me not to go to hospital if I didn’t want to.”

I wasn’t told I was going to have a big baby, I was tested for diabetes at one point because my bump had grown quite quickly but I didn’t have it. My little boy weighed 9lb 15oz, I was in labour for 6 and a half hours and didn’t have any complications. I had a few stitches afterwards but nothing major.”

What can we say in conclusion?  When a baby is identified as potentially being “big” are all families given the information that we have discussed here?  Do all birth professionals agree with the general thrust of this post or have some important points been missed or misrepresented? And if I have got it all wrong what does that say for the idea of “informed choice”?  Because this is my best understanding of the issues following a detailed discussion with experienced birth professionals.  There are plenty of other birth stories from the mums on my group which make it clear that women are routinely being encouraged down the route of induction without fully understanding why, only that baby is going to be “big” and that is some kind of a problem.  And so many of these stories end in instrumental deliveries, emergency c-sections and, at worst, traumatic births.  Would it not be preferable for women to have the issues fully explained to them and to be encouraged to have an active birth where, in all likelihood, they will be capable of giving birth to their child?

I am just glad that my “big” baby is here, safe and well, and now in his second week at primary school.  Decisions always seem simple in hindsight.

Big Baby

Some of the links that were shared as part of the discussion not already linked to above:

Shoulder Dystocia – RCOG green top guidelines

Rebozo Technique for Foetal Malposition in Labour

The Effect of Birth Ball Exercises during Pregnancy on Mode of Delivery

Reducing Length of Labour and Caesarean Surgery Rate Using a Peanut Ball for Women Labouring with an Epidural

After Shoulder Dystocia: Managing the Subsequent Pregnancy and Delivery

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