Friday, March 30, 2012

On Saturday 17th March, Radio 4's Today Health Correspondent Jane Dreaper presented a report on the history of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) programme, and interviewed me as part of this report.
[Extract of JD] "The NCT is pledging to keep campaiging to improve services for all new parents, but Pauline Hull, who runs a website called electivecesarean, questions whether the NCT has stayed too close to its roots, in promoting all things natural.

[My response] "Because of its size and power, it's presented these choices to MPs as being something that all women want, when in fact for example, more women are choosing a cesarean than a homebirth, and there are women who choose not to breastfeed and there are women who choose to breastfeed. So I hope that going forward, the NCT is more willing perhaps to listen to the views of other smaller organizations that represent women, and that they can be fully supportive of all choices."

20 years after birth: Incontinence 3 X more common with vaginal delivery

This is the conclusion of new research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. You can read the full release at ScienceDaily, but in brief, there were 6,000 women involved in the research, all of whom had babies between 1985 and 1988.

"Overall, the prevalence of UI was considerably higher after a vaginal delivery (40.3%) compared to women who delivered by caesarean section (28.8%). The study also found that the prevalence of UI for more than 10 years almost tripled after VD (10.1%) compared to women who had a CS (3.9%)."

The authors also note that the risk of UI in obese women more than doubled in comparison to women with a normal BMI after VD and more than tripled after CS.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Interesting article on C-Sections in the U.S.

I've just commented on Kirstin Hendrickson's article in Scientific American (worth a look), Cesarean Sections in the U.S.: The Trouble with Assembling Evidence from Data, to say:
This article perhaps might have been subtitled, "The Trouble with Assembling Evidence from Mixed Cesarean Data".

One of the biggest problems in the ongoing cesarean debate is the number of research studies that rely on mixed cesarean data (i.e. they do not separate planned and emergency surgeries, or planned surgery 'for a medical/obstetrical reason' and planned surgery 'on maternal request' alone).

Similarly, there are too many research studies that do not properly compare intent to treat (i.e. a comparison of each planned mode of delivery and ALL the actual outcomes of each).
Going forward, we need better data collation, more standardized methods for comparison of different birth plans, and a willingness to include the longer term health and cost outcomes (e.g. incontinence and prolapse) of each birth plan.

There is a great deal of truth in the last paragraph of this article, and while the U.S. does might not yet have achieved the correct balance in terms of wanted and unwanted cesareans, it's worth remembering that in many other countries, the ideological focus on normalizing birth at all cost has resulted in tragic outcomes for some mothers who pleaded for a cesarean birth but were ignored.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Curbing C-sections could save countries billions - REALLY?

I blogged about this research a few weeks ago, and since then, various news outlets have reported on it, including Reuters.

Aside from the obvious issue with the authors' continued use of the WHO's 1985 recommended cesarean threshold of 15% (which is not evidence-based), the idea that a ""better distribution" of resources could allow more women in poorer countries to get medically needed C-sections" is somewhat unconvincing.

If redistribution of wealth and resources was this simple, many more problems in the developing world would have been solved a long time ago - health, education, clean water for example.

I agree absolutely that more women in the developing world should have access to c-sections, and more needs to be done to save lives and reduce severe morbidity (e.g. maternal fistula and infant birth birth injuries), but to suggest that reducing the cesarean rate in the developed world would have any real impact is hypothetical at best and distinctly unhelpful at worst.

It's all very well to decree hospital birth policies of "necessary c-sections only", but if a woman WANTS a cesarean, or if she CHOOSES surgery after a doctor has explained the risks and benefits of both birth plans, she should not be FORCED to have a trial of labor, simply because there is a CHANCE she'll avoid adding another decimal point to an all-important cesarean rate.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if medical professionals were capable of identifying every "necessary" cesarean correctly, perhaps the litigation bill for obstetrics wouldn't be so large.

But they can't, and no one knows when low risk will become high risk - therefore women should (if they choose to) be allowed to decide on their birth plan independently of any cesarean rate cost-cutting plans, and doctors should be allowed to consider planned cesarean birth as an option without fear of criticism from hospital accountants.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

CTV Interview with Choosing Cesarean co-author Dr. Magnus Murphy

Dr. Magnus Murphy has appeared on CTV's Morning Live today with interviewer Sage Pullen, to discuss our new book, Choosing Cesarean: A Natural Birth Plan. If you'd like to watch the interview, visit ctv.ca and then click on the fourth story down in the right-hand-side list, titled 'Choosing Cesarean'.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Parents of brain damaged baby wanted a normal life, not a normal birth

Photo: South Wales Argus
Another heartbreaking birth story, another injured baby, and another mother whose repeated request for a cesarean was refused and ignored.

The South Wales Argus reports how ten weeks after his birth on November 9, 2011, baby Casey's parents were told that he had suffered brain damage as a result.

His mother, Nahella Hard, had had a previous emergency cesarean with her daughter due to preeclampsia and a placental abruption, and suffers with a bowel disorder, yet despite her repeated requests for a repeat c-section, she was made to have a "traumatic" vaginal delivery.

His father, Anthony Hard, describes how he was looking forward to doing normal things with his son, like "taking him to football", but just hopes now that he'll be able to "walk and talk".

They have just submitted a formal complaint to the Aneurin Bevan Health Board about their experience at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Wales, as reported here, and following a full invesigation, I hope they get the answers they deserve.

Criticizing Cesareans - What will they blame high rates for next?

New research this month has concluded that cesareans "that are potentially medically unjustified appear to command a disproportionate share of global economic resources."

Authors from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Institute of Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy (IECS) set out to "describe the unequal distribution in the performance of" surgery by measuring how much it would cost to attain a c-section rate of 10% in countries below that rate (US$ 432 million) and reducing rates to 15% in countries currently above that (US$ 2.32 billion).

I have only been able to read the Abstract unfortunately, but here is the email request I have just sent to the lead author of the research to ask her a few questions about the choice of 15% as an appropriate rate, and any cost analysis of economic resources associated with vaginal birth rates of 85% and 90%. You can read my email here:

Pelvic Organ Prolapse and Surgery for young mum on Channel 4 show

This week's episode of C4's Embarrassing Bodies illustrates the reality of pelvic organ prolapse following vaginal birth with the following case study: "Cat, who at just 24 is struggling daily to keep her waterworks under control." The programme follows her story through from initial examination and diagnosis, to prolapse surgery lasting two-hours.
This (series 5, episode 1) is really worth watching - not because it scares viewers about childbirth, but because it is making a genuine effort to confront issues head-on that are affecting more women than we might realise.

One thing I thought while watching was how terrible it is that this poor woman was suffering with this condition for more than a year before finding help, and how many more might be suffering in silence, long after their six-week postpartum check-up is over.

Please note that the programme contains 'full frontal nudity, intimate examinations and graphic scenes of surgery', but it also contains some useful stats and clear explanations about what prolapse is (for blog readers outside the UK, I have transcribed the contents of the programme below).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Was ‘Frankenstein’ really about childbirth?

Last November, for a local newspaper interview, I was asked, "Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with and why?" I answered, "[It] would be different if this question was in the context of a dinner party or desert island, but to spend a few hours stuck in a lift, my first choice would be a posthumous one - author Mary Shelley, whose own mother and first child died in childbirth, and whose novel 'Frankenstein' explores areas of medical debate and ethical controversy such as organ transplants and genetic engineering. I'd love to discuss her views on contemporary cesarean birth." So today when I came across this New Republic article by Ruth Franklin, I found it a very interesting read. For example, when Mary Shelley began writing her novel, she had already given birth in 1815 to a premature daughter who subsequently died, and also her own mother, Mary Wollenscroft, died just days after giving birth to Shelley in 1797.

New DVD promises to accept ALL birth choices

From: "It's a joke!" and "I think major abdominal surgery should be a last resort.To: "all the power to her!" ...In seven months, Ricki Lake's opinion on women who choose to have a cesarean has thankfully changed, at least according to an interview posted this week on celebritybabyscoop
Back in July 2011, on the same website, Ricki answered the question, "What do you say to women who choose to have scheduled C-sections to protect their “vaginal integrity”?" like this (and I blogged about it here):

"It’s a joke!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

CHOOSING CESAREAN Book Review by Library Journal

VERDICT: This book is unique in its willingness to openly address the risks of vaginal delivery, making it a valuable addition to any pregnancy- and childbirth-related shelf.

Expectant mothers should keep the authors' obvious preference toward elective C-sections in mind as they process its information.
While this title may not change readers' views of childbirth, it presents an idea worth exploring.—Mindy Rhiger, Mackin Educational Resources, Minneapolis

FULL REVIEW of Choosing Cesarean: A Natural Birth Plan
In this title, physician Murphy (obstetrics & gynecology, Univ. of Calgary; coauthor, Pelvic Health and Childbirth: What Every Woman Needs To Know) and former BBC journalist Hull (editor, electivecesarean.com) argue for one particular method of childbirth they think should be available to all women: elective Cesarean sections (C-sections).

They are quick to point out that they are not advocating for all women to have C-sections; rather, they want women to be aware of the risks and benefits of vaginal vs. C-section births and make evidence-based choices.

Despite the authors' apparent sincerity in their argument and the extensive references they offer to support their case, many readers are unlikely to be swayed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The challenge of new mothers being older and older

ONS figures reported in the Daily Mail yesterday show that not only is there something of a baby boom going on, but the average age of new mothers is now almost 30, and there are more and more women giving birth at older ages.
This is creating unprecdented obstetric challenges for doctors and midwives, and these are compounded by the fact that pregnant women in general are heavier weights than ever before, and giving birth to bigger term babies too.

I'm not for one minute suggesting that all of these women might want to consider a planned cesarean birth, but I do think it's important that they are fully informed of the specific risks associated with giving birth at an older age so that (if they want to) they can make their own decision between choosing surgery or a trial of labor.

Repeat c-section risks are real and relevant

Photo: Press Association
Amanda Holden has been talking to The Sun newspaper about her recent birth experience during which she almost died.

Thankfully, both Amanda and her new baby Hollie are safe and healthy, but their experience demonstrates the very real risks associated with repeat c-sections - and in particular, placental problems.

Amanda told The Sun, "I had something called placenta previa - a low-lying placenta that prevents you from giving birth naturally. I also had placenta accreta - which meant my placenta was stuck to the C-section scar from the two previous births."

We write about placental complications in our book, and of course individual women will balance these risks with the risks associated with planned vaginal birth too, but I decided to blog about them here to highlight that no birth plan - no matter how 'safe' it seems - is inherently risk-free.