Sunday, 27 September 2009

Back sleeping for pregnancy

I am repeatedly hearing women state that they must not sleep on their backs and are really concerned because they wake up on their back and have somehow harmed their unborn baby. I have been meaning to write about this for sometime but the straw that broke the camels back for me was a couple of days ago when a new client told me her previous midwife had told her not to back sleep or she could suffocate her baby!
Goodness me how on earth did our human race survive this treacherous journey called pregnancy and child birth? In one breathe we tell women they are not ill but going through a life event then we give them a whole list of what they must and must not do, places they must not go, things they must not eat and now which way to even sleep!
Rest assured dear sisters you can sleep how ever you feel most comfortable and you will do yourself or your baby no harm at all. In fact truth be known the worry of trying to sleep in a position you are self imposing on your body and the subsequent lack of sleep due to be less than comfortable will do you more harm.
On thinking long and hard I do believe that this myth has come about through a small grain of fact that has grown into huge Chinese whisper. In my opinion the myth has grown from the early days of dense paralysing epidurals and woman being left for hours alone in labour and on their backs.
It is true that there are huge oxygen carrying blood vessels in the lower back that if squashed by a heavy baby filled uterus did in the past lead to out of breath mothers who, due to the paralysis of an epidural were unable to move and the consequence was oxygen deprived babies. Once it was realised this was happening women were placed on their sides with a pillow wedged under them so they did not roll onto their backs, following administration of an epidural block.
These days epidurals are nowhere near so dense and most woman can move themselves around in the bed once it has been administered and can easy change position with minimal help.
As for a non labouring pregnant women, well that is whole different story because if she does happen to be squashing those all important blood vessels the first thing she will feel is a lack of oxygen which will lead to her feeling breathless and she will wake up and move! The baby will not suffer in any way. The human race has mechanisms to help us survive and will not allow us quietly suffocate ourselves (or our growing babies) in our sleep.
So sleep, pregnant women, however it suits your comfort.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Aquanatal class a huge success

Another success for Kent Midwifery Practice as last week saw the launch of our new Aquanatal classes. Having spent the previous couple of months learning exercise in water for pregnant women then making posters, distributing them , compiling health forms, registers, dance routines, looking around at venues and talking to pool managers.... phew! I was exhausted just thinking about the actual day. I then started to worry if any pregnant women would even turn up!
I had promised a free lunch as well as the first class free but that meant unless I was fully booked at every session I would make a loss. While I had not intended making a profit I certainly did not want to be actually funding the whole venture too.
A couple of weeks prior to launch I had interest and received some cheques in the post to pre book a group of sessions. I had been told by other midwives who run classes around the country that in their experience initially 6-8 women may come but that word of mouth will make the class grow. By the night before I had 8 women already booked and paid for so I was feeling a bit optimistic.
D day arrived and off I went with my student midwife daughter as my biggest support on the day. Women started to arrive at 10.30 as requested, to complete the health check forms and sort out any last minute fees.

By the start of the class to my utter amazement we had only one less than full capacity of women and I was ecstatic, 14 women turned up and as I was driving to the class another rang and booked for next week. So we now have full capacity for the next 4 weeks.

As for the actual class? Well it was great, we had loads of fun and no-one drowned!!
I remembered my routine and all the women said they loved it. After the class we all sat down with a nice cool drink and lunch and had an antenatal discussion.

The women told me they loved the breathing exercise and references to what will happen in labour as well as the discussion around food and what constitutes a good pregnancy diet.

This week I have music to add to the aquanatal moves and I am planning to talk about the progress of labour.......

Thursday, 5 February 2009

I am an Inventor.....Presenting the HOWES birth Mirror

I am feeling quite proud of myself this morning for two reason. One reason is that I have invented a new product for my profession and it feels like it is going be a success.

Having released the details of my lovely new Howes birth mirror I sold some straight away!

Of course some of my dear colleagues had already ordered one from me, but I was never quite sure they thought it as great as I did and weren't just ordering one to be supportive (or they felt sorry for me), but to get orders from the public via my website Kent Midwifery Practice , and even an enquiry from the USA, had me jumping around like a teenager.

The second reason I feel proud of myself is that the hours, days and weeks I have spent recently learning about public relations have paid off. I know that because, having released the details of the Howes birth mirror through a prestigious press release wire distribution service, I not only got great feedback from them that I had written and presented it professionally, I also had several calls from journalists and publications saying they want to do a feature on me and my new invention. WOW!!!!!
You may wonder why that is important to me? Well, I was voted press secretary of Independent Midwives UK a couple of years ago and I want to fill my obligation appropriately in order that my colleagues can have full confidence in me.
The job has not been without heartache, worry, humiliation and sleepless nights over the last year and at times I wanted to retire and just stick to what I know I am best at (being a mother and a midwife) but, as the old saying goes, "if you stick your head above the parapet you get shot at" and, using the words of another strong woman, "I am not for turning".

So, after a short spell of feeling ridiculously sorry for myself after some public midwife-bashing, I dusted down and took myself off to meet a lovely man by the name of Richard Milton, journalist and writer of 25 years, who runs a PR training course in London. I spent a ridiculous amount of money for a self employed, moderately-paid midwife, but every single penny was worth it. He taught me so much about dealing with the press and getting your message to the right audience.
Midwives can really get a raw deal - most of us are too busy with midwifery to play the politics game, unlike our doctor colleagues, whose skills in debate and satirising their opponents are honed during their training.
This could be because midwifery as a profession - both independent midwives and those working in the NHS - is not well represented in the media.
Things that midwives say - and write - can be misunderstood and misrepresented, and as a profession maybe we all need to work on putting our case more clearly - and carefully!
Now I just have to learn about marketing and selling........

Friday, 23 January 2009

whose risk?

When my Kent Midwifery Practice blog colleague Eleanor told me the story of her client and their perception of risk, I thought it a really good subject for a new post. Then I was approached by a midwife who is researching the subject and looking at it from a midwife's perception and how she considers risk. I have now agreed to be part of her research and have been thinking about it a lot myself.

Risk and how, as humans, we view risk has been the subject of many studies around countless topics and is a subjective judgement made depending on the characteristics and severity of a risk. The influence of the media on the perception of risk is a clear demonstration of how something which is very low risk but is considered an emotive subject could actually cause a red herring effect. That is demonstrated by the whole "stranger danger " subject , making parents almost paranoid to let their children out of sight as they think the risk is too great.

What could be a more emotive subject to a woman than the baby she is carrying? Given a choice all women would eliminate any risk from pregnancy and childbirth but especially any risk to her child. I cannot think of one mother who I have cared for who given the choice of saving her unborn or new baby's life or taking her own life, would not have prioritised her baby.

One mother said to me "Virginia they could have taken my arm if my baby was in trouble". This woman was recovering from a nasty infected episiotomy which was performed in haste and panic by medical staff who believed her baby's heart had stopped abruptly prior to his birth. However what had really happened was the heart monitor had stopped abruptly.

So thinking about that I considered how mothers think about risk. Can we consider birth to ever be without risk? No, we cannot, but that is not to say birth is a "risky business" unless we consider that life is a risky business or driving our car is a risky business. Both those things we do on a daily basis without giving it any thought whatsoever. Who makes the decision on what is an acceptable risk around all the issues of childbirth and what is not? It should be the mother of course, but it rarely is.

We are just about there in the UK with regards to the safety of homebirth. Studies which demonstrate homebirth as a safe option for most women have just about been accepted by our medical colleagues [1, 2 - refs below]. Except for the most obstinate practitioners who refuse to keep updated despite the evidence having been around for a decade or more, most obstetricians will support a homebirth as long as a woman does not have any risk factors.

Yet all women, even the ones considered as low-risk, have risk factors - for a low-risk woman has a 2.7% chance of an unexpected complication occurring in labour [3] A complication that may need urgent assistance and delay could result in the problem becoming compounded. That is considered a low risk.

Let's consider a woman who has a nuchal scan to screen for a baby to be affected with trisomy 21 (Downs Syndrome). She has a 1:250 or 0.4% risk of her baby being affected and is told that is low. Who made that decision? Some women would consider it a no-risk situation; indeed some do and refuse to have the screen at all.

The number of babies that die unexpectedly following a prolonged pregnancy further than 42 weeks is approximately 2:1000 or 0.2% [4.] but that is considered so high a risk that 20% of UK women have labour induced [5], and that number of women are included in the 1:4 or 25% of women that make up the caesarean section rate in the UK.

When she has a section, the woman faces up to sixteen times times the risk of death, and ten times the risk of emergency hysterectomy, than a woman giving birth vaginally [6]. Yet a woman who plans a homebirth roughly halves her risk of ending up with a caesarean and all the risks it involves, compared to someone of the same risk level planning a hospital birth [2] She also roughly halves her risk of her baby being born in poor condition [2] - so why are some risks considered more acceptable to take than others?

Once the woman has had the caesarean section she is told she now has a 1:200 or 0.5% risk of a scar dehiscence which is considered high-risk and the medical profesion would be highly unlikely to support a decision for a home birth. However that number includes induced and augmented labour and benign dehiscence that is seen at elective caesarean section - most studies find a greatly reduced risk of rupture in spontaneous-onset labours which are not augmented with oxytocin. Maybe if figures were quoted for both actively-managed VBAC labours and for spontaneous, unaugmented VBAC labours, the risk perception would change and the place of birth and labour management would be more open to discussion

The most bizarre I think in the calculation of risk is the 1:10,000 or 0.01% of vitamin K deficiency bleeding. It is recommended that mothers agree to injecting a substance into all newborns because they are, apparently, fundamentally flawed and do not have normal levels of vitamin K at birth. Who says what is abnormal and what is that abnormality measured against? Sara Wickham considers that statistics for Vitamin K are the same risk as wearing a hard hat every time you walk outside your front door in case a roof slate falls off and hits you on the head. [ 7.] I think maybe a little more research is needed in relation to cost-effectiveness if that is the case. There has never been a follow-up study on children whose parents refused vit K. There could be a huge saving for our cash-strapped health service if the Vitamin K bill was reduced.

Key findings from major studies [8]such as Starr, were that the experts are not necessarily any better at estimating risk than lay people. Experts were often overconfident in the exactness of their estimates. I accept that the Starr study may be a very old piece of research but it surely is very relevant in our modern nanny-like society. Starr also found that people will accept risks 1,000 greater if they are voluntary than if they are involuntary. Information if presented in an unbiased way will assist women in their individual perception of risk and may even play a part in women taking responsibility for their choices. It may even reduce the ever growing litigation bill for medical negligence.....

At Kent Midwifery Practice we are clear that the mother is the only person who can decide what risks are acceptable for her family. It is not acceptable for professionals to say that lay people should not make their own decisions because they think that only they, the professionals, understand risk; nobody will care more about the risk to an unborn child than its mother.

The job of the midwife, whether independent or NHS, is to give the woman the information she needs, and to help her to understand how different risks apply to her. We all take risks; it is the pregnant women who should decide which risks she will take.

REFERENCES[1] British Medical Journal No 7068 Vol 313, 23 November 1996[2] Home Births - The report of the 1994 Confidential Enquiry by the National Birthday Trust Fundpub. The Parthenon Publishing Group, 1997. [3] Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth, eds. Enkin, Keirse,Renfrew & Neilsen, 3rd Edition (published 2000, OUP), p360[1a] Chapter 38, section 6. "The probability of requiring an emergency CS for other acute conditions (fetal distress, cord prolapse or antepartum haemorrhage) in any woman giving birth is approximately 2.7%"]. [4] Menticoglou SM and Hall PF. Routine induction of labour at 41 weeks gestation: nonsensus consensus. BJOG 2002;109:485-91 [5] NICE Guidelines on Induction of Labour, July 2008, S1. : "In 2004–05, 19.8% of all deliveries in the UK were induced." [6] BMJ. 1998 Aug 15;317(7156):463-5. Should doctors perform an elective caesarean section on request? Maternal choice alone should not determine method of delivery. Amu O, Rajendran S, Bolaji II. [7] Wickham, S, Vitamin K - A flaw in the blueprint?, Midwifery Today, 2000; 56: 39-41. [8] Social Benefits versus Social Risks by Chauncey Starr, Science ,1969 .
2009/1/23 Virginia Howes <>