Selecting an obstetrician or midwife and birth center or hospital is arguably one of the most important decisions that a pregnant woman makes. This choice will determine many aspects of a woman’s pregnancy journey, including the likelihood that she delivers via C-section. To understand how women choose their obstetric provider and their delivery facility, Ovia Health has teamed up with Ariadne Labs to survey women and help shed light on this important decision-making process.
C-sections in America
Few would debate that the United States is experiencing a C-section epidemic. One out of every three babies is born via C-section, despite the fact that 1) research shows that most pregnant women prefer and plan for vaginal delivery and 2) the World Health Organization (WHO) has argued that 10-15% is the optimal cesarean rate, placing the US at double or even triple the optimal rate. As the most common major surgery performed in the United States, C-sections are responsible for 20,000 surgical complications and infections annually, and account for over $5 billion in excess medical spend each year. Although C-sections can be life saving interventions, they still pose significant risks to both mother and child. C-section rates have risen at alarming rates across the United States, and many people, both inside and outside the medical community, are dedicated to uncovering and reversing the root cause of this trend.
I have two sons, both healthy happy boys, both brought into this world in very different ways. I work in healthcare and like many readers of THCB, the business of healthcare is often viewed through the business lens. When we become the healthcare consumer, and are knee deep in the conundrum that is our healthcare system, the perspective changes dramatically.
Ezra was born in a major medical center, under the supervison of state of the art OB/GYNs, with all of the greatest technology, and under the care of the best nurses. My wife wanted a “natural birth”, so natural that I affectionately describe it as a “granola birth”. We were active duty military at the time so our choices were limited. She hired a birth doula, read Ina May’s “Guide to Childbirth”, chose to see a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner for her wellness visits, and was adamant that she did not want an epidural.
As we approached 40 weeks the adventure began. At 36 weeks she could no longer see the NP, she had to now see the OB/GYN. The OB/GYN began to make reference to not allowing us to go past 40 weeks, it would “endanger the child”. My wife began to feel very uncomfortable and that she was slowly losing control of the experience she wanted to have. At the 40 week visit, the OB/GYN gave a very stern warning that an “induction was now necessary for the safety of the baby” regardless of there being no indication that Ezra’s wellbeing was compromised. We resisted as much as possible (with the help of no beds in the maternity ward) but at 41 weeks and 2 days, doctors’ orders brought us into the hospital for an induction.
Last April, the ABIM Foundation, with Consumer Reports and other partners, drew national attention to overuse of ineffective and harmful practices across the health care system with their Choosing Wisely campaign. As part of the campaign, professional medical societies identified practices within their own specialties that patients should avoid or question carefully. Today, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) have joined the campaign, drawing national attention to the overuse and misuse of induction of labor. ACOG and AAFP are telling women and their maternity care providers:
1. Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor or cesarean deliveries before 39 weeks 0 days gestational age.
2. Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor between 39 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 0 days unless the cervix is deemed favorable.
(“Favorable” means the cervix is already thinned out and beginning to dilate, and the baby is settling into the pelvis. Another word for this is “ripe,” and doctors and midwives use a tool called the Bishop Score to give an objective measurement of ripeness. Although ACOG and AAFP do not define “favorable,” studies show cesarean risk is elevated with a Bishop Score of 8 or lower in a woman having her first birth and 6 or lower in women who have already given birth vaginally.)
Much work has already been done to spread the first message. Although ACOG has long advised against early elective deliveries, the practice has persisted. But a confluence of recent reforms has made it increasingly difficult for providers to perform elective deliveries before 39 weeks. Quality collaboratives have supported hospitals to implement “hard stops” that prevent these deliveries. Payers have used carrots and sticks to disincentivize them. CMS has funded a national public awareness campaign to reduce consumer demand.