Disposable Birth Pool Plugs? No!

Last week we had a request to supply a box of single-use, disposable birth pool plugs for a hospital birth pool.   We were surprised to hear that any Trusts were using conventional bath plugs in their birth pools. Here’s why. 

Cleaning a bath plug and chain

Birth pool plugs are not permitted to have chains on them (HTM64 Health Technical Memorandum). This is because you can’t attach the other end of the chain to anything because of the cleaning challenges, and the chain itself is also just another crevice where bacteria may breed. In theory, the plug chains are also a ligature risk.

Access to the birth pool plug by midwives

After I bath my children, I ask them to pull the plug out as I’m not keen on dirty bath suds up to my elbow! A hospital birth pool is MUCH deeper than even my children insist on. Leaning in to pull out the plug, probably right up to the midwife’s shoulder, through water which is likely to be contaminated with faeces and blood, isn’t ideal. While the midwife has already had their hands in the water, it’s not the same as trying to reach all the way down and not contaminate their uniform sleeves. Some Trusts have proposed providing the midwives with gauntlet gloves, but then there is the rigmarole of cleaning them, finding them, having pairs that fit everyone’s arm length… Far better to avoid the situation at all and not have disposable birth pool plugs!

Finding the plugs!

We still travel with a travellers’ emergency bath plug as many’s the time that we’ve ended up in a hotel or holiday home with no bath plug in sight. Imagine the challenge of trying to track plugs through the cleaning process and back again! So the obvious answer appears to be the disposable birth pool plugs that we at Aquabirths were asked to supply, but who will keep an eye on how many are left and when they need to be re-ordered? And of course, with a disposable item, there is always the…

Eco considerations

Every Little Counts and all that, and everything we can do to try to reduce the impact on our environment makes an impact. If we can move away from disposable items. Generally, disposable items in the NHS are incinerated, with serious ecological impacts. Disposable birth pool plugs are not necessary. There’s a much better solution…

Aquabirths’ Birth Pool Plug Solution!

Aquabirths do not supply hospital birth pools with disposable plugs. Our birth pools come with built in grated wastes and an integrated valve to stop water flowing out, or to release it after the birth. To “plug” or “unplug” the birth pool the midwife simply needs to open the valve!

Active labour and birth in Obstetric Units

Hi-Lo active birth chair

The benefits of upright and active labour and birth to women, babies and a healthy labour are uncontroversial and well established – and yet women are still so often confined to the bed in obstetric units.

Women who are welcomed into a midwife led unit, on the other hand, tend to have rooms where the bed is not centre stage, and instead the standard birth support equipment lends itself to upright, kneeling, squatting or forward leaning positions for labour and birth. Access to a birth pool is common, as are slings, birth couches, mats and balls.

Walk into most obstetric units and the untrained eye would have a hard time recognising it from any other hospital room. Machines, cables, bleeps and flashing lights and of course, in the centre, the bed. We spend 1/3 of our lives lying down in bed. When we are admitted to hospital for any other reason than to give birth, we lie down in bed. There is every psychological reason to automatically go to the bed and lie down when we’re admitted in labour – and every physiological reason not to!

By taking away the focus of the room from the bed and towards ways to support active labour and birth we know that we can shorten labours, help with babies’ positioning, reduce the need for pain relief and have more positive births. It is therefore not only a real worry that women who are birthing in the obstetric unit so often don’t have the automatic access to the low cost, high value equipment which supports this, it actively causes harm by reducing and limiting the woman’s ability to move in labour.

We call upon the commissioners and managers of obstetric units to consider the ways that their birth units can have the best of both worlds – the low-tech, high impact equipment which helps women to remain active, and the high-tech, high impact equipment available if necessary, but ideally easily accessible but slightly hidden, eg behind a screen. While, clearly, hospital birth pools can’t be plumbed into every obstetric unit room, there’s no reason why each room can’t benefit from a HiLo Birth Chair, or something similar. This simple piece of equipment is perfect for supporting active birth in every room in the obstetric unit. Fast and easy to clean, small footprint for even the smallest obstetric room, the HiLo Birth Chair provides excellent support for multiple labour and birth positions including upright breech birth. It supports normal human birth physiology and biomechanics while permitting extremely easy access to the woman in order to offer monitoring of all kinds, and all other tests and checks which can be performed without the woman lying down (ie almost everything). The reduction in the use of anaesthesia, caesareans and other expensive interventions1 that are likely to come from using the HiLo Birth Chair in each obstetric room will mean that it will quickly pay for itself. Indeed, just one avoided caesarean covers its cost as well as stopping that woman from possible life-long complications from major surgery.

We need to move away from an either/or situation for women. It shouldn’t be that only women on the MLU can access evidence based equipment that can reduce costs for the Trust, reduce interventions for the mother and baby and increase the chance of each mother having a positive birth. Obstetric units can benefit from this equipment too – saving money and having better outcomes for women and babies.

Reference

  1. Cochrane Review, “Mothers position during the first stage of labour” https://www.cochrane.org/CD003934/PREG_mothers-position-during-the-first-stage-of-labour

 

Waterbirth, GBS and Hospital Birth Pools

Can women who are found to be carrying Group B Strep (GBS) still have a waterbirth (in a hospital birth pool or at a home water birth)? Yes!

Hospital birth pool GBS is very common. It’s thought that around 1 in 4 women carry the bacteria in their vagina, but despite this very few babies become affected by it. However those who are affected can become extremely ill, and tragically some will die. Because of this, prophylactic antibiotics given during labour are offered to women who are found to be carrying GBS, which does reduce the number of affected babies.

Our binary maternity labelling (low/high risk) means that any woman with any additional issue in their pregnancy becomes “high risk”, and many trusts’ guidance on waterbirth states that only “low risk” women may use the birth pool. In many cases this leads to women who would hugely benefit from a birth pool, and who would be far more likely to have a straightforward, drug-free birth by using one, being denied access to them.

Is this reasonable, or should women be supported to have a waterbirth if they wish, if they’re a GBS carrier?

What is the evidence?
Cohain1 states that out of 4432 waterbirths, only one incident of GBS was reported, whereas the rate for dry land births was one in 1450. This implies that waterbirth may significantly lower the rates of GBS infection in babies who are born in a birth pool. Research by Zanetti-Dällenbach R2 et al found that even though the levels of GBS in the birth pool were higher when babies were born into the water compared to labouring in water and birthing on land, the levels of GBS infection in the babies born in water was lower. While no large scale RCTs have yet been done, this data does show that birthing in water may in fact be a hugely important way to reduce the numbers of babies who are contracting GBS after birth and perhaps we should be encouraging women to birth in water as a way to reduce the infection rate! Even the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) states that waterbirth is not contraindicated for women who are carrying GBS3.

Women who are found to be carrying GBS before labour are offered prophylactic antibiotics which, if she chooses to accept them, will be given via a cannula during birth. This is often considered to be a contraindication for labouring and birthing in water, but in fact it is very simply to protect the cannula during a waterbirth. Women can either keep their hand out of the water, or if they feel they might want to put their hand into the birth pool, the midwife can place a close fitting plastic glove over her hand and seal it with an appropriate skin-safe waterproof tape.

In conclusion, the evidence we have – limited as it is – shows that giving birth in water is actually protective against the baby contracting GBS, and as such we shouldn’t be asking whether women should be supported to birth in water if they are carrying GBS. Instead we should be asking why are they so often told that they must birth on dry land?

Further reading:

AIMS: Group B Strep Explained by Sara Wickham https://www.aims.org.uk/shop/item/group-b-strep-explained

References:

1)  Cohain, JS, Midwifery Today, “Waterbirth and GBS”: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21322437

2)  Zanetti-Dällenbach R, “Water birth: is the water an additional reservoir for group B streptococcus?“ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16208480

3) RCOG on GBS and waterbirth: https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1471-0528.14821 (point 7.5)

Topic Summary: Hospital birth pools and GBS: what is the evidence and what is best practise?

High BMI & Guidelines for Hospital Birth Pools

water birth in birth pool, woman with high bmiHow can Trusts ensure that their guidelines for hospital birth pools support women with a high BMI?

The benefits of using a birth pool for labour and birth are well documented, and yet there is a group of women who are regularly denied the chance to use this powerful form of pain relief and comfort when giving birth to their babies: women with a high BMI.

The most common reason given by Trusts for the denial of access to a birth pool for women with a high BMI is that if she were to collapse, she’d be harder to get out of the pool. Another reason is that women of high BMI might be less flexible, and less able to step out of the pool themselves. A recent article by AIMS clearly debunks both of these considerations. (See here: https://www.aims.org.uk/journal/item/waterbirth-high-bmi)

But what if women with a high BMI collapse in the birth pool?
The term “BMI” does not mean “weight”. A short women who is overweight might weigh less than a tall, slim woman, and yet the short woman may be classed as “high BMI”, and the tall woman “normal BMI”. The heavier woman would be permitted access to the hospital birth pool, whereas the shorter, lighter woman might not. This is clearly illogical as the taller woman would be heavier, and harder to lift out of the pool, despite her lower BMI.

Any woman may need to be lifted out of the birth pool, irrespective of her weight or BMI, and so appropriate equipment and guidelines should be available at all times for every person using the pool.  This should not need to be weight limited. For instance, slings which support people of all weights are commonly available through hospital suppliers.

Methods to help women out of the blow-up birth pools used at home which do NOT include slashing the pool are well known. Slashing the pool will flood the floor, and nearby electrical items, with water, and the women will “flow” out with the water in an uncontrolled way. Instead, supporting the woman to remain above the water (birth partners are always going to help with this!) while a managed removal happens is much safer. A fast deflation of the centre ring will lower the sides while containing the water and retaining the structure of the birth pool.

Women with a high BMI and mobility issues
Another reason commonly given to deny women with a high BMI access to a hospital birth pool is that these women may be less likely to be able to leave the pool without assistance. In other words, the assumption is made that larger women will have reduced mobility. Any woman may have mobility issues, so this should be a separate consideration, no matter her BMI. That said, women who may find moving on land harder, for any reason, may find that the supportive effect of water in a birth pool can help them to remain more mobile in labour, thus leading to a higher chance of a positive, straightforward birth. It therefore makes sense to do what we can to support women to access the water, even if they are limited in their ability to jump out of the pool themselves – and this has nothing to do with BMI.

There are many different considerations for Trusts when they are writing their guidelines for women who wish to labour and/or birth in water. Using BMI as a barrier to access, however, needs urgent reconsideration, in order to ensure that all women are given the opportunity to birth in the way that is right for them – and which has many benefits for the Trust as well, as a low-cost way to support normal birth and better birth outcomes.

For a full and detailed report on the issue of access to a birth pool and BMI, please read the AIMS Journal article here: https://www.aims.org.uk/journal/item/waterbirth-high-bmi

 

Waterbirth following a previous Caesarean Birth – YES You Can!

Aquabirths was delighted to read this lovely birth story by Jo, published by doula Cathy Williams. Jo had her first baby by caesarean when she found that her baby was breech when she went into hospital in labour, and she was told by hospital staff that she had no other option (which isn’t true!).

For Jo’s second baby, she was very interested to find that her consultant was very supportive of a VBAC – a vaginal birth after previous caesarean birth(s). Jo had previously thought that she would not be able to have a vaginal birth, having had her first baby by caesarean. In fact, VBAC is very often the safest option for women who would prefer a vaginal birth.

After extensive research, Jo decided that she would like to birth in a birth pool on the midwife led unit, and this is exactly what happened. Thanks to the support of her doula, Cathy, Jo’s research and strong self advocacy, and as Jo herself puts it, “some balls”, Jo birthed her baby how she wanted, in a birth pool, with only the interventions that she was happy to accept.

Congratulations from all of us at Aquabirths, Jo, and thank you to Cathy Williams for sharing Jo’s story!

For more information on VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean), see the AIMS book “Birth After Caesarean

Supporting Plus Size Women – a Must-Read Guide for Midwives

This is a lovely article with some very helpful information for midwives and other carers of pregnant women who are plus size. It’s so important to remember that larger women are not necessarily less healthy than slimmer women- and even if they do have medical conditions related to their weight, they still need and deserve personalised care.

And of course, labour and birth in water offers huge benefits to women of all sizes, and women should not be denied access to water just because they are “plus size”.

Read the full article here…

Organising safe and sustainable care in Alongside Midwifery Units: A Review

Oldham Midwifery Unit with Aquabirths birth poolAlongside midwifery units are defined as midwife-led units which are on the same premises as an obstetric unit (OU). They are usually next to the OU and may have come about following restructuring of the OU.

 

A follow on study from Birthplace 2011 investigated the way that alongside midwifery units are organised, staffed and managed, as well as the experiences of the women who use them and the staff who work in them.

 

The researchers looked at 4 different alongside midwifery units. They interviewed midwifery staff and service users, and also those in a management and organisational role. What became clear from the study was the fact that midwives working in alongside midwifery units were able to practice more autonomously, using their own clinical judgement. This is how all midwives, who are all autonomous practitioners, should be able to work, but obstetric units often discourage or reject this aspect of the midwifery role. Midwives also reported how they valued the work environment and culture, although the study did acknowledge that there was a need to ensure that midwives were supported to continue to develop their confidence, which is not a surprise as so many would have been trained in a far more repressive environment.

 

Another challenge for the sustainability of the alongside midwifery units was the fact that of all of the women who were considered to be good candidates to birth there, only a third ended up doing so. This study does not look at why this might be, but we know from feedback from women that very often they are simply not made aware of the midwife led unit in their area, so they did not have the opportunity to consider it for their baby’s birth.

 

Ultimately, Aquabirths would like to see the facilities which are commonplace within a midwife led unit such as birth pools, birth couches, mats and birthing balls, as well as the environment which is designed for calm, and to promote oxytocin, available as standard within all types of units, including obstetric units. There is no reason why these facilities could not be used by far more women, and we strongly believe that if a better birth environment was available to all, that more women would birth their babies with fewer unnecessary interventions. We hope that more research like this will encourage designers of all types of maternity units to create spaces which support both women and midwives to work together for better births.

 

Barriers to new innovation in the UK’s NHS – and how to overcome them – Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog I discussed how companies need to build innovative products together with clinicians, in order to work out what helps them and their patients, rather than companies making assumptions about medical needs which may not actually be valid, which can create barriers to innovation.

Another barrier to innovation in the NHS which was raised in the Nuffield Trust’s report (link) was that, “Products are sought which lead to short-term savings, rather than transforming care pathways leading to more efficient services”.

Stories of NHS managers introducing cheaper versions of products which turn out to be more expensive overall are rife: examination gloves which split, and two or three are wasted before a useful pair is found. Paper towels which don’t come out of the dispensers properly, and end up being wasted on the floor. But far more worryingly – spending money on areas which do not improve care, and can actually hinder it.

Last year, Jeremy Hunt announced that he would be putting millions of pounds of investment into more CTG machines, despite there being zero evidence that continuous monitoring is safer than intermittent monitoring. Imagine instead if that money had been allocated to increasing midwife numbers to implement Continuity of Carer? Unlike CTG machines, Continuity of Carer has been shown to reduce stillbirth, as well as costs to the NHS such as caesarean births.

Far cheaper investments, such as birth pools, also leads to significant cost savings. Labouring in water increases the rate of spontaneous vaginal births, reduces the need for instrumental delivery, reduces the numbers of 3rd and 4th degree tears, lowers the chance of a woman wanting opiate pain relief or an epidural, and increases women’s positive experiences of birth which might lead to lower levels of PND. (1)  ALL of these mean that the NHS spends less money on fixing the consequences of these interventions, as well as the cost of the intervention itself.

Let’s see the NHS looking at the wider picture with every new innovation or investment. We call upon commissioners to look past the cost of installing new equipment which supports women to birth more easily, and instead see the full spectrum of ways that an investment in a birth pool, or other normal birth promoting products, can save the cash-strapped NHS money, while leading to better outcomes for women and their babies.

References:

(1) Evidence Based Birth: Waterbirth

 

 

Oldham Birth Centre: Nurturing Families

Oldham Birth Centre – A Place to Want to Labour!

Aquabirths birth poolOldham, in Greater Manchester, UK, has created the most stunning, supportive and effective birth centre which is family-centred and woman friendly. Designed to nurture women and birth, creating a safe, positive and caring space for the whole family – including other children, who can be present at the birth of their sibling.

Designed to support the physiology of birth from the ground up, the Birth Centre rooms do not centre around an obstetric bed. Instead, they feature slings, balls, mats, Softbirth couches, adjustable lighting and the stunning Aquabirths birth pool, with a large family bed available for parents and baby to rest in after their little one is born.

The Oldham Birth Centre’s philosophy of care is key to the success of this midwife-led maternity unit. Midwives are trained in hypnobirthing techniques, aromatherapy, acupuncture and using water to support positive, safe, physiological birth. Minimising adrenaline is key to maximising oxytocin, and maximising oxytocin is key to birth progressing well, so the whole room is designed to be calm and to help everyone to relax. An aromatherapy diffuser by the door greets the birthing family as they arrive, and the scents in the air, the dimmed lights offset by coloured bubble lamps and the Aquabirths birth pool gives a sense of walking into a spa.

Oldham Birth Centre Wall Painting
Oldham Birth Centre Wall Painting

Midwives describe seeing women sitting in a chair and looking around, and visibly relaxing. A kitchen is available for all to use, so birth partners can help themselves to drinks, and they can make their own snacks. Midwives make it quite clear that this space is for them to use, which is an important part of helping everyone to relax and continue to reduce any adrenaline levels.

The Oldham Birth Centre is not an extension of the labour ward, but instead is designed as a birth centre for the families of the city. While there are strict criteria for straightforward access to the unit, if a woman wants to birth there she can attend a Birth Options Clinic where their choice of place of birth is discussed, and the woman will be supported by the midwives.

The unit itself is nothing without its midwives, and the midwives at Oldham are hand picked for their inbuilt nurturing nature – not a trait which can be taught. Diane watches the student midwives who show an interest in physiological birth and support women’s choices. Those who wish to become part of the community/birth centre team are encouraged to apply.

Oldham Birth Centre is not unique, but it is unusual and it is beautiful. The women and families of Greater Manchester are extremely lucky to have this wonderful facility with its fabulous midwives.
The unit has a video on You Tube which showcases the birth pool and other facilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wOHqJfLhGg

Choices-in-Childbirth January 2018

#Waterbirth – what can we learn from each other? Free Softbirths Mini Birth Couch, CFM: nothing but damage? A Year in Doula-ing, Women’s Art & News

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