In July's American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a self-proclaimed meta-analysis denounced homebirth, concluding increased neonatal mortality. This conclusion was based on a study that has proven highly misleading, as the following responses from the Midwives Alliance of North America and The Big Push for Midwives Campaign articulate. Born in Sarasota supports both of these organizations and endorses the following statements.
Response from the Midwives Alliance of North America:
A new meta-analysis rushed to on-line publication well before its availability in print, concluded that less medical intervention, which is a characteristic feature of planned home birth, is associated with a tripling of the neonatal mortality rate compared with planned hospital births. In a study published online on July 1, 2010 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG), researchers at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine analyzed the results of multiple studies from around the world. The lead investigator, Joseph R. Wax, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maine Medical Center, stated, “Our findings raise the question of a link between the increased neonatal mortality among planned home births and the decreased obstetric intervention in this group.”
However, Canadian researchers whose data showing the safety of home birth in a well-organized and regulated system, were used in the meta-analysis, are sharply critical of the study. Dr. Michael C. Klein, a senior scientist at the Child and Family Research Institute in Vancouver and emeritus professor of family practice and pediatrics at the University of British Columbia said the U.S. conclusions did not consider the facts. “A meta-analysis is only as good as the articles entered into the meta-analysis—garbage in, garbage out. Moreover, within the article, Wax et al did their own sub-analysis of the studies in the meta-analysis, after removing out-of-date and low quality studies, and found no difference between home and hospital births for perinatal or neonatal mortality. Yet in the conclusion, they choose to report the results of the flawed total meta-analysis, which showed the increased neonatal mortality rate.” Klein said that this is apparently a “politically motivated study in line with the policy of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecolgists (ACOG) who is unalterably opposed to homebirth.”
Saraswathi Vedam, a nurse midwife and researcher at the University of British Columbia who is considered to be an expert on assessing the quality of literature related to homebirth, states that the study is deeply flawed for several reasons, particularly, “the authors’ conclusions are not supported by their own statistical analysis.” Vedam states that Dr. Wax et al acknowledges the consistent findings of low perinatal and neonatal mortality in planned home births across the best quality studies they reviewed “but amazingly Wax does not emphasize or even mention this in his sole conclusion.” This begs the question of whether the author’s analysis and reporting of reviewed articles on homebirth do not support his foregone conclusion about the safety of homebirth.
The Midwives Alliance of North America, a professional organization of over 1200 members, believes childbearing women and those involved in maternal and child health policy should be made aware of the flaws and erroneous claims in the Wax et al study. There is a substantial body of evidence-based literature from well-designed studies that establishes the safety of planned homebirth with a skilled birth attendant. The fact that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists maintains its position in opposition to homebirth, despite the evidence of its safety and efficacy, makes one question ACOG’s motive in publishing Wax’s substandard study.
Midwives are the primary care providers in out of hospital settings. Whether their work is studied and scrutinized here in the US or abroad the findings are consistent. Trained midwives are qualified health professionals with the requisite expertise to provide mothers and newborns with outstanding care, using less intervention, resulting in maternal and infant outcomes as good as those in hospital settings under the care of obstetricians.
The American public, particularly women in the childbearing years and those who care for them, have a right to high quality research on childbirth. Research literature should not be used to cause undue alarm or limit a woman’s choice regarding care providers, including skilled midwives, and place of birth.
Response from The Big Push for Midwives Campaign:
As New York and Massachusetts moved to pass pro-midwife bills in the final weeks of their legislative sessions, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology fast-tracked publicity surrounding the results of an anti-home birth study that is not scheduled for publication until September. Described as unscientific and politically motivated, the study draws conclusions about home birth that stand in direct contradiction to the large body of research establishing the safety of home birth for low-risk women whose babies are delivered by professional midwives.
“Many of the studies from which the author’s conclusions are drawn are poor quality, out-of-date, and based on discredited methodology. Garbage in, garbage out.” said Michael C. Klein, MD, a University of British Columbia emeritus professor and senior scientist at The Child and Family Research Institute. “The conclusion that this study somehow confirms an increased risk for home birth is pure fiction. In fact, the study is so deeply flawed that the only real conclusion to draw is that the motive behind its publication has more to do with politics than with science.”
Advocates working to expand access to out-of-hospital maternity care questioned the timing of AJOG’s public relations efforts on behalf of a study that won’t be published until next fall. “Given the fact that New York just passed a bill providing autonomous practice for all licensed midwives working in all settings, while Massachusetts is poised to do the same, the timing of this study could not be better for the physician groups that have been fighting so hard to defeat pro-midwife bills there and in other states,” said Susan M. Jenkins, Legal Counsel for The Big Push for Midwives Campaign. “Clearly the intent is to fuel fear-based myths about the safety of professional midwifery care in out-of-hospital settings. Their ultimate goal is obviously to defeat legislation that would both increase access to out-of-hospital maternity care for women and their families and increase competition for obstetricians.”
The United States recognizes two categories of midwives: Certified Nurse-Midwives, who are trained to practice in hospital settings and who also provide primary and well-woman care, and Certified Professional Midwives, who undergo specialized clinical training to provide maternity care in out-of-hospital settings. Research consistently shows that midwife outcomes in all settings are equivalent to those of physicians, but with far fewer costly and preventable interventions, including a significant reduction in pre-term and low birth weight births, and as much as a five-fold decrease in cesarean surgeries.
The Big Push for Midwives Campaign represents thousands of grassroots advocates in the United States who support expanding access to Certified Professional Midwives and out-of-hospital maternity care. The mission of The Big Push for Midwives includes educating state and national policymakers about the reduced costs and improved outcomes associated with births managed by CPMs in private homes and freestanding birth centers.