Bringing new meaning to Labor Day, about 50 mothers, fathers and children rallied in Baton Rouge on Monday to draw awareness to best practices for laboring moms and the delivery of their babies.
Hannah Birchman, a mother of three who organized the rally, said hospitals are putting profit margins before women’s health and safety in the delivery room, and she wants women to be educated about what they should expect from their health care providers.
Some of the main issues Birchman and others at the rally focused on are the increasing trends of inducing labor and opting for cesarean sections.
“Nine out of 10 women in the U.S. receive care that increases risk rather than decreases it,” Birchman said, while bouncing her daughter, 7-month-old Josie, on her hip. “A lot of that is because health care providers are not practicing evidence-based care, and we want to bring evidence-based care into the birthing process.”
She said expectant mothers are sometimes pressured to schedule a cesarean section, or C-section, because it’s more convenient for the doctor. Vaginal births take longer, are less predictable and less expensive than C-sections, which are incentives for doctors to opt for surgery, Birchman said.
But C-sections require more recovery time for the mother than vaginal birth and increase the risk of medical complications, she said.
The local Rally to Improve Birth took place at The Red Shoes Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth on Government Street with members of the group waving signs that read “Birth Matters” and “Know your Options.”
Similar rallies were being held in other cities in all 50 states at the same time. It’s the second year that people across the country gathered on Labor Day to encourage expectant mothers to take control of their own pregnancies, Birchman said, and the movement is expected to be an annual event nationwide.
Dr. Elizabeth Buchert, an obstetrician with the Associates of Women’s Health, is one of the local health care providers who said she is taking a stand in favor of health over convenience.
Louisiana has a C-section rate of almost 40 percent, compared with the recommendation of the World Health Organization that C-sections should not exceed 15 percent, Buchert said.
“That’s hard evidence that there’s something amiss,” Buchert said. “In any area of medicine, surgery is the last-ditch effort to deal with the problem.”
In May, Associates in Women’s Health introduced a new policy that doctors there would not do elective inductions unless one was medically required. Many hospitals have a policy that they will not induce labor until after 39 weeks of pregnancy.
Buchert said inducing birth leads to a higher risk for the need of a C-section. Since the new policy was introduced, C-sections performed by clinic doctors have dropped by 5 percent.
“We’re trying to be a force for community change and education,” Buchert said. “Unfortunately it is about money and convenience, and a lot of doctors fall into that trap because obstetrics is so unpredictable. You are going to have some incentive to schedule people’s births.”
Buchert said the amount of weeks babies need to reach full maturity in the womb differs, and inducing labor could compromise the baby’s development.
“In the final weeks of maturity there are little things that happen in the baby’s brain and in the baby’s guts,” she said. “That baby could be mature at 39 weeks, or 39 and 5 (days) or 41 weeks. Who knows when the baby is ready to be born?”
Amy Willson, a mother of two who attended the rally, said she wishes health care providers would be more clear with expectant mothers about what their options are.
“I’m surprised that women I speak to who are pregnant will use phrases like, ‘My doctor is making me do this, or my doctor is inducing me at 39 weeks because my baby is too big,’ ” Willson said. “They’re thinking that they don’t have any say in the care of their bodies and their babies.”
Birchman said she began educating herself about best practices during pregnancy after her first baby was delivered via C-section without a medical reason. She said after 30 hours of labor, her doctor opted for a C-section, later telling her it was because the doctor thought she was tired.
“I couldn’t get out of bed to change my baby’s diapers for the first three weeks,” she said. “It hurt to cry, it hurt to go to the bathroom, it hurt to sneeze.”
Birchman said when she was pregnant with her second child, many doctors told her she would have to have another C-section.
Buchert said some doctors erroneously recommend that a mother continue to use C-sections if they already have had the surgical procedure to deliver their first child.
“Some people get fixated on the small risk that the scar will open up during labor, because that’s an immediate risk and that’s scary,” she said.
“But that risk is so much lower than the actual risks of repeated cesarean after cesarean and that’s the message that’s getting lost.”