Hocus Pocus - The ARRIVE study says inductions reduce caesareans
In an epic sleight of hand, the US obstetrical industry has managed to produce a study that affirms the “benefits” of universal elective induction of labour at 39 weeks. Headlines have trumpeted this remarkable accomplishment! Inducing labour early “prevents” c-sections!
The conclusion of the much anticipated ARRIVE study (Grobman, 2018) are presented in their abstract:
Obstetricians now have the much-desired go-ahead to routinely induce healthy first-time mothers prior to reaching 40 weeks under the guise that it will reduce c-sections with no additional negative outcomes to the mother or baby.
This is the same outrageous chicanery that brought us the ridiculously executed Term Breech Trial that changed obstetrical practices around the world (Hannah, 2000). It was the excuse the industry was looking for to do what they already wanted to do: surgery (Hunter, 2013).
Obstetrics is a surgical speciality that also includes attending normal physiologic births. Years ago, the World Health Organisation sought to address disparities in health outcomes around the world in an effort to reduce maternal deaths in vulnerable places. They looked at countries with good outcomes and compared them to countries with poor outcomes. In wealthy nations where infrastructure was in place, food was easily accessible, and infection control measures were widely used, they tended to have a c-section rate around 5%. The WHO initially suggested that a c-section rate of 5-10% across the entire population could improve maternal-fetal outcomes. However, when the c-section rate rose above 15% across a population, the maternal death rate began to rise due to too much surgery.
There was naturally an outcry from the wealthy sector that was safely performing a lot of surgery and the WHO was roundly chastised for trying to prevent them from performing surgery on clients whom they believed would benefit from surgery. So the WHO said a c-section rate of 10-15% was “ideal” as it could potentially save lives, although they’ve subsequently stated that there is no benefit when the rate rises about 10% for a population (Betran, Torloni, et al, 2016).
The problem wasn’t lack of surgery. The problem was that 99% of maternal deaths are in the developing world with half in sub-Sahara Africa and one-third in Southeast Asia where most fatal complications develop during pregnancy and are largely preventable or treatable. Half of these maternal deaths occur in fragile and humanitarian settings such as refugee displacement, natural disasters, and war (WHO, 2018).
Since the WHO’s mistake in encouraging an increase in surgery in impoverished, fragile, and humanitarian settings, the rest of the world’s obstetrics industry has spiraled out of control. Canada’s national c-section rate has risen to 28.2% in 2016-17 (CIHI, 2018) along with an increase in most every other country.
Data from around the world shows an average annual rate of increase in caesarean surgery of 4.4% from 1990 to 2014 (Betran, Ye, et al, 2016). Globally, in 2015 21.1% of all births occur through caesarean surgery, representing just over one in five mothers around the world (Boerma, 2018). This rate has risen from 12.1% of all births in 2000, representing a relative increase of 74.38% in just 15 years.
Regionally, caesarean rates are:
Latin America & Caribbean: 44.3% - an absolute increase of 19.4% and a relative increase of 77.91% (from 24.9% to 44.3%)
North America: 32.3% - an absolute increase of 10% and a relative increase of 44.84% (from 22.3% - 32.3%)
Oceania: 32.6% - an absolute increase of 14.1% and a relative increase of 76.22% (from 18.5% to 32.6%)
Europe: 27.3% - an absolute increase of 16.1% and a relative increase of 143.75% (from 11.2% to 27.3%)
Asia: 19.2% - an absolute increase of 15.1% and a relative increase of 343.18% (from 4.4% to 19.5%)
Africa: 7.3% - an absolute increase of 4.5% and a relative increase of 155.17% (from 2.9% to 7.4%)
What’s to blame for these shocking numbers? While it’s common to say it’s due to older, heavier, or more unhealthy mothers, the truth is that caesarean surgery has risen for every clientele group including young, slim, and healthy mothers.
The real increase in surgery comes from:
The management style of the hospital, where proactive management of patient flow and nursing resources results in more surgery and more postpartum haemorrhages (Plough, 2017)
Fear of litigation, particularly when malpractice premiums rise about $100,000 (Zwecker, 2011)
Financial incentives. Private facilities tend to perform more surgery as their clients have private insurance to pay for it (Dahlen, 2012). Even in the Canadian system, where compensation comes from a single payer through universal coverage, when the compensation for surgery is double that of a vaginal delivery, then there is a corresponding 5.6% increase in surgery when all else is equal (Allin, 2015)
Training, scheduling, and institutional culture drive the rates of surgery in individual institutions (Roth, 2012)
Both maternal request and maternal morbidity has been blamed for the dramatic increase in surgery, but neither has held up to scrutiny. The increase is physician induced (Roth, 2012).
Now this same industry that has brought us shockingly high rates of surgery due to the nature of the industry says they have a “solution” for this epidemic: induce healthy mothers early.
The caesarean epidemic is due to the industry wanting to perform surgery. The unsupportable conclusions of the Term Breech Trial turned the industry upside-down in a heartbeat and most mothers with a breech-presenting baby are now faced with mandatory surgery. This industry is so invested in getting their way that some of their members have even resorted to using the courts to force clients into non-consenting procedures (Diaz-Tello, 2016).
The idea that inducing a mother early will reduce the incidence of caesarean surgery is akin to saying that if you give a child a pre-dinner snack then they are less likely to over-eat at dinner. Fulfilling the need to medically manage the client’s physiology satisfies the surgeon’s training, preferences, and institutional culture that guide the physician to perform surgery. This is nothing more than a physician placebo. And when this pre-dinner snack doesn’t satisfy any more, and the honeymoon phase of routine early induction wanes, then rates of surgery will rebound.
To begin, an induction is not benign. The risks associated with an induction depend on what is done to the birthing parent. This could involve multiple vaginal exams (infection, sexual re-traumatisation), artificial rupture of membranes (cord prolapse, infection, fetal distress), continuous fetal monitoring (caesarean surgery), chemical cervical ripening (uterine hyperstimulation, uterine rupture, fetal distress, maternal death, fetal death, meconium), IV synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin/syntocinon) (uterine rupture, postpartum haemorrhage, breastfeeding failure, postpartum depression and anxiety, water intoxication leading to convulsions, coma or death, fetal distresss, meconium, neonatal jaundice, neonatal brain damage, and neurological dysregulation in the child years later) (Gregory, 2013; Grotegut, 2011; Gu, 2016; Kurth, 2011; Elkamil, 2011).
Inductions are generally more painful and first time mothers are more than 3x more likely to ask for an epidural during an induction (Selo-Ojeme, 2011). This leads to a longer labour and pushing stage, need for more synthetic oxytocin, problems passing urine, inability to move after the birth, fever, and more instrumental deliveries (Anim-Somuah, 2018).
Now let’s talk about the study itself.
A total of 3062 women were assigned to labour induction, and 3044 were assigned to expectant management (wait and see approach). Just like with the Term Breech Trial, there was quite a bit of crossover, meaning those who were assigned to the induction group had a spontaneous birth and those who were assigned to a wait-and-see approach were induced (about 5% from each group – 1 in 20 participants). However, the results were reported to the group they were assigned to.
The enrolment was designed to be too small to detect certain outcomes. Adverse outcomes such as maternal death, cardiac arrest, anaesthetic complications, thromboembolism, amniotic fluid embolism, major puerperal infection, or haemorrhage are fairly rare but are associated with both induction and surgery.
Without enough participants, it’s not possible to determine if there was an increase in adverse outcomes from inducing mothers.
Remember, this study took place in the US where they boast some of the worst maternal and neonatal outcomes in the developed world. How they practice obstetrics has much to do with this. Both the induction and the expectant management groups experienced high rates of interventions and the outcomes for the babies were consistent with that:
15% were not breathing at all or were breathing weakly 5 minutes after birth
12% were admitted to the NICU
5% had neonatal jaundice
1% needed breathing support for a day or more
0.7% experienced meconium aspiration syndrome
0.6% had hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy
0.3% suffered intracranial haemorrhage
0.3% had infections
0.2% had seizures
The results for the mothers were equally awful:
5% had severe postpartum haemorrhage of over 1500cc requiring a blood transfusion, blood products, or a hysterectomy
4% suffered a third or fourth degree perineal tear
2% had a postpartum infection
With shockingly terrible results like this, the industry has the temerity to suggest that signing up for an elective induction to placate their nerves is a good idea because they’re less likely to perform surgery?
Frankly, it’s asinine nonsense from a group that needs a dramatic change in education and culture. We’ll see how long it takes for this insanity to move throughout the obstetrical world.
Make wise choices, my friends.
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