Wednesday, May 29, 2019

It is with much sorrow that we tell of the passing of Kmom

It is to my great sorrow that I must write that Kmom, aka Pamela Vireday my wife, passed away on May 23 from complications due to ALK Positive Lung Cancer (non-smoking lung cancer).  Her four children were singing to her at the moment, and we were all together at the time.

She never wrote about her cancer here, wanted to keep that issue out of this blog.  But as she researched her cancer she found the blogs and information from other cancer patients, and she found comfort in what they wrote.  So she created another blog to help others, as part of her legacy too.

We will keep these blogs active for a long long time.  She left over 163(!) drafts for this particular blog alone, so there is plenty of material available. I am hoping for a future editor to take over the blog because this is not my area of expertise.

Let me thank you in advance for your condolences and sympathies, and know that we her family are okay at the moment.  Moving forward from this point is always hard, will be ups and downs. But we are together and she is always with each of us.

For you dear reader, she would say take care of yourself too. Light a candle, meditate, hit pool noodles together, have squirt gun fights, talk to someone who will listen. Do what you need to do to mourn. And use the information you find here as you need, to carry on the purpose of this blog in your own ways.

Signed, Richard Vireday.  Loving Husband, Father to our Children, Her Best Friend.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Colicky Baby? Nursing Problems? Consider Cranio-Sacral Therapy

When my first baby was born, she had a rough time. So did we. She spent hours screaming. She couldn't settle down to sleep for long until the middle of the night. She just wasn't a happy baby. I felt so bad for her, and I certainly felt like a bad mother.

She was like this for FOUR MONTHS, four verry longgggg months.

We tried everything we could think of but nothing worked. Going for walks often helps but not for this baby. Going for a drive helps many babies but just seemed to make this one worse. Jiggling and swaying sometimes helped but mostly it didn't. Vacuums and washing machines, no luck.

There were times I got so frustrated that I put her into her playpen, nice and safe, and let her scream while I went into the bathroom around the corner and pounded the walls with my fists and cried too. Better the wall than the baby, I reasoned. Afterwards I could return to her calmer and more able to respond lovingly. Sometimes I called up my husband at work and told him, "Get home NOW!!" because I couldn't stand it any longer. We would tag team parent to keep sane on the really tough days. There's no question, a colicky baby is extremely difficult at times.

My baby cried so much sometimes that even the neighbors heard. A neighbor who lived behind us diagonally suggested Craniosacral therapy. She had a child with cerebral palsy and said it worked wonders for him when he was a fussy newborn.

I was intrigued and tempted. But in the end it sounded way too "woo-woo" for me so I never tried it. I just couldn't trust my baby to it. She was my first baby and I just couldn't bear to try anything out of the ordinary. So we all suffered through together.

My daughter finally did outgrow the colic, but it was a loooooooooooong four months, let me tell you. While she was always a sensitive baby in many ways, after that she got a lot easier to deal with and she was definitely much happier.

My second baby was much more easy-going, thank goodness. As long as he got nursed on time and held plenty, he was a happy guy. He had his own challenges, as all babies do, but nothing like as his sister.

My third baby, though, was a lot like his sister. To this day, they follow each other's patterns in many ways. When he was born and started having troubles with crying and sleeping, I knew I was NOT going to go through Colic Hell again. So I decided to heed my neighbor's suggestion and try Craniosacral therapy.

Stresses from Birth

When a baby is born, there is a lot of twisting and turning to navigate the mother's pelvis. This can be stressful on the baby's head and neck areas. In addition, the baby's head is made of separate bones that can fold in on each other slightly like a vegetable steamer so it can fit through the pelvis more easily.

However, after the birth all the pressure and twisting and turning may not leave these bones moving freely. Craniosacral therapy aims to restore that freedom of movement and ease, as well as a free flow of cerebral spinal fluid.

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a very light-touch, hands-on therapy. It uses the pressure of the weight of a nickel on the baby's skin to slowly and carefully address any misalignment in the baby's head, neck, sacrum, or soft palate. It aims to restore good nerve function so the baby's systems can operate optimally.

Some births are more stressful on the baby than others. Births that tend to benefit most from CST include:
  • Forceps/vacuum births
  • A very slow and/or difficult birth
  • A traumatic birth
  • A birth where the baby was malpositioned or got "stuck" 
  • An extremely fast birth
  • A cesarean birth
Some people might think that a cesarean would be easiest on the baby, but it's actually just a different kind of stress. Babies born by cesarean are pulled out sideways through a small incision; sometimes that happens easily and sometimes it doesn't. Thus some cesarean babies can also have a difficult time post-birth.

Some of the behaviors that CST might be able to help include:
  • Fussy babies who don't soothe easily
  • Babies who don't sleep well
  • Babies who have digestion or elimination problems
  • Babies with lots of spitting up or reflux
  • Babies with Colic
  • Breastfeeding problems
  • Difficult latching for baby; resulting sore nipples for moms
  • Babies who favor turning their heads to one side
  • Babies who favor one breast or position for nursing
  • Babies who seem overly sensitive
CST Controversy

Unfortunately, there is NO gold standard evidence on Craniosacral therapy. Like many alternative medicine fields, the research is mostly based on case studies, which basically amount to someone's story that it works. Anecdotal evidence is not irrelevant, but it is not science.

Critics charge that the idea behind Craniosacral therapy is nonsensical, that there is "no plausible mechanism of action," that studies end up producing conflicting diagnoses from different practitioners instead of consistent results, and that what studies there are mostly come from the inventor of the technique, which could easily bias the results. These are all valid concerns.

When you watch or experience Craniosacral therapy, it certainly appears as very "woo-woo." It certainly fits many stereotypes of alternative medicine quackery, and there really isn't any good proof that it works. All it has going for it are people's testimonials about how helpful it can be in some cases, which could be caused by a placebo effect as much as anything. As one critic writes, "No one can deny that craniosacral therapy is relaxing. But, then again, so is a nap & a nap is cheaper."

So I can't say there's proof that CST works, but there are plenty of stories out there of its helpfulness. Take that as you will.  For some people, these stories are enough to at least give CST a try. For others, it's absolutely not. If you are willing to try it, go for it. If it all sounds far too woo-woo and quackery to you, don't try it. The decision is always yours.

All I can do is share my personal stories in which Craniosacral therapy was helpful to my family. I started out as a total skeptic on it, completely unwilling to buy into it. But I was so desperate to avoid the 4-month Colic Hell I'd experienced with my first that I was willing to suspend my disbelief and give it a try on the desperate hope that it might help. I fully expected it to fail -- but it didn't. I have since used it in enough situations that I think it's worth considering if you find a very skilled and experienced provider that has the specialized training needed.


The first time our family tried CST, it was on baby #3. He had trouble settling down and going to sleep, had trouble sleeping for more than a few minutes at a time, and was just generally fussy, crying, and unhappy. At 2 weeks old I took him in for some CST. I used a pediatric chiropractor trained in CST. I stood right beside them so I could snatch him away if needed.

When we started, his arms and his legs were tucked up tight against his body and his little hands were held tightly in fists. He was a tense little guy. When the therapist started, she put one hand on his head and one hand underneath his sacrum. He began crying and tensed up even further. As his crying intensified (it didn't last long), I was just about ready to grab him and give up. Just then he gave a loud cry, a HUGE sigh, and relaxed his whole body. His legs fell to his sides, his arms relaxed, and his little fists uncurled. He stopped crying and fell deeply asleep. He napped all through the appointment and then was bright and cheery later on. That night, he slept SO well!

We used CST several times with him as a baby and he seemed to really breathe into it and enjoy it each time. It did seem to help him resolve whatever had been causing his colic.

There is an interesting description of CST for young babies, along with many CST resources, here.

Nursing Issues

We used CST on my 4th baby too. Not because she had colic but just as a precaution and because it had helped my other babies. But then one night when she was several months old, my husband fell asleep while holding her. He inadvertently relaxed his grip on her and she rolled off his lap and fell onto the floor. She cried very loudly but didn't seem hurt at all. However, after that, nursing all of a sudden hurt. It had been fine before that fall, but suddenly nursing seemed to pain her, and I know it pained me. Her latch had changed and I was left very sore. She was fussy too.

So we got her into our same pediatric chiropractor as soon as we could. She had me nurse the baby just before the treatment, then did the treatment, and had me nurse her again just after it. It was like night and day, the difference! It no longer hurt, the baby was satisfied and not fussy after, and I had no pain from her latch afterwards. Obviously, something about the treatment itself had changed things for the baby, even though the treatment looked like nothing was being done. It obviously had some effect.

It makes logical sense to me that CST might be able to help nursing issues. Often the CST therapist will put on a medical glove and have the baby suck on an upside down finger. In this way they are evaluating the baby's suck and latch, and if anything is off, they can adjust the palate with a little light pressure from the inside. Works like a charm and did not seem rough at all.

There is a good article describing what a lactation consultant is looking for when treating a breastfeeding baby, which can be found here.


My eldest child went on to develop fibromyalgia as an adult. She's pretty functional most of the time but she does deal with a lot of pain, including headaches. We have found that Craniosacral therapy is the ONLY thing that really dials down her pain levels effectively. Because fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, she seems to do best if she goes for CST treatment about once a month. She has to pay for her own CST but it helps her so much she makes room for it in her limited budget. She's a real believer in it.

There is one small study that supports the use of CST for fibromyalgia. The details can be found here.


In my fourth pregnancy I began to experience a lot of headaches. There was a lot of stress in my life at that point as I was a caregiver to a dying parent, but these felt like more than just stress headaches. None of my usual headache fixes were working very well, so when I was a few months' pregnant I decided to try CST.

Some people feel immense emotional releases during CST but I felt a weird physical release during my first session. The therapist was working on my sacrum, an area that has given me lots of trouble. All of a sudden my low back got really really warm. I asked her if she had turned on a heating pad or anything, but she swore she hadn't. The heat kept increasing until finally it peaked and went away suddenly. That was the only time that I have ever experienced anything like that during CST so it's not routine, but it was powerful and it was real. I don't see how it could have been faked. I wasn't expecting anything like that so it wasn't my expectations setting up a physical reaction. It was strange but I have to say the headaches disappeared afterwards.

Some years later, I was in a bad car accident. I was waiting to turn left on a country road when the car behind me struck me at full speed, 55+ MPH. He was on his cell phone and didn't notice that I had stopped. The impact shattered my car windows and totaled my van and changed my life.

I reminded myself it could have been much worse. There was no blood and no bones broken, so I counted myself lucky. I went home to my children that night. However, I didn't realize how much trauma my soft tissues, shoulders, neck, head, back, and knees took until later. It took me a long time to recover from the worst of it and I still have lingering problems from it even now.

One of the more difficult effects I had was headaches -- sudden, blinding headaches that felt like someone was suddenly stabbing me in the eye with an ice pick. This was different than any headache I'd ever had before. I tried chiropractic care and acupuncture; they were very helpful for the rest of my symptoms but didn't begin to touch my headaches, which were very debilitating.

Finally I decided to try Craniosacral therapy. I found someone who did CST for people with traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and veterans returning from war. She worked on me multiple times and slowly the blinding ice-pick headaches went away. It was effective for my headaches when nothing else was.

So that's my experience with Craniosacral Therapy. I've found it useful in several different scenarios, and I know a number of other women who have found it useful for colic, nursing problems, and head injuries.

CST still makes me cringe every time I watch it because it seems so woo-woo and unbelievable.  I would point out again that it's not been proven. It's possible the good results I and others have gotten have simply been due to the healing effect of hands-on touch and a desire to believe that it's helpful, but honestly I don't think a placebo effect is enough to explain it all.

I don't believe every claim that's made for CST, but I know it was helpful for me and my kids. I certainly believe it's worth considering for certain things like colic, nursing problems, headaches, and fibromyalgia.


Craniosacral therapy is light, hands-on therapy that many people report being helpful. I first got to know it as a treatment for colic and nursing problems but it may be helpful for other indications as well. It is very woo-woo in nature and hard to justify scientifically, yet the favorable anecdotal experiences of many should not be dismissed either.

Currently, there is no good-quality proof that Craniosacral therapy is effective. However, most of the material critical of CST is based on a few limited reviews from 2006 and 2011. It's time for higher quality protocols and less dismissive research.

Until we have that research, it is up to each family whether or not to try Craniosacral therapy. If you do try it, choose a practitioner who is very experienced and has several levels of training in it. Some will be massage therapists with advanced training, while others will be pediatric chiropractors who have additional CST training. If you use it for colic or nursing problems, you want someone trained in newborn issues.

You can find a directory of some Craniosacral therapy practitioners with training in babies and breastfeeding here.


Neonatal Netw. 2016;35(2):105-7. doi: 10.1891/0730-0832.35.2.105. Feeding in the NICU: A  Perspective from a Craniosacral Therapist. Quraishy K. PMID: 27052985
Completing full feedings is a requirement for discharge for babies in the NICU. interaction between the nerves and the muscles of the jaw, tongue, and the soft palate is required for functional sucking and swallowing. Jaw misalignment, compressed nerves, and misshapen heads can interfere with these interactions and create feeding difficulties. craniosacral therapy (CST) is a noninvasive manual therapy that is perfect for the fragile population in the NICU. CST can be used as a treatment modality to release fascial restrictions that are affecting the structures involved in feeding, thereby improving feeding outcomes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Thicc Not Sick video

Just had to share this. Excellent work, Kristen Bartlett and Ashley Nicole Black! You hit all the top points we've been making for years, with humor and no holds barred. Great job! And thank you Samantha Bee for bringing their work forward to a national platform.

*WarningSalty language and off-color humor, if you prefer to avoid that sort of thing

Monday, February 4, 2019

VBAC and Prior Cervical Dilation

Some providers look for any excuse to discourage people from Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). They might tell you that you're not a good candidate for VBAC because you are too old, too fat, too short, that you have to have your baby before your due date, that you've gained too much weight, and on and on.

One of the tools that is sometimes used to discourage VBAC is the prior dilation in the previous labor. Some have been told that if they dilated nearly all the way or even all the way to 10 cm, they have little or no chance at a VBAC. Others have been told the opposite, that if they didn't dilate very far previously, their chances of VBAC are low.

But what does the research actually say? 

Prior Dilation and VBAC

A New York study (Hoskins and Gomez 1997) was one of the first studies to look at prior dilation and its association with later VBAC. It found a much greater VBAC rate in those who had a c-section at lower dilation. The VBAC rate at later dilation was only 13%.

However, this is the only study I could find that had more VBACs in the group with less dilation. But because this 1997 study was the first one to really examine the question, its findings have stuck in many doctors' memories, despite contradictory studies, so you sometimes still hear this argument.

A small Nigerian study (Onifade and Omigbodun, 2003) found that prior dilation had no influence on later VBAC. They concluded, "the maximum cervical dilatation reached before primary caesarean section need not be factored into a decision for VBAC."

On the other hand, most studies have found that the greater your dilation in a previous labor, the better your chances at a subsequent VBAC.

One 2001 Canadian study found a higher VBAC rate (75%) among those whose cesareans occurred after dystocia in the second stage of labor/after full dilation. Do note, though, that the group where dystocia occurred in the first stage still had a 66% VBAC rate.

A Korean study (Kwon 2009) also found that those with greater prior dilation had more VBACs.

A Danish study (Abildgaard 2013) had a very low overall VBAC rate but even so found more VBACs in those with greater prior dilation. N=373 women had a Trial of Labor. Those with 4-8 cm dilation before their first cesarean had a 39% VBAC rate, whereas those who were fully or nearly fully dilated at cesarean had a 59% VBAC rate. 

And now, a new study (Lindblad Wollman 2018) also suggests that the chance of VBAC is increased with greater prior dilation. This was a large population-based cohort study in Sweden for 6 years from 2008-2014; such a large study gives its findings extra heft.  N=3,116 women with 1 prior cesarean had a Trial of Labor (TOL). 70% had a VBAC. In those who had a prior cesarean for dystocia:
... increasing cervical dilation in first labor decreased the risk of repeat cesarean in second labor. The adjusted RR of repeat cesarean was 2.48 with dilation ≤5 cm, 1.98 with dilation 6-10 cm, and 1.46 if fully dilated. 
CONCLUSIONS: Almost 70% of all women eligible for trial of labor after cesarean had a vaginal birth, even women with a history of labor dystocia had a good chance of success. A greater cervical dilation in the first delivery ending with a cesarean was not in vain, since the chance of vaginal birth in the subsequent delivery increased with greater dilation.
Overall, the research suggests pretty strongly that the more dilation you had previously, the better your likelihood for a VBAC later. Why might that be? Perhaps the key is how ripe the mother's cervix was before labor (a ripe cervix dilates more easily), and that once you've fully dilated once, you're likely to again.

What it doesn't mean is that someone who didn't dilate very far the first time is a bad candidate for a VBAC. As the Swedish study above points out, "even women with a history of labor dystocia had a good chance of success."

But really, in the end, who cares how many centimeters you dilated last time? The point is that with patience and a supportive provider, most people will have a VBAC, regardless of risk factors. That's all you really need to know.

Providers, Stop Looking for Excuses 

As the top graphic of this post points out, VBAC is woefully underused. About 90% of those with prior cesareans are eligible for a VBAC, yet only about 10% end up having one. Yes, some people choose repeat cesareans, and some people labor for a VBAC but end up with another cesarean. However, the biggest reason for the low number of VBACs is because VBAC has been strongly discouraged by many providers.

Some providers won't support VBAC at all. Others pretend to be supportive but place so many limitations on a trial of labor that almost no one gets a VBAC. Others limit trials of labor to only those with the MOST favorable risk factors.

Providers, stop making excuses. Don't use prior cervical dilation or past arrest disorder or gestational age or Body Mass Index or maternal age or any of a thousand other lame excuses to discourage people from a VBAC.

Arbitrarily limiting VBAC to those with only the most favorable factors makes the repeat cesarean rate far too high, results in far too many complications, and does more harm than good. Our skyrocketing rate of placental abnormalities, cesarean scar pregnancies, and maternal mortality rates reflect that.

Sure, certain factors may make a VBAC slightly more or less likely, but the stark truth is that the majority of those who labor will have a VBAC, even when there are less favorable risk factors.

Stop looking for excuses to not support VBAC. Stop the high-handed paternalism that peremptorily decides birthing choices for others. Stop infantalizing women and taking away their autonomy to make their own medical decisions. People should be counseled about the benefits and risks of each option, but in the end the final choice belongs to the mother.

Unless someone has a legitimate medical contraindication, stop discouraging people from pursuing a VBAC if they want one.


Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2018 Dec;97(12):1524-1529. doi: 10.1111/aogs.13447. Epub 2018 Sep 25. Risk of repeat cesarean delivery in women undergoing trial of labor: A population-based cohort study. Lindblad Wollmann C, Ahlberg M, Saltvedt S, Johansson K, Elvander C, Stephansson O. PMID: 30132803
... We investigated the association between indication of first cesarean and cervical dilation during labor preceding the first cesarean and risk of repeat cesarean in women undergoing trial of labor. MATERIAL AND METHODS: A population-based cohort study using electronic medical records of all women delivering in the Stockholm-Gotland region, Sweden, between 2008 and 2014. The population consisted of 3116 women with a first cesarean undergoing a trial of labor with a singleton infant in cephalic presentation at ≥37 weeks of gestation... In women with a cesarean due to dystocia, increasing cervical dilation in first labor decreased the risk of repeat cesarean in second labor. The adjusted RR of repeat cesarean was 2.48 with dilation ≤5 cm, 1.98 with dilation 6-10 cm, and 1.46 if fully dilated. CONCLUSIONS: Almost 70% of all women eligible for trial of labor after cesarean had a vaginal birth, even women with a history of labor dystocia had a good chance of success. A greater cervical dilation in the first delivery ending with a cesarean was not in vain, since the chance of vaginal birth in the subsequent delivery increased with greater dilation.
Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2013 Feb;92(2):193-7. doi: 10.1111/aogs.12023. Epub 2012 Nov 5. Cervical dilation at the time of cesarean section for dystocia -- effect on subsequent trial of labor. Abildgaard H, Ingerslev MD, Nickelsen C, Secher NJ. PMID: 23025257
... DESIGN: Retrospective study. SETTING: University hospital in Copenhagen capital area. POPULATION: All women with a prior cesarean section due to dystocia who had undergone a subsequent pregnancy with a singleton delivery during 2006-2010. METHODS: Medical records were reviewed for prior vaginal birth, cervical dilation reached before cesarean section and induction of labor, gestational age, use of oxytocin, epidural anesthesia and mode of birth was collected. RESULTS: A total of 889 women were included; 373 had had a trial of labor. The success rate for vaginal birth among women with prior cesarean section for dystocia at 4-8 cm dilation was 39%, but 59% for women in whom prior cesarean section had been done at a fully or almost fully dilated cervix (9-10 cm) (p < 0.001). Among the women with a previous vaginal delivery prior to their cesarean section, the success rate for vaginal birth was 76.2%, in contrast to 48.9% in the group without a previous vaginal delivery (p < 0.01). CONCLUSION: Women who had a trial of labor after a prior cesarean section for dystocia done late in labor and women with a vaginal delivery prior to their cesarean section had a greater chance of a successful vaginal birth during a subsequent delivery.
J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2009 Nov;22(11):1057-62. doi: 10.3109/14767050902874089. Cervical dilatation at the time of cesarean section may affect the success of a subsequent vaginal delivery. Kwon JY, Jo YS, Lee GS, Kim SJ, Shin JC, Lee Y. PMID: 19900044
... The medical records of women attempting VBAC between January 2000 and February 2008 were reviewed. All women had only one previous cesarean and underwent spontaneous labor. RESULTS: Among 1148 enrolled women, 956 (83.3%) achieved a successful VBAC. Birth weight, previous indication for cesarean delivery and oxytocin augmentation were significantly associated with VBAC outcome. By multivariate analysis, a cervical dilatation >or=8 cm at previous cesarean was independently predictive of successful VBAC in women with a previous cesarean for non-recurrent indications (p = 0.046), yielding a VBAC success rate of 93.1%, whereas the extent of cervical dilatation at the previous cesarean did not affect the outcome of subsequent delivery in women with a previous cesarean for recurrent indications. CONCLUSIONS: Women with cesarean for non-recurrent indications who achieved a cervical dilatation >or=8 cm may be the best candidates for VBAC, with the greatest likelihood of a successful VBAC. Labor progress at previous cesarean can serve as a valuable indicator for VBAC outcome in women with a previous cesarean for non-recurrent indications, and therefore should be discussed as part of preconception counseling.
Obstet Gynecol. 1997 Apr;89(4):591-3. Correlation between maximum cervical dilatation at cesarean  delivery and subsequent vaginal birth after cesarean delivery. Hoskins IA, Gomez JL. PMID: 9083318
... Relevant records of the index pregnancy (group I) were reviewed for cervical dilatation at cesarean delivery, oxytocin use, indication, neonatal weight, and epidural use. The records of the subsequent pregnancy (group II) were reviewed for successful VBAC rates, neonatal weight, oxytocin, and epidural use. RESULTS: There were 1917 patients in the study. The indications for cesarean in group I were ... arrest disorders (80%)... In those with previous cesarean deliveries for arrest disorders with cervical dilatation at 5 cm or less, the VBAC success rate was 67%. It was 73% for 6-9 cm dilatation and 13% for the fully dilated group (P < .05). CONCLUSIONS: Patients who attempt a VBAC may be counseled that a cesarean delivery at full dilatation is associated with a reduced chance of a subsequent successful VBAC.
AJP Rep. 2017 Jan;7(1):e31-e38. doi: 10.1055/s-0037-1599129. Validation of a Prediction Model for Vaginal Birth after Cesarean Delivery Reveals Unexpected Success in a Diverse American Population. Maykin MM, Mularz AJ, Lee LK, Valderramos SG. PMID: 28255520 Full free text here.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the validity of a prediction model for success of vaginal birth after cesarean delivery (VBAC) in an ethnically diverse population. METHODS: We performed a retrospective cohort study of women admitted at a single academic institution for a trial of labor after cesarean from May 2007 to January 2015. Individual predicted success rates were calculated using the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network prediction model. Participants were stratified into three probability-of-success groups: low (<35%), moderate (35-65%), and high (>65%). The actual versus predicted success rates were compared. RESULTS: In total, 568 women met inclusion criteria. Successful VBAC occurred in 402 (71%), compared with a predicted success rate of 66% (p = 0.016). Actual VBAC success rates were higher than predicted by the model in the low (57 vs. 29%; p < 0.001) and moderate (61 vs. 52%; p = 0.003) groups. In the high probability group, the observed and predicted VBAC rates were the same (79%). CONCLUSION: When the predicted success rate was above 65%, the model was highly accurate. In contrast, for women with predicted success rates <35%, actual VBAC rates were nearly twofold higher in our population, suggesting that they should not be discouraged by a low prediction score.
Other So-Called "Risk Factors" for Failed VBAC

Monday, January 21, 2019

Metformin Use in Nondiabetic Obese Pregnancy

Article from The Daily Mail, 2011

One of the strongest concerns doctors have about pregnancies in the "obese" is that larger people tend to have larger (macrosomic) babies. Although most macrosomic babies are born just fine, they do have higher rates of shoulder dystocia (babies who get stuck) and related injuries, as well as low blood sugar at birth and more cesareans. So doctors want to do everything they can to prevent abnormally big babies.

Some macrosomia is tied to high blood sugar and high insulin levels. So in hopes of preventing big babies, doctors have been using the diabetes medication, metformin, in those diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes (GD) or Polcystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

A number of studies have confirmed that metformin use in women with GD does modestly reduce the rate of big babies. It also lowers the rate of early pregnancy loss and prematurity in PCOS. More research is needed but metformin does seem to be a very helpful drug for people with GD or PCOS. No one is questioning this use of metformin.

However, the use of metformin in obese women WITHOUT gestational diabetes or PCOS is a different story. Doctors note that even high BMI people who are not diabetic have larger babies on average. So the working theory has been that these women must be pre-diabetic or have strong insulin resistance that increases fetal size.

So doctors began prescribing metformin to nondiabetic obese women in hopes that lowering insulin levels and borderline blood sugar would cut the odds of a big baby.

The practice was aggressively marketed to the public as a way to prevent "obese babies" before its research was even completed (see headlines quoted here from The Daily Mail 2011 and 2012).

But what does the research say about this use of metformin? Here is a quick summary of the three largest trials.

The Studies on Non-Diabetic High BMI Women

From article in the Daily Mail, 2012
Chiswick 2015

Several years ago, a large study called the EMPOWaR trial (Chiswick 2015) tested this theory in the U.K.

This study involved 15 hospitals and was a large, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial, the gold standard of research. It had n=434 participants with a BMI over 30 for analysis. The maximum metformin dose was 2500 mg.

To authors' great surprise, they found that metformin did NOT lower neonatal size.

Syngelaki 2016

Some common criticisms of the EMPOWaR study were that the metformin dose was too low, the participants weren't fat enough to show any big effect, and they did not take doses strictly enough.

Therefore, in a subsequent study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (Syngelaki 2016, the MOP trial), n=400 participants were limited to those with a BMI over 35. This study, too, was a randomized, double-blind study with placebo controls and was more racially diverse.

The researchers increased the metformin dose to a maximum of 3000 mg and made sure there was strong adherence to the medication. By limiting the analysis to those with a BMI over 35, increasing the dosage, including more women of color, and making sure metformin was consistently used, the authors hoped to show more of an effect.

To their surprise, results were again similar. While the metformin group had a slightly lower weight gain, fetal size was the same between groups.

Dodd 2019

Researchers just can't leave this theory alone.

Now there is a new study (the GRoW trial) out, also testing the metformin theory (Dodd 2019). This trial was done in Australia and included women with a BMI over 25 (in other words, both "overweight" and "obese"). No previous study had included those in the overweight category.

This also was a gold standard randomized study, n=514 participants. It used doses of up to 2000 mg.

It also found slightly less weight gain in the metformin group but NO difference in birthweight of the babies.

Research Summary

There have been a few other, small studies about metformin use in nondiabetic women, but none have been as large or as strong as these studies. No study so far has found that metformin lowers neonatal birthweight in nondiabetic women. That message is very clear and consistent.

There were other outcomes that weren't as clear. Some, but not all, studies found a mild lowering of prenatal weight gain. Some found decreased incidence of preeclampsia, while others did not. No other outcomes were routinely affected.

At this point, the hypothesis that metformin will "normalize" the size of high BMI women's babies has pretty well been disproven. I'm sure there will be more studies on it because the theory is a favorite of many OBs, but these are strong studies and frankly, I doubt they'll be overturned.

The good news is that no babies seem to have been harmed in these studies. However, many of the mothers experienced significant gastrointestinal side effects from the metformin and this some caused drop-outs or scaled-back dosing. If you've ever taken metformin, you know the G.I. effects can be considerable. This certainly affects people's quality of life. As a result, it's not something that should be prescribed lightly.

The take-home message from research: Metformin is a great drug that can be useful for some indications (like GD or PCOS) but in nondiabetic high BMI women it does not lower neonatal birthweight. As the authors of the EMPOWaR study concluded:
... metformin should not be used to improve pregnancy outcomes in obese women without diabetes.
The Fat-Shaming Around These Studies

Illustration from the 2012 Daily Mail article
It has to be pointed out that the U.K. public health campaign around these studies was glaringly fat-shaming.

Look at the caption above. Fat women are accused of letting their babies be "born obese," of passing on their toxic obesity in the womb through their carelessness about their health. They use the classic picture of a fat body with the head cut off, depersonalizing the subject. The person is even holding a roll of fat, pointing out visual blame so the negative message is even clearer. 

The articles were filled with scary summaries of the risks of obesity and pregnancy, without any context for those risks, how often they don't happen, and what can be done about them when they do. It's not unreasonable to inform women of size of the possible risks around weight and pregnancy, but it's another thing to misrepresent those risks to scare or shame women out of pregnancy.

The campaign was attempting to inflame the public about irresponsible fat people, implying that they refuse to be healthy and are costing the NHS huge amounts of money, taking money away from everyone else. The U.K. is a very fat-phobic place and the government is scapegoating fat people for their healthcare budget woes.

The language of the campaign was also offensive. They used the terms "fat babies" or "obese babies" in order to shame the mothers, but a big baby is not necessarily the same as an "obese" baby. They are conflating fetal size caused by diabetic complications with big babies that are simply larger than average.

All big babies are not alike. Some babies are big because of blood sugar issues, and these babies do tend to be abnormally proportioned and have more issues at birth. On the other hand, some babies are just naturally larger without it being pathological. There is a significant difference between a diabetic's baby that is 9 lbs. but only 16 inches long and a 9 lb. baby that is 22 inches long. The first is abnormal and a true concern; the second is proportional and most likely genetic. The first type often has problems being born safely and has many complications; the second type of big baby is proportional and can usually be born vaginally.

Furthermore, the campaign is simplistic and misleading. Not all obese mothers have macrosomic babies; one study found that only 17% of obese women had macrosomic babies while 83% of them did NOT. Subjecting all obese women to metformin "just in case" means medicating many people who wouldn't produce a big baby anyhow. What potential harm might that be doing?

Some people of average size also have macrosomic babies without blood sugar or insulin issues; no one knows why some babies are bigger than others. And many big babies do have vaginal births; Navti 2007 found that 83% of women who had babies around 10 pounds or more were able to have vaginal births. This shows that even very big babies can often be born vaginally, given time, patience, sufficient mobility, and a calm caregiver. We need to stop panicking over babies that are larger than average and save our intervention for those who truly need it.

Researchers: Stop trying to put the baby on a diet before it is even born. Metformin for reducing fetal size does not work in nondiabetics. 

Public Health Campaigns: Stop promoting weight stigma and fat-shaming in your campaigns about obesity and pregnancy. 


Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2019 Jan;7(1):15-24. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(18)30310-3. Epub 2018 Dec 4. Effect of metformin in addition to dietary and lifestyle advice for pregnant women who are overweight or obese: the GRoW randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Dodd JM, Louise J, Deussen AR, Grivell RM, Dekker G, McPhee AJ, Hague W.  PMID: 30528218
... GRoW was a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which pregnant women at 10-20 weeks' gestation with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or higher were recruited from three public maternity units in Adelaide, SA, Australia. Women were randomly assigned (1:1) via a computer-generated schedule to receive either metformin (to a maximum dose of 2000 mg per day) or matching placebo. Participants, their antenatal care providers, and research staff (including outcome assessors) were masked to treatment allocation...  FINDINGS: Of 524 women who were randomly assigned between May, 28 2013 and April 26, 2016, 514 were included in outcome analyses (256 in the metformin group and 258 in the placebo group). Median gestational age at trial entry was 16·29 weeks (IQR 14·43-18·00) and median BMI was 32·32 kg/m2 (28·90-37·10); 167 (32%) participants were overweight and 347 (68%) were obese. There was no significant difference in the proportion of infants with birthweight greater than 4000 g (40 [16%] with metformin vs 37 [14%] with placebo; adjusted risk ratio [aRR] 0·97, 95% CI 0·65 to 1·47; p=0·899). Women receiving metformin had lower average weekly gestational weight gain (adjusted mean difference -0·08 kg, 95% CI -0·14 to -0·02; p=0·007) and were more likely to have gestational weight gain below recommendations (aRR 1·46, 95% CI 1·10 to 1·94; p=0·008). ... INTERPRETATION: For pregnant women who are overweight or obese, metformin given in addition to dietary and lifestyle advice initiated at 10-20 weeks' gestation does not improve pregnancy and birth outcomes.
N Engl J Med. 2016 Feb 4;374(5):434-43.doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1509819. Metformin versus Placebo in Obese Pregnant Women without Diabetes Mellitus. Syngelaki A, Nicolaides KH, Balani J, Hyer S, Akolekar R, Kotecha R, Pastides A, Shehata H. PMID: 26840133
[kmom summary] Randomized double-blind, placebo controlled trial. Limited to those with BMI over 35 and upped the metformin dosage. Less preeclampsia and less weight gain in metformin group but no difference in birth weight. "CONCLUSIONS: Among women without diabetes who had a BMI of more than 35, the antenatal administration of metformin reduced maternal weight gain but not neonatal birth weight."
Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015 Oct;3(10):778-86. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00219-3. Epub 2015 Jul 9. Effect of metformin on maternal and fetal outcomes in obese pregnant women (EMPOWaR): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Chiswick C, Reynolds RM, Denison F, Drake AJ, Forbes S, Newby DE, Walker BR, Quenby S, Wray S, Weeks A, Lashen H, Rodriguez A, Murray G, Whyte S, Norman JE. PMID: 26165398 Free full text here.
[kmom summary] Randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind study in 15 hospitals in the U.K. on nondiabetic women. Results: "Metformin has no significant effect on birthweight percentile in obese pregnant women."
Previous discussion of these studies and others:
Metformin for Gestational Diabetes or PCOS

J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2018 Nov 20:1-141. doi: 10.1080/14767058.2018.1550480. [Epub ahead of print] Metformin-treated-GDM has lower risk of macrosomia compared to diet-treated GDM- A retrospective cohort study. Bashir M, Aboulfotouh M, Dabbous Z, Mokhtar M, Siddique M, Wahba R, Ibrahim A, Al-Houda Brich S, Konje JC, Abou-Samra AB. PMID: 30458653
...This is a retrospective cohort study that included GDM women compared to normoglycaemic controls between March 2015-December 2016 in the Women's Hospital, Qatar. RESULTS: The study included 2221 women; of which 1420 were normoglycaemic, and 801 were GDM (358 GDM-D and 443 GDM-T)... Women in the GDM-T group had lower GWG/week compared to GDM-D (-0.01 ± 0.7 versus 0.21 ± 0.51 kg/week; p < 0.001). After correcting for age, prepregnancy weight and GWG; GDM-T had higher risk of preterm labour (OR 1.66; 95% CI 1.20-2.22), and C-section (OR 1.37, 95% CI 1.02-1.85) and reduced risk of macrosomia (OR 0.56; 95% CI 0.32-0.96) and neonatal hypoglycaemia (OR 0.49; 95% CI 0.28-0.82). CONCLUSION: ... Treatment with metformin reduces maternal weight gain, the risk of macrosomia and neonatal hypoglycaemia compared to diet alone.
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Dec;95(12):E448-55. doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-0853. Epub 2010 Oct 6. Metformin versus placebo from first trimester to delivery in polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized, controlled multicenter study. Vanky E et al.  PMID: 20926533
[kmom summary] n=274 PCOS pregnancies. Randomized controlled trial with placebos. Less prematurity, but more pre-eclampsia in metformin group. Less weight gain in metformin group. No difference in fetal size between groups.  

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Induction: Don't Break The Waters Early

Amnihooks, which are used to artificially break a woman's waters

New research (Pasko 2018) suggests that when care providers induce high BMI women, they should NOT break the waters in early labor (early amniotomy), especially in first-time mothers.

Breaking the waters early is commonly done to speed up labor. Sometimes it is done to place an internal monitor to monitor the baby more easily, but usually it is used to intensify contractions and shorten labor. Caregivers assume that this will help obese women avoid a cesarean.

However, the results from this new study suggest that early amniotomy actually increases the risk for a cesarean instead.

Study Details

In this retrospective cohort study, women with Class III "obesity" (body mass index ≥40 kg/m2) who were being induced  (n=285) were placed into two groups.

The first group (n=107) received early amniotomy before 4 cm dilation, and the other group (n=178) received late amniotomy.

The group who received early amniotomy had double the cesarean risk of those who did received later amniotomy.

In first-time (nulliparous) mothers, the risk for cesarean was tripled with early amniotomy. 

The length of labor was not shortened in either group. So the whole justification for using early amniotomy (shorter labor, fewer cesareans) for obese women was irrelevant.

An older study (Sheiner 2000) which examined induction by early amniotomy concluded:
In order to decrease the CS rates, induction should probably start with cervical ripening techniques in order to improve the Bishop scores.
Bishop Scores are a measure of how ripe and ready for labor the cervix is. Inductions on an unripe cervix are more likely to fail and result in cesarean, especially in first-time moms. Bishop scores tend to be lower at the start of inductions in women of size, which is probably an important factor in higher weight women's induction failures. 

Women of size also tend to have longer labors and generally take longer in latent (early) labor before reaching active labor. Yet despite this, research shows that early amniotomy is used more often in higher weight women. This needs to change.

How can early amniotomy (also known as Artificial Rupture of Membranes or early AROM) affect labor? When the water is broken, the cushioning around the baby is removed. Labor becomes much more painful, and there is risk for infection. The baby may be more likely to experience an abnormal heart rate (distress). If the baby is not well-positioned when AROM occurs, then the baby can become stuck in that position and have difficult getting out (labor dystocia). These factors can add up and result in a cesarean.

The take-home message from this study on high BMI women is obvious: Avoid having your waters broken before active labor begins (now defined as at least 6 cm dilation). This is especially important if you are a first-time mother. 

Of course, parents have to remain flexible in labor; plans may need to change. For example, if baby may be in trouble and external monitoring is not working well, then breaking the water sooner to place an internal monitor may make sense. But most of the time, amniotomy should not be done early in labor, especially in obese first-time mothers.

Induction Hints

It is best to await spontaneous labor whenever possible, so always question whether an induction is truly necessary. However, it's a hard truth that sometimes induction of labor does become medically necessary. If so, there are some lessons from research that may lessen your risk for cesarean. Most apply to women of all sizes but may be particularly relevant for higher weight women.

Ask your provider about your Bishop Score; if your cervix isn't ripe (Bishop score <5), ask if the induction can be delayed. If it cannot be delayed, ask for techniques to help ripen the cervix before pitocin is started and realize that you may need more time to reach active labor. Some research suggests that Foley catheter or prostaglandin (PGE2) inductions may be more effective in women of size than misoprostol (Cytotec).

Women of size may also need a larger dose of pitocin to keep an induced labor going strong, but this must be done cautiously because too much pitocin can send the baby into fetal distress. Wait and see how you and baby respond before increasing the dosage and go slowly with any adjustments.

Be sure you have a care provider who understands that latent labor tends to take longer in higher weight women and will give you plenty of time. Many cesareans in women of size are done before active labor, and many could probably be prevented if caregivers were more patient and waited longer before moving to a cesarean.

Be sure your baby is in an optimal position for birth before the induction if possible. Chiropractic care may help align the pelvis and maximize the space for an easier birth. If the baby is posterior (facing your front) in labor, ask your caregiver for manual rotation, which clearly reduces the risk for cesarean in several studies.

Maintain your mobility as much as possible and don't get stuck in bed on your back. Make gravity work for you. Upright positions reduce the length of labor and the risk for cesarean. Special positions like hands and knees or an exaggerated Sims position may help malpositioned babies turn more easily. You can read more aboutvarious labor and birth positions here.

As discussed, don't let the caregivers break the waters until you are well into active labor. If possible, let the waters break on their own. Keeping the waters intact as long as possible can help a malpositioned baby turn more easily.

Hire a doula to give professional labor support. One study found a cesarean rate of 13.4% in a group of first-time mothers with doulas, whereas the cesarean rate in the group without doulas was 25%. The difference was even more marked in those whose labors were induced; the group with doulas had a cesarean rate of 12.5%, vs. a 58.8% rate in those without doulas.

These ideas should improve your chances of a normal vaginal birth with an induction. Of course there are no guarantees, but rest assured that with enough time and patience, a reasonably ripe cervix, a well-positioned baby, and good support, many inductions in women of size can result in vaginal births.


Am J Perinatol. 2018 Nov 5. doi: 10.1055/s-0038-1675331. [Epub ahead of print] Pregnancy Outcomes after Early Amniotomy among Class III Obese Gravidas Undergoing Induction of Labor. Pasko DN, Miller KM, Jauk VC, Subramaniam A.  PMID: 30396229 
OBJECTIVE: We sought to evaluate differences in pregnancy outcomes following early amniotomy in women with class III obesity (body mass index ≥40 kg/m2) undergoing induction of labor. STUDY DESIGN: This is a retrospective cohort study of women with class III obesity undergoing term induction of labor from January 2007 to February 2013. Early amniotomy was defined as artificial membrane rupture at less than 4 cm cervical dilation. The primary outcome was cesarean delivery. Secondary outcomes included length of labor, a maternal morbidity composite, and a neonatal morbidity composite. A subgroup analysis examined the effect of parity. Multivariable logistic regression was used to adjust for covariates. RESULTS: Of 285 women meeting inclusion criteria, 107 (37.5%) underwent early amniotomy and 178 (62.5%) underwent late amniotomy. Early amniotomy was associated with cesarean delivery after multivariable adjustments (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.05; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.21-3.47). There were no significant differences in length of labor or maternal and neonatal morbidity between groups. When stratified by parity, early amniotomy was associated with increased cesarean delivery (aOR, 3.10; 95% CI, 1.47-6.58) only in nulliparous women. CONCLUSION: Early amniotomy among class III obese women, especially nulliparous women, undergoing labor induction may be associated with an increased risk of cesarean delivery.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Hospitals with Midwives on Staff Have Better Outcomes

Here are two recent studies showing that hospitals with midwives and doctors practicing together ("interprofessional" centers) have better outcomes than hospitals with only doctors. One study is on first-time mothers (nulliparous), and the other study is on women who have given birth before (multiparous), to separate out the possible effects of parity.

In first-time mothers, women were much less likely to be induced or have oxytocin augmentation of labor in interprofessional/collaborative centers. The cesarean rate was 12% lower in interprofessional centers too.

For multiparous mothers (multips), women were again much less likely to be induced or have augmentation of labor in interprofessional centers. The first-time cesarean rate was 36% lower, and the Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) rate was 31% higher than in institutions with only doctors. Neonatal outcomes were similar between the two types of centers.

The implication here is that not only do midwives lower the rates of interventions without endangering outcomes, they also influence the hospital culture in a positive way. Doctors who work with midwives tend to be more flexible about interventions, less likely to push a cesarean without need, and more likely to support VBACs.

If you are considering a hospital birth, try to choose a hospital with both doctors and midwives on staff, one with low overall cesarean rates, and strongly consider hiring a doula for professional labor support. Most women can safely be attended by a midwife, so make that your first choice if you can. If a risk comes up that means that you need to see an OB or high-risk maternal fetal medicine (MFM) specialist, the midwife will refer you to one, probably one that is supportive of the parents' birth wishes whenever conditions allow.


Birth. 2018 Nov 11. doi: 10.1111/birt.12407. [Epub ahead of print] Midwifery presence in United States medical centers and labor care and birth outcomes among low-risk nulliparous women: A Consortium on Safe Labor study. Neal JL, Carlson NS, Phillippi JC, Tilden EL, Smith DC, Breman RB, Dietrich MS, Lowe NK. PMID: 30417436
...Our objective was to compare labor processes and outcomes for low-risk nulliparous women birthing in United States medical centers with interprofessional care (midwives and physicians) versus noninterprofessional care (physicians only). METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study using Consortium on Safe Labor data from low-risk nulliparous women who birthed in interprofessional (n = 7393) or noninterprofessional centers (n = 6982). .. women at interprofessional medical centers, compared with women at noninterprofessional centers, were 74% less likely to undergo labor induction (risk ratio [RR] 0.26; 95% CI 0.24-0.29) and 75% less likely to have oxytocin augmentation (RR 0.25; 95% CI 0.22-0.29). The cesarean birth rate was 12% lower at interprofessional centers (RR 0.88; 95% CI 0.79-0.98). Adverse neonatal outcomes occurred in only 0.3% of births and were thus too rare to be modeled. CONCLUSIONS: The care processes and birth outcomes at interprofessional and noninterprofessional medical centers differed significantly. Nulliparous women receiving care at interprofessional centers were less likely to experience induction, oxytocin augmentation, and cesarean than women at noninterprofessional centers. Labor care and birth outcome differences between interprofessional and noninterprofessional centers may be the result of the presence of midwives and interprofessional collaboration, organizational culture, or both.
Birth. 2018 Nov 9. doi: 10.1111/birt.12405. [Epub ahead of print] Influence of midwifery presence in United States centers on labor care and outcomes of low-risk parous women: A Consortium on Safe Labor study. Carlson NS, Neal JL, Tilden EL, Smith DC, Breman RB, Lowe NK, Dietrich MS, Phillippi JC. PMID: 30414200
...We sought to use national United States data to analyze the association between midwifery presence in maternity care teams and the birth processes and outcomes of low-risk parous women. METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study using Consortium on Safe Labor data from low-risk parous women in either interprofessional care (n = 12 125) or noninterprofessional care centers (n = 8996). .. women at interprofessional centers, compared with women at noninterprofessional centers, were 85% less likely to have labor induced (risk ratio [RR] 0.15; 95% CI 0.14-0.17). The risk for primary cesarean birth among low-risk parous women was 36% lower at interprofessional centers (RR 0.64; 95% CI 00.52-0.79), whereas the likelihood of vaginal birth after cesarean for this population was 31% higher (RR 1.31; 95% CI 1.10-1.56). There were no significant differences in neonatal outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: Parous women have significantly higher rates of vaginal birth, including vaginal birth after cesarean, and lower likelihood of labor induction when cared for in centers with midwives. Our findings are consistent with smaller analyses of midwifery practice and support integrated, team-based models of perinatal care to improve maternal outcomes.