Posts

What Are You Wearing to PPROM?

When you hear the word prom, your mind immediately goes to dresses, dancing, and corsages—those awkward high school days when who your prom date was felt as important as who was running for president. And while we would love to relive what we wore and who we wore it with, the PPROM we are here to discuss is premature preterm rupture of membranes (a.k.a. breaking your water before you’re in labor and way before your due date!).

Before we delve into the details of PPROM, let’s take a step back. From the moment of implantation, your plus one spends his or her days and nights swimming in a pool. This pool is in your uterus and is called the amniotic sac. When your water breaks, be it at six months or nine months, it signifies that the amniotic sac has opened and your amniotic fluid (a.k.a. water) is leaking. When this happens at or around your due date, it’s game on. Pack your bags; let’s go have a baby!

And while there is excitement (#babyontheway), there is generally no cause for concern. However, when your water breaks before you have reached the full-term mark (37 weeks), we put on a full-court press to stop things from moving any further. And depending just how early in pregnancy you are, we may pull out all the stops to stop labor from progressing. Preterm delivery can be dangerous: think lung problems, brain problems, GI problems, and beyond. That’s why we will do our very best to stop it.

Because of the what-ifs and the what-cans that often follow premature babies, women with PPROM can anticipate a lot of attention. You, your uterus, and your fetus will take center stage on the labor floor, which will become your new home until the baby is born. And depending on how things go (Do you develop an infection? Does your baby appear to be in distress? Have you reached a safe gestational age for delivery?), the curtain may not fall for several weeks. In short, our goal is to keep you pregnant for as long as we safely can. When it comes to fetal development, days matter. Although the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) have come a long way, there is no better home for a developing baby than in your womb.

Why your uterus decides to go to PPROM earlier than it should is often unknown. While most cases occur because of an underlying infection, in many cases, we aren’t sure what set the system into motion. However, given that infection is the no. 1 culprit, we will routinely start antibiotics to treat a potential infection and to hold off what might come next (a.k.a. full-blown labor). We will also keep a close eye on your temperature, your white blood cell count, and your baby’s heart rate to make sure that an infection is not arising or, if already present, getting worse. Additionally, if the PPROM occurred at less than about 34 to 36 weeks, your OB/GYN will administer a dose of steroids to help your baby’s lungs reach maturity.

Many of us have had many water-breaking false alarms during pregnancy. The kind when you realize, “Oops, I just peed on myself.” And while it can be hard to distinguish amniotic fluid from urine (for the non-OB/GYNs amongst us), when symptoms like cramping, pressure, and bleeding are present, it is usually the former.

However, the only way to know is to go (we purposely made that rhyme so it sticks in your head!). Going to your OB’s office or the labor floor is the only reliable way to know exactly what that liquid is. And while no one wants to be the boy (or girl) who cried wolf, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

The good news is that most of us won’t show up for the prom early. In fact, only about 3% of all pregnancies in the US are complicated by PPROM. However, women with a previous PPROM are at increased risk for another PPROM. To avoid an encore performance in your next pregnancy, your care might be transferred to a high-risk OB. Such individuals are specifically trained to take care of women with previous pregnancy complications. Furthermore, they may suggest taking weekly progesterone injections, starting at 16 weeks of pregnancy and twice-monthly cervical length checks to reduce the chance of the preterm delivery happening again.

Additionally, if fertility treatments are being used in the future, we strongly recommend that your doctor employ all and any techniques to reduce the risk of multiple gestations. After all, if your uterus had a hard time making it to the end with one, why stress the system with two?

The good news is that while your courtship (a.k.a. pregnancy) may be cut short, the “prom” usually ends on a high note. With early attention, immediate treatment, and a team approach (OB, pediatricians, nurses, and support staff), most babies born following PPROM will do great. And not unlike the prom that they will attend nearly 17 years down the road, while their time in the NICU will be beyond stressful for us as parents and family members, most “kings” and “queens” leave the PPROM none the wiser.

Welcome to parenthood!

Heads or Tails: What to Do When a Baby Is Breech

Surviving OB/GYN residency is like surviving boot camp. Most of the days blur together, and when you reflect on your days and nights, you can’t believe that you actually survived it. And while you couldn’t imagine doing anything else, you also couldn’t imagine doing it all over again. Along the way, down in the trenches, you make some amazing friends, meet some amazing patients, and learn the most amazing things (how to deliver babies!). There are certain practices and procedures that are drilled into your head so many times, you could repeat them in your sleep. One such practice is checking the “presenting part” on every woman admitted to the labor floor. If this part is not a head and actually a butt or a leg, you’d better move your butt back to the operating room for a C-section, ASAP!

What is a “presenting part”? Oh hello, Doctor, I am Tommy the Tush and would like to present myself to you? Sort of, but not really. The presenting part is the anatomical part of the fetus that is leading (a.k.a. closest to the pelvic inlet of the birth canal). Most babies are going to present head first, or in OB language, cephalic. When the butt or feet come first, we call this a breech presentation. Occasionally, your child can give us the cold shoulder and present with an arm, the shoulder, or the trunk. We call this a shoulder presentation. A baby that is cephalic is most often vertex, which means the crown of the head is first. This is the easiest, most common, and ideal presentation for a vaginal delivery.

Sometimes, although a baby is cephalic he or she is not vertex; a baby can be face, chin, or even brow first. Such cephalic but not vertex presentations can be challenging. Although in some circumstances, they can be delivered vaginally, they can also require a C-section. However, of all the crazy positions a kid can get themselves into, a breech is the most common and the one that shouts “C-section” the loudest and the fastest to most modern OB/GYNs. While it’s usually just a flip of the coin for whose baby will be breech and whose will not, there are some risk factors for a breech presentation: the shape of your uterus, the position of your placenta, low amniotic fluid volume, or a previous breech baby.

Old-school OB/GYNs were no joke—they could deliver a kid headfirst, feet first, hand first, or tush first. Rotating, twisting, and rearranging the presenting part was their every day. However, because data demonstrated that breech babies who were delivered vaginally had a worse outcome after they were born, these practices fell out of favor. They were performed infrequently, and just like anything you do, without practice, there goes performance. Therefore, while the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (the governing body of our specialty) does not “outlaw” vaginal delivery for a breech baby, they make a strong statement about which obstetricians should be allowed to attempt such a procedure. They explicitly state that delivery mode (vaginal versus C-section) should depend on the experience of the OB.

If your doctor feels comfortable going for it based on his or her experience, it should only be performed in a hospital that has a specific protocol specifying how this thing should go down (or out). Women who are game to try must have a clear understanding of the potentially increased risk associated with stepping up to the plate.

Why have times and opinions on vaginal breech deliveries changed more radically than our wardrobes? Because in 2000 a large international trial called the Term Breech Trial was performed. In this study, they compared how babies who were breech did following a planned C-section vs. a planned vaginal delivery. And what they found was so powerful that you have a better chance of finding a can of Tab than an OB/GYN who will perform an elective vaginal delivery for a breech baby. Mortality (both during and after delivery) and serious morbidity (seriously bad things happening) were significantly lower in the planned C-section group as compared to the planned vaginal delivery group. The findings in this study gave the red light to most OBs offering planned vaginal deliveries for breech singleton babies.

It’s important to mention that twins are a whole different ballgame and having two on your team will let you enter the vaginal delivery for a breech baby ballpark. Here are the rules…if twin A (the twin that will be delivered first) is head down and twin B (the twin that will be delivered second) is head up (breech) AND twin A is larger than twin B, let’s play ball. You can attempt a vaginal breech delivery for the second twin, a.k.a. twin B.

Before you get all bummed about your baby’s current position, take a deep breath. Most babies move all over their roomy apartment (your uterus) for the first five to six months of pregnancy. By the late second trimester, most babies will be head down and stay head down. In fact, only about 3–4% of babies will be breech by the end of their pregnancy. Your OB will check your baby’s position around 34-36 weeks. If your little one is head up, this is the time to talk about what can be done medically to turn things around. An external cephalic version (ECV) is a procedure that is often offered to women with breech babies who would like to attempt a vaginal delivery. It is usually performed at about 37 weeks. We wait until the last minute for two reasons:

First, we want to give your stubborn one as much time as possible to make the move for themselves, and second, if we are successful at moving the baby into the head-down position, we don’t want them to flip back up! Most women are candidates for an ECV, and while it won’t work on everyone, unless you need a C-section for another reason, you can consider an ECV. Women who have had other children, have a posterior placenta, and have a good amount of amniotic fluid are more likely to have success with the procedure. All that pushing, poking, and turning works about 50% of the time. The average success rate is reported in the medical literature at 58%, with a range of 35–86%. Some doctors may offer pain medication and muscle/uterus relaxers to not only make the procedure more pleasant but also increase the chance that it works.

However, you should know the procedure is not without risk. The baby may not like all the poking and prodding, and therefore, heart rate monitoring should be performed during and after the procedure. In some rare cases, an emergency C-section may be needed if the baby is really unhappy with the ECV attempt. We strongly recommend the ECV only be performed on a labor and delivery ward where actions can be taken in the event of an emergency.

Other non-Western medicine tricks include maternal position (forward leaning inversions, headstands, pelvic thrust), acupuncture, and moxibustion. The latter is a technique whereby an herbal (moxa stick) is burnt on an acupuncture point on the body. If your baby just won’t see the light, no matter how many tricks and methods you and your OB employ, don’t sweat it. C-sections can ensure your headstrong child enters the world safely on his or her own two feet!

Epidurals, Episiotomies, and Elective C-Sections: What Are the Essentials for a Good Labor?

From the moment you pee on the stick and see the two lines, the smiley face, or the word pregnant, your mind starts to run wild. Is this for real? Will it be good? Could this really be happening? After dropping about fifty more bucks at the drugstore by taking another three to four tests to confirm what the first showed (trust us, we’ve been there!), the idea of pregnancy and motherhood begins to settle in.

Through deep breaths and calming thoughts, you start to envision what the next nine months will look like. Cravings, nausea, fatigue (sometimes extreme), bloating, spider veins, acne, back pain, and maternity clothes…bring it on! And although you can handle almost any of pregnancy’s curve balls—and there are many—the unknown surrounding how that baby will actually make his or her entrance into this world is probably the most nerve racking. Will there be endless hours of pain where you spend every contraction cursing your labor team (gotta love the movies!), or will it be a peaceful few hours rocking back and forth to the iPod playlist you carefully selected? Whichever it winds up being, you can almost be sure it won’t be what you imagined. It will deviate from your birth plan or your non-birth plan, no matter how hard you will it not to.

Amidst all the unattractive parts of pregnancy, there will be the most attractive things you have ever experienced. You will feel your baby kick. You will listen to your baby’s heartbeat, and you will watch your baby grow. You will think a lot about your future, both immediate and distant, and try to imagine what your days, nights, and years will look like. (Spoiler: the nights will be long, and the sleep, short!) While you can’t know when or how everything will happen during labor, you can take those sleepless nights preparing for a variety of possibilities. By educating yourself (through reputable sources—shout out to Truly, MD!) and talking to your doctor or midwife, you can prepare yourself for what might come. There is a lot to learn and a lot to consider, so we will give you the abridged version.

Epidurals are not your enemy; in fact, they are sort of your fair-weather best friend. (Labor isn’t so long!) Despite all the pros, unfortunately, for some reason there is a lot of negative hype around epidurals, such as:

  • They will cause a C-section.
  • They will hurt your baby.
  • They will cause permanent back pain.

These are simply not true. While epidurals have been demonstrated to increase the second stage of labor (a.k.a. how long it takes you to push that kid out) and increase a woman’s need for labor augmentation (Pitocin), they have not clearly been linked to increased C-sections.

Data show that timing may be the issue, and getting your epidural too early (defined as < 4cm) may be what increases the risk of a C-section. So while we will do our best to coach you through those early contractions sans an epidural, in our opinion, next to the pill, epidurals may be medicine’s best gift to women. Think of any other medical situation where it would be okay for a woman to have intense pain and no pain control. We can’t think of one! So don’t try to be a hero. If the pain is too much, it’s okay to cry mercy. We promise this doesn’t make you a failure. While pain-free labor seems pretty amazing, we would be remiss not to mention that there are some negative side effects with epidurals (headache, temporary weakness/numbness, fever, low blood pressure, rash). However, in general epidurals are incredibly safe and in our opinion a total lifesaver!

Hot topic #2 on the L&D floor. Put your scissors away, because episiotomies (a cut along the perineum to increase space) are no longer standard practice. The routine use of episiotomies is sort of an old-school practice (reference to it can be found in the medical literature for over 300 years!). Historically, it was done to help expedite the pushing process, more space presumably equaling more speed. It was also thought to decrease the incidence of bad tears and future leakage (a.k.a. your dependence on Depends!). But the studies demonstrated that the proof was missing from the pudding. Most evidence showed that the benefits of routine episiotomies were sparse and in more of doctors’ anecdotal experiences (let me tell you about what I’ve seen!) more than evidence-based. Medicine moves faster than a NASCAR racer in the final lap of the Daytona 500; research is the fuel driving the process. Routine episiotomies are out of gas; restricted use is preferred and is the current practice.

Zodiac signs, numbers, days of the week, and months are all important. I mean, if you deliver a Taurus as opposed to an Aries you could be up against a bull versus a ram. But despite your love of certain signs, elective anything when it comes to labor should be carefully considered. Scheduling C-sections and deliveries to fit between scheduled appointments, commitments, and important events has become a popular trend. The “Cesarean delivery on maternal request” (the PC way to say “no medical reason to go under the knife”) encompasses about 2.5% of all births in this country (about 1.3 million births per year). Simply stated, if this is what you want you are clearly not alone. But before you go under the knife, we ask you to consider the potential downsides of this seemingly benign procedure.

While the most common surgical procedure performed on women in the US is a C-section, they are most certainly not risk-free. A C-section is still surgery. You will be in the hospital longer; your baby has a higher chance of respiratory problems. Squeezing through the birth canal squeezes the fluid out of the lungs, while taking the “easy way out” does not allow the fluid to come out, and you are at higher risk of problems in your next pregnancy. Think of it this way: when you fall and cut your knee, you usually get a scab. The area heals, but often a scar remains. As long as it isn’t on your face, you can pretty much deal! Well, when a C-section is performed and the uterus is cut, it (just like your knee) will scab and eventually will heal. But even in the hands of the best OB, it is not uncommon for scar tissue to form on the uterus. Scar tissue on the uterus may be hard to see, but trust us, it is not a pretty sight. While cosmetically, you won’t have a problem (only your OB sees your uterus!), scar tissue can negatively affect your future pregnancies in a pretty big way. Placental implantation problems, uterine rupture, and even the need for a hysterectomy can all occur the next time around.

And in this case, the motto “The more, the better” does not apply. The more kids you have, the more C-sections you will likely need and the worse the situation can become. A planned “C” will decrease your urinary leakage (cough, sneeze, laugh, oops!) in the first year after delivery, but after that, the playing fields between elective C-section and vaginal delivery are pretty much equal. (Basically, we all will be peeing on ourselves at the same rate.) So while it seems simpler, cleaner, and easier, we again remind you that it is surgery, and surgery has risks. Think before you sign up. Read, ask, consider, and investigate.

Flashing alert…we are talking about the elective-not-in-labor C-section, NOT the “I’ve-been-in-labor-for-24-hours-and-pushing-for-four,-and-this-kid-won’t-come-out C-section!” Or this baby is breech and won’t turn C-section.  Trust us, we are not knocking C-sections or those who have them; being awake while somebody is operating on your belly is more than admirable. If you wind up needing a C-section, don’t sweat it. You are no less of a woman, a mom, or a tough chick because you couldn’t push your baby out from below. It’s your voice, your body, and your baby. And as long as you are at least 39 weeks pregnant (one week before your due date or more), you can request an elective-not-in-labor-just-because-I-want-it C-section!

We’ve seen women who swore off epidurals like the devil begging for them and women who signed up for elective C-sections walk onto the labor floor 10cm and pushing. You just never know how it will go. Have an idea what you want—midwife or OB, doula or partner, C-section or vaginal delivery—but be ready to accept the exact opposite. You can print it 100 times, in color and in bold, but it likely won’t change what happens on that fateful morning, afternoon, or evening. In the words of our girl Elsa, “Let it go.” More important than the perfect story or the kickass photo ops is safety (yours and your baby’s).

Hours of painful contractions can blur your ability to reason. That’s what your trusty OB/midwife is there for. Sure, we’ve probably been up with you, but sleepless nights are par for the course for an obstetrician (coffee is our best friend!). Even the best of stories and plans often needs editing. And while chapters 1–10 may not be a New York Times bestseller, it’s the last page that matters most: a healthy mom and a healthy baby. The rest are just words on a page!