“Carmaggedon” birth story?

My daughter Nora lives in Los Angeles, Cal., so I am aware that Angelenos are so dreading the shutdown of 10 miles of the I-405 expressway there for road work this weekend they have dubbed the event "Carmageddon."

Nora is going to walk or take buses as much as she can this weekend, and being from Chicago, she is comfortable with those activities. But many Angelenos are famously more car-bound than she is.

Carmageddon

Los Angeles commuter traffic

Crosstown airline flights between the suburbs of Long Beach and Burbank are sold out this weekend and the police department is asking celebrities to urge their Twitter followers to avoid the expressway and, indeed, to drive in the city as little as possible.

But Jenny Benjamin, writing in The Stir today, brings up an interesting and, to her and other expectant moms, urgent point: What happens if your baby decides to be born in L.A. this weekend?

Pregnant with twins, less than two weeks shy of her due date, a 30-minute drive away ("without traffic") from the hospital she carefully chose for its neonatal intensive care unit, Benjamin considers the possibility of an early labor and aks, "For the love of all things good and holy, what am I going to do?!?!"

Will her husband wind up delivering the twins (one of whom is in a transverse position) on the side of the road? Should she call an ambulance? "Ambulances aren't hovercrafts -- they're going to get stuck in the same traffic!" Benjamin notes.

Her doctor lives close to the hospital. "Good to know at least one of us will be able to get there," she writes.

"Aargh, it's times like this that I really wish that Segways had caught on!" Benjamin frets.

The best solution, she notes, is not to have the babies this weekend. "I have about as much control over that as I do the traffic," Benjamin writes. "Maybe I should see how much my husband knows about home birthing."

A closer look at birth malpractice cases

Everybody knows that obstetricians are one of the most-sued medical specialties, but nailing down the details on that truism can be difficult.

CRICO Strategies, an international firm that provides risk-management software to hospitals and insurances companies, last month released a "benchmarking report" on malpractice risks in obstetrics that helps fill out that sketchy picture.

The report looked at 800 obstetrics-related medical-liability suits filed between 2005 and 2009.

Families dealing with the death of a mother or child, a severely damaged infant, or some other effect of a childbirth gone awry most commonly charged "communication failures, judgment lapses, and faulty technique as the reasons behind their injuries and their malpractice cases," the report states.

Sixty-five percent of cases involved "high-severity injuries."

Across the board, about one in 1,000 births involves a "preventable adverse outcome," the report noted.

While those can occur throughout pregnancy and birth, most suits in the study concerned allegations that birth assistants had mismanaged labor and delivery, particularly the second stage of labor — the actual birth.

"Substandard clinical judgment" was the top complaint in the suits, accounting for 77 percent of claims. Most of the suits named an attending physician.

The most common reason for suing was "birth asphyxia," a potentially injurious lack of oxygen, which accounted for 27 percent of the suits, and the most common allegation was that of a "delay in treatment of fetal distress" (25 percent of claims involving small hospitals, 19 percent involving large ones).

Answers to why C-sections are on the rise

Why is the Cesarean rate so precipitously on the rise, from 21 percent of all American births in 1996 to 33.2 percent in 2007? The journal Obstetrics and Gynecology has the results of a new study that examines that question.

The Yale University Schools of Medicine and Public Health in New Haven, Conn., reacted to a spike in C-sections during births at Yale-New Haven Hospital between 2000 and 2002 by setting to work gathering comprehensive data on the 32,443 births that occurred there between 2003 and 2009, even while the hospital's C-section rate ballooned from 26 percent to 36.5 percent.

Not surprisingly, the study found that actual birth complications remained steady, while subjective judgments about the births changed.

The new study, presented at the February meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, looks at the decision-making on the part of individual doctors that drove that increase.

"In this study, we examined physician-documented indications for Cesarean delivery at a major urban academic medical center in Connecticut, a state with one of the largest rate increases in the nation, to determine which specific indications contributed to the increase in our Cesarean delivery rate over a seven-year period," the researchers wrote.

First-time mothers accounted for half of C-sections during the study.

Indications for Cesarean delivery included "nonreassuring fetal heart tracing," an interruption in dilation, more than one fetus, pre-eclampsia, an especially large baby (which begins to be a concern just shy of nine pounds), and the mother's expressed desire for a Cesarean, the study's authors reported.

Complications like breech presentations, an interruption in the baby's progress into the birth canal and cord prolapse  did not increase significantly over time, the study found.

Slow dilation and those unsatisfactory fetal heart rate reports displayed only slight increases over time but contributed to an outsize degree to the increase in C-sections, the study showed. Concern for the baby's well-being, based on fetal-heart monitoring, was the top indicator for a Cesarean section at Yale-New Haven Hospital during the period studied.

Maternal request, suspected macrosomia (a large baby), more than one fetus and pre-eclampsia also showed big annual increases as indications for Cesareans.

Interestingly, the C-section rate among patients of physicians in private practice was 33.2 percent. For "university patients," who received care from the hospital service's residents and faculty midwives, supervised by attending physicians, the rate was 25.6 percent. The rate for "high-risk" patients (whose care was provided by some of the same maternal-fetal specialists who supervised in the "university" cases) was 44.6 percent.

Fathers changed birth story — and parenting

Fathers who pushed to be included in their children's births beginning in the 1950s have brought real change to the modern birth, according to historian Judith Walzer Leavitt's 2009 book Make Room for Daddy.

Buoyed by changing perceptions of how men should function in society, fathers have created "unprecedented new roles for themselves in a traditionally women's event"  and have "helped to make hospitals more flexible in how they handled birth," Leavitt writes.

Dads' participation in birth has helped to break down the "mystique of modern medicine and further opened the world of obstetrics to lay participation and interpretation," she writes.

Fathers often report that witnessing a child's birth is one of the best experiences of their lives.

"It was better than any game I've played or any big hit I've had," said Ian Desmond, the Washington Nationals' shortstop who recently took advantage of Major League Baseball's new paternity leave to attend the birth of his son, Grayson.

However, the journey has not always been easy for men, who in their public lives often are far more in control than they feel attending the birth of one of their own children.

Leavitt quotes the writer Stephen Harrigan, who wrote in Reader's Digest in March, 1979, about attending the birth of his son. Before the birth, Harrigan worried that he would be no more than a spectator metaphorically holding out Gatorade to his wife, the "athlete who would finish the race."

Harrigan found the experience to be more profound and involving than he expected, but some other fathers feel "at sea, abandoned and out-of-control" at birth, Leavitt writes.

Some fathers cringe at the idea of watching their wives in pain or perhaps fear the experience will damage the desire they feel for their wives. Fathers attending birth are now so ubiquitous that a reluctant dad may well feel pressured to go.

Nevertheless, men's foray into the birth process, which may begin with their attending prenatal classes, has led to their increased participation in their families' lives and experiences, compared with those 1950s dads who began the process, Leavitt writes.

Dads who don't attend their children's birth lose a crucial opportunity, according to researcher Jessica Weiss, who goes so far as to say they risk having "missed the boat of shared parenting."

Home-birth share small but rising

A study released this week on home birth in America shows a substantial increase in the still very small numbers of women who are choosing to have home births.

The study, released online in Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, shows that of the 4.2 million births in the United States in 2008, 28,357 were home births. That is 2/3 of one percent of the total, but it represents a 20 percent increase, from 0.56 percent in 2004.

Non-Hispanic white women accounted for most of the growth, with an increase of 28 percent between 2004 and 2008. More than 1 percent of those women now have their births at home.

The study was based on United States birth-certificate data.