The author of “Pushed” on Early Elective Births

Following up on last week’s post on the Booby Trap of an early elective birth, we asked Jennifer Block, author of Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, to answer some questions on this topic.

Pushed shines a bright light on the state of birth in the U.S., from the record-high cesarean birth rate to the legal obstacles to midwifery.  It moves seamlessly from individual experience to research and policy, making the truth about birth accessible without sacrificing any rigor.  I was particularly amazed at some of the revealing quotes Jennifer Block was able to get.  Whether you’re planning a birth or want to change the health care system, you’ll find this a gripping read.

What’s driving the increase in early elective births?  What incentives are at play that make it increasingly likely that doctors will push an early birth without medical reason?

It’s so easy to blame women. A couple years ago a study came out showing the detrimental effects of late preterm birth on infants, and the headlines went something like, “women needlessly put babies at risk by demanding earlier delivery.”  But I would argue that women are not driving medical trends. It is physicians’ and midwives’ responsibility to practice good, evidence-based medicine and to educate their patients. Our system unfortunately does not provide incentives for practicing this way. The system rewards intervention, scheduled inductions and scheduled cesareans (less time for the same insurance reimbursement, less malpractice liablity, less unpredictability). If a woman comes in near her due date complaining that she’s uncomfortable, asking “can’t you just induce me?” and the provider “gives the customer what she wants” rather than taking the time to educate her about why it’s better for both her and her baby if they wait for labor to begin on its own, then the provider has the cover of “patient request” but the intervention is ultimately his responsibility.

What, in your view, are the top three things moms can do to avoid an early elective birth?

Women can be fully educated and know intellectually that 97% of the time, their body knows best (97% of women will go into labor by 42 weeks gestation), but it’s still really difficult for women to argue with a provider who’s telling them their baby might be getting too big, or their amniotic fluid looks low, or they’re past 41 weeks, or whatever the reason. So I think the best thing a woman can do is to choose a provider whose values line up with hers, who values spontaneous labor and will only suggest an induction for very solid, evidence-based reasons (the above are not). And women who have had previous cesarean sections should find a provider willing to support a vaginal birth after cesarean with the above criteria.

If a mom is being “pushed” into an early elective birth by her provider, what can she do?

Women, like all adult patients, always have the right to take part in their health care decisions, and to disagree with their providers, and even to refuse treatment. Women can ask questions like, “Am I OK? Is my baby OK? If so, then I’d like to…” This isn’t easy, and there have been scary cases where women are threatened with court orders and losing custody of their children for not following medical orders. That’s totally wrong and unconstitutional, but it does happen. Which is why it’s so so important that women really listen to their gut during pregnancy and find a provider they trust, who they know will suggest what’s best and safest for them and their babies, not what’s best and safest for the hospital, the malpractice insurer or anyone else.

Brought to you by Hadley Stilwell & A Mother’s Boutique!



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6 Comments | Last revised on 06/21/2011


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6 Responses to The author of “Pushed” on Early Elective Births

  1. Katrina says:

    I don’t see where to enter to win the book?

  2. Ingrid says:

    One of our OBs in town would start off his first consultation with his patients at 28 weeks (until then they saw the nurse) with: “and when are we going to have this baby?”

    Not an OB I would even consider, even though his patients rave about him. He has been asked to stop all his unneeded inductions. Our town is small but rather progressive, on birthing. We tried to have my third baby as a VBAC after my OB brought up that we should try for one if at all possible. My first was vaginal, the second a c-section and #3 ended up another c-section, but out of need

  3. This scared me bad. My OB said he would induce before 42 weeks. He wanted me to pick a date at my 38th week appointment. I refused. I went into labor five days later, but I was terrified that I wouldn’t and I felt like I had no where to turn. I see people having labor induced on their due dates “because they couldnt wait”. I was always afraid that anything forced was going to be too soon!

    • AHodges says:

      How awful that your doctor made you feel that way. I don’t understand why anyone would go into obstetrics if they had such a lack of respect for the birth process.

      I’ve read that a lot of women are fudging the dates a bit at the beginning of pregnancy so they will have more time at the end before the doctor starts talking about induction. It’s a sad state of affairs when women have to lie to their doctors to get a natural birth.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I am 36 weeks now and am switching drs. I’ll be 37 weeks when I see the new one for the first time. I was tired of having to explain my birth plan and basically being told that they had protocols that needed to be followed and they were going to do what was best in their opinion regardless of what I wanted. I feel like drs scare women into believing that natural childbirth just isn’t possible anymore. How did we survive as a species if it wasn’t? I’m a little nervous about switching drs so late but Im glad I am. Don’t be afraid to switch drs no matter how rude they might be to you about it. Ask around. It might be hard to find drs who support natural childbirth but they are out there.

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