The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new guidelines on global care standards throughout labor and immediately after childbirth aimed at reducing the use of needless and potentially harmful routine clinical and medical interventions.
“We want women to give birth in a safe environment with skilled birth attendants in well-equipped facilities. However, the increasing medicalization of normal childbirth processes are undermining a woman’s own capability to give birth and negatively impacting her birth experience,” said Princess Nothemba Simelela, the Assistant Director-General at the UN World Health Organization (WHO) for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents.
Worldwide, an estimated 140 million births take place every year and most of these occur without complications for women and their babies.
However, according to WHO, over the past 20 years, health practitioners have increased the use of interventions that were previously only used to avoid risks or treat complications, such as oxytocin infusion to speed up labor or caesarean sections. Studies show that a substantial proportion of healthy pregnant women undergo at least one clinical intervention during labor and birth.
“If labor is progressing normally, and the woman and her baby are in good condition, they do not need to receive additional interventions to accelerate labor,” added Dr. Simelela.
Based on 56 evidence-based recommendations, the new guidelines include having a companion of choice during labor and childbirth; ensuring respectful care and good communication between women and health providers; maintaining privacy and confidentiality; and allowing women to make decisions about their pain management, labor and birth positions and natural urge to push, among others.
Recognizing that every labor and childbirth is unique and that the duration of the active first stage of labor varies from one woman to another, the guidelines state that the previous benchmark for cervical dilation rate at 1 cm/hr during the active first stage of labor (as assessed by a partograph or chart used to document the course of a normal labor) may be “unrealistic” for some women and is inaccurate in identifying women at risk of adverse birth outcomes.
The guidelines emphasize that a slower cervical dilation rate alone should not be a routine indication for intervention to accelerate labor or expedite birth.
Furthermore, while most women want a natural labor and birth, they also acknowledge that birth can be an unpredictable and risky event and that close monitoring and sometimes medical interventions may be necessary.
When a medical intervention is wanted or needed, “the inclusion of women in making decisions about the care they receive is important to ensure that they meet their goal of a positive childbirth experience,” said Ian Askew, the head of WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research.
The UN agency also noted that with more women give birth in health facilities with skilled health professionals and timely referrals, they deserve better quality of care.
UN DAILY NEWS