Medical Monday: Are there really any low risk pregnancies ?

In today's post I report on some recently presented work which questions the validity of classifying pregnant women into either low risk or high risk groups. 

These categories have been important to women and their caregivers since they have used the information to determine the most appropriate site for delivery, from freestanding birth center, to community hospital to university medical center. 

But while Obstetricians have gone along with the use of the category " low risk", we know from anecdotal experience that ANY patient can unexpectedly have complications with out any warning or risk factors. A cross sectional investigation published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, February 7th, 2015, has shown us in precise numerical terms just how often this happens. 

Please note that in this study, those with no prenatal risk factors were classified as low risk. Those with one or more risk factors were classified as high risk. 

Here are their results: 

Of 10,458,616 pregnancies analyzed, 38% were identified as low risk, and 62 % as high risk. 

It turns out that 29% of those classified as low risk had unexpected complications. 

It is not surprising that high risk pregnancies had complications. It turns out that 57% percent of them did. However, 29%, almost a third of the low risk patients had complications. For certain outcomes, like use of vacuum, forceps, meconium and infection, so called low risk pregnancies had a higher incidence than those in the high risk group. 

If you look at all pregnancies and add the 62% who are high risk to begin with and the 29 % of the remaining low risk 38% group who ended up having complications despite their low risk designation, it adds up to 73% of the total group. 

So, according to this large study, 73% of all pregnant women can either be classified as high risk from the get go, or are low risk and going to have a complication. This 73% of all pregnant women are those that belong in the care of Obstetricians or Certified Nurse Midwives working in the hospital under the care of Obstetricians.

Here's the problem. While we can select out those in the high risk group for higher level hospital care, it is not so easy with those classified as low risk. When we consider the low risk group, who are over the third of the whole group, we know about a third of them will have complications. WE JUST DONT KNOW WHICH WOMEN THEY WILL BE. That is the problem. That is why, in my mind, all women deserve access to a high level of care in a congenial but fully equipped setting...the hospital. 

It is imperative that birth be congenial but even more critical that it be safe... 100% of the time. To achieve both does not require taking birth out of the hospital realm, instead it means transforming the hospital birth environment to be all that it needs to be.. comfortable, accommodating, beautiful, as well as fully equipped for any medical or surgical contingency. 

Here is the link to this current research: