Quick hit: Barnev’s “Birthtrack” continuous labour monitoring system

Holy crap.

birthtrack. A CGI, cutaway/translucent woman lies in bed on her back with green drapes, and clamps on her cervix and the fetal head.

Rixa writes:

Well, the BirthTrack is here and being actively marketed to both doctors and mothers-to-be. It consists of an internal electrode that is screwed into the baby’s head and two ultrasound clips that attach to the cervix.


Judit [commenter]: “In the event of non-progressive labor, the diagnosis may be delayed” goodness gracious hurry up and make that diagnosis of non progressive labor quick before it starts to progress again!!!

BrandFocus talks about the marketing of this product directly to women. I can’t be the only one seeing the racialised subtext here.

Patient education is important business when it comes to introducing new technologies to wary consumers. Especially when those consumers are mothers ready to deliver! These new patient brochures for BirthTrack are offered in both English and Spanish translations.


From the product website’s Background section:

Fetal distress is present in only about 10% of births and is the cause of only 9% of Caesarean deliveries. Non-progressing labor is present in more than 30% of births, and is likewise the cause of many Caesarean deliveries. Fast progressing labor occurs in an estimated 5% of all deliveries. In such cases the physician often has insufficient advance notice to arrive at bedside of the laboring woman, to assist in the delivery.

“The cause”. I do not think that means what you think it means, Barnev.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism

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28 replies

  1. Screwed into the baby’s head? Eeeep.

  2. NORMAL LABOUR?????? How the crap would you have a normal labour with that going on? And since when did one third of births need intervention?
    and this: “Your partner will be able to be an active participant in the labor process as he/she follows the progress of the partogram on the screen next to your bed.”
    Because heaven forbid you should be giving the labouring woman any attention.
    But what can we expect from a country that thinks a “natural childbirth” is a birth sans drugs?

  3. I don’t know what’s up with the “one third need intervention” thing. The number that actually get major intervention is over 75%. The number that need major intervention, especially if they’re going in low-risk, is probably a fair bit lower than a third. So I’m guessing they’re going purely by actual C section rates in a particular place, and assuming that that means something about what women “need”.

  4. “If you’ll just lie back, Mrs Macintosh. I just want to clip these onto your cervix…”
    I DON’T think!

  5. The woman looks like something in Second Life. And so calm. I looked more like Linda Blair.

  6. Oh, and also, she looks about 13. Yes, eep.

  7. Holy crap. One step closer to dystopia. *pats Tigtog on the back*

    In such cases the physician often has insufficient advance notice to arrive at bedside of the laboring woman, to assist in the delivery.

    Thereby reducing the opportunities for even further unwanted procedures like episiotomies. Waah!

  8. ‘Screwed into baby’s head’ gives me the creeps!
    Remember, kids; babies aren’t real people unless they’re going to be aborted. It’s not like they can feel pain or anything from unnecessary things we might want to do to them.

  9. Anyone care to point out the racialised context for the slow among us?

  10. “The number that need major intervention, especially if they’re going in low-risk, is probably a fair bit lower than a third.”
    I reckon you could use Ina May Gaskin’s statistics as a measure of how many actually NEED intervention – she has a neonatal mortality rate of 0.39% (not including major abnormalities incompatible with life, but including transferred/’risked out’ patients) and a maternal mortality rate of 0%, which are outstanding results.
    Let’s see – births completed at home – 95. 1%
    c-sections – 1.4%
    forceps – 0.5%
    vacuum extractor – 0.05%
    postpartum hemorrhage 1.8%
    The stats are from over 2,000 births. Rate of neccessary major interventions would therefore look like less than 4%, not 30% and certainly nothing like 75%.
    There is no evidence that continuuous fetal monitoring is effective at anything other than increasing c-section rates. It doesn’t save mothers or babies. I can’t believe they want to introduce a new, more intrusive method of monitoring that will further disrupt the physiological process of birth with no clear and proven benefits.
    They might as well just tell women “your bodies don’t work properly”.

  11. Gah! I think that has now removed any smidgen of doubt that my next birth will be at home unless there is dire medical emergency. Seriously, how on earth do the people developing this crap think we got through as many generations as we did before medical technology came to ‘save’ us?

  12. Ness, they claim that natural birth killed women and the children. Try telling people that most of these medical interventions are unnecessary and you get a chorus of “But women used to die, all the time, every time they had a baby, filthy ignorant midwives, doctors save women, etc”. They claim that when birth moved the hospitals it became safer – the evidence actually directly contradicts this. Improved nutrition and antibiotics are the two things that have made the biggest difference to neonatal and maternal mortality rates, not birth in hospital.

  13. Ah yes, I love that argument Rebekka, it’s such a steaming heap isn’t it? You’d think that professionals in a field would actually research the history of that field and have correct stats rather than spouting rubbish hearsay everywhere. Sure, our maternal and foetal mortality rate may be lower now (a bit) but not hugely so and the morbidity rate has skyrocketed in the last few centuries – how exactly has medical technology improved things again?
    *sigh* hopefully one day enough women will stand up for themselves and the obstetric profession can be relegated back to what it should be – help for medical problems and assistance in emergencies!

  14. Total steaming heap. I’m all for doctors and medicine, in emergencies, but most doctors have never even seen a normal, physiological birth – how would they have any idea how to facilitate one?

  15. Ah the sweet, calm, docile, cooperative patient. SHE doesn’t mind being in an institution to give birth. SHE doesn’t mind wearing hospital garb instead of her own clothes. SHE doesn’t have silly ideas about mobilising and using gravity instead of reclining calmly on the bed, gratefully awaiting expert advice. SHE doesn’t mind probes in her privates and screws on her baby’s head.
    So why would any other reasonable, rational woman mind? If they do mind, it’s because they are not nice good girls like THIS paragon.

  16. This shit scares me to no end. Yeesh. Needles and wires and crap stuck up in you? *shudders*
    Give me midwives and a rope to pull on. Srsly. Give me people who give a damn about what I want and won’t tell me I can’t eat or drink. This looks more like a torture device than medical “assistance”.

  17. Just a small shout out in favour of the great obstetricians out there who work with mothers and not on them, and with midwives and not against them. They do exist. I had a private obs, delivered in my own clothes (actually mostly out of them) in a birth centre with not a single machine that goes ping. Just that lovely one that goes rattly when the gas runs low. 🙂
    This sort of horror has no right to be allowed to be brought into being and play on people’s fears. Yes, emergency caesars happen. And they work when they are needed. A screw in the baby’s head – *shudder* – is beyond unnecessary.

  18. Ummm, can anyone point me to the bit that says the sensor is screwed into the baby’s head? I just can’t imagine that happening as, you know, fontanelles = not much bone to screw into? That said, I can’t imagine how they would make anything stick with all the vernix covering the scalp so maybe they have to.
    Maybe I just shouldn’t think about it any more.
    Emmas last blog post..Anyone can see me in my tit-sling, but only friends can see my Profile.

  19. A screw directly into the fetal scalp is exactly how fetal scalp electrodes have been attached for continuous monitoring for many years. The new part here is the cervical clamps, the continuous partogram, the rhetoric (well, not so new), and the direct-to-woman marketing.
    Women are typically told that the electrode is “gently rotated” onto the scalp, or even that it “attaches like velcro”.
    Off the top of my head and on a very very quick google, risks of scalp electrode monitoring include all the risks of artificial membrane rupture (pain, altering the course of labour, cord prolapse, infection, etc), the risks of electrode attachment (fetal and maternal pain, infection including abscess or necrotising fasciitis of the scalp, or skull osteomyelitis, or brain abscess, or septicaemia or herpes inoculation with disseminated infection, cerebrospinal fluid leak), and of course the risks of unnecessary intervention following interpretation and/or misinterpretation of the trace.
    The direct complications may be uncommon, but in the absence of evidence in favour of continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM), any incidence of major complications is difficult to justify. The Cochrane Task Force has found that EFM is associated with raised risks of C section (66% increase) and instrumental delivery as well as the infection risk, without improvement in Apgar scores, SCU admissions, or perinatal death. There seemed to be a lower incidence of neonatal seizures in the CEFM group, but without changes in SCU admissions, death, CP, or Apgar scores, it’s hard to know the significance of this. (Also, the largest trial was done in a very interventionist environment, so there was no comparison with low-intervention labour.)
    It’s amazing that an invasive procedure with so little to recommend it has become so routine. (Well, I guess this shouldn’t be amazing within obstetrics, where informed choice is virtually never encouraged, but there it is.)
    And you still get “information” webpages like this one, that says “There are no known risks associated with this test.”

  20. Aargh, no known risks indeed! I have just sent them an email asking them to correct this obvious misinformation.

  21. Thanks Lauredhel. I was sooo hoping it wasn’t true! I suppose it wasn’t something I had to worry about in my labours.

  22. The whole thing seems so bizarre to me that I find it hard to believe it’s not a spoof.
    Sheesh – the Guinness ad, the LP thread, and now this. Not a happy day on HAT. One of those days when I hold my head in my heads and think, “When will they ever, ever, just get it.”
    Deborahs last blog post..Moments of enculturation (3)

  23. When I was having my two “normal” births in an ordinary maternal hospital, there was some foetal monitoring going on. How was that done? can anyone tell me? I’m sure if anyone had poked through my cervix and screwed somehting onto my babies’ skulls I’d remember it, technically challenged although I am!

  24. Helen: Monitoring the fetal heartbeat might be done intermittently, with a stethoscope or fetoscope (the big trumpet thing) or Doppler (handheld electronic device); or continuously either externally (two big belts) or internally (fetal scalp electrode).

  25. “cervical clamps”?!
    Yikes, it would have to be one hell of a pamphlet to explain why they would be necessary. Ok your cervix is going to be doing its darnest to open right up for birth and it going to be unlike anything you’ve ever felt..but please hold still while we apply this clamp! OMG and WFT all at once!

  26. Helen:

    The woman looks like something in Second Life. […] Oh, and also, she looks about 13.

    With breast implants that point at the ceiling.

  27. As a woman who had a precipitous labor (and a hospital one at that), I can tell you that any doctor who tried to use THAT to determine whether I was having a preciptous labor needs more help than any machine could offer.
    For the record, my midwife came running in as my son was crowning. Funny how she didn’t seem concerned about having to manage my labor!
    spingirls last blog post..Just Another Cog in the Baby-Birthing Machine

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