Although interventions in childbirth are important in order to prevent neonatal and maternal morbidity and mortality, non-indicated use may cause avoidable harm.
Childbirth intervention rates were compared between twelve Dutch regions, using data from the
national perinatal birth register for 2010–2013. All single childbirths from 37 weeks’ gestation onwards were included. Primary outcomes were induction and augmentation of labour, pain medication, instrumental birth, caesarean section (prelabour, intrapartum) and paediatric involvement. Secondary outcomes were adverse neonatal and maternal outcomes. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to adjust for maternal characteristics. Associations
were expressed in Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients.
Most variation was found for type of pain medication and paediatric involvement. Epidural analgesia rates varied from between 12 and 38% (nulliparous) and from between 5 and 14% (multiparous women). These rates were negatively correlated with rates of other pharmacological pain relief, which varied from between 15 and 43% (nulliparous) and from between 10 and 27% (multiparous). Rates of paediatric involvement varied from between 37 and 60% (nulliparous) and
from between 26 and 43% (multiparous). For instrumental vaginal births, rates varied from between 16 and 19% (nulliparous) and from between 3 and 4% (multiparous). For intrapartum caesarean section, the variation was 13–15% and 5–6%, respectively. A positive correlation was found between intervention rates in midwife-led and obstetrician-led care at the onset of labour within the same region. Adverse neonatal and maternal outcomes were not lower in regions with higher intervention rates. Higher augmentation of labour rates correlated with higher rates of severe postpartum haemorrhage.
Regional variations in intervention rates, which cannot be explained by maternal characteristics, may indicate over- and underuse. The aim of this study is to explore regional variations in childbirth interventions in the Netherlands and their associations with interventions and adverse outcomes, controlled for maternal characteristics.
Most variation was found for type of pain medication and paediatric involvement, and least
for instrumental vaginal births and intrapartum caesarean sections. Care providers and policymakers should critically audit remarkable variations, since these may be unwarranted. Limited variation for some interventions may indicate consensus for their use. Further research should focus on variations in evidence-based interventions and indications for the use of interventions in childbirth.