Postpartum Tubal Sterilization: Making the Case for Urgency

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Abstract

The parturient who requests postpartum sterilization has given consideration to and has made decisions regarding this aspect of her medical care long before her delivery. She arrives at parturition expecting the postpartum procedure to be performed as intended. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has reaffirmed its opinion that postpartum sterilization is an urgent procedure, owing to the safety and superior effectiveness of tubal sterilization via minilaparotomy in the immediate postpartum period, and the adverse consequences for mothers, babies, and society when the procedure is not actualized as desired and intended. In contrast, recent practice guidelines for obstetric anesthesia address anesthetic procedural aspects and short-term safety but overlook the long-term complications and considerations associated with failure to perform postpartum sterilization as planned. In practice, procedure completion rates are strikingly low, reportedly ranging from 31% to 52%. Reasons for failure to complete abound and include inadequate resources or inavailability of necessary personnel; obstetrician reluctance due to concerns for patient regret in younger women or medical comorbidities; barriers related to provision of obstetric care in a religiously affiliated hospital, or incomplete, improperly completed, or unavailable original federal consent forms among Medicaid-insured women. The federal requirement to wait 30 days after signing informed consent, and to retain the original signed document to be physically verified at time of the procedure, serves as a significant source of health care disparity for Medicaid-dependent mothers. This article reviews these larger issues of maternal health and comprehensive maternal care to broaden the anesthesiologist’s appreciation of major benefits and potential risks of postpartum sterilization, including long-term effects, to promote an evidence-based, informed, and proactive role in delivering equitable, safe, and optimal care for these patients.

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