Abdominal decompression was introduced by Professor Heyns in 1955. A short account of the apparatus and treatment is included here although it has not met with a great deal of favour in this country and its use is at present declining.
The Heyns decompression apparatus consists essentially of a hollow casing that surrounds the body from the chest to the thighs. Pressure inside the casing is reduced so that the atmospheric pressure on the anterior abdominal wall is reduced and this in turn reduces the pressure in the uterus. The alternate release and return of pressure is stated to promote the flow of blood through the maternal sinuses which should improve the circulation to the placenta and therefore the oxygen supply to the baby, aiding development of the more sophisticated brain cells towards the end of pregnancy. In fact it is very doubtful if decompression does this as there is little evidence that the oxygen supply to the foetus is improved.
It is also claimed that the reduction of atmospheric pressure and lifting of the anterior abdominal wall from the surface of the uterus may play a valuable part in labour and enable the uterus to contract and function more efficiently. It is doubtful if it does exert any significant influence upon the efficiency and length of labour although it is very likely that by learning to use the apparatus a woman will learn to relax, and also that the apparatus itself will tend to divert the woman’s attention away from the discomfort of any uterine contraction and thus help to obey the principles laid down by ‘natural childbirth’. Decompression during pregnancy is said to be a useful procedure in the prevention of pre-eclampsia but its beneficial action in preventing this condition has never been proved.
The four major advantages claimed as conferred by abdominal decompression are:
1 To assist the development of the baby before it is born by improving its oxygen supply.
2 To prevent the baby from harm during its birth by relieving pressure on its body.
3 To shorten the total time of the birth process.
4 To reduce the pain of childbirth. Abdominal decompression is also used in the treatment of pre-eclampsia and is said to reduce backache and fatigue and to produce a feeling of well-being.
It is also claimed that the babies whose mothers have been treated by decompression have higher I.Q.s than other children. This has never been proved satisfactorily.
There are no side effects even from the extensive use of abdominal decompression but it is inadvisable for a woman to use the apparatus if she is suffering from, or has suffered:
1 Any hernia on the abdominal wall
2 Gastric or duodenal ulcers
3 Active tuberculosis
4 Recent abdominal or thoracic surgery
5 Cardiac disease
6 Varicose veins of the vulva
7 Any bleeding during pregnancy.
If maximum benefit is to be obtained from abdominal decompression, it should be used daily or even twice daily during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy. Each daily treatment should normally last approximately 30 minutes, decompression being applied for 15 seconds every minute. The woman herself has control of the apparatus which is very easy to use and only a very short period of instruction is necessary.
Decompression during labour is applied during each uterine contraction. The progress of labour is measured in the normal way and decompression is discontinued at the onset of the second stage.
The very good results during pregnancy, labour and after delivery that were obtained by Professor Heyns and his unit in South Africa have not been satisfactorily repeated in Great Britain and although the abdominal decompression apparatus is marketed in this country obstetric practice as some obstetricians had complications in their patients immediately after the procedure.