ACOG issues less restrictive VBAC guidelines

Wow, Practice Bulletin No. 115, replacing No. 45 is a breath of fresh air.  No. 45 included the infamous “immediately available” phrase resulting in a fire of VBAC bans to rage around the country, but primarily in rural areas.  Surely No. 115 is in response to the NIH’s March 2010 VBAC conference and the VBAC Statement it produced.

In short, VBAC is a “safe and appropriate choice for most women” with one prior cesarean and for “some women” with two prior cesareans.  Being pregnant with twins, going over 40 weeks, having an unknown or low vertical scar, or suspecting a “big baby” should not prevent a woman from planning a VBAC (ACOG, 2010).

What follows is a brief overview of these new guidelines.

They express support for VBAC after one and two prior cesareans:

Attempting a VBAC is a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had a prior cesarean delivery including for some women who have had two previous cesareans.

They express support for VBAC with twins or unknown scars:

The College guidelines now clearly say that women with two previous low-transverse cesarean incisions, women carrying twins, and women with an unknown type of uterine scar are considered appropriate candidates for a TOLAC.

They say a Pitocin induction remains an option:

Induction of labor for maternal or fetal indications remains an option in women undergoing TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean…Misoprostol [Cytotec] should not be used for third trimester cervical ripening or labor induction in patients who have had a cesarean delivery or major uterine surgery.

They detail the risks that can come with multiple cesareans which are often not listed in your standard “informed consent” document:

[VBAC] may also help women avoid the possible future risks of having multiple cesareans such as hysterectomy, bowel and bladder injury, transfusion, infection, and abnormal placenta conditions (placenta previa and placenta accreta).

But what will have the most impact on the most women is the lifting of the “immediately available” recommendation turned requirement as suggested by the NIH VBAC Conference:

The [American] College [of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] maintains that a TOLAC is most safely undertaken where staff can immediately provide an emergency cesarean, but recognizes that such resources may not be universally available.

They acknowledged how the phrase “immediately available” in their last recommendation were used to support VBAC bans:

“Given the onerous medical liability climate for ob-gyns, interpretation of The College’s earlier guidelines led many hospitals to refuse allowing VBACs altogether,” said Dr. Waldman. “Our primary goal is to promote the safest environment for labor and delivery, not to restrict women’s access to VBAC.”

And they now support hospitals who do not meet the “immediately available” standard attending VBACs:

Women and their physicians may still make a plan for a TOLAC in situations where there may not be “immediately available” staff to handle emergencies, but it requires a thorough discussion of the local health care system, the available resources, and the potential for incremental risk.

Finally, they assert how women should not be force to have a repeat cesarean against their will and that women should be referred out to VBAC supportive practitioners if their current care provider would rather not attend a VBAC:

The College says that restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will if, for example, a woman in labor presents for care and declines a repeat cesarean delivery at a center that does not support TOLAC. On the other hand, if, during prenatal care, a physician is uncomfortable with a patient’s desire to undergo VBAC, it is appropriate to refer her to another physician or center.

Removing the “immediately available” standard while supporting VBAC with twins, after two prior cesareans, and with unknown scars is a huge step in the right direction.  It seems that the option of VBAC is now available to hundreds of thousands of women, many of whom, up to this point, were left with no choice at all.

Read the whole press release dated July 21, 2010: Ob-Gyns Issue Less Restrictive VBAC Guidelines.

Download the PDF: Practice Bulletin #115, “Vaginal Birth after Previous Cesarean Delivery,” is published in the August 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The College maintains that a TOLAC is most safely undertaken where staff can immediately provide an emergency cesarean, but recognizes that such resources may not be universally available. “Given the onerous medical liability climate for ob-gyns, interpretation of The College’s earlier guidelines led many hospitals to refuse allowing VBACs altogether,” said Dr. Waldman. “Our primary goal is to promote the safest environment for labor and delivery, not to restrict women’s access to VBAC.” Women and their physicians may still make a plan for a TOLAC in situations where there may not be “immediately available” staff to handle emergencies, but it requires a thorough discussion of the local health care system, the available resources, and the potential for incremental risk. “It is absolutely critical that a woman and her physician discuss VBAC early in the prenatal care period so that logistical plans can be made well in advance,” said Dr. Grobman. And those hospitals that lack “immediately available” staff should develop a clear process for gathering them quickly and all hospitals should have a plan in place for managing emergency uterine ruptures, however rarely they may occur, Dr. Grobman added. The College says that restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will if, for example, a woman in labor presents for care and declines a repeat cesarean delivery at a center that does not support TOLAC. On the other hand, if, during prenatal care, a physician is uncomfortable with a patient’s desire to undergo VBAC, it is appropriate to refer her to another physician or center.

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