Category Archives: Maternal Outcomes

Thoughts on VBA3+C (VBAC after three or more prior cesareans)

Note regarding “TOLAC.”  When reading from medical texts, remember that you are no longer in the land of emotion and warm fuzzies.  Rather, envision that you have been transported to another world, a clinical world, where terms like TOLAC/TOLAMC, or trial of labor after (multiple) cesareans, are used.  I don’t think that most care providers understand the emotional sting that many women seeking VBAC associate with the term TOLAC.  It’s important for women to understand the language care providers use so that they can translate TOLAC into “planning a VBAC” and not feel slighted.  You might want to read this article which describes what the term TOLAC means, how it’s used in medical research, and why it’s not synonymous with VBAC.


A mom recently asked, “Does anyone have some facts on VBA3C?”

I provided this collection of info…

Who makes a good VBAC/VBAMC candidate?

ACOG’s 2010 VBAC recommendations affirm that VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) is reasonable in “some” women.  But they remain silent on VBAMC (VBAC after multiple cesareans.)

Some have interpreted that silence to mean that ACOG does not recommend VBAMC, yet ACOG is clear that women shouldn’t be forced to have cesareans.

Between what they say about VBA2C and who is a good VBAC candidate, we might be able to discern who might be a good VBAMC candidate.

A couple things to keep in mind while reading…

Reason for prior cesarean/history of vaginal birth.  Research has shown that women who have had cesareans for malpresentation (breech, transverse lie, etc) and/or a history of a prior vaginal delivery would have the highest VBAMC success rates.

Scar type.  Low transverse incisions (also called bikini cuts) carry the lowest risk of rupture in comparison to classical, high vertical and T/J incisions.  With the likely increased risk of uterine rupture in a VBAMC, having low transverse scars is a way to minimize that risk as much as possible.

What does ACOG say about VBAC?

In ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines, it describes the qualities of a good VBAC candidate:

The preponderance of evidence suggests that most women with one previous cesarean delivery with a low transverse incision are candidates for and should be counseled about VBAC and offered TOLAC.  Conversely, those at high risk for complications (eg, those with previous classical or T-incision, prior uterine rupture, or extensive transfundal uterine surgery) and those in whom vaginal delivery is otherwise contraindicated are not generally candidates for planned TOLAC.  Individual circumstances must be considered in all cases, and if, for example, a patient who may not otherwise be a candidate for TOLAC presents in advanced labor, the patient and her health care providers may judge it best to proceed with TOLAC.

What does ACOG say about VBA2C?

In those same guidelines, ACOG specifically addresses VBA2C:

Given the overall data, it is reasonable to consider women with two previous low transverse cesarean deliveries to be candidates for TOLAC, and to counsel them based on the combination of other factors that affect their probability of achieving a successful VBAC.  Data regarding the risk for women undergoing TOLAC with more than two previous cesarean deliveries are limited (69).

The power of context and training

How a provider approaches VBAMC depends a lot on their training as well as the support of their hospital administration. In the video below, Dr. Craig Klose discusses the merits of vaginal birth after cesarean and the various factors that may impede women obtaining VBAC.

One thing that stood out to me was Dr. Klose’s comments on VBAC after multiple prior low transverse cesareans (TLC). To sum, he says that he was taught that multiple LTCs were “no biggie” and he has attended up to VBA5C. This is the power of training and context!

ACOG guidelines, your legal rights, and “forced” cesareans

As attorney Lisa Pratt asserts, “ACOG guidelines are just that, guidelines, they are not law; while it is nice when they put out a guideline that supports your factual situation, falling outside of their recommendation does not mean you must consent to something you do not want.”  You can read in the article, “VBAC bans, exercising your rights, and when to contact an attorney.”

Further, ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines also says that women cannot be forced to have cesareans even if there is a VBAC ban in place:

Respect for patient autonomy also argues that even if a center does not offer TOLAC, such a policy cannot be used to force women to have cesarean delivery or to deny care to women in labor who decline to have a repeat cesarean delivery.

You may also wish to review your options when encountering a VBAC ban and the story of a mom seeking VBA2C who was threatened with a “forced” cesarean when her OB group withdrew support at 38 weeks.

Making a plan and moving forward

Your best bet is to review your medical records with several VBAC supportive care providers and get their opinion.  Obtain a copy of your medical records and operative reports from each prior cesarean, get the names of VBAC supportive providers, and ask the right questions.

If you want to get up to speed quick on VBAC, repeat cesarean, hospital birth, home birth, and VBAC bans, the best way is via my online program, “The Truth About VBAC.”

Woman has 4th cesarean and requires 33 gallons of blood

Update: This powerhouse of a woman has since started the non-profit organization “Hope for Accreta Foundation.”

What a miracle this woman survived!  This was her fifth baby and fourth cesarean.

She had a complication known as placenta percreta which is when “the placenta attaches itself and grows through the uterus, sometimes extending to nearby organs, such as the bladder” (March of Dimes 2012).  The risk of having placenta accreta, increta, or percreta during a fourth cesarean or a VBA3C (vaginal birth after three cesareans) is 2.13% (1 in 47) (Silver 2006).

Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

Most women planning a VBA1C (vaginal birth after one cesarean) are aware of the risks of uterine rupture.  However, women planning their first vaginal birth or VBA1C need the WHOLE picture so they can really work to prevent an unnecessary cesarean.  They need to understand the risks and benefits of VBAC versus repeat cesarean for mom and baby now as well as how current choices impact mom’s future health, fertility, delivery options, and complications that present in subsequent births.

A huge part of this – I believe – is hiring a vaginal birth/VBAC supportive care provider because once a woman has that first cesarean, her options narrow, and they do so even more drastically after that second cesarean.  As her options narrow, her risks increase and unlike uterine rupture which you can circumvent through a repeat cesarean, the risk of accreta, percreta, and increta are not as easily mitigated.

By avoiding one complication, we are increasing our risk for another serious complication in future pregnancies.  For women who plan for large families, this should be on your radar and every practitioner should be discussing intended family size with their patients so that it can be taken into consideration.

Read more about placenta abnormalities, the risks of multiple cesarean sections, the marketing of risk, and how reversing VBAC bans would make birth safer for everyone.

And please donate blood. These women need it.

Woman survives crisis delivery with 33 gallons of donated blood

Posted on April 11, 2012 at 9:46 PM

SAN ANTONIO — University Hospital is sharing an incredible story of survival. A San Antonio woman was saved during a crisis baby delivery. But it took more than 33 gallons of blood.

Two-month-old Addison Walker came into the world in an unusual way. Her mother, Gina, had a rare pregnancy condition called placenta percreta. The placenta invaded through the uterine wall into the bladder, causing massive bleeding during a delivery operation.

Doctors at University Hospital recalled the February eight-hour operation.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Walker had blood loss that superseded anything that we could have prepared for,” said Dr. Jason Parker, U.T. Health Science Center OB/GYN.

Walker lost more than ten times the amount of blood surgeons anticipated. She needed more than 33 gallons. That’s 540 units to keep her alive.

“After I watched cooler after cooler after cooler with my wife’s name on it full of blood going up and down the hallways, yeah, I did get worried,” recalled Gina’s husband Dustin. Read more.

A couple comments left on Facebook:

University is a Level 1 trauma center.  It is the trauma center in San Antonio.  Only other hospital that takes the worst of the worst is SAMMC [San Antonio Military Medical Center] which is the military hospital.  University takes all the gunshots, stabbings, multiple injury accidents, etc…. And these come in multiple times a day.  If any hospital has 100+ units on hand it would be that hospital.  Even if it didn’t, it is literally a couple hundred yards from a half dozen other hospitals that could dip into their supply.

It’s approx $1060 per unit of blood from the blood bank, not including the one time cost of all the testing, which is about $400-500. (These costs depend on the facility, but are a ball park.) Think about what the cost of the blood alone was…

I laboured just fine with my attempted VBA3C but the labour pains at the end were intense and I needed some meds of sorts so I went off to the hospital only to be bullied into the surgery room. All stats were excellent with me and my baby (and noted by the doctors in surgery that my little girl was down the birth canal and had I only been given something to help with pain, I would have pushed her out just fine). Because of that unnecessarian I had to endure a 6 hour reconstructive surgery to fix the mistakes of all the other batched c-sections and to repair the fistula left by the 4th C. But in the meantime I got the pleasure of toting around a catheter for the 5 months in between surgeries. That’s on top of the other procedures, tests and pain I had to go through. All of this could have been avoided had the doctors not allowed me that very first c-section and all the others that were not required. I kick myself in the butt for not educating myself right from the beginning, but how was I to know the doctors wouldn’t be educated either!

I desire to go on to have more children, but am terrified for things like this article speaks of.

The best compilation of VBAC/ERCS research to date

“There is a major misperception that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] is extremely risky” – Mona Lydon-Rochelle PhD, MPH, MS, CNM, March 2010

In terms of VBAC, “your risk is really, really quite low” – George Macones MD, MSCE, March 2010

Both Drs. Macones and Lyndon-Rochelle are medical professionals and researchers who made these statements at the 2010 NIH [National Institutes of Health] VBAC Conference. Now you may think, “Wait a sec. Everything I’ve heard from my family, friends, and medical provider is how risky VBAC is and how cesareans are the conservative, prudent, and safest choice.” Why the discrepancy between the statements of these two prominent care provider researchers and the conventional wisdom prevalent in America?

It’s likely that your family, friends, and even your medical provider are not familiar with the latest and best compilation of VBAC research that was released in March 2010. It’s also possible that they are not familiar with the latest VBAC recommendations published in July 2010 by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Additionally, there are often legal and non-medical factors at play that influence how care providers counsel women on VBAC, including pressure from hospital administrators.

When I come across any VBAC study, I always wonder if it made the cut to be included in the 400 page Guise 2010 Evidence Report that was the basis for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference. Guise 2010 reviewed each published VBAC study, performed a quality assessment, and assembled an excellent review of the VBAC literature to date:

Quality assessment is an assessment of a study’s internal validity (the study’s ability to measure what it intends to measure). If a study is not conducted properly, the results that they produce are unlikely to represent the truth and thus are worthless (the old adage garbage in garbage out). If however, a study is structurally and analytically sound, then the results are valuable. A systematic review, is intended to evaluate the entire literature and distill those studies which are of the highest possible quality and therefore likely to be sound and defensible to affect practice.

Guise focused on these key questions: “1) a chain of evidence about factors that may influence VBAC, 2) maternal and infant benefits and harms of attempting a VBAC versus an elective repeat cesarean delivery (ERCD), and 3) factors that may influence maternal and infant outcomes.” Ultimately, this 400 page document was distilled into the 48 page VBAC Final Statement produced by the NIH VBAC Conference.

This is wonderful because people who want the big picture, can read the VBAC Final Statement whereas those who want to know the exact figures, how studies were included/excluded, and the strength of the data available, can read the Guise 2010 Evidence Report.

You can get a feel for the topics presented at the NIH VBAC Conference by reading the Programs & Abstracts document. If you want more detail, you can watch the individual presentations. I was there for the three day conference and it was eye opening. I wish more medical professionals and moms were aware of this information as they are excellent resources for anyone looking to learn more about VBAC.

Everyone wants to know the bottom line: what is the risk of death or major injury to mom and baby. Here is an overview of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity per Guise (2010). It’s important to remember that the quality of data relating to perinatal mortality was low to moderate due to the high range of rates reported by the strongest studies conducted thus far. Guise reports the high end of the range when they discuss perinatal mortality which was 6% for all gestational ages and 2.8% when limited to term studies. This is a long way of saying, we still don’t have a good picture of how many babies die due to uterine rupture.

It’s also important to remember that the statistics shared in Guise (2010) are for all VBACs. They include all scar types, women who have had multiple prior cesareans, induced/augmented labors, etc. It would have been helpful if they had broke out the data in these ways as we know we can reduce the risk of rupture (and thus perinatal mortality) through spontaneous labor.

While rare for both TOL [trial of labor after cesarean] and ERCD [elective repeat cesarean delivery], maternal mortality was significantly increased for ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL. The rates of maternal hysterectomy, hemorrhage, and transfusions did not differ significantly between TOL and ERCD. The rate of uterine rupture for all women with prior cesarean is 3 per 1,000 and the risk was significantly increased with TOL (4.7 1,000 versus 0.3 1,000 ERCD). Six percent of uterine ruptures were associated with perinatal death. Perinatal mortality was significantly increased for TOL at 1.3 per 1,000 versus 0.5 per 1,000 for ERCD… VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans… The occurrence of maternal and infant mortality for women with prior cesarean is not significantly elevated when compared with national rates overall of mortality in childbirth. The majority of women who have TOL will have a VBAC, and they and their infants will be healthy. However, there is a minority of women who will suffer serious adverse consequences of both TOL and ERCD. While TOL rates have decreased over the last decade, VBAC rates and adverse outcomes have not changed suggesting that the reduction is not reflecting improved patient selection.

Women are entitled to accurate, honest, and high quality data. They don’t deserve to have the risks exaggerated by an OB who wishes to coerce them into a repeat cesarean nor do they deserve to have risks sugar-coated or minimized by a midwife or birth advocate who may not understand the risk or whose zealous desire for everyone to VBAC clouds their judgement. Sometimes it can be hard to find good data on VBAC which is why I’m so thankful for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and all the excellent data that became available to the public as a result. There are real risks and benefits to VBAC and repeat cesarean and once women have access to good data, they can individually choose which set of risks and benefits they want. I think the links I have provided above represents the best data we have to date.

Just kicking the can of risk down the road

This is why cesareans should not be casual or performed for the convenience of anyone.  They should be reserved for real medical reasons so that the benefits of having the cesarean outweigh the risks.  And there are real risks to cesareans, but since the ones list below are future risks, they may seem less real.  Per a November 2011 study published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine:

If primary and secondary cesarean rates continue to rise as they have in recent years, by 2020 the cesarean delivery rate will be 56.2%, and there will be an additional 6236 placenta previas, 4504 placenta accretas, and 130 maternal deaths annually. The rise in these complications will lag behind the rise in cesareans by approximately 6 years.

Placenta previa and accreta are nothing to mess around with.  Accreta in particular has a very high maternal mortality rate and many mothers end up having cesarean hysterectomies.   I write more about accreta here.

Many women do not think these complications are applicable to them as they don’t plan on more children after their two cesareans.  But I know many women, and I’m sure you do too, who were not planning on more children, but got pregnant nonetheless.  Unless you or your partner get sterilized or practice abstinence (what fun!), the chance of you getting pregnant is there.

By performing routine scheduled repeat cesareans, we do reduce the risk of uterine rupture in the current pregnancy, but we are also increasing the risks of accreta, previa, maternal death as well as uterine rupture in future pregnancies.  In addition, another large study found

[t]he risks of placenta accreta, cystotomy [surgical incision of the urinary bladder], bowel injury, ureteral [ureters are muscular ducts that propel urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder] injury, and ileus [disruption of the normal propulsive gastrointestinal motor activity], the need for postoperative ventilation, intensive care unit admission, hysterectomy, and blood transfusion requiring 4 or more units, and the duration of operative time and hospital stay significantly increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries.

And this is especially relevant in rural hospitals which institute VBAC bans because they don’t offer 24/7 anesthesia.  Even though the “immediately available” clause was removed in the latest (2010) ACOG VBAC Practice Bulletin, many of these bans still stand.

However, in order to rapidly respond to the potentially sudden diagnosis of accreta, previa, or abruption, the hospital will have to enact many of the same ideas provided at the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference on how a hospital without 24/7 anesthesia can safely offer VBAC and respond to uterine rupture.  So why not just institute those ideas from the get-go and offer VBAC to those who want it?  (I know, I know: medico-legal reasons, which the NIH also addressed, but that is another post.)  From VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational:

 As David J. Birnbach, M.D., M.P.H (2010), who presented on the impact of anesthesiologists on the incidence of VBAC [at the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference] asserted:

Lack of immediate available of anesthesia may not always be a key factor in outcome [during a uterine rupture], especially in cases where the obstetrician is not present. Many cases of uterine rupture can be stabilized while the anesthesiologists becomes available, and examples have been suggested of ways to reduce the risk associated with such a crisis. These include antepartum [prenatal] consultation of VBAC patients with the anesthesia departments, development of cesarean delivery under local anesthesia protocols, finding methods of improving communication on labor and delivery suites, practice “fire-drills,” and development of protocols matching resources to risk.

I urge you to watch Dr. Birnbach’s presentation along with all the presentations from the 2010 NIH VBAC conference.

Read more about the how the risk of serious complications increase with each cesarean surgery.

Below is Silver’s (2006) study abstract:

J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2011 Nov;24(11):1341-6. Epub 2011 Mar 7.

The effect of cesarean delivery rates on the future incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality.

Solheim KN, Esakoff TF, Little SE, Cheng YW, Sparks TN, Caughey AB. Source Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA. Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The overall annual incidence rate of caesarean delivery in the United States has been steadily rising since 1996, reaching 32.9% in 2009. Primary cesareans often lead to repeat cesareans, which may lead to placenta previa and placenta accreta. This study’s goal was to forecast the effect of rising primary and secondary cesarean rates on annual incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality.

METHODS: A decision-analytic model was built using TreeAge Pro software to estimate the future annual incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality using data on national birthing order trends and cesarean and vaginal birth after cesarean rates. Baseline assumptions were derived from the literature, including the likelihood of previa and accreta among women with multiple previous cesarean deliveries.

RESULTS: If primary and secondary cesarean rates continue to rise as they have in recent years, by 2020 the cesarean delivery rate will be 56.2%, and there will be an additional 6236 placenta previas, 4504 placenta accretas, and 130 maternal deaths annually. The rise in these complications will lag behind the rise in cesareans by approximately 6 years.

CONCLUSIONS: If cesarean rates continue to increase, the annual incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal death will also rise substantially.

Shows the rates of placenta accreta in up to six cesareans (Silver 2006).

Risk of serious complications increase with each cesarean surgery

Yesterday I shared a Canadian article, and last year a letter from two OBs opposing a hospital VBAC ban, which discuss the risks of cesarean sections including placenta accreta and hysterectomy.


Today I want to share a study that measured the increasing risks that come with multiple cesareans, but before I do so, lets do a quick review of definitions.

Placenta accreta (March of Dimes 2005):

In a normal pregnancy, the placenta attaches itself to the uterine wall, away from the cervix.

  • Placenta accreta is a placenta that attaches itself too deeply and too firmly into the wall of the uterus.
  • Placenta increta is a placenta that attaches itself even more deeply into the uterine wall.
  • Placenta percreta is a placenta that attaches itself through the uterus, sometimes extending to nearby organs, such as the bladder.

Hysterectomy (Women’s Health 2009):

A hysterectomy (his-tur-EK-tuh-mee) is a surgery to remove a woman’s uterus or womb. The uterus is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. The whole uterus or just part of it may be removed. After a hysterectomy, you no longer have menstrual periods and cannot become pregnant.

Placenta previa (PubMedHealth 2011):

Placenta previa is a complication of pregnancy in which the placenta grows in the lowest part of the womb (uterus) and covers all or part of the opening to the cervix.

There are different forms of placenta previa:

  • Marginal: The placenta is next to cervix but does not cover the opening.
  • Partial: The placenta covers part of the cervical opening.
  • Complete: The placenta covers all of the cervical opening.

Increasing risks with multiple cesareans: Focusing on accreta

Today’s study is Maternal morbidity associated with multiple repeat cesarean deliveries (Silver 2006) which included over 30,000 women undergoing up to six cesareans over four years.  (Download the full text PDF.)  Silver measured the complication rates per cesarean number.  And their findings are important to every mom pregnant after a cesarean.  Keep in mind that all the cesareans included in the Silver (2006) study were schedule and performed without medical indication except for the first cesarean.  All the complications noted were a direct result of the surgery, not of any other medical complication.

Silver (2006) found:

The risks of placenta accreta, cystotomy [surgical incision of the urinary bladder], bowel injury, ureteral [ureters are muscular ducts that propel urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder] injury, and ileus [disruption of the normal propulsive gastrointestinal motor activity], the need for postoperative ventilation, intensive care unit admission, hysterectomy, and blood transfusion requiring 4 or more units, and the duration of operative time and hospital stay significantly increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries.

Accreta was defined as the “placenta being adherent to the uterine wall without easy separation [and] included placenta accreta, increta, and percreta.”

Below are some slides from the VBAC Class I developed and teach illustrating the  rates of placenta accreta, previa, previa with accreta, and hysterectomy by number of cesareans (Silver 2006).   The number below the cesarean number indicate how many women were included in that category.

Remember as you look these over, the risk of uterine rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low horizontal (“bikini-cut”) cesarean is 0.4% (Landon 2004).  Risk of uterine rupture during one’s second cesarean is 0.9% (Landon 2006).

Shows the rates of placenta accreta in up to six cesareans (Silver 2006).

 Shows the rate of placenta previa by cesarean number (Silver 2006).

Accreta, previa, and cesarean hysterectomies

I was especially interested to see the relationship between previa and accreta.  Silver (2006) found that if you have previa, you are very likely to have accreta and that risk increases with each cesarean.  For example, if a woman has one cesarean and is diagnosed with previa in her next pregnancy, her risk of having accreta is 11%.  That risk jumps to 40% in the third pregnancy, 61% in the fourth pregnancy and 67% for the fifth and sixth pregnancy.

Shows the rate of placenta previa with accreta per Silver 2006.

Complications associated with accreta

Accreta is nothing to mess around with as it has a very high rate of maternal mortality (up to 7%) and morbidity including hemorrhage and hysterectomy.  Fang (2006) asserted, “abnormal adherent placentation [is] the primary indication leading to emergent peripartum hysterectomy…. As the number of prior cesarean deliveries rises, the risk of cesarean hysterectomy increases dramatically.”   In other words, all these primary cesareans and repeat cesareans are causing placentas to abnormally implant in subsequent pregnancies.  As a result, many women who have placenta accreta end up having hysterectomies as that is the best way to control the hemorrhaging that results from accreta.

Rate of hysterectomy by cesarean number (Silver 2006).

Women who had accreta also experienced the following complications:

  • 15.4% (1 in 6.5): surgical injury to bladder
  • 2.1%  (1 in 48): surgical injury to the ureters which are the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder and is the “most serious complication of gynecologic surgery
  • 2.1%  (1 in 48 ): blockage of an artery in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • 14% (1 in 7):  mom was put on a mechanical ventilator because she couldn’t breathe effectively
  • 26.6% (1 in 3.8): mom requires advanced monitoring and care so she is admitted to the intensive care unit
  • 5.6% (1 in 17.8): mom requires another operation
  • 3.5% (1 in 28.6): endometritis, “an inflammation or irritation of the lining of the uterus”

Because the risks of cesarean are so great, Silver (2006) concluded with the following statement,

Because serious maternal morbidity increases progressively with increasing number of cesarean deliveries, the number of intended pregnancies should be considered during counseling regarding elective repeat cesarean operation versus a trial of labor and when debating the merits of elective primary cesarean delivery.

Alternatives to cesarean hysterectomy

Non-hysterectomy options were discussed in a February 2006 Healthline article by Alison Stuebe, Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA:

In the majority of cases, hysterectomy is the most effective way to manage the potentially fatal consequences of placenta accreta. Unfortunately, however, most cases of placenta accreta are not discovered until the last minute. And, because a hysterectomy results in infertility, some women may want to consider more conservative options.

Conservative or alternate techniques for treating placenta accreta include:

  • curettage (scraping) of the uterus;
  • surgical repair of the part of the uterus where the placenta was attached;
  • clamping the blood vessels that nourish the pelvis (to control the bleeding); and
  • using x-ray guidance to inject gelatin sponge particles or spring coils into the blood vessels that nourish the uterus (this procedure usually is not feasible in emergency situations.) This procedure requires help from interventional radiologists, doctors who specialize in advanced treatments for bleeding.

Reported success rates of these procedures vary widely. In one recent study, 31 cases of placenta accreta were managed without hysterectomy; there were no reports of infertility or maternal death.

Using ultrasound and MRI to diagnose accreta

All the statistics I have shared above are from hospital based studies where women have access to operating rooms, surgeons, and blood products.  I suspect that the likelihood of a mother dying from hemorrhage due to placenta accreta is significantly higher in an OOH (out-of-hospital) birth.  This is why I think it is completely reasonable to have an ultrasound or MRI to try to diagnose accreta when planning a OOH birth.

Although second and third trimester bleeding can be a symptom for previa, I was surprised to read on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s website, “About 7% to 30% of women with placenta previa do not experience vaginal bleeding as a symptom before delivery.”   Thus one cannot rely on bleeding during pregnancy as a reliable symptom for previa which is why ruling it out via ultrasound appears to be a effective plan. (No citation was given, so if anyone has information to affirm or refute this stat, please leave a comment.)

There appears to be some controversy about the ability to accurately diagnose accreta during pregnancy.  According to a 2011 Medscape article byDr. Robert Resnik, “the diagnosis [of placenta accreta] can be made with accuracy, by very specific ultrasound findings, about 80% of the time, and can be confirmed with MRI findings.”

However, in a 2010 article published in the Journal Watch Women’s Health, Andrew M. Kaunitz, MD states, “If ultrasound findings [while looking for accreta] are not definitive, MRI evaluation is appropriate.  Unfortunately, the diagnostic precision of these two imaging modalities for placenta accreta can be suboptimal.”

I also highly recommend you read Dwyer (2008) which provides an excellent overview and compared the accuracy of the two methods:

Sonography correctly identified the presence of placenta accreta in 14 of 15 patients (93% sensitivity) and the absence of placenta accreta in 12 of 17 patients (71% specificity). Magnetic resonance imaging correctly identified the presence of placenta accreta in 12 of 15 patients (80% sensitivity) and the absence of placenta accreta in 11 of 17 patients (65% specificity). In 7 of 32 cases, sonography and MRI had discordant diagnoses: sonography was correct in 5 cases, and MRI was correct in 2.

Because of this high rate of maternal mortality and morbidity, some doctors suggest if accreta is diagnosed via ultrasound and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) during pregnancy, a cesarean hysterectomy should to performed as early as 34 – 35 weeks.  (Read Does Antenatal Diagnosis of Placenta Accreta Improve Maternal Outcomes?, The maternal outcome in placenta accreta: the significance of antenatal diagnosis and non-separation of placenta at delivery and Placenta accreta: A dreaded and increasing complication for more information on early delivery via cesarean section.)

What difference does it make if you know you have accreta before delivery?

Because accreta has a high maternal mortality and morbidity rate, a hospital plans for a birth with accreta (usually a cesarean if diagnosed before labor) very differently than a birth (cesarean or vaginal) without known accreta.

One night during my endless random reading, I stumbled across the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ (the UK’s ACOG) clinical guidelines for placenta praevia, placenta praevia accreta and vasa praevia.  (Note that the Brits do spell previa/praevia differently than Americans.)  This document included a detailed description of how they recommend a hospital plan for a cesarean birth due to placenta accreta:

The six elements considered to be reflective of good care were:
1. consultant obstetrician planned and directly supervising delivery
2. consultant anaesthetist planned and directly supervising anaesthetic at delivery
3. blood and blood products available
4. multidisciplinary involvement in pre-op planning
5. discussion and consent includes possible interventions (such as hysterectomy, leaving the placenta in place, cell salvage and intervention radiology)
6. local availability of a level 2 critical care bed.

Taking this extensive preparation into account, I suspect that women fare better when accreta is diagnosed before delivery.

Evidence to suggest previa less likely to “move” in VBAC/VBAMC moms

RCOG’s clinical guidelines also included evidence that of women who were diagnosed with previa early in their pregnancy, women with a prior cesarean where less likely than an unscarred mom to have their placenta “move” enough to permit a vaginal delivery at term (50% vs. 11%).  Since the study in question included over 700 women with previa, this is a large enough study to give us good evidence.

Women with a previous caesarean section require a higher index of suspicion as there are two problems to exclude: placenta praevia and placenta accreta.  If the placenta lies anteriorly and reaches the cervical os at 20 weeks, a follow-up scan can help identify if it is implanted into the caesarean section scar.

Placental ‘apparent’ migration, owing to the development of the lower uterine segment, occurs during the second and third trimesters,52–54 but is less likely to occur if the placenta is posterior55 or if there has been a previous caesarean section.35  In one study, only five of 55 women with a placenta reaching or overlapping the cervical os at 18–23 weeks of gestation (diagnosed by TVS) had placenta praevia at birth and in all cases the edge of the placenta had overlapped 15 mm over the os at 20 weeks of gestation.56  A previous caesarean section influences this: a large retrospective review of 714 women with placenta praevia found that even with a partial ‘praevia’ at 20–23 weeks (i.e. the edge of the placenta reached the internal cervical os), the chance of persistence of the placenta praevia requiring abdominal delivery was 50% in women with a previous caesarean section compared with 11% in those with no uterine scar.53

Conversely, although significant migration to allow vaginal delivery is unlikely if the placenta substantially overlaps the internal os (by over 23 mm at 11–14 weeks of gestation in one study,54 by over 25 mm at 20–23 weeks of gestation in another52 and by over 20 mm at 26 weeks of gestation in a third study57), such migration is still possible and therefore follow-up scanning should be arranged.

I looked up source 53 and it’s Dashe (2002) which shared:  “The outcome of the study was persistent placenta previa resulting in cesarean delivery.  This diagnosis was based on clinical assessment and ultrasound at time of delivery.”  You can read Dashe in its entirety by clicking on this link and then looking for the “Article as PDF” link on the right hand side.

Considering your future fertility

Many women who don’t plan on having more children do not think these complications are applicable.  But I know many women, and I’m sure you do too, who were not planning on more children, but got pregnant nonetheless.  This is consistent with the CDC’s findings that 49% of pregnancies are unintentional.  Unless you or your partner get sterilized or practice abstinence (what fun!), the chance of you getting pregnant, and experiencing these downstream risks, are there.  It’s important when evaluating your current birth options to consider how that decision will impact the risks of your future pregnancies as well as your future delivery options.

Last updated 9/13/12.

Hospital’s Oxytocin Protocol Change Sharply Reduces Emergency C-Section Deliveries

This article published June 19, 2009 demonstrates one hospital’s experience when they changed their oxytocin (Pitocin) protocol.

I’ve included the entire article below and have emphasized what I consider to be the most interesting parts.

Hospital’s Oxytocin Protocol Change Sharply Reduces Emergency C-Section Deliveries
By Betsy Bates
Elsevier Global Medical News
Conferences in Depth

CHICAGO (EGMN) – The modification of the oxytocin infusion protocol at a large university-affiliated community hospital nearly halved the number of emergency cesarean deliveries over a 3-year period, reported Dr. Gary Ventolini.

As oxytocin utilization declined from 93.3% to 78.9%, emergency cesarean deliveries decreased from 10.9% to 5.7%, Dr. Ventolini said at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Other birth outcomes improved as well at an 848-bed community hospital that serves as the primary teaching hospital of the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

These included significant declines in emergency vacuum and forceps deliveries and a sharp reduction in neonatal ICU team mobilization for signs of fetal distress (P = .0001 in year 3 compared with year 1).

“More and more data are showing us that we are using too much oxytocin too often,” Dr. Ventolini, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the university, said in an interview.

“Our pivotal change was to modify the oxytocin infusion from 2 by 2 units every 20 minutes to 1 by 1 unit every 30 minutes. And we see the results,” he said.

Outcomes of 14,184 births from 2005, 2006, and 2007 were retrospectively analyzed to determine any impact of the change in an oxytocin protocol implemented in 2005. Patient characteristics were similar in all three calendar years.

The most profound changes were in emergency deliveries, including caesarean deliveries, vacuum deliveries (which dropped from 9.1% to 8.5%), and forceps deliveries (which fell from 4% to 2.3%).

The overall cesarean section rate remained unchanged, as did the rates of cord prolapse, preeclampsia, and abruption.

Dr. Ventolini cited a recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that suggests guidelines for oxytocin use, including avoidance of dose increases at intervals shorter than 30 minutes in most situations (Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 2009;200:35.e1-.e6).

Dr. Ventolini and his associates reported no financial conflicts of interest relevant to the study.

Subject Codes:
Elsevier Global Medical News

June 19, 2009   10:04 AM EDT

AAFP National VBAC Guidelines

Update: In May 2014, the AAFP released new guidelines.

This is a great piece for deciding between VBAC and repeat cesarean.  Those who wish to VBAC, but have husbands, family, and/or friends who don’t understand why, might find this document very useful.

I have found that people who are anti-VBAC really seem impressed by what doctors and medical organizations have to say, so I’m thinking they will find this document compelling.

Plus, VBAC has this reputation of being “risky” and repeat cesareans are thought of as the “conservative approach,” and this document challenges both lines of thinking.

Why not write a sweet little note like, “I know you are concerned about me choosing the VBAC, so I thought you would find this interesting,” and mail them a copy.  That way, they can read it, think it over, and you can chat about it later.

No one wants to see a loved one hurt or die, and since most believe that a repeat cesarean is the most conservative approach, they tend to lean in that direction.  However, once they understand that real, but small, risks are present with VBAC and repeat cesarean, and that the risks of VBAC go down with each VBAC whereas the risks of cesareans go up with each surgery, hopefully they will respect your decision.

I recommend bringing this document with you when you go to interview OBs about VBAC.  They might be unfamiliar with the data, and they too might be persuaded by a document written by a medical organization.  If your OB is anti-VBAC, this might be a good document to mail them once you have found a truly supportive OB or midwife.

I’ve included the entire text below because when I searched on Google for VBAC vs. Repeat Cesarean, it wasn’t on the first page of results, so I’d like to bring more attention to it.

Please note, they refer to VBAC as TOLAC (Trial of Labor After Cesarean.)

You can view and print the document in PDF format here: Trial of Labor After Cesarean: A Shared Patient-Physician Decision Tool.


In March 2005, the American Academy of
Family Physicians published an evidence based
clinical practice guideline on TOLAC
(Trial of Labor After Cesarean; formerly called
Trial of Labor Versus Elective Repeat Cesarean
Section for the Woman With a Previous
Cesarean Section).
The AAFP guideline
recommends offering a trial of labor to women
who have had one previous cesarean delivery
with a low transverse incision. The guideline
also recommends that physicians and other
maternity care professionals explore the risks
and benefits associated with a trial of labor with
each woman who is a candidate for TOLAC.
The following shared patient-physician decision
tool can be used to initiate the conversation
about the potential risks and benefits of TOLAC.
It is important to note that this piece is not
a patient education handout. It is not meant
to be used as a standalone tool. Physicians
should go through each section with the
TOLAC candidate and explain how each factor
may (or may not) affect her. After answering
any questions the patient may have, the
physician can give the annotated handout to
the patient so she and her partner can review
it as they consider their options.
To read the AAFP’s TOLAC Guideline, visit

Patient name: ____________________________________________________
Physician: _______________________________________________________

Trial of Labor After Cesarean:
Deciding What’s Right for You
and Your Baby

Women who have had a baby by cesarean section (C-section)
may have a choice about how to have their next
baby. They may choose to have another C-section. This
is called an “elective repeat cesarean delivery” (ERCD for
short). Or they may decide to try having the baby vaginally.
This is called a “trial of labor after cesarean” (TOLAC). When
a woman tries a trial of labor and is able to deliver vaginally,
this is called a “vaginal birth after cesarean” (VBAC).

If you’re reading this handout, it’s because your doctor
has decided that you have a choice between a planned
C-section and a trial of labor. To help you understand the
risks and benefits of each, you doctor will go through
this handout with you. He or she will explain how the
factors below apply to you. Be sure to ask your doctor any
questions you have. It’s important that you understand all
of the issues before you make a decision.

If I try labor, how likely am I to have my baby vaginally?
Because every situation is different, no one can tell if you
will be able to give birth vaginally. However, you should
know that about 76 out of 100 women who try a trial of
labor deliver their babies vaginally.

What happens to women who try labor but can’t
deliver vaginally?
Some women who try a trial of labor are not able to deliver
vaginally and end up having an unplanned C-section. You
should know that most of the babies born by unplanned
C-section are healthy and do not have long-term problems
from the C-section.

Is it is safer trying labor or having a planned C-section?
You already know that having a baby—whether vaginally or
by C-section—has some risks. The risks are generally small
whether you choose a trial of labor or planned C-section.
Studies have shown that there is no difference between
the two when it comes to the woman’s risk of death or
hysterectomy. There are, however, a few other risks to
consider. These are explained below.

Infection. Of women who choose a trial of labor,
7 out of 100 will get an infection. By comparison,
9 or 10 out of 100 women who choose planned
C-section will get an infection. This means that women
who choose C-section have a slightly higher risk of
infection (2% to 3% higher) than women who choose a trial
of labor.

Uterine rupture. A C-section leaves a scar on the
uterus. During a trial of labor, the scar can break open.
Usually this doesn’t affect you or the baby. In rare cases,
however, it can pose serious risks to you or your baby.
This is called symptomatic uterine rupture and it occurs
in 2.7 out of 1,000 women, or about ¼ of 1%, who try a
trial of labor.

Infant death. Sometimes—but not always—uterine rupture
results in the death of the baby. The chance of
this is about 15 in 100,000, or about 1/100th of 1%, in
women who try a trial of labor. There is no good data
about the risk of infant death for women who choose
elective repeat C-section.

What factors affect my chances of delivering
Doctors have studied thousands of women who have
attempted a trial of labor. They found that the following
factors affect a woman’s chance of delivering vaginally.
Your doctor will tell you how these factors apply to you.
You might want to ask your doctor to put a checkmark
next to the factors that may affect you and to cross out
the ones that probably won’t.

Factors that increase the likelihood of a
vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC)

• Being younger than 40 years old. If you’re under 40,
you are 2½ times more likely to have a VBAC.
My age: _________
Other notes: ________________________________

• Having a vaginal birth before. If you’ve ever had a
baby vaginally, you’re more likely to be able to deliver
that way again.
I had a baby vaginally, but it was before I had a
C-section. You are 1½ to 2 times more likely to
deliver vaginally again.
I had a baby vaginally after I had a baby by
C-section. You are 3 to 8 times more likely to
have a VBAC.
Notes about your previous delivery or deliveries:
Other notes: ________________________________

• Having favorable cervical factors during labor. This
means that your cervix is dilated (open) and effaced
(thinned out) enough to deliver vaginally. If you’re well
dilated and effaced, you are 1½ to 5 times more likely
to have a VBAC. If you’ve had a vaginal birth before,
your cervix may open and thin out more quickly than if
you haven’t. If you haven’t had a vaginal birth, it’s hard
to tell how well dilated and effaced your cervix will
become during labor.
I have had a previous vaginal birth.
Other notes: ________________________________

• If the reason you needed a C-section before isn’t
a factor this time. You might have needed a
C-section because of infection, difficult labor, breech
presentation, or concerns about the baby’s size or
heart rate. If you don’t have the same problem this
time, you are 2 times more likely to have a VBAC.
Reason for my previous C-section: ______________
Other notes: ________________________________
Factors that decrease the likelihood
of a VBAC

• Having had more than one C-section. If you have had
two or more C-sections, you’re 60% less likely to have
Number of C-sections I’ve had: _________
Other notes: ________________________________


• Going into labor after 40 weeks. After this time, you
are 20% to 30% less likely to have a VBAC.
My baby’s current gestational age: ________
My previous child(ren)’s gestational age(s) at birth:
Other notes: ________________________________

For all women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than 1 birth per 1,000
For women who have
not had a C-section . . . . . . . . . Less than 1 birth per 1,000
For women who have an
elective repeat C-section . . . . About 1 birth per 1,000
For women who have a trial
of labor after C-section . . . . . . 2 to 4 births per 1,000
(800) 274-2237 •

• Trying to deliver a baby that is 8 pounds, 13 ounces
(4,000 grams) or larger. If your baby weighs this much
(or more), you are 40% less likely to have a VBAC.
My baby’s current estimated weight: ____________
My previous child(ren)’s weight(s) at birth: _______
Other notes: ________________________________

• Using medicines to induce or augment labor. If you
need medicine to start or help your labor, you are 50%
less likely to have a VBAC.
Notes: _____________________________________

What if I have other concerns?
In addition to thinking about your health and that of your
baby, you’re probably dealing with emotional issues
and practical concerns about the birth. Some common
concerns are listed below. When you read through this
list, you may want to put a checkmark next to the issues
you really care about and cross out those that aren’t
as important to you. Talk with your doctor about your
concerns. These issues haven’t been studied like the ones
above, but your doctor may be able to give you some
insight into how they might affect you.

Recovery time. If you deliver vaginally, you’ll probably
spend less time in the hospital and be back on your
feet more quickly. Some women think this is important
because they’ll be caring for the new baby and their older
children too.

Involvement in the delivery. For some women, having a
baby vaginally is more emotionally satisfying than having
a C-section. You get to hold your baby sooner, which
may help with bonding and even with breastfeeding. Your
partner may feel more involved in a vaginal birth too.

Future childbearing. Doctors typically don’t want women
to have more than two or three C-sections. So, you’re more
likely to be able to have more children if you have a vaginal
birth instead of another C-section.

Planned versus unplanned delivery date. Because
it’s better to go into labor on your own when you’re
planning a trial of labor, you probably won’t be able to
be induced. Not knowing when you will go into labor can
be stressful. It can also be a problem if you can’t arrange
for someone to watch your other child or children at a
moment’s notice. For these reasons, some women prefer
to plan on a C-section.

Pain during labor and delivery. If you had an especially
difficult and painful labor before, you may fear going
through it again. For this reason, some women prefer to
have another C-section and avoid labor. It’s important to
remember, though, that there are ways to manage the pain
if you decide on a trial of labor.

How do I make this choice?
You and your partner should work with your doctor to
decide whether the benefits of a trial of labor outweigh
the risks.

If you decide to try labor, you and your doctor will talk
about what to do if it looks like your labor is running into
complications. It’s best to have a plan before you begin your
labor so that you don’t have to make decisions during labor.

1. Wall E, Roberts R, Deutchman M, Hueston W, Atwood LA, Ireland B.
Trial of labor after cesarean (TOLAC), formerly trial of labor versus
elective repeat cesarean section for the woman with a previous
cesarean section. Leawood, Kan.: American Academy of Family
Physicians; March 2005.
2. Guise J-M, McDonagh M, Hashima J, Kraemer DF, Eden KB,
Berlin M, et al. Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). Evidence
Report/Technology Assessment No. 71. Rockville, Md.: Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality; March 2003. AHRQ Publication
No. 03-E018.
3. Gardeil F, Daly S, Turner MJ. Uterine rupture in pregnancy reviewed.
Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 1994;56:107-10.
4. Miller DA, Goodwin TM, Gherman RB, Paul RH. Intrapartum rupture
of the unscarred uterus. Obstet Gynecol 1997;89:671-3.
5. Kieser KE, Baskett TF. A 10-year population based study of uterine
rupture. Obstet Gynecol 2002;100:749-53.