Category Archives: VBAC Bans

Calling women who plan home VBACs “stupid” misses the point

I’m in an online group for labor & delivery nurses where the discussion of vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) at home came up. While some understood the massive VBAC barriers many women face, others simply said, “Find a hospital that supports VBAC.”

I left a late-night comment stating that “finding another hospital that supports VBAC” is just not a reality in many areas of the country. It’s literally not possible. Not even in the highly populated state of California. (Barger, 2013)

I also suggested rather than calling women stupid or debating the validity of the decision to have a home VBAC​, we should consider why women make this decision.

First, it is not one they take lightly.  Every parent wants a safe, healthy birth for themselves and their baby. It takes more research, work, and energy to plan a home VBAC—and it usually means thousands of out-of-pocket dollars up front. It is most certainly not the easy way out.

Women choose out-of-hospital birth due to disrespectful and abusive care, including obstetric violence and forced/coerced cesareans, delivered by hospitals. Parents also choose out-of-hospital VBAC due to VBAC bans and restrictive VBAC policies (i.e., repeat CS scheduled at 39 weeks, labor can only last 12 hours, baby must weigh less than _____, no induction/ augmentation, etc.).

These are serious issues:

Disrespectful care.

Abusive care.

Obstetric violence.

Forced/coerced cesareans.

VBAC bans.

Restrictive VBAC policies.

And this isn’t a comprehensive list of why women choose home VBAC, but it’s the ones that many nurses, providers, and administrators have control over.

In my comment on the nurses’ group, I posted the link to my California Medical Board testimony addressing these barriers and the resulting importance of access to out-of-hospital VBAC.​

We shouldn’t be asking why women are so stupid and reckless.  We should be asking:

“What can we do to make women feel safe coming to our hospital to give birth?”

And:

“How can we increase access to VBAC in all hospital settings?”

I also suggested that coming from a place of judgment on this option may very well color the tone of their communication. Even if they’re not using the words “stupid” or “reckless,” parents will pick up on what’s not being said. That’s not good for the provider-patient relationship. People want to be heard, understood, and respected. All of us.

It’s important to hear parents when they talk about their past hospital experiences, without being defensive.

Hear them and see it as an opportunity to make a change. Consider, how can you make a difference in your practice and facility?

If this were any other business, we would probably say that this is a services and marketing problem.

If you have a restaurant, and you start to lose customers to a competitor, you figure out why your customers are leaving and appeal to that.

You don’t slam the other restaurant.

You don’t call your customers stupid because someone else is offering a product that they like better.

Even if you would never personally eat there, that other restaurant is offering something that people want. And they are leaving your restaurant to get it.

So, find out what that thing is and change it.

Yes, I said all that in this nurses’ group.  The next morning, I checked to see how my comments were taken, because I know from experience that not everyone wants to hear or acknowledge the realities I outlined.

I smiled to see that the conversation had remained respectful, even from some folks who disagreed with me.  There was no name calling. No personal attacks.  My comments even had a couple likes!

It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. And I think it’s so important to consider that many women around the country do not have access to respectful care in a facility that supports VBAC.

What are some other reasons that women choose out-of-hospital birth? Leave your comment below.

Learn more:

Askins, L., & Pascucci, C. (n.d.). Retrieved from Exposing the Silence Project: http://www.exposingthesilenceproject.com/

Barger, M. K., Dunn, T. J., Bearman, S., DeLain, M., & Gates, E. (2013). A survey of access to trial of labor in California hospitals in 2012. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636061/pdf/1471-2393-13-83.pdf

Kamel, J. (2014, Dec 17). What I told the California Medical Board about home VBAC. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2014/12/17/what-i-told-medical-board-home-vbac-part-1/

Kamel, J. (2016, Jan 6). “No one can force you to have a cesarean” is false. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2016/01/06/no-force-cesarean-false/

Pascucci, C. (2014, Feb 17). Home Birth vs. Hospital Birth: YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT, PEOPLE. Retrieved from Improving Birth: http://improvingbirth.org/2014/02/versus/

 

“No one can force you to have a cesarean” is false

Update: Since this article was originally published, it has been updated with several new resources (listed at the bottom) as well as a video.

 

hospital-bed

 

“No one can force you to have a cesarean.” I see this all the time in message boards.

Don’t worry about

… the VBAC ban

…your unsupportive provider

… your provider’s 40 week deadline

… [insert other VBAC barrier here]

no one can force you to have a cesarean.

That’s just not true.

Let’s start with what is ethical and legal: Yes, no one can legally force you to have a cesarean.

ACOG even says in their latest VBAC guidelines that “restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will.” So even if your facility has a VBAC ban, they still cannot force you to have surgery… legally or ethically.

But then you have reality: It happens all the time, but it may look different than you expect.

It’s often NOT a woman screaming “I do not consent” as she is wheeled into the OR, though that has happened.

It’s through lies. It’s through fear.

“The risk of uterine rupture is 25%.”

“Do you want a healthy baby or a birth experience?”

“Planning a VBAC is like running across a busy freeway.”

Hospital policy and provider preference are presented as superseding the woman’s right to decline surgery.

“No one attends VBAC here.”

“It’s against our policy.”

“We don’t allow VBACs.”

Or unreasonable timelines are assigned giving the woman the illusion of choice.

“You have to go into labor by 39 weeks.”

“Your labor can’t be longer than 12 hours.”

“You have to dilate at least 1 centimeter per hour.”

Or it can be a slow process where a seemingly once supportive provider quietly withdraws support exchanging words of encouragement with caution. Dr. Brad Bootstaylor, an Atlanta based OBGYN, describes how this can unfold at 4:00 in this video after a woman describes her experience:

Or, if the birthing parents don’t listen, it can escalate to calling social services, ordering a psychiatric evaluation, or even getting a court order for a forced cesarean.

It can be as simple as, “Your baby is distress.” How do you know if this is true or not? Are you willing to take that risk?

Some people suggest that parents should learn how to interpret fetal heart tones so they can evaluate their baby’s status. But I think this is a wholly unreasonable expectation for non-medical professionals, especially when one is in labor. It is as much an art as it is a science.

In short, coercion frequently isn’t by physical force. It’s through manipulation. This is why it’s worth your time and effort to search for a supportive provider who you trust to attend your birth.

Don’t just think, “Well, I can hire anyone and simply refuse.”

Sometimes it’s not that simple as Rinat Dray, was forced to have a cesarean, and Kimberly Turbin, who received a 12-cut episiotomy while yelling “Do not cut me,” know all too well.

And this is why understanding the complete picture is important. It’s not enough to ponder how things are “supposed to be” or how we want them to be, but how they actually are. The difference between perception and reality is huge. Learn more in my online workshop, “The Truth About VBAC.”

Have you seen a situation like described above play out? Share it in the comment section.

Continue the conversation & share on Facebook here:

There is a huge difference between what is legal, what is ethical, and what actually happens. #forcedcesareans #ethicalvsreality #vbacfacts

Posted by www.VBACFACTS.com on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

 

Learn more:

ACLU. (n.d.). Coercive and punitive governmental responses womens conduct during pregnancy. Retrieved from ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/coercive-and-punitive-governmental-responses-womens-conduct-during-pregnancy

Cantor, J. D. (2012, Jun 14). Court-Ordered Care — A Complication of Pregnancy to Avoid. New England Journal of Medicine, 366, 2237-2240. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1203742?

Hartocollis, A. (2014, May 16). Mother accuses doctors of forcing a c-section and files suit. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://nytimes.com/2014/05/17/nyregion/mother-accuses-doctors-of-forcing-a-c-section-and-files-suit.html?referrer=&_r=0

Human Rights in Childbirth. (2015, Jan 14). Rinat Dray is not alone, Part 1. Retrieved from Human Rights in Childbirth: http://www.humanrightsinchildbirth.org/amicusbriefpart1/

International Cesarean Awareness Network. (n.d.). Your right to refuse: What to do if your hospital has “banned” VBAC. Retrieved from Feminist Women’s Health Center: http://www.fwhc.org/health/pdf_about_vbac.pdf

Jacobson, J. (2014, Jul 25). Florida hospital demands woman undergo forced c-section. Retrieved from RH Reality Check: http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/07/25/florida-hospital-demands-woman-undergo-forced-c-section/

Kamel, J. (2012, Mar 2). Options for a mom who will be ‘forced’ to have a cesarean. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/03/02/options-mom-forced-repeat-cs/

Maryland Families for Safe Birth. (2015, Jan 28). The truth about VBAC: Maryland families need access. Retrieved from YouTube: https://youtu.be/C5nymk3IGqE

Paltrow, L. M., & Flavin, J. (2013, April). Arrests of and forced interventions on pregnant women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for women’s legal status and public health. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 38(2), 299-343. Retrieved from http://jhppl.dukejournals.org/content/early/2013/01/15/03616878-1966324.full.pdf+html

Pascucci, C. (2015, Jun 4). Press Release: Woman charges OB with assault & battery for forced episiotomy. Retrieved from Improving Birth: http://improvingbirth.org/2015/06/preview-woman-charges-ob-with-assault-battery-for-forced-episiotomy/

What I told the California Medical Board about home VBAC

california state seal

A little backstory

Back in October, I attended my first Interested Parties Meeting held by the Medical Board of California regarding new midwifery regulations as required by AB1308. (Read more about AB1308 here and here.)

Up for discussion was which conditions or histories among women seeking a home birth with a Licensed Midwife (LM) should be required to obtain physician approval.

A prior cesarean was on the list of over 60 conditions or histories and home VBAC was the one subject that generated the most comment and discussion that day.

What does AB1308 mean in terms of home VBAC in California?

There has been a lot of confusion regarding what AB1308 means in terms of home VBAC in California. In an effort to clear things up, Constance Rock-Stillman, LM, CPM, President, California Association of Midwives said this on January 23, 2014:

AB 1308 went into effect on 1/1/14, but there is nothing in the new legislation that says LMs cannot do VBACs.

LMs can do VBACs.

We just need to define in our regulations what preexisting conditions will require physician consultation. [Which is what the October 15 and December 15th Interested Party meetings were about.]

Until the new regulations are written LMs should continue to follow their current regulations which only require LMs to provide certain disclosures and informed consent to clients.

Please let the community know that if they want to have a say in whether or not VBACs with California LMs require a physician consultation, they should come to the Interested Parties meeting that the medical board will be holding and tell the board how they feel about it.

The medical board is a consumer protection agency, so they need to hear what consumers want to be protected from.

We will let you know as soon as the meeting is scheduled.

[Ms. Rock-Stillman responds when questioned by those who have not been involved it the creation of this legislation yet insist this legislation removes the option of home VBAC entirely:]

I’m in my third year as president of the California Association of Midwives, and I’m a practicing Licensed Midwife.

I have been at every Midwifery Advisory Counsel meeting and at the Capitol 30 times last year.

I’ve spoken in legislative committee hearings.

I’ve sat in weekly meetings with CAM’s legal counsel who worked side-by-side with us on the legislation.

I’ve been in Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla’s boardroom with ACOG and at every one of the public events where Susan Bonilla promised that the LMs would still be able to do VBACs.

So I think I qualify as a knowledgeable stakeholder in this issue.

Yes, we intentionally left VBAC out of the list of prohibited conditions, so at this point there is no question as to whether or not we can do VBACs. The only part that’s in question is whether or not all VBACs will require physician consultation.

Regulations that clarify under what circumstances physician consultation will be required will be written by the California Medical Board.  This is a process that takes time. Maybe even a year or more.

The regulations that will be adopted will be based on evidence and input from all the stakeholders.

This is why I think it’s so important that midwives and consumers be at the meetings to insure their voices get heard.

At the last Interested Parties meeting that the medical board held, I asked what we were suppose to do until the new regulations are written and we were told that we should follow our current regulations and our community standards until new regulations are adopted.

Why I attended

My intention in attending the October 15, 2014 meeting was to amplify the voice of the consumer.  I think sometimes it’s difficult for OBs who attend VBACs, or for those who live in communities where they have access to hospitals that attend VBAC, to understand that not everyone lives in that world.

Some live in a world where if they want a VBAC in a hospital with a supportive midwife or doctor who takes their insurance, that means driving over 50 miles each way for prenatal care and delivery while they literally drive by other facilities that offer labor and delivery, but ban VBAC.

Or it means acquiescing to a unnecessary repeat cesarean whose risks compound with every surgery. Or it means planning an unassisted birth which comes with its own set of risks. This is a tremendous burden.

As VBAC and repeat cesarean both carry risks and benefits, and women are the ones who bear and endure those risks, they should be the ones who choose which mode of delivery is acceptable to them.

I celebrate when women have access to supportive hospital-based practitioners.  But the reality is, many women do not enjoy that privilege and yet they still wish to avoid the serious complications that come with each cesarean surgery.

Who else was at the meeting?

Other people in the room included the Senior Staff Counsel of the Medical Board, an OB-GYN representing ACOG, an ACOG lobbyist, Constance Rock-Stillman along with many other CAM representatives and midwives, California Families for Access to Midwives, a few other consumers, and me.

Senior Staff Counsel was tasked with writing these regulations and as the meeting progressed, items were reworded or removed from the list.

My statement

Only having five minutes to speak means that as soon as you take your seat, adjust the microphone, and look into the eyes of Medical Board, you have to establish yourself as a credible source.

And then you start to speak. You have to be clear and concise with an unwavering voice. The Medical Board is your captive audience and you need to use every second weaving the facts with the personal experiences of mothers, midwives, and doctors so you can convey the whole story.

Often Medical Boards are not well versed on Licensed Midwives, home birth, and the politics of VBAC, so there is a lot of education that has to quickly happen in a few short minutes. You must maximize your time and, while talking at a normal pace, swiftly move from fact to fact continually highlighting yet another piece of evidence that supports your case.

Those that sit on Medical Boards often have access to whatever medical care they need. So sharing the challenges real families throughout the state face when trying to obtain a VBAC is crucial.

With all those factors in mind, I focused on the importance of VBAC access, the politics of hospital VBAC, and the public health implications if families can’t access VBAC.

Throughout my entire presentation, I emphasized how increasing VBAC access was aligned with the mission of the Medical Board: to protect consumers.

It was quite challenging to adequately convey these key points in such a brief format. But as I looked into the eyes of each board member during my presentation, I felt heard. I knew they were receiving the message I intended and that all the hard work that went into preparing for that day made a difference.

Legislative consulting is yet another way that I serve the mission of VBAC Facts. To schedule a legislative consulting call, please click here.

Why cesareans are a big deal to you, your wife, and your daughter

surgery-surgical-instrumentsI hear a lot, “What’s the big deal about cesareans? What difference does it really make if you have a cesarean?” Of course, if a cesarean is medically necessary, then the benefits outweigh the risks. But in the absence of a medical reason, the risks of cesareans must be carefully considered.

“Once a cesarean, always a cesarean”

If a woman has a cesarean, she is very likely to only have cesareans for future births. This is because while 45% of American women are interested in the option of VBAC (1), 92% have a repeat cesarean (2). Let me say that another way. Only 8% of women with a prior cesarean successfully VBAC.

One might interpret this statistic to mean that planned VBACs often end in a repeat cesarean. However, VBACs are successful about 75% of the time (3-7). The VBAC rate is so low because of the women interested in VBAC, 57% are unable to find a supportive care provider or hospital (1). And I would argue further that even among the women who have a supportive care provider, those women are so bombarded by fear based misinformation masquerading as caring advice from friends and family, they have no chance.  It is shocking to learn how ill-informed both women planning VBACs and repeat cesareans are about their birth options even upon admission to the hospital.  There is a fundamental gap in our collective wisdom about post-cesarean birth options.

Cesareans make subsequent pregnancies riskier

What’s the big deal, right? Who cares if you have a cesarean without a medical reason?

Forget about the immediate risks to mom and baby that cesareans impose. Just set that all aside for a moment.  Much of the risk associated with cesareans is delayed.  Most people are not aware of the long term issues that can come with cesareans and how these complications impact the safety of future pregnancies, deliveries, and children.

It is a well-established fact that the more cesareans a woman has, the more risky subsequent pregnancies and labors are regardless if the mom plans a VBAC or a repeat cesarean.  This was discussed at great lengths during the 2010 National Institutes of Health VBAC conference and was one of the reasons why ACOG released their less restrictive VBAC guidelines later that same year.

Many moms chose repeat cesareans because they believe cesareans are the prudent, safest choice. The fact that cesareans, of which over 1,000,000 occur in the USA each year, increases the complication rates of future pregnancies is often not disclosed to women during their VBAC consult.

A four year study looking at up to six cesareans in 30,000 women reported a startling number of complications that increased at a statistically significant rate as the prior number of cesareans increased:

The risks of placenta accreta [which has a maternal mortality of 7% and hysterectomy risk of 71%], cystotomy [surgical incision of the urinary bladder], bowel injury, ureteral injury [damage to the ureters – the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder in which urine flows – is one of the most serious complications of gynecologic surgery], and ileus [disruption of the normal propulsive gastrointestinal motor activity which can lead to bowel (intestinal) obstructions], the need for postoperative ventilation [this means mom can’t breathe on her own after the surgery], intensive care unit admission [mom is having major complications], hysterectomy, and blood transfusion requiring 4 or more units [mom hemorrhaged], and the duration of operative time [primarily due to adhesions] and hospital stay significantly increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries (8).

Because the growing likelihood of serious complications that comes with each subsequent cesarean surgery, including uterine rupture, this study concluded,

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 (8).

This is because the risks of placenta accreta and previa in particular increase at a very high rate after multiple cesareans (9).

The largest prospective report of uterine rupture in women without a previous cesarean in a Western country,” concurred:

Ultimately, the best prevention [of uterine rupture] is primary prevention, i.e. reducing the primary caesarean delivery rate. The obstetrician who decides to perform a caesarean has a joint responsibility for the late consequences of that decision, including uterine rupture (10).

“Well, I just plan on having two kids…”

Unfortunately, many women don’t think about these future risks until they are pregnant again. And we all know the great difference between intended and actual family size.

According to the CDC, 49% of American pregnancies are unintentional (11). Thus, these theoretical risks quickly and suddenly become a reality for hundreds of thousands of American women every year. How women birth their current baby has real and well-documented implications and risks for their future pregnancies, children, and health.

VBAC bans and emergency response

In light of these increasing risks, VBAC bans do not make moms safer (12). Hospitals are either prepared for obstetrical complications, like uterine rupture in moms who plan VBACs and placenta accreta, previa, and cesarean hysterectomies among moms who plan repeat cesareans, or they are not. It is hard to understand how hospitals can claim that they are simultaneously capable of an adequate response to cesarean-related complications and yet they are unable or ill-equipped to respond to complications related to vaginal birth after cesarean.  Especially in light of the fact that we know motivated hospitals currently offer VBAC even in the absence of 24/7 anesthesia (13).

A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses how hospitals are trying to create a standard response to obstetrical emergencies:

The CDC is funding programs in a number of states to establish guidelines and protocols for improving safety and preventing injury.  And obstetrics teams are holding drills to train doctors and nurses to rapidly respond to maternal complications. They are using simulated emergencies that include fake blood, robots that mimic physiologic states, and actresses standing in as patients (14).

Because hospitals vary so greatly in their ability to coordinate a expeditious response to urgent situations,

Vivian von Gruenigen, system medical director for women’s health services at Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio, advises that pregnant women discuss personal risks with their doctor and ask hospitals what kind of training delivery teams have to respond in an emergency. ‘People think pregnancy is benign in nature but that isn’t always the case, and women need to be their own advocates,’ Dr. von Gruenigen says.

Impact of VBAC on future births

Counter the increasing risks that come with cesareans to the downstream implications for VBAC. After the first successful VBAC, the future risk of uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence, and other labor related complications significantly decrease (15). Thus, family size must be considered as VBAC is often the safer choice for women planning large families.

Bottom line? I defer to two medical professionals and researchers:

“There is a major misperception that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] is extremely risky” – Mona Lydon-Rochelle PhD, MPH, MS, CNM (16-17).

In terms of VBAC, “your risk is really, really quite low” – George Macones MD, MSCE (16-17).

Women deserve the facts

Women are entitled to accurate, honest data explained in a clear, easy to understand format (18). 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 facts or whose zealous desire for everyone to VBAC clouds their judgement (19-20).

If you would like to get the opinions of actual VBAC supportive medical professionals who support a woman’s right to informed consent, there are several obstetricians and midwives who you can talk to on the VBAC Facts Community.

Take home message

Cesareans are not benign and the more you have, the more risky your future pregnancies become regardless of your preferred mode of delivery.

Almost half of the pregnancies in America are unintentional.

If hospitals can attend to cesarean-related complications, they can attend to VBAC-related complications.

_________________________________________________

1. Declercq, E. R., & Sakala, C. (2006). Listening to Mothers II: Reports of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Childbirth Connection. Retrieved from Childbirth Connection: http://www.childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10068

2. Osterman, M. J., Martin, J. A., Mathews, T. J., & Hamilton, B. E. (2011, July 27). Expanded Data From the New Birth Certificate, 2008. Retrieved from CDC: National Vital Statistics Reports: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_07.pdf

3. Coassolo, K. M., Stamilio, D. M., Pare, E., Peipert, J. F., Stevens, E., Nelson, D., et al. (2005). Safety and Efficacy of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Attempts at or Beyond 40 Weeks Gestation. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 106, 700-6.

4. Huang, W. H., Nakashima, D. K., Rumney, P. J., Keegan, K. A., & Chan, K. (2002). Interdelivery Interval and the Success of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 99, 41-44.

5. Landon, M. B., Hauth, J. C., & Leveno, K. J. (2004). Maternal and Perinatal Outcomes Associated with a Trial of Labor after Prior Cesarean Delivery. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 2581-2589.

6. Landon, M. B., Spong, C. Y., & Tom, E. (2006). Risk of Uterine Rupture With a Trial of Labor in Women with Multiple and Single Prior Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 108, 12-20.

7. Macones, G. A., Cahill, A., Pare, E., Stamilio, D. M., Ratcliffe, S., Stevens, E., et al. (2005). Obstetric outcomes in women with two prior cesarean deliveries: Is vaginal birth after cesarean delivery a viable option? American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 192, 1223-9.

8. Silver, R. M., Landon, M. B., Rouse, D. J., & Leveno, K. J. (2006). Maternal Morbidity Associated with Multiple Repeat Cesarean Deliveries. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 107, 1226-32.

9. Kamel, J. (2012, Mar 30). Placenta problems in VBAMC/ after multiple repeat cesareans. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/03/30/placenta-problems-in-vbamc-after-multiple-repeat-cesareans/

10. Zwart, J. J., Richters, J. M., Ory, F., de Vries, J., Bloemenkamp, K., & van Roosmalen, J. (2009, July). Uterine rupture in the Netherlands: a nationwide population-based cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 116(8), pp. 1069-1080. Retrieved January 15, 2012, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2009.02136.x/full

11. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Reproductive Health. (2012, Apr 4). Unintended Pregnancy Prevention. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/UnintendedPregnancy/index.htm

12. Kamel, J. (2012, Mar 27). Just kicking the can of risk down the road. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/03/27/just-kicking-the-can-of-risk-down-the-road/

13. Kamel, J. (2010, July 22). VBAC ban rationale is irrational. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2010/07/22/vbac-ban-rationale-is-irrational/

14.  Landro, L. (2012, Dec 10). Steep Rise Of Complications In Childbirth Spurs Action. Retrieved from Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324339204578171531475181260.html?mod=rss_Health

15. Mercer BM, Gilbert S, Landon MB. et al. Labor Outcomes With Increasing Number of Prior Vaginal Births After Cesarean Delivery. Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Feb;111(2):285-291. Retrieved from: http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2008/02000/Labor_Outcomes_With_Increasing_Number_of_Prior.6.aspx

16. NIH Consensus Development Conference. (2010). Vaginal Birth After Cesarean: New Insights. Bethesda, Maryland. Retrieved from http://consensus.nih.gov/2010/vbac.htm

17. Kamel, J. (2012, Apr 11). The best compilation of VBAC research to date. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/04/11/best-compilation-of-vbac-research-to-date/

18. Kamel, J. (2012, Dec 7). Some people think I’m anti-this/ pro-that: My advocacy style. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/12/07/some-people-think-im-anti-thispro-that-my-advocacy-style/

19. Kamel, J. (n.d.). Birth myths. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/category/vbac/birth-myths

20. Kamel, J. (n.d.). Scare tactics. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/category/vbac/scare-tactics/

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.”

VBAC bans, exercising your rights, and when to contact an attorney

legal-gavel-booksA mom recently left this comment and I thought many other women likely have the same question. Keep in mind that this article does discuss America law which may not be applicable to other countries.

________________________________________

Jen,

First thank you for your site!

I’m under the care of an OB who practices at a hospital that does not “allow VBACs” but has stated the only way to deliver at said hospital is to show up in labor & pushing.

Quoting from your site quoting the ACOG bulletin:

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.

If a patient (Me 3 prior sections), presents one’s self in labor at said hospital and declines a section, the hospital then has to heed the wishes of the patient? Am I understanding this correctly? Does the hospital have the right to stop contractions and section the patient? This is what I’m hearing in my birthing community and I really cannot believe a hospital would/could do that.

_____________________________

Hi Thia!

Many women believe that all one must do to prevent an unwanted cesarean is declare, “I do not consent!” While technically true, you are entitled to control what happens to your body, the reality is, it often doesn’t play out that way. A hospital does not have a legal right to perform a cesarean on you without your consent. However, it still happens either by coercion or lies and even more rarely, by court order.

I think part of the problem is, many women are not familiar with ACOG’s guidelines. As a result, they don’t understand what ACOG recommends and discourages. (For example, many women believe that VBACs should never be induced. That is false.) Women frequently take their OB’s word as the truth. However, ACOG’s recommendations are often obscured by unsupportive care providers to mimic what the care provider wants the mom to think ACOG says. In other words, unsupportive care providers want moms to think that their options are limited per ACOG and that is just not the case.

The fact that you are doing your research gives you a massive advantage over women who just take their OB’s word for it. I highly recommend you review the article I wrote about a mom who was threatened with a forced cesarean after her OB withdrew support of her planned VBA2C at 37 weeks. It includes legal and media contacts. Through the help of the ACLU, ACLU Women’s Rights Project, National Birth Policy Coalition, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the mom was granted a trial of labor. I use the (demonized) term TOL because the mom ultimately did have a medically necessary cesarean during labor due to a placental abruption. However, the mom was still happy that she had the opportunity to labor.

That is as much as I can say as a non-attorney. I consulted with the brilliant Lisa Pratt who is an attorney specializing in the legal issues that uniquely affect women during pregnancy and childbirth. She said,

This answer is true for all women, not just this one. If she needs legal advice specific for her situation then she should consult an attorney. You have the right to refuse any treatment you do not want. I am sure that what she is hearing is the same horror stories that we hear of a mom being harassed by the doctor and staff to consent to a c/s or threatening to seek a court order or call CPS. I know this is a scary thought to have to deal with any of these scenarios, but fear of something happening should not keep you from exerting your legal rights, unless you really are okay with what you are consenting to. You cannot assume that the staff is not going to honor your refusal. They are people just like us, some are jerks and some are ethical and will follow your refusal, but you won’t know what you are dealing with until you are in the moment. 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 learn more about Lisa, and schedule a phone consultation if you have further questions, via her website.

Lisa presented at the 2012 VBAC Summit in Miami. Her session, “A Legal Guide to VBAC,” is available for download.

Warmly,

Jen

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.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21381881

What can you do when your hospital bans VBAC?

Amber recently left this comment on the Quick Facts page:

i am pregnant for the second time my first child was delivered by c-section my goal is to have my second child natural but the obgyns in my area will not allow someone who has had a c-section to have a natural birth they said it is hospital policy what would you recommend?

Amber,

First educate yourself and then you can take action. You have many options.

I suggest you review the following documents and provide a copy to your health care provider: the most recent ACOG VBAC guidelines, the National Institute of Heath’s 2010 VBAC Statement, and the article VBAC ban rationale is irrational.

Next, read through the steps of planning a VBAC and familiarize yourself with the misinformation that some OBs have used to persuade women to schedule repeat cesareans, so if you hear these same lies, you can identify them: Another VBAC Consult Misinforms, Scare tactics vs. informed consent, VBACing against the odds, and A father says, Why invite the risk of VBAC?.

Additionally, it’s important to know that there are many birth myths rampant on the internet that misrepresent the primary risk of VBAC by minimizing the risk of uterine rupture such as “the risk of uterine rupture in a VBAC mom is similar to (or double) that of an unscarred mom’s risk,” or “the risk of uterine rupture in an induced, unscarred mom is the same as a VBAC mom,” or “a VBAC mom is more likely to be bitten by a shark or struck by lightning than have an uterine rupture.” Again, all these statements are false. And if you see a blog report really low uterine rupture or mortality rates, it’s likely the result of incorrect math.

On to your question. . . Unfortunately, I don’t have any personal experience of pursuing a VBAC in a VBAC ban hospital because I planned a home VBAC in order to avoid all that (almost certain) drama in the hospital. So, I went to my Facebook peeps and got their suggestions and they did not disappoint!

Here are their ideas in their own words…

1. Let hospital administrators and the board of directors know.

Mamas that are passing on a hospital because of their VBAC policy, need to then write the hospital administrators and the boards of directors to tell them that they birthed at XXX Hospital instead of theirs because of their VBAC policy. Hospitals need to hear that they are losing births (aka $$$) because of their policies.

2. Find an ICAN chapter near you.

She needs to get in touch with her closest local ICAN chapter TODAY. They will know details on the exact situation in her area. She should not put stock in what one person tells her- there is a lot of misinformation and myth out there. She can find both a local chapter and information about fighting a VBAC ban at www.ican-online.org

3. Sign a waiver and exercise your legal right to refuse surgery.

I had a VBAC at a hospital where no doctor staff supported it but low and behold all the nurses were amazing! I went in at 5 cm and 3 hours later baby was in my arms. Strong support is a must – I had a midwife, my husband, mom and sister. Stay focused. Don’t sign anything- except the refusal of c/section form- get in there and push your baby out!

and . . .

I would encourage her to ask to see this policy & ask if she would be allowed to sign a waiver. Ask friends if anyone they know has VBAC’d there or at another area facility. I had an experience in my last VBAC where I was told of a “policy” that didn’t really exist except in that person’s mind.

and . . .

Under the right to informed decision making she has the right to say “no thank you”. Absent a court order for a cesarean they cant force her. I’m not a huge fan of the “show up pushing” crowd, but it may appeal to her. Or she could labor in a nearby hotel with a midwife or montrice to monitor the baby and then go in to the hospital at the last minute. Again, not a fan but we’re looking at options here.

and . . .

Regarding stories of VBAC-ban hospitals. I don’t have experience myself, as my VBAC was done with a CNM at a supportive facility – but I’ve attended a VBAC at a local hospital with a VBAC ban. Mama had a RCS [repeat cesarean section] scheduled (though she didn’t intend on going in) but went into spontaneous labor 6 days prior. She labored at home several hours until contractions were about 3 minutes apart. When we arrived and they realized she had a previous c/s, they began calling in a team to prep the OR.

The mama was beyond calm – and in the middle of labor – requested to speak with the staff. The nurses (there were maybe 4 in there?), the attending OB, and the anesthesiologist (who had already been paged for the spinal for surgery) were in her room (ready to wheel her to the OR). Between contractions, she quickly and quietly explained that she was aware it wasn’t typical policy to attend a VBAC, but she was there and it was their legal duty to treat her and she was exercising her legal right to refuse unnecessary surgery.

The nurses looked shocked, the anesthesiologist said something about he was clearly not needed, and the OB (who I swear was VBAC accepting but just was staffed at a VBAC-ban hospital) told her that she was correct, they had to treat her and couldn’t force her to do anything unless her baby was in danger but she’d need to sign quite a bit of paperwork documenting the situation. He had the most odd grin/smirk on his face while he said that as if to somehow thank her for having the nerve to stand up for herself. He left the room and we didn’t see him again until she was crowning.

I in no way, shape, or form feel that that scenario is typical of a VBAC-ban situation, but it was certainly enjoyable and entertaining to have experienced that with my client.

and . . .

I just refused the c-section at a VBAC ban hospital. With my first, I pushed for 4 hours, and he didn’t get past the 0 station (he was presenting transverse) — We lived too far away from the hospital for a homebirth at our own home, but I hired the homebirth midwife for concurrent care. She was going to monitor us at a hotel near the hospital for labor, but thankfully everything went so fast we just met her at the hospital. She served as doula there. I found out from an OB nurse that one of the OBs did support a woman’s right to refuse (though not enthusiastically). I knew I needed care I could trust, so that the only c-section I got was medically necessary. You can read where my midwife tells our story here.

You have every right to refuse an unnecessary c-section, I’d just HIGHLY recommend laboring out of the hospital, and having a doula or knowledgeable advocate with you!

and . . .

This is my advice for VBACing at a banned hospital –

– Sign your informed refusal ahead of time, and be aware that when presented with the risks of VBAC, it will majorly underplay RCS risks; it might be a good idea not to bring your husband to this appointment if he’s feeling nervous about VBAC. [Or have your husband read this article beforehand.]

– Don’t let them give you a late term ultrasound for anything other than a medical problem (in other words — refuse the late ultrasound for size)

– Plan to labor out of the hospital; use a monitrice if you are nervous about that, or a good doula

– Have a smart advocate with you at the hospital so you don’t have to fight any battles yourself and can just focus on laboring

– Get good prenatal care — I did acupuncture and chiropractic, and both of those people had offered to help me in labor if I needed; having that support and belief was very empowering, because my OB absolutely didn’t think we “could” VBAC

– Own your decision; don’t be wishy-washy… be stubborn… this is YOUR BODY. I had a personal mantra that I repeated to myself over and over, “I will only have a medically necessary c-section.”

– Learn ways to get through labor naturally; I really liked the strategies in “Birthing from Within” — even more than hypno or Bradley techniques

– Show up in advanced labor (I was complete when we got to the hospital)

– Know your personal hang-ups — I pushed for 4 hours with my son and am SO GLAD that I labored down in a small bathroom until my urge to push was really strong and spontaneous; I am so glad I wasn’t on the bed pushing for a long time, because this would have brought back too many bad memories and made me feel panicky, tired, and out of control. When I got on the bed to push, I was practically crowning. THAT was very empowering for a “failure to descend” mama

To bottom line – do what you have to to get the care you need, even with limited options; own your body and decision, and give yourself every advantage and tool that you can to help ensure success.

and a VBAC supportive OB who worked in a VBAC ban hospital says:

I’m supposed to tell patients that they have to go elsewhere if they want a VBAC, that they can’t stay in their own community, that they have to drive 50 miles. … I’m not supposed to tell them that they have the option of showing up in labor and refusing surgery. The hospital actually put in writing that I should avoid telling them that. They’re telling me to skew my counseling, and they have no shame in doing so.

4. Ask a different person at the hospital.

Remember that not everyone is knowledgeable about VBAC or a specific hospital’s VBAC policy, even if they work at that hospital.

I have heard an OB tell a mother that her only option was repeat cesarean because the hospital didn’t allow VBAC. The director of Maternal Child Health said it absolutely wasn’t true and gave her the names of VBAC friendly providers.

5. Find another hospital via the VBAC Policies by US Hospitals database compiled by ICAN.

Remember you are buying a service. Why pay for something you don’t want. Shop elsewhere.

6. Find another provider and ask these questions.

7. Birth in another city, county, or state.

Know what you’re comfortable with, hire a doula as well as a midwife or doctor especially if you have a hospital birth, and do your research so you know your rights and options. I’m currently about to “relocate” to Seattle at 37 weeks, from Juneau, AK where there is a hospital VBAC ban at our one hospital in town so I can try to have a VBAC in a more supportive environment. I didn’t think I wanted to fight the VBAC ban while in labor, I’d rather do my political activism in a clearer state of mind! It has been a stressful journey but I know I’m doing what’s right for me so I’m feeling really good about things now. I know this isn’t an option for many and a few women since the beginning of 2011 have refused repeat c/s at our hospital. Good luck!

and . . .

Go somewhere else. . . I traveled 40 mins for my vbac in 2010 because the 6 hospitals around here wouldn’t let them either.

and . . .

I even know a family who crossed state lines to have her baby the way she desired because her states laws wouldn’t allow her.

Joy Szabo said

I found a sane doctor 5 hours away. I got slightly famous for it, too.

and I’ve heard of women traveling to Mexico to VBAC at Plenitude with Dr. José Luis.

8. Consider a homebirth.

Fighting the hospital system while trying to push out a baby is not a simple task. Yes, a support team can be a big help. Personally, I felt more comfortable staying home than going to the hospital with my boxing gloves. It’s a personal choice and she’ll have to see what she’s most comfortable with. At the end of the day, I played out both options in my mind and went with the one that I felt most at peace with.

and. . .

Hello, my personal story in a nutshell… iatrogenically necessitated c/s with my first. For #2, it was a last minute change of plans… I’m a physician and I discovered through the grapevine that OB was planning to resection me without medical indication so #2 turned into planned HBAC. Homebirth VBAC successful with my second. The second was so beautiful, so peaceful, so uncomplicated!

9. Connect with resources for more ideas.

Stratton, B. (2006). 50 Ways to Protest a VBAC Denial. Retrieved from Midwifery Today: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/50ways_vbac.asp

A good closing thought:

The term “will not allow” always bothers me. Perhaps they “won’t attend a VBAC” but they definitely can not stop you. Stand up for your rights. Show them the ACOG recommendation which is to allow a trial of labor! Seek out support. Call every OB you can think of. Look into a midwife. Hire a doula. You can do this.

Do you have more ideas?

Did you deliver at a VBAC ban hospital?

What was your strategy?

Are you a health care provider at a VBAC ban hospital and have some insight?

VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational

Virginia of Hagerstown, Maryland left me this comment in response to the article Why if your hospital “allows” VBAC isn’t enough:

my hospital says that they will do a vbac but they aren’t set up for it because the labor side is far away from the c-section side so if i try to do a vbac and end up having a c section it will take a lot longer to get me to surgery. do you think this is a legitimate reason to consider not having a vbac? im too close to my due date (7 days left) to change hospitals or doctors although i am beginning to wish i would have. ..
-NERVOUS in hagerstown maryland

Hi Virginia,

The short answer is: No, that is not a legitimate reason to deny you a VBAC.

The reality is, you are less likely to experience an uterine rupture than a complication that has absolutely nothing to do with your prior uterine surgery.

Since obstetrical complications arise during labor in women with no history of uterine surgery that require immediate surgical delivery, or more commonly in women with multiple prior repeat cesareans, how can a hospital claim that they are fit to attend those births, but not yours?

Any birth (VBAC or not) could end in a medically necessary cesarean and any hospital (urban or rural) set up for birth should have a plan detailing how they will respond to those inevitabilities.

I have also often wondered how often women with true obstetrical complications requiring immediate cesareans or even car accident victims requiring surgery, have been unable to receive that care due to otherwise healthy moms and healthy babies undergoing  scheduled elective repeat cesareans occupying the operating rooms?  With 92% of American women having repeat cesareans (Martin, 2006), I’m sure it’s happened, especially in smaller hospitals.

The ability of rural hospitals to safely attend VBACs, as well as a specific plan that they could implement, was extensively discussed at the March 2010 National Institutes of Health VBAC conference.  One doctor spoke during the public comment period and stated that her rural hospital  – without 24/7 anesthesia – had a VBAC rate of over 30%!  It turns out, if a hospital is supportive of VBAC and motivated, they can absolutely offer VBAC safely.  (I also welcome you to read the commentary of two obstetricians and one certified nurse midwife who argued against the VBAC ban instated at their local rural hospital.)

As David J. Birnbach, M.D., M.P.H (2010), who presented on the impact of anesthesiologists on the incidence of VBAC 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.  The American Association of Justice article entitled “When every minute counts,” also discusses improving response times.

These drills would also be helpful to the women who have other obstetrical emergencies including placenta previa, placenta accreta, and other complications that are more common in women with multiple prior cesareans.

Additionally, as I argued here:

Scheduled cesarean section puts anyone else who experiences a medical emergency requiring surgery in danger because those operating rooms become unavailable. I wonder how often women with true obstetrical complications requiring immediate cesareans, such as your wife, or non-obstetrical emergencies such as car accident or gunshot victims, have been unable to receive that urgent, time sensitive care due to otherwise healthy moms and healthy babies undergoing scheduled elective repeat cesareans and tying up the operating rooms? With 92% of women having repeat cesareans (Martin, 2006), I’m sure it’s happened, especially in smaller hospitals, many of which only have one or two operating rooms.  These routine repeat cesareans impact everyone and it’s only going to get worse.

I highly recommend you read the Final Statement produced by the conference as it was the catalyst for the subsequent revision of ACOG’s (2010) VBAC guidelines in the Practice Bulletin No. 115 where they affirmed:

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.

This is a huge change.

The term “immediately available,” first introduced in the 1999 Practice Bulletin No. 5 and then reiterated in the 2004 Practice Bulletin No. 45, was the reason why many hospitals ultimately banned VBAC.  Hopefully the removal of that recommendation in this new Practice Bulletin will result in the reversal of VBAC bans and an overall greater support for VBA1C and VBA2C.  ACOG acknowledged that their prior recommendation was resulting in way to many cesareans and the increasing risks that multiple cesareans bring are significant and unacceptable.  (Please read the risks of multiple cesareans detailed by Silver 2006 in Another VBAC Consult Misinforms.)

The removal of the “immediately available” recommendation is supported by the NIH (2010) Final Statement which found it, if implemented in all hospitals, to be an impossible standard that could result in the closing of many Labor & Delivery units:

Would provision of an anesthesiologist standing by waiting for an emergency at every hospital that practices obstetric care increase patient safety?  In truth, that person would need to be doing nothing else clinically, so even being in the hospital might not qualify for “immediately available.”  Looking at the numbers of anesthesia staff currently available, the minimum requirement to provide immediate anesthesia [per the recommendation of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist] care for all deliveries would be to have all deliveries accomplished at facilities with greater than 1,500 deliveries annually.  This would require that approximately three-quarters of all obstetric programs nationwide be closed (Birnbach, 2010).

I am excited and hopeful to see the ripple effects of this new Practice Bulletin especially for women in rural areas.  Hopefully the option of VBAC will become a reality for more women.

______________________________________________

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010, July 21). Ob-Gyns Issue Less Restrictive VBAC Guidelines. Retrieved July 21, 2010, from ACOG: http://www.acog.org/from_home/publications/press_releases/nr07-21-10-1.cfm

Birnbach, D. J. (2010). Impact of anesthesiologists on the incidence of vaginal birth after cesarean in the United States: Role of anesthesia availability, productivity, guidelines, and patient saftey. Vaginal birth after cesarean: New Insights. Programs and Abstracts (pp. 85-87). Bethesda: National Institutes of Health.

Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Sutton, P. D., Ventura, S. J., Menacker, F., & Kirmeyer, S. (2006). Births: Final Data for 2004. National Vital Statistics Reports , 55 (1), 1-102.

National Institutes of Health. (2010, June). Final Statement. Retrieved from NIH Consensus Development Conference on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean: New Insights: http://consensus.nih.gov/2010/vbacstatement.htm

National Institutes of Health. (2010, March 8-10). NIH VBAC Conference: Program & Abstracts. Retrieved from NIH Consensus Development Program: http://consensus.nih.gov/2010/vbacabstracts.htm

Interview with Dr. Fischbein: An Inside Look at Hospitals and VBAC Bans

Stand and Deliver recently conducted an excellent interview with Dr. Stuart Fischbein, a Southern California VBAC and breech supportive OB.  It’s an excellent read and I’m including my favorite parts below.  You can read the entire article here: Stand and Deliver: Interview with Dr. Stuart J. Fischbein.

First, let’s do  quick review of ACOG’s Practice Bulletin #54, published in July 2004 and the reason why some American hospitals have banned VBAC, recommends, “a physician [be] immediately available throughout active [VBAC] labor who is capable of monitoring labor and performing an emergency cesarean delivery.”

Now that we are all on the same page, here are excerpts from Dr. Fischebin’s interview:

Don’t hospitals ban VBAC because it is dangerous?

They ban VBACs under the guise of patient safety. But patient safety is a euphemism for “we don’t have a good evidence-based reason to do it, other than we don’t want to get sued, it’s more expedient, and we make more money from c-sections—the hospital does, not necessarily the physician, but the hospital does—so we’re going to ban it because it’s easier for us, and we’re going to say it’s for patient safety because of the risk of rupturing the uterus.” But you know what? That risk should be something that the patient decides. Patients have a right to be given informed consent, free from misinformation or coercion, free from skewing information that benefits the practitioner or the hospital. And they have the right to consent or refuse to accept the treatment that’s offered. That right is frequently being denied.

What role does malpractice insurance play in VBAC availability?

The reason that a lot of hospitals ban VBACs anyway [despite meeting ACOG’s “immediately available” recommendation] —and this isn’t very well known to most people—is because their insurance carrier will tell them that if they allow VBACs, their premium will be much higher. Rather than pay higher premiums, they just ban VBACs and do so under the guise of patient safety. The hospital lawyers, the insurance company lawyers, the insurance company executives, and the hospital administrators are making decisions for patients and then lying about why they’re doing it.

Aren’t uterine ruptures the primary reason for repeat cesareans in women with a prior cesarean?

Most emergency c-sections, the ones that occur suddenly, have nothing to do with a uterine rupture.  They are for placental abruption, prolapsed cord, or prolonged fetal heart rate decelerations.  Far more often, it’s something unrelated to the VBAC that causes an emergency.  And somehow the hospital can manage to take care of those situations. If hospitals can take care of those things, why can they not take care of VBACs?

ACOG’s latest VBAC recommendation was based on consensus opinion, not scientific evidence.  Doesn’t that matter to hospitals when implementing VBAC bans?

Ultimately it won’t matter to the hospital. It’s not about evidence-based medicine. It’s very clear to me in discussing this with the committees that they don’t care. They’re being told by the risk managers, the lawyers, and the insurance companies that they cannot do VBACs. And that’s the final word. The anesthesia departments are also often behind VBAC bans. They talk about patient safety, but really it is that reimbursement is so bad and they don’t want to have to sit around in the hospital all day long and they are fearful of being sued.

Do hospital administrators impact how an OB counsels a woman on VBAC?

I’m supposed to tell patients that they have to go elsewhere if they want a VBAC, that they can’t stay in their own community, that they have to drive 50 miles. … I’m not supposed to tell them that they have the option of showing up in labor and refusing surgery. The hospital actually put in writing that I should avoid telling them that. They’re telling me to skew my counseling, and they have no shame in doing so.

How do OBs feel about working in hospitals with VBAC/breech bans?

For physicians who are not really committed to doing VBACs or breeches, it’s a lot easier to do a section. You get paid about the same. With a section, you can do the surgery at 7:30 am and you’re in the office by 9 am. If you have a breech or a VBAC, you have to cancel your day or spend the night at the hospital. It’s a lot more work, and you don’t get paid any more for it. So you really have to be either dedicated or crazy or somewhere in between. You have to keep your ethical feet well-grounded.

How do VBAC bans impact hospital revenues?

For hospitals, it’s easy. Does a hospital make more money off a practice that has a 5% c-section rate or a 25% c-section rate? That’s an easy question. Although they will never admit that; [the official reason for VBAC bans] will always be patient safety. Clearly, there’s no incentive for them to offer a VBAC to anybody.

How do VBAC bans impact women seeking VBAC?

A successful VBAC occurs about 73% of the time. If a hospital bans VBAC, they’re basically telling 73% of women that they have to undergo a surgical procedure that carries more morbidity than if they had a vaginal birth.

How could tort reform impact VBAC supportive OBs and birthing women?

[With] tort reform, you might be able to make changes by improving competition. If you get rid of some of the restrictions on businesses, you might see more competition start up. You might see more birth centers open, or birth centers that actually have operating rooms, little maternity hospitals. Just like we’ve seen specialty surgery centers open up recently. For years hospitals tried to squelch these things because they know they can’t compete with them. Some day, maybe the major hospital model will go out of business. And would that be so terrible? We have specialty hospitals that do heart surgeries, gastric bypass, or plastic surgery. Why not specialty hospitals that just do maternity? Run by doctors and midwives.

Monterey County hospital reverses VBAC ban

This is great!  A hospital reversing their VBAC ban!  I really wish articles like this would talk less about "the experience" and more about the life-long benefits of vaginal birth for mom and baby. 

May 28, 2009

Natural birth after c-section possible at NMC again

By Leslie Griffy
lgriffy@thecalifornian.com

Monterey County women who’ve had a c-section don’t have to leave the county to give birth naturally anymore.

Natividad Medical Center announced Wednesday that so-called VBACs vaginal birth after cesarean are back.

Like hospitals throughout the country, those in the county dropped the practice of allowing women who have had cesarean sections to give birth vaginally because of a slight increase in complications for such births. Still demand for the service was there.

"This is something that I’ve heard women wanting for as long as I’ve lived here," said Judy Rasmussen, the hospital’s director of prenatal services.

Increasingly, expectant mothers are pushing for natural birth over c-sections. But many women who have had caesareans in the past were told they’d not be able to find a hospital to give birth naturally.

When Cindy Laurance gave birth to her second child in 1990, she hunted for a place to have her daughter through VBAC and ended up at Natividad, then one of the few to provide the service.

"I wanted the experience of natural birth," she said. "You are much more present when you don’t have a lot of drugs in you."

Her first born, Alex McCloskey, didn’t nurse right away because of the drugs required for the c-section, Laurance said. It was different with daughter Anna, born using VBAC. Her own healing time, Laurance said, was much quicker, and she was empowered by experiencing the birthing process.

"VBAC is a really good opportunity for women to have the experience has nature intended," Laurance said.

Natividad’s insurer, BETA Healthcare, approved the facility for the procedure. It required the hospital to have an obstetrician and anesthesiologist at the hospital 24 hours a day, as well as an operating room on standby should something go wrong, said Dr. Peter Chandler.

"You can’t wait for doctors to come in from home," Chandler said. Natividad had met those requirements for the past year.

The announcement won plaudits from the Birth Network of Monterey County, a group that aims to education families about birthing options.

"The old adage ‘Once a c-section, always a c-section’ no longer holds true," said the group’s Joy Weston.

For more information, call 831-755-4156.


Is VBAC Illegal? Is homebirth illegal?

This post was originally published June 14, 2008.  It has since been updated to include more information on the technicalities of homebirth.

I have incredible software on this website called StatCounter and through that I’m able to see what search engine queries bring people to the site.

I’ve noticed more queries asking if VBAC is illegal.

VBAC is not illegal anywhere in the USA.

It is legal to have a hospital VBAC in all 50 states.

It is legal to have a out-of-hospital VBAC in all 50 states.

If someone has told you that VBAC is illegal, they are either misinformed or are outright lying to you.  Ask them to show you the law.  This is something you should be able to easily look up through a google search.  You won’t find it because it doesn’t exist.

Linda Bennett, a retired midwife, clarifies the issue:

I also think it is important for women to know that OOH (out-of-hospital) VBAC whether home or boat or rv in the parking lot of the hospital or motel or unlicensed birthing center is also legal everywhere.

What may not be “allowed” by state regulation or law varies from state to state but if restrictions are present, it is in the form of restrictions on the license or practice of the practitioner IF she is a midwife (MDs can do what they want, although their peers may give them other headaches for attending an OOH birth).

Birth Centers with a license from their state often have restrictions specified in the law or their regulations (force of law) which mean they could lose their license if…and then VBAC.. breech.. multiples.. may be specified along with other restrictive language decided by their state regulatory board.

And I know what I am speaking about, because the small group of midwives I originally worked with in Santa Cruz took our arrests to California’s State Supreme Court over the licensing issue!

So when you hear the term “it is illegal to VBAC,” it is referring to the fact that it is illegal for a non-doctor to attend homebirths.  The physical act of giving birth in your home is not illegal.  If you are planning a hospital birth, and you don’t make it it the hospital in time and end up giving birth in your bathtub, you did not do anything illegal.

Gretchen Humphries, Advocacy Director, ICAN, explains:

[If] there aren’t laws specifically naming midwives as illegal… it leaves the impression that they aren’t illegal — which isn’t true.  They are illegal because they are practicing Medicine without a license.  They aren’t illegal because they ARE midwives, they are illegal because they AREN’T doctors.  Unless there is legal language making them legal, they aren’t.  Now, fortunately, this is pretty irrelevant in most states, still…..

Some states, like New Jersey, permit midwives to attend homebirths, but not homebirth VBACs (HBACs).

In other states, like California, homebirth and HBAC are legal for midwives to attend though you technically need to use your right of informed refusal to have a HBAC. 

Some states have legislation prohibiting homebirths or birth center births with midwives, and in those states HBAC would also be considered illegal for them to attend. 

Then there are states that permit some midwives, but not others, to attend homebirth.  Iowa and North Carolina permit certified nurse midwives (CNMs) to attend homebirths, but not certified professional midwives (CPMs.)  There is currently a bill providing for licensure of CPMs in Iowa.  Learn more about House Study Bill 229 at Friends of Iowa Midwives.

So why would someone tell you that VBAC is illegal?  Three reasons.  First, it ends the conversation.  One might be apt to debate or look for another care provider if they are told “our hospital doesn’t permit them” or “this OB doesn’t attend them.”  But if you are told it’s illegal, well, most women would just resign themselves to a scheduled repeat cesarean since many women do not want a OOH VBAC.  Linda Bennett gives us the second reason, “It is often convenient ‘shorthand’ to speak of ‘illegal’ HBACs but I find this convenience to serve the purposes of the doctors who oppose any OOH births. The HBAC is not illegal.”  Third, to say something is illegal makes it sound really dangerous, risky, and against the common good.  So by continuing the myth that homebirth is illegal, it’s feeding into the “homebirth is for wackos” machine, when it reality, it is perfectly legal for your OB to deliver your baby at home.  What stops them is a mix malpractice insurance pressures, pressure from other doctors, and the real belief that many OB have that birth is a dangerous event.

So, what do you do if you live in an “illegal” state?  There is hope, as Gretchen explains:

In a state where there is no Midwifery Practice Act, you’ll need to depend on your midwives to know what the “climate” for them is like — mine practice openly, advertise widely, go with all their transports, etc. But they ain’t legal.

So, look around.   You may find that you have options you didn’t even know about.

Ready to plan your VBAC?  Start here: I’m pregnant and want a VBAC, what do I do?.

Attorneys looking for VBAC ban victims

This was emailed out on the ICAN list:

__________________________________________________________

Dear Friends,

As you are likely aware, many women are denied access to VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) because of hospital policies and outright bans. Attorneys with the Northwest Women’s Law Center in Seattle are looking at this issue.

It requires that the woman is planning a hospital birth, in a hospital that bans VBAC, because she has no other options (not feeling comfortable with a homebirth is an acceptable reason to not have a homebirth for this purpose, so it doesn’t have to be in an area where there are also no midwives available). The reason for not having options can be geographic (no close hospitals to go to) or something like restrictions placed on her because of insurance or lack of insurance. But she definitely has to be planning a hospital birth.

__________________________________________________________

I’m a lawyer with the Northwest Women’s Law Center in Seattle. I’m investigating possible legal responses to bans on vaginal birth after cesarean at hospitals in the northwest states Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon. If you are currently pregnant and want to have a VBAC, but are facing a hospital policy that would require you to have a c-section regardless of whether you want it and regardless of whether it is actually medically necessary, and you are willing to consider working with a lawyer on this, we’d like to talk with you. Please respond to
vbacbanhelp at ican-online dot org.

Even if you are not in one of the states listed, you can still help by emailing this out to any email lists you are on and asking everyone who receives it to email it to all the lists THEY are on as well so that it is distributed far and wide. Thanks.

Sincerely,
Susan Hodges, “gatekeeper”

Two Doctors Encourage Native American Women to VBAC!

Here is another response to the statement dated December 2007 from Hastings Indian Medical Center explaining why they no longer offer VBAC.

Wow is this article amazing for being published in the post-2004 “anti-VBAC per ACOG” era, by two MDs no less! If your OB gives you the third degree about VBAC, you might want to give him a copy of this article. The tide against VBAC might be turning!

Dated February 2008, not only does it openly and explicitly encourage VBAC, but it also:

  • declares VBAC as the “safest option”
  • encourages efforts to “minimize the primary cesarean delivery rate”
  • asserts that cesareans increase the risk of “placenta accreta, increta and percreta” which “may be particularly difficult to address in a rural community hospital setting”
  • puts the high cesarean rate squarely on the shoulders of OBs: “Physician specific practices influence cesarean delivery rates”
  • notes that OB attitudes towards cesareans is the “largest stumbling block” in lowering the rate
  • concludes that, “An important ingredient in reducing cesarean delivery, either in nulliparous or parous women, is to place value on vaginal delivery”
  • supports “labor management strategies to reduce cesarean rates in the Native American population in the Oklahoma Area and nationwide”
  • questions why smaller hospitals state they can’t accommodate VBAC, yet offer maternity services, when there are other emergencies that occur during non-VBAC labors at a greater rate than uterine rupture
  • encourages hospitals to revaluate their policies and support VBAC
  • asserts that VBAC is successful 75% of the time
  • reaffirms that spontaneous VBAC labors are more successful (80.6%) than VBAC labors that are induced (67.4%) or augmented (73.9%)
  • reaffirms that women who are more than 4 centimeters dilated upon admission have greater VBAC success (83.8% vs. 66.8%)
  • found VBAC success can be had among women with “larger babies” (over 4000 grams or 8 lb, 12 oz) (62%) and women who are ‘overdue’ as defined as 41 weeks or more (64.8%).  I would personally take these odds over the 0% chance of VBAC success if you have a scheduled repeat cesarean!

Maybe the pendulum is finally swinging the other way and this will be the beginning of VBAC support for all women.

The emphasis below is mine.  Note that VBAC is referred to as ‘trial of labor after cesarean’ or TOLAC.

Leeman, Larry, MD, MPH and Eve Espey, MD, MPH. “Concern for rising Cesarean rates in Native American populations.” CCC Corner 6.2 (February 2008)

Concern for rising Cesarean rates in Native American populations

By Larry Leeman MD, MPH and Eve Espey MD, MPH

Editorial Note : The following is in response to a Point / Counterpoint discussion of trial of labor after cesarean (TOLAC) in rural hospitals, December CCC Corner*

We appreciate the willingness to engage in discussion about trial of labor after cesarean (TOLAC) availability and the approach to cesarean delivery at W. W. Hastings Hospital. Every facility faces unique factors in the decision to offer TOLAC services. However, we fear that the high total cesarean rate and lack of TOLAC services will ultimately result in worse perinatal outcomes considered from a population level.

Not only is vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) highly desired by many women, but it is preferable to a repeat cesarean delivery in certain women, including those with a single cesarean delivery who have had a successful vaginal birth before or after their cesarean delivery. Evidence suggests that such women should be encouraged to have a TOLAC particularly if they plan to have additional children. Given these data, anesthesia staff should be strongly encouraged to change their policy and offer 1 VBAC services in accordance with guidelines similar to those developed in the Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network (NNEPQIN). Ethically, it is difficult to justify withholding TOLAC when it is the safest option. If services were offered to this group of women, obstetrical and anesthesia staff could develop greater comfort with TOLAC and expand the local eligibility criteria.

Annual cesarean rates at some Indian Health facilities in Oklahoma are > 37% and short term rates over 40%, hence are above the recently published 2006 national rates for the total U.S population (31.1%), the Oklahoma state population (33.3%), and the US Native American population (27.5%) 2 We note that the Native American cesarean rate increased 1.5% from 2005 to 2006, almost double the 0.8% increase for the total US population. The rising cesarean rate is likely a reflection of both rising primary cesarean delivery rates and decreased vaginal birth after cesarean delivery.

Given the limited availability of TOLAC services for women in the Oklahoma service area, efforts should be made to minimize the primary cesarean delivery rate. The decision to lower the threshold for primary cesarean delivery as evidenced by an acceptance of the high rate and an unwillingness to look at physician specific factors will result in higher adverse outcomes in future pregnancies 3, particularly when combined with the lack of TOLAC services. Women in the Hastings area with primary cesareans can be anticipated to have cesareans in all future births placing them at increased risk for placenta accreta, increta and percreta 5. These complications of abnormal placentation may be particularly difficult to address in a rural community hospital setting.

Although Healthy People 2010 does not include a recommendation for the total cesarean rate due to varying patient factors, it recommends that efforts be made to decrease the primary cesarean rate to 15% in women who are giving birth for the first time 6. ACOG similarly recommends that comparative cesarean delivery rates for populations, hospitals, or physicians should be based on the subgroup of nulliparous women with term singleton vertex gestations 7. We would be interested in seeing the rate for this population at those affected facilities in Oklahoma Area.

We worked in at the Gallup Indian Medical Center (GIMC) and Zuni-Ramah Hospitals in the 1990s and continue to work with Native populations in Albuquerque and New Mexico. Our study of the population based CS rate in Zuni-Ramah in the 1990s demonstrated a 7.3% cesarean rate despite an incidence of diabetes and hypertensive disorders well above national rates 8. Physician specific practices influence cesarean delivery rates 9. We believe that the cesarean delivery review initiated at GIMC in the early 1990s was important in identifying factors in patient management that can result in a high cesarean rate.

An important ingredient in reducing cesarean delivery, either in nulliparous or parous women, is to place value on vaginal delivery. The attitude that “None of the physicians in our department are concerned with our cesarean delivery rate” may prove the largest stumbling block in developing strategies more consistent with national goals.

We suggest that the maternity care providers in Hastings present the evidence for improved maternal outcomes in women with prior vaginal delivery to their anesthesia colleagues and make TOLAC available at least for this group of women. Addressing the high total (and presumably) primary cesarean rates will require analysis of the indications and physician specific patterns. Given the increasing evidence for adverse outcomes with multiple repeat cesareans and the limited ability of community hospitals to address problems with placenta accreta, increta and percreta, we support labor management strategies to reduce cesarean rates in the Native American population in the Oklahoma Area and nationwide.

OB/GYN CCC Editorial comment:

An argument for better teamwork: Trial of labor after cesarean in Indian Country

First, I want to thank the leaders of the Indian Health Midwives listserv for raising these important issues, as this discussion was originally begun in the Midwives Corner feature. Though the current discussion revolves around Indian Health facilities, it is reflective of most small rural hospitals and increasingly some larger urban facilities.

Next, the availability of the trial of labor after cesarean option is really a ‘systems’ issue not just a problem confined to midwives or physicians. To decrease the long term morbidity and mortality associated with cesarean rates that now exceed 40%, we need to approach this issue systematically. Specifically, how can we engage our Indian Health administrative staff to foster an environment whereby anesthesia, pediatric, and nursing services work together with the provider staff to decrease excess morbidity in Native women.

Should you offer vaginal birth after cesarean delivery at your facility?

Should your referral facility be offering VBAC?

Let’s put some of the above issues into perspective.

What are just a few of the risks that you should currently handle very well:

Incidence per 100
Shoulder dystocia 0.2 -3.0
Cord Prolapse 0.14 – 0.62
Abruptio placenta, overall 0.4 – 1.3
Abruptio placenta, severe – stillbirth 0.12
Placenta previa, third trimester 0.1 to 0.4
Placenta accreta, overall 0.18
Placenta accreta / previa unscarred 1 – 5
Placenta accreta / previa with 1 Ces Del. 11 to 25
Placenta accreta / previa with 2 Ces 35 to 47
Placenta accreta / previa with > 3 Ces 50 to 67
Post partum hemorrhage 1 – 5
Trauma 7

In all but one of the above cases the incidence of these obstetric emergencies is actually increasing each year.

If you can’t provide VBAC because of the 0.5% risk of uterine rupture, then should your facility be offering intrapartum care at all? [emphasis theirs]

If you work at a facility that can not develop a rapid response for a clinical issue like symptomatic uterine rupture in a VBAC setting, which happens ~0.5 percent of the time, then your facility, should re-evaluate its ability to manage obstetric intrapartum care.

Taken on their own individual merit, most of the above common urgencies and emergencies occur more frequently than 0.5 percent. Taken as an aggregate, the risks above far outweigh the risks of VBAC. Now seeing the above risks, if you feel you need to re-evaluate offering obstetric intrapartum care because the above risks, then please contact me as soon as possible.

For those facilities that feel they are able to continue to offer obstetric intrapartum care within the risk environment above, then I would suggest a program of emergency obstetric drills, pan-ALSO** certification for all nurses and providers, and an ongoing quality assurance.

Each of the last three national Indian Women’s Health and MCH Conferences has devoted significant blocks of lecture time and workshops to improve systems of care and specific content updates. (Link to Meeting Lecture notes below)

Lastly, there seems to be some confusion as some providers at times combine the risk of a TOLAC sequela vs the relative success of a vaginal birth in TOLAC. These are two separate issues that need to be discussed with our patients separately for a fully informed consent.

1.) Success of vaginal delivery

Overall the rate of successful vaginal delivery in TOLAC is actually quite high, often in the range of 75% in the general population, and much higher success rate in the AI/AN population at 85-90% over the years.

A previous successful VBAC is probably the best predictor of future success; about 90 percent of such women deliver vaginally with trial of labor. By comparison, women delivered abdominally for dystocia are least successful, although approximately two-thirds are delivered vaginally.

Among the previous dystocia group, the success rate is higher if cesarean delivery was performed in the latent phase of labor and lower if performed after full dilatation. Within the former group, 79% of women who originally had surgery while still in the latent phase of labor had a successful trial of labor, compared with 61% of patients who had an arrest of dilation in the active phase of labor and 65% of those who had an arrest of descent. (Duff et al Obstet Gynecol 1988 Mar;71 (3 Pt 1):380-4.)

Multivariate logistic regression analysis identified as predictive of TOL success: previous vaginal delivery (OR 3.9; 95% CI 3.6-4.3), previous indication not being dystocia (CPD/FTP) (OR 1.7; 95% CI 1.5-1.8), spontaneous labor (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.5-1.8), birth weight <4000 g (OR 2.0; 95% CI 1.8-2.3), and Caucasian race (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.6-1.9) (all P < .001).

The overall TOL success rate in obese women (BMI > or = 30) was lower (68.4%) than in nonobese women (79.6%) (P < .001), and when combined with induction and lack of previous vaginal delivery, successful VBAC occurred in only 44.2% of cases. (Landon et al The MFMU Cesarean Registry: factors affecting the success of trial of labor after previous cesarean delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Sep;193(3 Pt 2):1016-23. )

The combination of previous cesarean for dystocia, no previous vaginal delivery, and induced labor had a particularly poor prognosis in the Flamm system, e. g., fewer than 50 percent of such women achieved a successful TOL.

A decision analysis model favored TOL if the chance of success was >50 percent and if the desire for additional pregnancies was 10 to 20 percent. (Mankuta et al Am J Obstet Gynecol 2003 Sep;189(3):714-9.)

Trial of labor success rates: obstetrical and historical factors

Characteristic VBAC success, percent Odds ratio (95% CI)
Previous CD indication
Dystocia 63.5 0.34 (0.30-0.37)
NRFWB [nonreassuring fetal well-being] 72.6 0.51 (0.45-0.58)
Other 77.5 0.67 (0.58-0.76)
Malpresentation* 83.8 1.0
Previous vaginal delivery
Yes* 86.6 1.0
No 60.9 0.24 (0.22-0.26)
Previous VBAC
Yes* 86.6 1.0
No 64.4 0.21 (0.19-0.23)
Labor type
Induction 67.4 0.50 (0.45-0.55)
Augmented 73.9 0.68 (0.62-0.75)
Spontaneous 80.6 1.0
Admit cervical dilation
< 4 66.8 0.39 (0.36-0.42)
≥ 4* 83.8 1.0
Birth weight (g)
< 2500 (5.5 lbs) 77.2 1.14 (0.89-1.47)
2500-3999* (5.5 lbs – 8.8 lbs) 74.9 1.0
≥ 4000 (over 8.8 lbs) 62.0 0.55 (0.49-0.61)
Gestational age (week/day)
37 0/7-40 6/7* 75.0 1.0
≥ 41 64.8 0.61 (0.55-0.68)

All overall P values are <.001; for categorical characteristics, only the comparison of birth weight <2500 g to 2500 to 3999 is not significant (P=.33).
CI: confidence interval; CD: cesarean delivery; VBAC: vaginal birth after CD; NRFWB: nonreassuring fetal well-being.
* Women with this characteristic served as the reference group.
Modified from: Landon, MB, Leindecker, S, Spong, CY, et al. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2005; 193:1016.

Flamm scoring system tool

Variable Point value
Age under 40 years 2
Vaginal birth history
Before and after 1st cesarean 4
After 1st cesarean 2
Before 1st cesarean 1
None 0
Reason other than FTP for 1st cesarean 1
Cervical effacement at admission
> 75 percent 2
25 percent – 75 percent 1
< 25 percent
Cervical dilation 4 cm or more at admission 1
Score (percent) VBAC successful
0 to 2 49
3 60
4 67
5 77
6 89
7 93
8 to 10 95

FTP: failure to progress.
Data from: Flamm, BL, Geiger, AM. Obstet Gynecol 1997; 90:907.

2.) Risks:

Numerous risk factors have been cited for uterine rupture during labor in women with a previous CD. However, these risk factors are not consistent across studies, which are generally hampered by small numbers of patients with uterine rupture. Unfortunately, no single factor or combination of risk factors is sufficiently reliable to be clinically useful for prediction of uterine rupture.

Purported risk factors include maternal age greater than 30 years, induction of labor, more than one prior CD, postpartum fever, interdelivery interval less than 18 to 24 months, dysfunctional labor, and one layer uterine closure. Within this framework of incomplete data the New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network (NNEPQIN) has developed a system to appropriately manage the risks.

Low Risk Patient:

  • 1 prior low transverse cesarean delivery
  • Spontaneous onset labor
  • No need for augmentation
  • No repetitive FHR abnormalities
  • Patients with a prior successful VBAC are especially low risk.
    (However, their risk status escalates the same as other low risk patients)

Medium Risk Patient:

  • Induction of labor
  • Pitocin augmentation
  • 2 or more prior low transverse cesarean deliveries*
  • < 18 months between prior cesarean delivery and current delivery

High Risk Patient:

  • Repetitive non-reassuring FHR abnormalities not responsive to clinical intervention. /li>
  • Bleeding suggestive of abruption
  • 2 hours without cervical change in the active phase despite adequate labor

* NB: ‘Two prior uterine scars and no vaginal deliveries’ is listed as a circumstance under which trial of labor should not be attempted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 54, ‘Vaginal birth after previous cesarean delivery’.

Here is a suggested management system per NNEPQIN

Low risk

Notify Pediatrics, Anesthesia, and operating room crew of admission
OB/GYN on campus during active phase
Perinatal Guidelines of Care, ACOG, observed

Medium risk

Notify Pediatrics, Anesthesia, and operating room crew of admission
Operating room on campus in active phase or other plan if crew is busy

High risk

OB/GYN, Anesthesia, and Pediatrics available
No other acute care responsibilities
Rapid decision to incision

Please see the Midwives Corner and Oklahoma Perspective, below, for further discussion on this topic. A complete discussion of risk, benefits, and systems issues is available in the Perinatology Corner module: Vaginal Birth after cesarean http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/M/PNC/VB01.cfm

Other Resources:

Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in rural hospitals Counterpoint: David Gahn, M.D.

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/M/obgyn1207_Feat.cfm#MidWives

New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network (NNEPQIN)

http://www.nnepqin.org/

Indian Health Meeting lecture notes

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/F/lecNotes.cfm

OB Emergency Drills in Indian Country

http://www.ihs.gov/medicalprograms/mch/F/documents/OBEmergDrills.ppt

2007 Indian Health Data Summary (Deliveries, VBAC rates, etc…)

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/F/documents/DataTally81107.doc

** ALSO = Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics

http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/cme/aafpcourses/clinicalcourses/also.html

Leeman and Espey References:

1 Cahill AG, Stamilio DM, ADibo AO, Pelpert JF, et al. Is vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) or elective repeat cesarean safer in women with a prior vaginal delivery? Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006; 195:1143-7.

2 Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Ventura SJ. Births: Preliminary data for 2006. National vital statistics reports; vol 56 no 7. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2007.

3 Kennare R, Tucker G, Heard A, Chan A. Risks of adverse outcomes in the next birth after a first cesarean delivery. Obstet Gynecol 2007; 109:270-6.

4 Silver RM, Landon MB, Rouse DJ, Leveno KJ, Spong CY, Thom EA, et al. Maternal morbidity associated with multiple repeat cesarean deliveries. Obstet Gynecol 2006;107:1226–32.

5 Getahun D, Oyelese Y, Salihu HM, Ananth CV. Previous cesarean delivery and risks of placenta previa and placental abruption. Obstet Gynecol 2006;107:771–8.

6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010. 2nd ed. With Understanding and Improving Health and Objectives for Improving Health. 2 vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 2000.

7 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Task Force on Cesarean Delivery Rates. Evaluation of cesarean delivery. Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2000.

8 Leeman L, Leeman R. A Native American community with 7% cesarean delivery rate: Case mix analysis, risk factors and operative indications. Ann Fam Med. 2003;1:36-43.

9 Luthy DA, Malmgren JA, Zingheim RW, Leininger C. Physician contribution to a cesarean delivery risk model. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003;188:1579-85

Cahill AG, Stamilio DM, ADibo AO, Pelpert JF, et al. Is vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) or elective repeat cesarean safer in women with a prior vaginal delivery? Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006; 195:1143-7.

Midwife Outlines Why VBAC Bans Don’t Serve Parents

A couple days ago, I posted the statement dated December 2007 from Hastings Indian Medical Center explaining why they no longer offer VBAC.

A midwife responded in the February 2008 edition of the same publication. Below find my favorite sections and below that is her entire piece.

Lisa Allee, CNM sums up ACOG and hospital VBAC policies so beautifully,

The change from pro-VBAC thinking to pro-repeat cesarean delivery occurred when ACOG came out with a recommendation (not a requirement) that physicians (doesn’t specify anesthesia) should be immediately available (no definition supplied).

Dr. Gahn, the author of Hastings’ statement, defended its cesarean rate of 37%,

I propose that every time a healthy mom walks out of the hospital with a healthy baby, we have succeeded in our mission.  Is our cesarean delivery rate too high?  Until I see the definition of “too high”, I’ll argue with you.

Ms. Allee suggests,

As a department, or even better as an interdisciplinary team or service unit, review the World Health Organization and USPHS Healthy People 2010 recommendations for cesarean delivery rates. Both of these respected and esteemed organizations have clearly and repeatedly recommended cesarean delivery rates in the 10-15% range. This clearly answers the question about whether a cesarean delivery rate of 37%, which is more than double to triple these recommendations, is too high and gives a very good indication as to what is too high for a cesarean delivery rate.

She also specifies how a woman should be counseled on VBAC vs. repeat CS,

Re-evaluate how VBAC counseling is done. To provide true informed consent the numbers need to be presented clearly. The data consistently shows a uterine rupture rate of 0.5-3%–it is important to explain that this means 97-99.5 women out of 100 will not have a uterine rupture and out of the few that do, not all will have problems. It is, of course, important to discuss the risk of uterine rupture to mother and baby, but to put it in this perspective of being rare and review the high-quality, careful care we provide to women who are VBACing to help prevent problems. It is also very important to review the differences in postpartum morbidity and risk between a vaginal birth and cesarean delivery, (be sure to include the oft ignored higher rates of breastfeeding and orgasm difficulties post cesarean delivery.) If, in contrast, providers only make a recommendation of repeat cesarean delivery and an institution has a policy that only allows for repeat cesarean delivery, then they have effectively negated a woman’s right to make an informed decision in a situation where there is a choice.

And she suggests that women be given an accurate picture of what a cesarean is like,

Review the postpartum morbidity and risk differences for women post vaginal birth vs. post cesarean delivery. This will help to dispel the delusion that a woman who has had a cesarean delivery is walking out of the hospital “healthy” and bring a more accurate sense of respect for what is really happening for that woman. She has just had major abdominal surgery and is in recovery from that surgery. She is in pain and is at risk for a number of post-surgical complications. Her future pregnancies have also now taken on a longer list of potential risks. Along with all this she is also a new mother with a newborn to care for and feed every 1-2 hours with an abdominal incision that she is fully aware of each time she moves. This human perspective of the implications of a cesarean delivery might help providers to be concerned with their personal and institutional cesarean delivery rates.

Finally, she says something that is so obvious, yet, remains a foreign concept in obstetrics.  This is what every pregnant woman dreams of hearing from her provider,

Most importantly we need to respect the women we care for as the ones who are giving birth and realize that, therefore, it needs to be up to them where, how, and with whom they will do so. We are here to provide information and care—to serve not to dictate.

We need more care providers like Lisa Allee. 

Below is her entire response.  The emphasis below in the body of the article is mine.

 

Allee, Lisa, CNM. “Midwives Corner.” CCC Corner 6.2 (February 2008)

 

Midwives Corner – Lisa Allee, CNM

1.) AI / AN women are really successful at doing this
2.) The evidence supports this
3.) Women want and benefit from this

What is this win3 best practice process?
(a.k.a. win / win / win)

It is vaginal birth after cesarean
(We need to provide them)

The following is in response to the comments of Dr. David Gahn regarding VBACs at Hastings Indian Medical Center that appeared in this column in the December issue of the CCC Newsletter (see link below). This following is a conglomeration of my and other midwives’ responses.

First, here is some overall VBAC information to ponder.

We must all remind ourselves of recent history. The change from pro-VBAC thinking to pro-repeat cesarean delivery occurred when ACOG came out with a recommendation (not a requirement) that physicians (doesn’t specify anesthesia) should be immediately available (no definition supplied).

This recommendation was based on a poorly done study of discharge diagnosis codes that actually demonstrated the same statistics on uterine rupture as previous studies of VBAC, but the authors came to very different conclusions (Lyndon-Rochelle 2001) Unfortunately, much of this country went wildly swinging to the extreme end of the pendulum’s arc and stopped offering VBACs. Luckily, some kept their heads and a plethora of research has been published since which show VBAC to be a safe and reasonable option for the majority of women with a history of cesarean deliveries and many benefits to VBAC over repeat cesarean delivery.

(Please see the many citations that have been reviewed in December Obstetrics section of this publication – link below plus this month’s Abstract of the Month. More citations were supplied by Neil Murphy and Sheila Mahoney on the Indian Health Midwives listserv discussion related to VBACs.)

Among the places that have remained sane and continued to offer VBACs are many of us in the Indian Health Service ( Alaska Native Medical Center even got an award from the American College Nurse Midwifes) and a group in the Northeast, the Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network (NNEPQIN). (link below) The folks in the New England coalition have come out with useful guidelines on deciding about VBAC and providing quality care. Their work also helped us all face a bigger picture—how we handle emergency surgery in general and how we can improve. Their suggestions include improving teamwork, communications, and skills via drills. This has the potential to improve responses to emergency birth needs beyond the very few situations related to VBACs. Those of us in IHS who have continued VBACs have shown continued success with excellent statistics and outcomes (see 2007 Indian Health Data Tally Sheet below)

Overall, the pendulum is hopefully beginning to swing back towards a more rational approach to VBACs—there was even a quote from an ACOG official that suggested a possible move towards revising their “immediately available” statement (see August 2006 Midwives Corner below)

Second, let’s go over some of the specifics raised by Dr. Gahn. Since, according to Dr. Gahn, none of the physicians or midwives at Hastings are anti-VBAC, I thought I would use the responses from other midwives and myself to formulate some suggestions to help overcome the barriers to VBACs at Hastings which were elucidated by Dr. Gahn. These suggestions can also be used by the few other IHS sites that may be experiencing problems with offering VBAC services.

  • Have a journal club to present the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports providing VBAC services. Make sure to include the materials from the Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network and IHS VBAC statistics. Invite (coerce attendance, i.e., pizza or desserts, as needed) all members of the perinatal team including anesthesia and executive staff members who supervise the provider staff. This will help ensure that all involved have the information to begin providing evidence based care and should help to start the efforts to develop a functional interdisciplinary team. This should also help those obstetricians who “are not anti-TOLAC/VBAC”, but are not on board with the VBAC plan to start their process of getting on board.
  • Start doing drills for obstetrical emergencies. This will help to improve skills, as well as, teamwork and communication between anesthesia, surgery, midwifery, obstetrics, nursing—your second step in team building. This should help a number of issues. It should help to impress all on-call staff to do what is necessary to improve response time with the goal of your med-staff-rules-and-regulations-required 20 minutes becoming reliable. Maybe this will help folks come to the conclusion of having key personnel located close by—i.e. a call room or on campus housing. This would solve the problem of anesthesia not being available when a VBAC patient is laboring. When the larger picture of response to any emergent surgery is focused upon then the VBAC topic, which represents a very small proportion of the potential emergency surgeries, is automatically included.
  • As a department, or even better as an interdisciplinary team or service unit, review the World Health Organization and USPHS Healthy People 2010 recommendations for cesarean delivery rates. Both of these respected and esteemed organizations have clearly and repeatedly recommended cesarean delivery rates in the 10-15% range. This clearly answers the question about whether a cesarean delivery rate of 37%, which is more than double to triple these recommendations, is too high and gives a very good indication as to what is too high for a cesarean delivery rate.
  • Re-evaluate how VBAC counseling is done. To provide true informed consent the numbers need to be presented clearly. The data consistently shows a uterine rupture rate of 0.5-3%–it is important to explain that this means 97-99.5 women out of 100 will not have a uterine rupture and out of the few that do, not all will have problems. It is, of course, important to discuss the risk of uterine rupture to mother and baby, but to put it in this perspective of being rare and review the high-quality, careful care we provide to women who are VBACing to help prevent problems. It is also very important to review the differences in postpartum morbidity and risk between a vaginal birth and cesarean delivery, (be sure to include the oft ignored higher rates of breastfeeding and orgasm difficulties post cesarean delivery.) If, in contrast, providers only make a recommendation of repeat cesarean delivery and an institution has a policy that only allows for repeat cesarean delivery, then they have effectively negated a woman’s right to make an informed decision in a situation where there is a choice.
  • Review the postpartum morbidity and risk differences for women post vaginal birth vs. post cesarean delivery. This will help to dispel the delusion that a woman who has had a cesarean delivery is walking out of the hospital “healthy” and bring a more accurate sense of respect for what is really happening for that woman. She has just had major abdominal surgery and is in recovery from that surgery. She is in pain and is at risk for a number of post-surgical complications. Her future pregnancies have also now taken on a longer list of potential risks. Along with all this she is also a new mother with a newborn to care for and feed every 1-2 hours with an abdominal incision that she is fully aware of each time she moves. This human perspective of the implications of a cesarean delivery might help providers to be concerned with their personal and institutional cesarean delivery rates.
  • Consider IHS as a model for the local standard of care. Since we are not controlled by insurance companies, we in IHS often have more opportunity then our colleagues outside IHS to provide care that is evidence-based. VBAC care is one of those situations and we can proudly stand up in the maternity care community as a model of excellent care.

Most importantly we need to respect the women we care for as the ones who are giving birth and realize that, therefore, it needs to be up to them where, how, and with whom they will do so. We are here to provide information and care—to serve not to dictate.

Please feel free to contact me for any questions or comments and for requests for links to the above mentioned resources atlisa.allee@ihs.gov.

Resources

Midwives Corner December 2007 CCCC

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/M/obgyn1207_Feat.cfm#MidWives

Indian Health Maternity and Women’s Health Data Tally Sheet, 2007

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/F/documents/DataTally81107.doc

Lydon-Rochelle M, et al. Risk of uterine rupture during labor among women with a prior cesarean delivery. NEJM 2001; 345:3-8. (Level III)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11439945?dopt=Abstract

Obstetric Hot Topics December 2007 CCCC

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/M/obgyn1207_HT.cfm#ob

Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network

http://www.nnepqin.org/

Midwives Corner August 2006 CCCC

http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/MCH/M/obgyn0806_Feat.cfm#MidWives

A Rural Hospital Defends its VBAC Ban

I love reading why hospitals ban VBAC.  There are opportunities to learn about how that particular hospital operates, specific insurance issues they face, internal politics, and personal philosophies.  And it’s always interesting to see things from the OBs perspective.

It’s very telling that when they offered VBAC, only 2 women per year opted for VBAC after being “counseled by a physician.”  Most women who have been “counseled by a physician” on VBAC vs repeat CS can tell you how that conversation goes.  It typically leaves the woman with the impression that VBACs are dangerous and repeat cesareans are not.  Women are lead to believe that if you VBAC, you are putting yourself and your baby at risk, and if you have a repeat cesarean, you and your baby will be fine.

Since their VBAC ban, they “recommend a repeat cesarean delivery and tell patients of our policy.  We occasionally have a patient that refuses a recommended c/s (breech, previous c/s, macrosomia, history of shoulder dystocia with permanent injury) and we have them sign a consent form and take care of her very well.  This is all well within the standard of care.”  I wonder how much that “occasional” patient must fight in order to have a VBAC.  If it’s like most hospitals, very hard.

“On a similar topic, we don’t offer women elective primary cesarean delivery even if the patient should decide this is her preferred method of delivery.  In this case, we do refuse to allow women to give birth the way they choose.”  I would hope that if I came in and asked them to remove one of my lungs, without any medical reason, they should deny me as well.  Should they be congratulated for not performing major abdominal surgery without a valid medical reason?

“None of the physicians in our department are concerned with our cesarean delivery rate.  One quote I heard is, ‘My cesarean delivery rate is 100% for everyone who needs a cesarean delivery.'”  And everyone who has had a prior cesarean “needs” another one, right?

Be sure to read the two responses to this piece supporting VBAC and denouncing this VBAC ban.  The first by two MDs and the second by a CNM.

Gahn, David, M.D.. “Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in rural hospitals.” CCC Corner 5.11 (December 2007)

Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in rural hospitals

Counterpoint: David Gahn, M.D.

At Hastings Indian Medical Center, the Ob/Gyn Department decided to stop offering VBAC’s routinely. None of the physicians or midwives is “anti-TOLAC/VBAC” but we considered several factors:

1) Our anesthesia department refuses to participate in a management plan to facilitate VBAC despite any data we may present.  If we request them to be in house during a VBAC, they will refuse.  Then I have to document in the chart that I requested anesthesia and they would not come in.  That is a terrible way to do business.  Our anesthesia department does provide excellent care to our laboring patients and are pros at emergent cesarean deliveries.  They are skilled professionals, but the department is not staffed well enough to provide a CRNA or anesthesiologist dedicated solely to L&D.

2) Even though our Med Staff Rules and Regulations require on call personnel to able to present themselves within 20 minutes, this is not reliable.  Also, we have only one OR crew and only one anesthesia person available in the evening.  We have a protocol for an emergency c/s when the OR crew is already operating, but nothing is workable to do a cesarean hysterectomy with no anesthesia or OR crew.  If you have ever done an emergent c/s under local with a CNM and an L&D nurse, you will appreciate this.

3) We also considered the local standard of practice. The one insurance company that covers physicians in the entire state of Oklahoma will not cover a physician who performs TOLAC/VBAC’s.  Therefore, there are no physicians other than federally employed physicians and Oklahoma University in Oklahoma City 3 hours away (they are self-insured) who will allow TOLAC.  While this doesn’t apply to the Federal Tort Claims Act, it does apply to the physician tort database, our licensing authorities, the physician’s reputation, and the hospitals reputation.  (Tort claims are printed in our local newspaper.)

4) In order for us to offer TOLAC, all 6 of our Ob/Gyn’s need to be on board with the plan and they are not, mainly because anesthesia is not in house.  There is data that supports VBAC without anesthesia present in the hospital, but you don’t know our anesthesia department or how busy we are in the evenings.

5)  Unfortunately, the national data on c/s rates is usually 2-3 years behind, and our hospital has matched those rates.  We deliver about 975 babies per year, and our c/s rate to date for CY 2007 is 37%.  Should we be ashamed of the number or proud of the good outcomes? The balance between risks and benefits in this regard in tenuous.

6) I propose that every time a healthy mom walks out of the hospital with a healthy baby, we have succeeded in our mission.  Is our cesarean delivery rate too high?  Until I see the definition of “too high”, I’ll argue with you.  I disagree with the argument that our rate is what it is because we take care of higher risk patients.  I don’t think that is a reason.  We do have a high teen pregnancy rate, diabetes, massive obesity, hypertension, etc., but we haven’t studied it that closely. We would love to decrease the c/s rate, but obstetrics is a treacherous business and each physician is held responsible for the health of patients, mom and baby. We have to face reality – if a patient does not have a perfect baby, the physician will suffer a tort claim. (And I do mean suffer.)

7) We can’t and don’t force women to have repeat cesarean deliveries, for that would be assault.  We do recommend a repeat cesarean delivery and tell patients of our policy.  We occasionally have a patient that refuses a recommended c/s (breech, previous c/s, macrosomia, history of shoulder dystocia with permanent injury) and we have them sign a consent form and take care of her very well.  This is all well within the standard of care.

On a similar topic, we don’t offer women elective primary cesarean delivery even if the patient should decide this is her preferred method of delivery.  In this case, we do refuse to allow women to give birth the way they choose.

8 ) When we did offer TOLAC, we had about 2 per year.  We take this to mean that the others, after being counseled by a physician, opted for repeat c/s.  Considering this, our c/s rate would not appreciably change if we offered VBACs.

9) Please don’t condemn us for a policy that does not recommend VBAC’s. Recognize that the data and ACOG support both options, and also recognize that the data has to be applied to the hospital.  Because of the number of deliveries we perform, we have reliable data on post-operative infections (half the national average), TTN, transfusions, IUFD’s, etc.  Also know that we have excellent collaboration between our 6 physicians, 7 midwives, and 1 nurse practitioner.  We don’t make policies like this lightly and we examine the data carefully and applied it to our current practice.

So the bottom line is we might be more aggressive with TOLAC/VBACs if we had additional support.  None of the physicians in our department are concerned with our cesarean delivery rate.  One quote I heard is, “My cesarean delivery rate is 100% for everyone who needs a cesarean delivery.”  While this a bit crass, it is germane – the decision to perform a c/s rests solely with the physician charged with the care of the patient and the patient.  I would love for our cesarean delivery rate to be 15%, but not at the expensive of a single injured child or mother. I fully support TOLAC in the right environment. That environment does not exist at Hastings Indian Medical Center. David.Gahn@ihs.gov

Consumers Question a VBAC Ban

A mom in Southern California sent me this letter that she sent to her local hospital.  With her permission, I’m sharing it here.  The hospital did respond to her in writing, which you can read here.

******************************

February 18, 2008

Dear _________,

I am a mother of a toddler who was born by cesarean. I recently moved to the area and was disappointed to learn that in 2003, [Hospital] system banned vaginal birth after cesareans (VBACs). According to [a local newspaper] article that covered the decision,

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended in 1999 that physicians, including an anesthesiologist, be ‘immediately available’ 24 hours a day at any facility that sanctions a so-called VBAC […] [Hospital] cannot meet the staffing standard…. ‘Very few hospitals outside of universities are going to be offering this.’ The prime concern is that during labor a woman’s uterus can rupture along her existing C-section scar line. Critics are quick to note what several sources report — that such tears happen less than 1 percent of the time. […] ‘The problem is when things go awry, things change immediately and that could be a dramatic outcome for the mother or the baby.

Recent research shows the risk of uterine rupture among women with one prior low uterine segment cesarean in spontaneous, naturally occurring labors to be about 0.5%.

I have several concerns about this situation that I hope you will address:

  • Women go to hospitals to give birth because they often feel that a hospital is best equipped to handle birth emergencies. According to the [Hospital] website, the hospital handles 2400 births a year. I am concerned that if [Hospital] can’t meet the staffing standard for VBACs, that means the hospital doesn’t have the ability to perform an emergency cesarean 24 hours a day/seven days a week. If the hospital cannot accommodate a medical emergency such as uterine rupture, how can they respond and treat other real, but rare, labor emergencies such as cord prolapse (approximately 0.14-0.62% of births) or placental abruption (approximately 0.65% of births), both of which require the baby to be born ASAP usually by immediate cesarean sections?
  • The cesarean rate in this country has risen well above the World Health Organization’s recommended rate of 10-15%. According to [a newspaper] article from 2003, at that time approximately 28% of births at [Hospital] were cesareans. Add to that the approximately 4% that were VBACs but are now required repeat cesareans and you get a 32% cesarean section rate — more than twice that recommended by the WHO. Healthy People 2010 recommends a reduction in cesarean births in the US to 15% by 2010. I am concerned that the cesarean rate in [our city] is so high, because cesareans are not risk-free operations, and I would like to know what the hospital is doing to address the over use of cesareans.
  • I am concerned that [Hospital] is understating the risks of primary or subsequent cesarean surgeries yet exaggerating the risks of VBAC. Cesareans pose serious risks to mothers, including two to four times a greater chance of maternal death, increased risk of emergency hysterectomy, injury to blood vessels and other organs, chronic pain due to internal scar tissue, increased chance of re-hospitalization and complications involving the placenta in subsequent pregnancies. Cesareans also pose risks to the infant, including an increased risk of respiratory distress syndrome, prematurity, the development of childhood asthma, and a 1-9% chance the baby will be cut during surgery. The recovery from a cesarean is much longer than for a vaginal birth, involving more pain, more difficulty establishing breastfeeding, and a longer hospital stay.

I understand that having an anesthesiologist at the hospital at all times is expensive, and cannot be billed to a patient’s insurance unless he or she ends up being needed. However, I am concerned that emergency anesthesia should be available at all times if [Hospital] is going to be a safe place for women to be in labor and deliver babies.

As suggested by the 2003 article, I understand that fear of litigation drives a decision to ban VBAC in many hospitals. However, many hospitals have women who want to attempt a VBAC sign a form stating that they understand the risks of VBAC. Could [Hospital] do this?

Giving birth is a life-changing event in the life of a woman. She needs to be able to work with her care provider to make decisions that are best for her so that she will feel good about the experience for the rest of her life. With the exception of the VBAC ban, I have heard good things about the birth centers in the [Hospital] system. I hope that you will re-examine this policy and give women who have had a previous cesarean and are candidates for VBAC the chance to choose between VBAC and repeat cesarean. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. I would like to follow up with you with a phone conversation next week and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

Sincerely,

___________________

A Hospital Explains Why They Ban VBAC

I was sent this letter by a mom from Southern California who wants to VBAC at her local hospital, but can’t since they have a VBAC ban.  She wrote a letter to them, which can be found here, and below is what she received in response.  She gave me permission to post both letters.

The letter was written on hospital letterhead.  I have included the entire letter here and it is typed exactly as it was written except for some identifying information that I have removed for the privacy of the OB who wrote the letter as well as the hospital’s name.  Who he is isn’t as important as what he says since he is speaking on behalf of the hospital.

After the letter, I include some commentary.

Also, please read: Two Doctors Respond to the Hastings Indian Medical Center VBAC Ban and Encourage Native American Women to VBAC! and A VBAC Supportive OB’s Response to the AMA’s Statement on Homebirth.

******************************************

March 10, 2008

Dear Ms. B,

I was asked to respond to your letter inquiring about Hospital’s VBAC policy.  Your letter is well written and asks some valid questions.  I will do my best to answer your questions by giving you a historical perspective as well as direct answers.

[….]

Although my primary role involves patient care and administrative duties, I continue to lecture across the country on a variety of obstetrical subjects, with the “Risks and Benefits of Cesarean Section” and “Risks of VBAC” being the two most requested talks I give.  I have personally delivered, or supervised the delivery of over 15,000 births, and continue to be involved in over 5,000 patient encounters per year.

Historically, when Cesarean sections were being performed 40 years ago they were performed through vertical uterine incisions.  These incisions were found to have a uterine rupture rate of 6% in subsequent labors, therefore the standard then was clearly “once a Cesarean, always a Cesarean”.  With the advent of transverse uterine incisions, it was found that women presenting in labor prior to their surgery had a much lower uterine rupture rate than previously documented, and hence the VBAC was born.  Unfortunately, the new uterine rupture rate was simply not known.

In the 70’s, Women’s Right’s groups as well as insurance companies trying to increase profits, pushed the VBAC fury to a point where many institutions began forcing women to VBAC against their wills.  Those of us who knew the procedure was not benign complained of inadequate consent for their patients, and women’s loss of autonomy.  It was not until almost 20 years later, that good modern VBAC data was available, and that the 1/200 (0.5%) uterine rupture rate was documented.

Once the data was available, questions were raised worldwide as to the appropriateness of the procedure.  Here at Hospital, our own obstetricians discussed for over 3 years the both the Ethics and logic behind the VBAC controversies.  The key question is simply whether or not a 1 in 200 risk of fetal death is “acceptable”, and whether or not a woman has a right to make that decision on behalf of an unborn term fetus.  Ultimately, the argument was made that most people would not board an airplane that had a 1 in 200 risk of crashing.  Moreover, we do not allow events to transpire that carry a much lower risk.  For example, it is illegal for a mother to take her newborn baby home from the hospital without a child protective seat (and most parents would not think of doing such a thing).  Yet, the risk of actually being in a car accident on the way home from the hospital is about 100 times less than the risk of a VBAC.  Discussion then took place regarding how good we are at saving mothers and babies that have catastrophic events such as uterine ruptures.  We concluded that “being good” at dealing with disasters was not a good reason for inviting them.  Moreover, in the airline analogy, if we were to invite mom’s to board an airliner that had a 1 in 200 risk of crashing, telling the passengers that only a small percentage of the people onboard would actually die because the hospital and the doctors are good at what they do, is not likely to change their original opinion of declining the flight.

Answering some of your other questions:

I am concerned that if [Hospital] can’t meet the staffing standard for VBACs, that means the hospital doesn’t have the ability to perform an emergency cesarean 23 hors [sic] a day/seven days per week.

[Hospital] is ready to perform emergency cesareans 24×7.  In fact, we are remarkably good at it, and can boast about some of the best outcomes in the world.  Not meeting some of the recommended requirements for VBAC does not infer a lower standard.  Even though we do not have ‘in-house’ anesthesia 24 hours per day, our surgical response time in many cases is better than larger institutions with “in-house” staff.  A large University setting may have in-house staff but simply walking from one side of campus to the other may take more time than driving in from home in our small community.  Moreover, the volume at some of these large centers and logistic delays often encumber those institutions and negatively impact on their response time, whereas [Hospital] has the ability to mobilize and act quickly when needed.

Nevertheless, being good at handling emergencies is not justification for inviting them.  There will always be emergencies in medicine that cannot be staffed or prepared for.  It is a sad fact of life that some women in labor will have heart attacks, and some will have brain tumors or brain aneurysms, and some will have emboli, but no system can have a Cardiologist, a Neurosurgeon, and a pulmonologist available on site 24 x 7 waiting for these things to occur.

We identify these challenges, and we set systems and protocols in place to efficiently handle these emergencies with available resources.  These systems work remarkably well, and fortunately in the majority of cases there is enough time for the mobilization of resources to result in the best possible outcome.

The cesarean rate in this country has risen well above the World Health Organization’s recommended rate of 10%-15%.. I am concerned that the cesarean rate in [our city] is so high…

The WHO recommended cesarean rate is not based on data.  In fact, there are no good published recommendations for cesarean rates that are based on data.  That is for a very good reason, and the reason is that the optimal cesarean rate depends on the goal desired.  If the goal is to optimize neonatal outcome, one can make a very clear and elegant mathematical argument that the cesarean rate should be almost 100%, and that is not a statement that appeals to many, therefore the issue is left mute.  When looking at the morbidity of cesarean sections at term, the majority of complications arise from surgical intervention after failed attempted vaginal delivery.  The actual equations get quite complicated, and depend on multiple factors including the health of the mother, and the planned number of Cesarean sections, and timing between pregnancies. 

When attempted vaginal deliveries are removed from the equation, such as in elective cesarean deliveries at term without labor, the outcomes are much better for the newborns than in vaginal deliveries and the morbidity to the mother can be equivalent or even lower than in attempted vaginal deliveries.  Although we do not consent women for vaginal deliveries, the risks of attempting a vaginal delivery are actually quite high, and carry many of the same risks, if not more, than cesarean sections.  Realize that Cesarean delivery virtually eliminates the risk of birth trauma.  The numbers you quote for fetal injury during Cesarean section are not accurate.  I can tell you the rates you report for newborn injury from Cesarean delivery would not be tolerated and would certainly be identified by quality assurance measures.

You quote statistics in this part of your letter, which are not accurate.  The complication rates for Cesarean sections in the last 20 years have dropped to levels that now are arguably safer than vaginal delivery, and although retained neonatal lung fluid is a very real increased morbidity to the newborns, it carries no long term sequelae in the absence of prematurity, and is more than compensated for by the benefits.

Delivering premature babies, whether by cesarean or vaginal delivery, both have the long-term implications you suggest but are not associated with the route of delivery.

I am concerned that [Hospital] is understating the risks of primary or subsequent cesarean surgeries yet exaggerating the risks of VBAC

The risks of VBAC are very real.  The 1 in 200 risk is an average risk of “catastrophic” uterine rupture taken from many studies across the country.  They do not count smaller ruptures whereupon the baby has not “fallen out” of the uterus yet, as these are often called “windows”.  This leads to the variations in the reporting of uterine rupture.  Those of us who provide care on a regular basis can tell you we see these ruptures frequently, even in the absence of VBACs.  I have seen 3 in the last 6 months at [Hospital].  All were handled well and had good outcomes, but even when trying to minimize these events they happen due to factors beyond our control.  The national death rate from Cesarean sections is less than 1 per 100,000 in most studies.  Unavoidable death due to pregnancy complications unrelated to route of delivery is 1 in 10,000.  When comparing these risks of uterine rupture in VBAC of 1 in 200, you see that the equation very much supports our decision to take the safest route and discourage these procedures.

In summary, the physicians at [Hospital] are very much aware of the dichotomy between what is safest for the unborn fetus and maternal preferences and autonomy.  These controversies are often complicated by lack of data, poorly understood data, and strong emotional components.

I can assure you that we strive to provide the safest medical environment while supporting as much of the autonomy and patient desires as possible.  Nevertheless, we ultimately have to be true to ourselves, and do what science tells us is best for our patients, even if sometimes we cannot please 100% of the clients.

You may find it interesting that since our decision to not offer VBACs, the majority of our patients responded very favorable, with a majority of women reporting a feeling of freedom in not having to justify to others their desire to not VBAC.  Although we expected a backlash of unhappy patients, we were pleasantly surprised to find the majority of women understanding the rationale and supporting our decision.  I now receive less than 2 complaints per year on our decision to not offer VBACs at [Hospital.]

In fact, the greatest increase in our Cesarean section rate the last few years has come from women demanding a Cesarean delivery and refusing vaginal delivery.  The acceptance of women’s autonomy and right to choose their mode of delivery has led to a significant number of women simply choosing Cesarean as the preferred mode of delivery.

If you continue to have strong desires to VBAC despite the risks involved, I am sure your obstetrical provider can help refer you to a University Center where the procedure is still being offered.  Although the risks may not be lower there, they may have chosen to offer the service both for patients and for training of their residents.

Sincerely,

OB

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This letter was so fascinating for me to read.  I want to make a few comments…

Note the names of his two most requested topics: “The Risks and Benefits of Cesarean Section” and “The Risk of VBACs.”  So interesting that cesareans have benefits, yet VBACs only offer risk.

He says, “If the goal is to optimize neonatal outcome, one can make a very clear and elegant mathematical argument that the cesarean rate should be almost 100%.”  So I wonder of the 15,000 births he has been involved with, how many of those women had cesareans?

He quotes a 6% uterine rupture rate in vertical incisions, which seems very high to me.  This is something I intend to research.  If you have studies you can quote, please leave a comment with that information.

He says, “Historically, when Cesarean sections were being performed 40 years ago they were performed through vertical uterine incisions.  These incisions were found to have a uterine rupture rate of 6% in subsequent labors, therefore the standard then was clearly ‘once a Cesarean, always a Cesarean’.”  Yet, that phrase, when coined 92 years ago, was not a anti-VBAC statement.  Here is the history of that phrase from ACOG themselves (Obstet Gynecol 1997;90:312-5. c 1997 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists):

The phrase, “once a cesarean, always a cesarean” dates back to an article by Edwin Cragin entitled “Conservatism in Obstetrics” published in 1916. Although cesarean delivery rarely was performed in that era, Cragin’s purpose was to urge physicians to avoid unnecessary cesareans. He termed the cesarean operation “radical obstetric surgery” and urged his colleagues to practice sound obstetrics to avoid having to resort to it. The famous “once a cesarean, always a cesarean” phrase came in the final paragraph of the article and clearly was meant to emphasize that one of the risks of a primary cesarean is that repeat operations might be required.  Interestingly, the author went on to point out that there are many exceptions to this rule and that one of his own patients had 3 vaginal births after cesarean without difficulty. This is remarkable given that vertical uterine incisions were standard at that time. The low transverse uterine incision would be championed by Kerr a decade later.

He says, “Once the data was available [on the risk of uterine rupture with a transverse scar,] questions were raised worldwide as to the appropriateness of the procedure.”  This is something I want to look into further.  I have done little research on VBAC philosophies outside of the USA.

He incorrectly states that 1 in 200 VBAC babies will die.  Landon 2004 stated, “Overall, our data suggest a risk of an adverse perinatal outcome at term among women with a previous cesarean delivery of approximately 1 in 2000 trials of labor (0.46 per 1000), a risk that is quantitatively small but greater than that associated with elective repeated cesarean delivery.” In other words, while the rate of uterine rupture in a spontaneous labor with one prior cesarean is approximately 1 in 250 (0.4%), 1 in 2000 (0.05%) VBAC babies will have a bad outcome.  I have more specific information on infant outcomes here

The OB who wrote our letter above then says, “The key question is simply whether or not a 1 in 200 risk of fetal death is ‘acceptable.'”   I find it ironic that the risk of miscarriage from an first-trimester amniocentesis is greater than the risk of uterine rupture yet that risk is acceptable when women want a diagnostic test. 

From the March of Dimes:

Serious complications from second-trimester amniocentesis are uncommon. However, the procedure does pose a small risk of miscarriage.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between one in 400 and one in 200 women have a miscarriage after amniocentesis. . . Studies suggest that the risk of miscarriage after first-trimester amniocentesis may be 3 times higher than the risk after second-trimester amniocentesis.

So the risk of miscarriage in a first-trimester amniocentesis is between one in 66 (1.5%) and one in 133 (0.75%), whereas the risk of adverse perinatal outcome in a VBAC labor is one in 2000 (.05%).  Miscarriage is death of a baby.  Rupture does not equal death, as Landon 2004 established.  Yet the March of Dimes describes the risk of miscarriage vis-à-vis amniocentesis as “small” while the number of VBAC-friendly hospitals decrease.  Why is it, when a woman wants a diagnostic test, this risk is ‘acceptable,’ yet when a woman wants a vaginal birth, the normal biological consequence of pregnancy, a smaller risk is unacceptable? I have yet to hear one person make a woman feel guilty about having an amniocentesis because she might kill her baby, yet it is quite common for women seeking VBAC to be treated as if they are accepting an excessive amount of risk.  Yet, I have met women who will not VBAC because the risk is to great, yet, when their OB suggested an amniocentesis, they consent.  (Read more here: Comparing Fetal Death and Injury: VBAC vs. Amniocentesis/CVS.)

He says, “We concluded that ‘being good’ at dealing with disasters was not a good reason for inviting them.”  Is an unnecessary miscarriage from an amniocentesis a disaster?  It certainly is for the mom.  And I have to wonder, does he induce labor?  Because that invites more risk as many hospital procedures do.  More on that later.

He says, “The WHO recommended cesarean rate is not based on data.”  Yet, he did not offer any medical studies that show that women and babies are benefiting from the USA’s 31% cesarean rate.  He only states that he believes babies would benefit from an almost 100% cesarean rate.  I think the burden of proof lies with the person wishing to impose surgery.  Show us how women benefit.  Show us how babies benefit.  Show us how you can ensure that my baby is ready to be born at 38 weeks via scheduled cesarean.  Prove to us that our babies won’t be in the NICU because they simply were not ready to be born and have problems breathing.  A quick google search led me to this commentary from the medical Journal Epidemiology published in July 2007 which states:

Twenty years ago, the World Health Organization recommended that no more than 15% of deliveries should be delivered by C-section, pending evidence that higher levels benefit either mothers or their offspring. Of 60 medium- and high-income countries reviewed in a recent study, the majority (62%) had national rates of C-section above 15%. If we assume, based on the World Health Organization recommendations, that C-section rates above 15% lack medical justification, then there are 3.5 million medically unjustified interventions performed among these countries yearly.

This article cited World Health Organization. Appropriate technology for birth. Lancet. 1985;2:436-437 as the source of the WHO recommended 15% cesarean rate.

The commentary continues: (emphasis mine)

What are the consequences of these trends for the health of women and babies? To the extent that high rates of C-sections are not medically indicated [this includes repeat cesareans], they unnecessarily expose the mother and child to consequences that are not fully understood.  In such procedures, the mother and her partner have no active participation in the birth of their child. The costs and benefits of this elective procedure, both physical and emotional, should be seriously explored before accepting the liberalization of its use.

Elective caesarean section may provide some benefits. A systematic review of 79 studies of elective C-sections versus vaginal deliveries, including observational and randomized trials, has shown that women with C-section have decreased urinary incontinence at 3 months and decreased perineal pain in comparison with those having a vaginal delivery.  On the other hand, C-section was associated with a higher risk of maternal mortality, hysterectomy, ureteral tract and vesical injury, abdominal pain, neonatal respiratory morbidity, fetal death, placenta previa, and uterine rupture in future pregnancies.  One limitation of observational studies is that the associations with poor outcomes could be due to the conditions that trigger the C-section rather than the C-section itself, despite statistical efforts to adjust for these confounders.  Consequently, the strength of this evidence should be considered with caution.

Two recent reviews of observational or ecological studies have examined the association of C-section rates with maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity. One is the study mentioned above, using data on 60 medium- and high-income countries of all regions, and the other is based on data from Latin American countries.  Both reviews found no evidence for reductions in maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity with increases in C-section rates to above 10%. In fact, higher rates of C-section were associated with higher rates of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity.  For example, Barros et al showed that, between 1982 and 2004, the C-section rate in one city in southern Brazil increased from 28% to 43%, whereas the preterm birth rate has increased from 6% to 16%. The increase in preterm births occurred despite improvements in socioeconomic and nutritional conditions in the population.  The increase in C-section rates and also an increase in elective induction of labor contributed to this trend.

Our doctor from the hospital then discusses recent uterine ruptures.  “Those of us who provide care on a regular basis can tell you we see these ruptures frequently, even in the absence of VBACs.  I have seen 3 in the last 6 months at [Hospital.]”  This is very odd.  Since the hospital does not ‘perform’ VBACs, we can imply that these 3 ruptures occurred to unscarred women.  If you look at this post of mine, you will see that Dr. Marsden Wagner states that the risk of uterine rupture in an unscarred uterus is 1 in 33,000.  We know from medical studies that inducing, especially with Cytotec, results in higher rates of rupture.  In VBACing women, the use of Cytotec to induce increases rupture rates to 1 in 20.  This hospital had 2800 births annually.  Using those numbers, approximately 1400 women gave birth during those 6 months.  If he has seen 3 uterine ruptures in the last 6 months, that means 1 in 467 unscarred, non-VBACing women are rupturing at this hospital.  That is an extremely high number – over 80 times greater than the 1 in 33,000 rate.

“You may find it interesting that since our decision to not offer VBACs, the majority of our patients responded very favorable, with a majority of women reporting a feeling of freedom in not having to justify to others their desire to not VBAC.  Although we expected a backlash of unhappy patients, we were pleasantly surprised to find the majority of women understanding the rationale and supporting our decision.  I now receive less than 2 complaints per year on our decision to not offer VBACs.”  Clearly, the VBAC seeking women need to let their local hospitals know that they are not happy with this policy.  I wonder, of the women seeking VBAC, what percentage went to the next closest hospital offering VBAC vs. had a home VBAC (HBAC) vs. had the repeat cesarean.

“In fact, the greatest increase in our Cesarean section rate the last few years has come from women demanding a Cesarean delivery and refusing vaginal delivery.  The acceptance of women’s autonomy and right to choose their mode of delivery has led to a significant number of women simply choosing Cesarean as the preferred mode of delivery.”  Women have the autonomy and right to choose their mode of delivery as long as it is not a VBAC.  They don’t have that right.

Ladies, this is what we are up against.  Reading this letter makes me wonder what is more likely: To convince hospitals like this to change their policy or to educate women on home VBACs?  I don’t think hospital with VBAC bans are going to change their policy.  Why should they?  Scheduled cesareans are easier for the OB and the hospital and it is certainly the fashion to not ‘do’ VBACs. 

If we are going to change VBAC bans, we need to identify how permitting VBACs are to the hospitals’ advantage.  And I think the best way of doing this is by affecting the hospitals’ pocketbook.  If all hospital birthing women, scarred and not, could ban together and birth ONLY at hospitals that permit VBACs, that would make an impact.  The question is, how do we accomplish this?

My local hospital instituted a VBAC ban just last week and there is a part of me that wants to ‘do something.’  But then I wonder, how many women will ‘discover’ homebirth/home VBAC/HBAC as a result of VBAC bans?  How many women will be forever changed by giving birth in their living room?  How many women will never have another hospital birth simply because their local hospital wouldn’t permit it and those women had to either expand their mind to homebirth or be cut once again? 

There is a part of me that sees these VBAC bans as a positive thing.  If we couple publicity of these bans with information on homebirth, we could turn this tide against VBAC around one woman at a time.  In looking at the stats for this website, one of the most common searches is on the legality of homebirth, VBAC, and HBAC.  I want women to know that it is legal to VBAC.  Just because you local hospital has banned it, or your local OB doesn’t ‘do VBAC,’ doesn’t mean that it is illegal in your state.  So many women are told by medical professionals and hospital personnel that VBACs are illegal.  I don’t know if these med pros are actively lying or have been mislead to think that VBACs are illegal, but they are not.  I want women to know that if their hospital has banned VBAC, you have options.  There are other ways to find VBAC supportive hospitals, OBs, and, of course, midwives. 

You do not have to have another cesarean.  You can birth your child.  A good place to start?  Join the ICAN email support group and start planning your VBAC.  Contact your local, county, and state representatives and tell them that you want VBAC available in your local hospitals, that you want midwives to be able to attend VBACs, that you don’t want to have surgery again.  Write your local hospital so they know that women are not happy with their VBAC ban.  And if you local hospital supports VBAC, send them a thank you note and let them know how much you appreciate the option.