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VBAC: A husband’s experience and lessons learned

“I have just seen so many women who have husbands who aren’t supportive because they don’t understand. My husband would love to help more men understand.”

A couple recently shared their VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) journey with me.  It touched my heart.  My the time I was done reading it, I had tears in my eyes.

So many women do not feel that VBAC is an option for them because their partner isn’t on board.  Now I know there are women who will birth how they please regardless of their partner’s feelings or thoughts, but there are many women who wish to bring their baby into the world while preserving their relationship.  And, what typically happens in these scenarios, is that the woman puts the desires of her partner above her own and she schedules a repeat cesarean.  Often, the challenge of educating and convincing their partner is just to great in the face of the conventional wisdom that states VBACs are just plain dangerous.

Just the other day, I was talking to a couple in their 40s who didn’t have children.  Yet despite the fact that they were not in the “world of childbearing,” they thought “once a cesarean, always a cesarean.”  This falsehood is so ingrained in our society that even those without children know it by heart and believe it to be true.

The absence or presence of social support is a huge factor in whether a woman plans a VBAC or a repeat cesarean.  This is why it is so important for partners and people of non-childbearing age, such as the birthing woman’s parents, grandparents, and extended family, to know that the American College of OBGYNs and the National Institutes of Health say that VBAC is a safe, reasonable, and appropriate choice for most women with one prior cesarean and for some women with two prior cesareans.  When friends and family members are undereducated about VBAC, it negatively impacts the birthing mom.  Many women are simply not willing to create family drama in order to plan a VBAC.  And the seeds of resentment are planted.

And then there are men that want to support their wives, but don’t know how.  They feel trapped between a growing mistrust of their doctor and the desire for a good outcome for their wife and baby. Today I spoke with a father who said that he “felt powerless” as his wife was bullied into a cesarean. He really believed that he should be able to completely trust his wife’s OB, but as her labor progressed, he did so less and less.  And yet, he didn’t know what to do.

Men need to hear the experiences of other men as partners are such a critical part of the birthing woman’s support team.  For many women, when their partners are on board, they have the emotional sustenance required to plan a VBAC in a country where over 90% of women have a repeat cesarean and women planning VBACs are often bombarded with stories of “VBACs gone wrong.”

I hope you enjoy the words of this engineer, this military man, this caring father, as he graciously articulates his VBAC journey.

I would love to share more VBAC stories from the partner’s perspective.  You can submit your birth stories via email.

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One of the most important life choices is the freedom to choose what one wants for their own health and their body.  For my wife, it was the choice to have a VBAC after two c-sections and the need for her husband’s support to make it happen.  This is a short story about a husband’s lesson learned and incredible experience of sharing a VBAC birth with his wife.

Our first child together was a cesarean because the labor would not progress and ultra sound pictures indicated a large head.  The doctor feared complications due to the large head and the concern over my wife’s first vaginal birth 9 years earlier that resulted in a 4th degree tear.  Our going in game plan was always as natural as possible.

Before we decided to start a family, my wife relayed her desire to have a natural birth when the time came. She described the challenges in her first birth that resulted in a painful 4th degree.  She relayed that in retrospect, the 4th degree tear could have been prevented had the atmosphere of the delivery room been more supportive, more relaxed and the doctor vetted more carefully prior to delivery.

All doctors are not created equal.  A medical degree does not guarantee that two doctors will have equal outcomes. And with my wife’s first child years before I was in the picture, there was good evidence to support her claim that both support structure and doctor helped lead to a painful labor.

“I could not understand the true emotional implications”

When our son was born cesarean, there was a disappointment that only she could truly understand. I was simply happy to have a healthy son.   I remember her making a comment about cheating me out of the experience to have a natural birth, as if her body had failed what it was made to do.  I reminded her that natural or cesarean, it was all the same to me as I just wanted wife and baby to be healthy.  How this was accomplished was not important to me.  But, to my wife the cesarean felt like a violation of her choice and cheated her out of the way nature created the female physiology to behave after 9 months of baby development.

I admittedly could not understand the true emotional implications that having a cesarean had on my wife until she went through her second cesarean.  When we decided to have baby number two together, my wife’s third, our doctor immediately said that since our son was born cesarean that our next child would have to be delivered cesarean too. We argued the point and our doctor, whom we loved and took care of all the children and my wife, finally gave us the option to find another doctor because the hospital “protocol” required that under the circumstances (quoted as saying the 4th degree and then a cesarean) dictated a second cesarean regardless of how the pregnancy was to progress.  This catch-22 complicated several factors for us.

“Our doctor, whom we loved, gave us zero options”

First, our doctor, whom we loved, gave us zero options.  She was a great person, wonderful doctor, but she was strapped to the protocol of the local hospital or their medical group that tells patients what they will do as opposed to giving the patient real options and choices on their health care.  I mentioned to my wife that we could switch doctors for this pregnancy but found that it may complicate our life because we were getting good care just miles from our house with the current doctor.  In the end, we stuck with the doctor we liked.  The lesson learned was that I should have told the good doctor to either grow a pair and stand up to the hospital’s myopic protocol and allow us the opportunity to do it our way or we should have just cut ties and got a new doctor who supported our VBAC wishes.  In the end, my wife’s freedom to decide should have been more important than our comfort zone with the local doctor.

I reluctantly supported our doctor and their protocol for a second cesarean.  I could tell my wife was disappointed, but she did not fight me.  This is one of those critical marriage lessons that go both ways.  Since there was little objection, just subtle and maybe even lingering apprehension to not make the decision to switch, we stayed with the plan.  Looking back, my wife’s apprehension to switch doctors was due to lack of VBAC education and lack of support from any of her caregivers, including me.  She just couldn’t understand why she was being forced into major surgery.

Later, after our daughter was born, I realized how much the inability to have the option of a natural birth meant to my wife.  The night before the scheduled cesarean, it appeared my wife was going into natural labor.  In retrospect, considering the labor signs and the small size of the baby, there is little doubt that she could have delivered vaginally.  My wife mentioned this to me the night before the c-section when she was having contractions and said, “I can do this naturally.” My response was, “No, we already have this scheduled for a cesarean in the morning and the doctor said that they would not do it.”  This response was naive and void of any empathy or realization of what that lack of support meant to my wife.  We went into surgery and it wasn’t until she was pregnant with our third that I realized how much the second cesarean had left her with some lasting emotional stress and even low grade secret resentment toward me for not supporting her or understanding her feelings on the topic better.  Whether she’ll admit it publicly, she harbored feelings against me for not supporting her, for the medical community’s lack of birthing choices, and to the doctor who we loved but had a hard time saying no to.

“I realized I let my wife down”

When I finally realized how critically important it was to have the freedom and choice to labor naturally, without absolutes dictated by the medical community or their “legal directives,” did I realize that I let my wife down. When the clue light came on I was set on supporting her on a VBAC, but it didn’t start that way.  My awakening did not come immediately when we found out we were having a third baby.

The pregnancy of our last child coincided with the pop up surprise news that I had to leave on a one year deployment to Afghanistan. In January 2012, I found out I was leaving the first week in April for a one year deployment and days later my wife announced she was pregnant.  What great timing.  Now my wife had to be a pregnant single mom to 3 children for an entire year.  Fortunately, we found out that due to the length of the deployment I was allowed 15 days of leave any time after 90 days in theater and therefore we started planning on my arrival for leave to coincide with the birth of our new baby.

“A selfish desire to try”

My wife quickly relayed her wishes about how this pregnancy would go.  She said to me bluntly that we’re doing this naturally. I quickly shot back with absolutely not.  My engineering brain quickly argued with her that we had three data points that indicated this was not a good idea: a 4th degree tear from forceps and 2 cesareans.  I told her that I did not want to take the chance of having my wife or baby put at risk because of a selfish desire to try and prove something to me or the world that she could do this naturally.  I had read medical reports of women’s uterus rupturing and dying from bleeding after attempted VBACs.  I feared what could happen.  But, I never knew the more thorough and recent facts of what my wife wanted to do.  She knew that I was a man who required facts to make critical decisions so she turned away from this conversation and re-engaged me at a later time with literature that showed a VBAC after 2 cesareans is not as dangerous or risky as I originally thought.  She showed me numerous medical associations that supported VBACs of all types.  I did a little more research and realized that from a technical perspective; it was possible assuming the pregnancy progressed normally without anomalies.

“It was at this moment that guilt set in”

When my wife dropped this data in my lap and looked at me with a long, deep stare that pierced right through me, my awakening had begun.  I realized that she wanted to have the choice to deliver this baby naturally without anyone in the medical profession telling her no unless there was a clear smoking gun for why it wasn’t possible, like high probability of death to baby or mom.  I knew she needed my support to make this work.  I decided at that moment that I would support her wish to have our baby without surgery.  I knew if anyone could do it, she could.  And I knew that there was no reason why we shouldn’t try to do it naturally.

It was at this moment that guilt set in for not doing something about my wife’s desire to try and have our daughter (second c-section) naturally.  I could have pulled my alpha male tricks and told the hospital to pack sand and that we were going to labor naturally and they’d have to follow our wishes or put us in the parking lot.  But, I didn’t do that and I was determined to redeem myself for not understanding how she truly felt.

“The only doctor we could find was a 2.5 hour drive without traffic”

The plan was complicated.  The only doctor we could find that took our military insurance and would entertain our idea of a VBAC with my wife’s past birthing history was in Los Angeles, a 2.5 hour drive without traffic from our desert home.  The doctor seemed too good to be true.  Our doctor, Dr. W, was personable, professional, and most importantly very supportive.  There was no talking down or psychological political play to try and convince us that our decision was not wise.  I told him that if there was no real reason why the baby couldn’t come into this world naturally, then we wanted his support for a VBAC.   He said he’d support our wishes as long as mom and baby were healthy, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supported VBAC.

This seemed too good to be true because our impression was that California was much more litigious than Washington State from where we had our last two children and the previous c-sections.  We assumed we would have fewer choices in California because California is a highly regulated state.  In our case, it took a very experienced doctor with the courage and trust to allow us to proceed with our desire to have a natural baby.  He was under pressure from both the hospital and his own reputation if things went badly, but he took a chance and gave us the benefit of the doubt to respect our right to choose.

“I wasn’t worried about the rocket attacks from insurgent forces, I was worried about my wife.”

While in Afghanistan, I wasn’t worried about the every 8 to 10 day rocket attacks from insurgent forces, I was worried about pregnancy issues and my active wife.  She was now a pregnant single mom, raising a teenager and two children, running 3 houses (we own two in WA State) and maintaining an aircraft.  With our son, my wife was put on bed rest at 29 weeks due to pre-term labor and in the end because the labor did not progress she had the first cesarean.  The surgery was an experience she did not ever want to repeat but ended up repeating with our daughter.  While I received the daily reports via emails, skype sessions and pictures, I prayed for her and the kids’ safety and health.  I was slated to fly home on or around the 5th of October and be present for the birth, due date October 11th.

There is no doubt that the 15% increase in grey and white hair while deployed was due to the reports of life at home.  While pregnant, my wife traveled to Florida, Georgia, and Colorado, traveled and hiked the forest on the Pacific coast with all the kids.  And at 8 months pregnant I would get pictures of her painting various rooms in the house and even using a chain saw to do yard work.  I pleaded with her to hire the labor and help as I was scared something was going to happen.  She was simply not a sit on the couch woman.  She was on the go all the time.

With our second daughter, my wife fell out of the car 10 days before the scheduled C-section and shattered her left 5th metatarsal. Ten days after breaking her foot, she had the c-section, then 2 weeks later she was in a car and we were moving from Washington State to California and into temporary housing, headed to our next California duty station.  She had a cast on her foot for 4 months. This experience was painful both emotionally and physically.  Now, 8000 miles away, I was afraid something similar might happen but even worse since I would not be there to help.

“Preparing her mind and body for a successful VBAC”

Simultaneously while my wife traveled with the kids, painted, and did yard work with chain saws, she took numerous steps to ensure that the VBAC would succeed.  Of her many objectives, one was to ensure that the baby would not be occiput posterior as her first and only vaginal birth yielded a decade earlier and a contributor to the 4th degree tear. She also contacted and connected with various people who gave her more information on how to best prepare for a VBAC.  She had chiropractic appointments to help loosen up her hips and to prepare her body for natural labor.  She read more medical data, communicated and worked with people like our doula, who volunteered her services free to military members.  The doula could be instrumental in helping many women and seems to be an underutilized service.  Our doula volunteered with Operation Special Delivery for families of deployed military members, free of charge.  Free expert doula care is something that does not exist and therefore we were fortunate to be in the right part of the country at the right time when a humble, caring and experienced woman was offering her doula services free to military spouses.  This too was a unique windfall and something that feels more like a blessing than pure luck.

Through my wife’s various connections, proactive appointments, nightly stretching rituals, she was preparing her mind and body for a successful VBAC.  People such as our doula volunteered hours talking about the game plan for VBAC day.  There was a real possibility that my leave period could have been canceled or late, because anything in the military is possible. Therefore, our doula was necessary to coach and represent my wife’s interest in the event that I couldn’t get home.  With both me and our doula in the room with my wife we were able to support her and time share in helping her along.  Fortunately, we both shared the same objectives and wanted the birthing room to be sterile of negativity and only wanted supportive hospital staff to interface with my wife.  This was a critical aspect of the successful VBAC.  The doula’s warrior like spirit and endurance meant that I had help and an advocate by my side the entire time.  By the time the baby arrived, all three of us, the doula, my wife and I had been up for almost 36 hours since we never got to sleep the night contractions started. My wife text messaged our doula when the contractions got bad and she stayed up on standby until my wife told her that we were headed into the hospital.  Our doula arrived shortly after we arrived at the hospital and stayed through the entire experience.

“What was important was her health and the baby’s, not my convenience of being home”

Thankfully, my wife’s pregnancy was just about as perfect as one could hope for.  She had terrible heart burn, the normal stuffy nose and difficulty sleeping at night, due to the physiological challenge of having a baby grow against the bladder, making nightly trips to the bathroom routine.  All this was normal and when I finally arrived in Los Angeles on October 7, we were ready to have a baby.  There were no indications that the pregnancy could not continue into normal labor.  Now, the next step was simply getting my wife into labor.  She tried acupuncture, lots of walks and when I arrived, we tried the husband-wife techniques that usually help stimulate labor.  But, after a few days home, there were no signs of labor and my wife was getting frustrated.  She so desperately wanted me to experience this with her and my window home was short.  I told her what was important was her health and the baby’s, not my convenience of being home.  The strict military protocol didn’t have flexibility in the return schedule: unless it was a major medical emergency, I was slated to leave on the 16th day after I arrived home.  So if the baby came late, then I would have very little time with the baby.  If the baby had to be delivered via yet another c-section, my wife would be in dire need of help because she’d be hard down with NO family scheduled to be around after I left. This iteration of the various scenarios had me the most concerned. I was sick to my stomach thinking about this situation; leaving my wife days after a c-section with a house full of kids was unthinkable.  I knew I’d have to come up with some creative way to get her immediate help at home.

Another scenario that had me concerned was the baby being 7-9 days late, as was the case with a friend during the same period.  The reality of me coming home and then leaving with no baby was a possibility and then having to deliver just hours or days after I left to return to Afghanistan was a horrible thought too. In this scenario, the probability of complications increased because the possibility of the baby growing too big and then again requiring a c-section increased significantly.  When my wife began to panic a little about having no signs of labor, I tried my best to reassure her that everything would work out.  In my statistically oriented mind, I knew the odds were against us.

“Contractions were coming about 4-5 minutes apart and they were getting stronger”

Lying in bed on the 8th of October, my wife was upset at the possibility of our grand plan not working out and I assured her that this baby was coming and it would come on the due date.  Early in the afternoon on October 10, my wife started to have small contractions.  By around 10 pm they were getting more significant.  Just after midnight on October 11, the baby’s due date, the contractions were coming about 4-5 minutes apart and they were getting stronger.  Then with the first real sign of labor, the bloody show, we decided to leave for the hospital, which was about a half hour drive from our hotel.

My father had flown into town a few days before I arrived from Afghanistan.  He was the cat herder; he took care of our 4 and 2 yr old.  My father at 68 years old has the amazing stamina to handle two energetic kids. We left at around 0130 in the morning on October 11 and left my father to pack up the entire little cottage we were renting at a local air force base in LA.  When we got to the hospital, my wife’s contractions became very strong and painful. I remember my wife saying labor will be hard for me because I’ve never seen her in real pain and I’m not good with seeing her in pain.  I didn’t know what she meant until she started to go into active labor.  Our doula met us at the hospital.  Between the doula and me, we helped coach my wife through 17 hours of painfully slow labor.

My wife’s labor pains came strong and painful.  She was right; I’d never seen her in that much pain before.  She had painful contractions for hours and hours.  Her first cervical check revealed she was only 1-2 centimeters.  She became frustrated again – after all that work and pain we assumed she would have been considerably further along. Since my wife had two c-sections previously, the staff was trigger happy to react to any anomalies seen in my wife or the baby.  Their threshold for pregnancy challenges was low.  If the monitors weren’t on at all times, they’d come into the room quickly and impatiently.  Our doula and I had to tell the staff to stop over-reacting.  They settled down a bit, but they reminded me that there wasn’t much wiggle room for the monitor rules.  The previous night, a woman’s uterus ruptured just after birth and she almost died in a room next to ours.  So the staff was even more on edge than usual.

Therefore, we had additional pressure to ensure my wife was relaxed but yet progressing.  After 13 hours of labor, she was exhausted and the pain was beginning to take its toll.  Her dilating slowed at around 6 centimeters.  The anesthesiologist recommended an epidural in case my wife needed a c-section.  They could put one in without administering medicine.  We did not want an epidural to prevent my wife from being able to position on all fours or sitting on the port-a-potty they brought in for her to labor on.  But, the pain was so bad, that it was preventing her from relaxing and she was simply running out of energy.

At 8 cm the epidural was in, we made the decision to administer a very low amount of pain relief, just enough to take the edge off.  This technique worked and the small amount of pain relief helped my wife regain some confidence as it reduced her pain level. They put in enough pain meds for 1 hour of relief.  The doctor said the water bag needed to be broken to further progress.  Several hours after the water broke the doctor came in and checked her.  She was 10 centimeters now, the magic number to begin the delivery.

After 15 hours of labor, the baby had to be delivered now.  The doctor recognized how tired my wife was and he ensured no more epidural medicine was administered because he needed her strength to push the baby out if we were to do this naturally.  He pulled me aside and told me the baby’s threshold heart rate was down 30%, something I had observed and was concerned about. Dr. W told me that it was time to get the baby out and it was coming out one of two ways.  He said when he comes back, we’re having the baby.  He couldn’t let the heart rate deteriorate any further and said the baby is plus 1 and not happy about being stuck in that position.

“The natural urge to push wasn’t happening”

I went immediately to my wife, who was exhausted and told her when Dr. W comes back in, it’s time to push.  I calmly gave my wife a pep talk, but she was too tired to respond and her lack of response had me worried.  But, she listened.  Both our doula and I could tell that my wife was having a hard time pushing. The pain was difficult to push through and for some reason the natural urge to push wasn’t happening like my wife envisioned it would happen.  Her body made it to 10cm, slowly, but wasn’t sure what to do now.  The natural urge to push wasn’t occurring.  But, it was time to push anyway.

I didn’t want to seem panicked, but I told my wife several times when the good doctor comes back, he’s either taking you to the OR or you’re going to have to push this baby out.  A delivery nurse came in first and she wanted to observe my wife push and immediately gave her some corrective technique.  Then Dr. W came in and did the same assessment and recognized some technique issues and then he turned into an assertive drill instructor, telling my wife to push.  Both the labor nurse and the doctor’s quick technique advice were key.

“Is that the baby’s head?”

After one of my wife’s strong pushes and while I was holding her right leg back I noticed something unusual looking next to the doctors finger that was positioned about a half inch inside my wife’s vagina. I couldn’t make out the object initially but once my tired brain thought of all the possibilities I realized that it looked like a mat of wet hair.  I asked the doctor, “Is that the baby’s head?” He said yes it is. I was filled with energy and excitement that I hoped would jump to my wife when I told her the news of what I had just witnessed.  I couldn’t believe I was staring at the top of our child’s head.  We made it I thought!  I told my wife I could see the baby’s head.   She pushed harder and after about 3-4 good pushes, our baby came right out.  It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Once the baby was out, they placed her on my wife’s bare chest. After several minutes we realized that we never checked to see what the sex was.  My wife lifted her up, moved the umbilical cord and I think we were both surprised to see a little girl part.  We did not want to know the sex of the baby until he or she was born.  We assumed we were having a boy because of how strong the baby was during the pregnancy and how much the baby looked like our son from the 3-d ultra sounds.

“She felt so good that we requested to leave the hospital at the absolute minimum stay period.”

Lucy Rose was born at 7:47pm on October 11, 2012.  She was 7 pounds 1 ounce.  My wife had no tearing and her uterus showed no signs of trauma from the VBAC.  She felt so good that we requested to leave the hospital at the absolute minimum stay period.  The baby was born at 7:47 pm and we told the hospital we’d stay exactly the required 24 hour monitoring period. By 8pm, 24 hours later, we were loading up the car and heading back to our desert home, 2.5 hours from the hospital.  We arrived at our home around 11:30pm.

This was the first time I had been home since April 7th and it was so nice to be back.  No hospital nurses checking vitals every 2 hours and the comfort of our own nest.  The next 10 days at home with the baby, my wife and kids were absolutely wonderful.  Due to the natural birth, my wife was immediately mobile.  Unlike the previous two births, it was great seeing my wife smile, happy and glowing and able to move without pain.  She loathed the c-section and dreaded the possibility of having to go through that again, especially without the help of her husband.  Thankfully, we were able to have a successful VBAC preventing my wife from having to relive another c-section.

“She came in and began lecturing us on the dangers of a VBAC.”

When we arrived at the hospital, the birthing process started out badly.  The first nurse we dealt with was what I would consider bluntly, an idiot.  She came in and began lecturing us on the dangers of a VBAC.  I quickly told her to stop and leave. This same nurse came in again and tried to make more negative commentaries and this time our doula rolled in and told her to essentially shut up and do her job.  I pulled this nurse out and told her that we weren’t going to have any negativity in the room.  I told her that we weren’t 16 year old idiots; we were well informed and educated people who most likely knew more about the risks than she did.  I had thoughts of leaving the hospital due to the initial behavior of the nurses.  In all honesty the staff on duty when we arrived was absolutely horrible. They were unfriendly and unprofessional.

But at shift change, something wonderful occurred.  The next shift yielded very competent, supportive and professional nurses who understood that our path through this experience was going to be nothing but positive and supportive.  Two of our nurses were also doulas.  We had great health care providers through the rest of the stay at the hospital.  No more myopic lectures about the risks but instead an all out effort to support my wife through this delivery.  There is no way we could have made it through this experience without the help and support of true and knowledgeable nurses who understood compassion and realized that the patient is first and foremost.

“My initial thought was that this hospital was going to be a disaster but I was happy to be wrong.”

My initial thought was that this hospital was going to be a disaster but I was happy to be wrong. We fortunately experienced a well organized and supportive hospital where our experience was wonderful and our dream of a natural birth and of a successful VBAC was realized.  The ability to have a natural birth allowed my wife to function immediately after the birth, something that would be crucial when I left again for another 5 months.  My 9 days at home after Lucy was born, allowed my wife to rest and regain her strength.  Then when I left, she would be able to successfully handle the newly expanded family.  If she had had a c-section, our lives would have been even more complicated and challenging.  Alleviating this variable was crucial and it was extremely important in allowing my wife the choice and freedom to labor as she desired.

“Having hospital protocol tell you what you can do with your body is a crime.”

Having hospital protocol tell you what you can do with your body is a crime.  It was a crime with our second baby and one that I unfortunately did nothing to stop.  I was guilty of not recognizing the deep and complicatedly emotional desire and need to have that choice.  I was guilty for not carefully listening to my wife.

But, I was fortunate to have had a second opportunity to ensure she was able to have that choice.  When I saw and finally understood my wife’s deep desire and passion to have a VBAC, something that I can’t really explain, but instead felt – I knew she could in fact do it and that I needed to help pave the way to ensuring it was possible. That meant I needed to knock down the obstacles that got in our way, like doctors saying no or nurses trying to convince us that our decision was dangerous and risky.  I listened to my wife, and we thank God that we found a doctor who trusted us.

Ultimately, faith, education and research, proper planning, incredible support that we received from people like Dr. W and our doula, and the great nurses who helped make this a success were critical to the successful VBAC.   We heard it before “you’ve had one, so now you need to have them all c-section.” This we now know is myth and one myth that removes the woman’s choice to attempt a VBAC.  Our hope is that other women and couples will have the same support and success as we experienced.

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/

The best compilation of VBAC/ERCS research to date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Placenta problems in VBAMC/ after multiple repeat cesareans

I thought that I would take the data from the Silver (2006) that I’ve previously discussed and share it in a different way that would be helpful to women with multiple prior cesareans.  (You might find it worthwhile to read this article specifically, where you can view the data below in graphs, as well as other articles on placental abnormalities first.)  Remember that accreta is when the placenta abnormality deeply attaches into the uterus requiring surgical removal.  There is a 7% maternal mortality rate with accreta as well as a high rate of hemorrhage and hysterectomy.   One of the factors that determines your risk of accreta or previa is your number of prior cesareans.

Whether a mom has a repeat cesarean or a VBA1C, her risk of accreta (including increta and percreta) and previa in that pregnancy are:

risk of accreta: 0.31% (1 in 323)
risk of previa: 1.3% (1 in 77)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 11% (1 in 9)

Whether a mom plans a third cesarean or a VBA2C, her risk of accreta and previa in that pregnancy are:<

risk of accreta: 0.57% (1 in 175)
risk of previa: 1.14% (1 in 88)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 40% (1 in 2.5)

If a mom plans a fourth cesarean or a VBA3C, the risk during that pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 2.13% (1 in 47)
risk of previa: 2.27% (1 in 44)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 61% (1 in 1.6)

The jump in risk from two prior cesareans to three prior cesareans is pretty huge…

If mom plans a fifth cesarean or a VBA4C, the risk during that pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 2.33% (1 in 43)
risk of previa: 2.3% (1 in 43)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 67% (1 in 1.5)

If mom plans a sixth cesarean or a VBA5c, the risk during that pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 6.74% (1 in 15)
risk of previa: 3.4% (1 in 29)
risk of accreta if previa is present: 67% (1 in 1.5)

Here are some stats to consider:

Silver (2006) found the following rates of accreta (including increta and percreta), during the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cesareans: 0.24%, 0.31%, 0.57%, 2.13%, 2.33%, 6.74%.  (View a graph of this data.)

In other words, your risk of placenta accreta increases from first to sixth cesarean delivery:
1 in 417,
1 in 323,
1 in 175,
1 in 47,
1 in 43,
1 in 15.

Read more about accreta.

The studies that have been conducted (that I’m aware of) on uterine rupture in VBAMC are kind of small (including hundreds, not thousands of women).  So I don’t think we have an accurate idea of VBA3C rupture risk.  This site is a great resource.

Update:  When I posted a link to this article on Facebook, a mom left this comment:

Thank you for posting. My friend had 2 previous c-sections, and with her 3rd pregnancy had the bad luck of having both placenta accreta and placenta previa (both risks of repeat c-section). Her pregnancy was awful..lots of bleeding, hospitalizations, steriods and other drugs to help hold onto the pregnancy and bedrest at 20 weeks. They couldn’t do cerclage because of the placenta previa). In the end she had a healthy baby, but a 5 hour c-section surgery where she lost a lot of blood and needed a blood transfusion of 6 units of blood. She had to have a hysterectomy and also they removed part of her bladder because her placenta had embedded so far it was attached to her bladder! She was pissed that her doctor never warned her of the risks of repeat c-sections. She is 39 years old.

[and]

yes, you can share my comment. again, my friend ultimately is ok bec she was planning on having her tubes tied after this 3rd unplanned pregnancy — but she was upset initially bec her OB never shared with her any of these risks of repeat c-section…and she said “had I known, I would have really pushed for a vbac with #2”

These are the complication rates that Silver 2006 found in 30,000
women during multiple cesareans.The rates quoted were what he found during the third CS but, I think
the accreta and previa rates illustrate the risks that are present
during a third pregnancy after two prior CS.In other words, whether a mom has a third CS or a VBA2C, her risk of
accreta and previa in that third pregnancy are:

risk of accreta: 0.57% (1 in 175)
risk of previa: 1.14% (1 in 88)
risk of accreta *if* previa is present: 40% (1 in 2.5)

If she has a third CS and becomes pregnant again, the risk during that
fourth pregnancy increases to:

risk of accreta: 2.13% (1 in 47)
risk of previa: 2.27% (1 in 44)
risk of accreta *if* previa is present: 61% (1 in 1.6)

Compare that to the risks in a first pregnancy:

risk of accreta: 0.24% (1 in 417)
risk of previa: 6.4% (1 in 16) [yes, that figure is correct, previa was the reason for many of these women’s primary CS]
risk of accreta *if* previa is present: 3% (1 in 33)

That means the risk of accreta increases 887% from the first pregnancy – a huge jump.

So, if it was me, getting that ultrasound and knowing I didn’t have these complications would give me huge peace of mind.

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

worried man african-american-883376_640

A father says, Why invite the risk of VBAC?

I recently had an exchange with a father that I wanted to share because I think he has the same concerns as many other parents.

He first left a comment in response to the article I’m pregnant and want a VBAC, what do I do?

Make sure they have a surgical team ready to go 24-7 If you are attempting VBAC’S.

They have about 15 min’s to get the child out, without serious damage after complete uterine rupture. It won’t be a Bikini cut either.

I replied:

Anthony,

VBACs can absolutely be offered safely without 24/7 anesthesia present.  I had the opportunity to attend the March 2010 National Institutes of Health VBAC Conference where the ability of rural hospitals to safely attend VBACs was extensively discussed. One doctor spoke during the public comment period and stated that her rural hospital 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.) Read more about the policies that this hospital implemented: VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational.

One large VBAC study found that while the risk of infant death or oxygen deprivation in VBACs was 0.05%, the maternal mortality in repeat cesareans was 0.04% (Landon, 2004). Whose lives do we save? And in fact Henci Goer’s analysis shares with us that the 0.05% rate is inaccurately elevated. In the Landon (2004) study, women whose babies had died before labor were encouraged to VBAC. Those infant deaths were included in the 0.05% figure even though their deaths could not be attributed to a labor after cesarean.

There was an entire lecture at the 2010 National Institutes of Health VBAC Conference about uterine rupture, oxygen deprivation and blood gases. You can find a summary in the Program and Abstracts.

Warmly,

Jen

Then he left a comment in response to the article A letter from a hospital explaining why they banned VBAC:

Well written letter by the physician. VBAC’s are very risky. I’ve lived through the personal horror of a catastrophe. And trust me it was catastrophic. I nearly lost my wife and full term son. My son now lives his life as a quadriplegic with Cerebral Palsy. You can’t convince me it’s worth the risk. Not for the child, not for the mother, not for the family, and not for the doctor and hospital.

Greedy insurance companies thought they could turn profits by forcing VBAC’s on mothers. The doctor’s letter is true to form and his statistics are on the money. If you care about people, mothers, babies, and family, “Don’t push for VBAC’S” do the opposite.

To which I replied:

Anthony,

I am so sorry about your son.  To describe what happened to your son as tragic is a drastic understatement.

I agree that the policies in place during the 90s when insurance companies were pushing VBAC were entirely unsafe. VBAC became required in some places and some women were not given a choice about whether or not to VBAC. This resulted in women with contra-indications to VBAC experiencing bad outcomes. Women in crowded hospitals did not receive good care and had bad outcomes. Women desiring trials of labor after cesareans were induced and had bad outcomes. And all of this resulted in VBAC getting a bad name. “Instead of blaming the overuse of induction, mandatory VBACs regardless of suitability, and mismanagement of labor, doctors began saying that it was actually VBAC that was unsafe.” You can read more on the history of VBAC here.

Fortunately, we know more now about the risks and benefits of VBAC and repeat cesareans than we did in the 90s. Like how rupture rates vary depending on the scar type (Landon, 2004), how the risks of cesareans increase with each surgery (Silver, 2006) and the risk of uterine rupture and other complications decrease after the first VBAC (Mercer, 2008). We know now that inducing increases the risk of uterine rupture (Landon, 2004), but that it is a reasonable option when there is a medical indication.  As the Guise 2010 Evidence Reports asserts,

“While rare for both TOL [trial of labor after cesarean] and ERCD [elective repeat cesarean delivery], maternal mortality was significantly increased for ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL. The rates of maternal hysterectomy, hemorrhage, and transfusions did not differ significantly between TOL and ERCD. The rate of uterine rupture for all women with prior cesarean is 3 per 1,000 and the risk was significantly increased with TOL (4.7 1,000 versus 0.3 1,000 ERCD). Six percent of uterine ruptures were associated with perinatal death. Perinatal mortality was significantly increased for TOL at 1.3 per 1,000 versus 0.5 per 1,000 for ERCD… VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans.”

So neither option is inherently safe or risky. Both offer a different set of risks. I think it’s important for women to understand these risks when considering their options. I wrote a summary here: Nervous About Planning a VBAC.

Once again, I’m so sorry about your son and I thank you for taking the time to leave your comment.

Warmly,

Jen

To which he replied:

Your statistics mean is nowhere near the mean quoted in the doctors letter. This doctor has performed how many births? and participated in many more. He travels around the country lecturing on this subject? His mean is 2.5% not .05%. .05% is risky too. But I believe 2.5% is more likely for for complications with VBAC.

Accidental death from cesarean he pegs at .001%. That’s .00001

To which I replied:

Anthony,

His statistics are wrong. That is why I posted the letter. I wanted to illustrate how important it is to educate yourself because some OBs just don’t know and give incorrect information either because they don’t know any better or because they are actively skewing their information.  Please read my comment on the differences between an OB’s opinion and medical research.

There is not one large study on VBAC that shows a fetal mortality rate of 1 in 200 (0.5%.) Please check out my bibliography. I’ve read all these studies. If you can find a study on VBAC including over 5,000 women, controlling for scar type, induction method and dose that shows an infant mortality rate of 0.5%, I would love to see it.

Warmly,

Jen

To which he replied:

I still agree with the doctor’s letter above. Why invite the risk? and it is way way too risky. How could the liability limits of a midwife, or small hospital possibly cover such a tragedy? Should that be handled by malpractice reform? By allowing our health professionals to be unaccountable? Recovery for even economic loss is nearly impossible today. The liability is tremendous. Childbirth is already risky enough. I agree that induction may be a contributing factor and maybe more research should be done on those drugs and their use. Cervadil was used to induce my wife, and it was contra-indicated at that time in women with a scarred uterus by “the Physicians Desk Reference”; but that didn’t stop it’s use. This catastrophe didn’t happen in a busy hospital. It happened because the hospital and physicians were not prepared to deal with the profound emergency. I see no benefit to anyone, by lobbying for VBAC’S. Thanks for the reply

To which I replied:

Anthony,

There is about a 0.4% risk of having a uterine rupture with one prior low transverse cesarean in a spontaneous labor (meaning you weren’t induced or given Pitocin or other similar drugs during your labor) (Landon, 2004). One would think that with all the hoopla about uterine rupture, that this rate would be significantly higher than other obstetrical complications.

You might be surprised to learn that uterine rupture occurs at a similar rate to other obstetrical complications such as post partum hemorrhage, cord prolapse or placental abruption! And when we look at infant outcomes, there is about a 6% chance of infant death or oxygen deprivation after an uterine rupture (Landon, 2004) compared to the 12% risk of infant death after a placental abruption (Ananth, 1999).

Yet how many first time moms worry their entire pregnancies about placental abruption? How many considered an elective primary cesarean in an attempt to circumvent abruption? How many were offered, or even strongly pressured, to consider an elective cesarean by their friends, family, or OB? How many where made to feel selfish over their desire to plan a vaginal birth in the face of risks such as abruption?

And where are all the lawsuits resulting from the infant deaths as a result of placental abruption? Why aren’t people outraged that all these babies are dying as a result of selfish moms who should have been prudent and had scheduled cesareans to prevent this tragedy? We hold VBAC to such an impossible standard because the tolerance for risk has been reduced to zero.

Moms planning a VBAC are often made to feel that having a repeat cesarean is the most prudent, conservative choice whereas only selfish women who wish to experience vaginal birth plan a VBAC. Only people who do not understand the statistics would make such a bold claim.

The problem is that most people don’t understand the rate of obstetrical complications in a first time mom. Conventional wisdom and rumor does not give your average individual enough information to adequately compare the risks of a primary vaginal birth, repeat vaginal birth, primary cesarean, repeat cesarean, primary VBAC and repeat VBAC. That is why we have medical studies because even doctors, who themselves attend thousands of births over their career, do not control for variables like researchers do. Doctors focus on practicing medicine whereas researchers, who are often medical doctors who still see patients, focus on constructing studies, maintaining records, and controlling for variables. All of this enables researchers to accurately detect and measure the incidence of complications and also identify larger patterns.

One thing we have learned from medical studies is that the risk of infant death during a VBAC attempt is “similar to the risk” of infant death during the labor of a first time mom (Smith, 2002). Should all first time moms have cesareans because their labor is just to risky?

Let’s not forget that while a cesarean could prevent a would-be uterine rupture, placental abruption, or cord prolapse, cesareans themselves introduce many serious risks. In the face of immediate death or damage to mom or baby, these risks are absolutely acceptable. However, when we are performing major abdominal surgery on the other 99.6% of women who will not have a uterine rupture, we are subjecting them to an unnecessary level of risk.

There are several complications that occur during a second scheduled cesarean section at a rate similar to or greater than the risk of uterine rupture during a spontaneous trial of labor after cesarean after one prior low transverse cesarean (0.4%) (Landon 2004). These complications include hysterectomy (0.42%), any blood transfusion (1.53%), a blood transfusion of four or more units (0.48%), maternal intensive care unit admission (0.57%), maternal wound infection (0.94%), and endometritis (2.56%) (Silver, 2006). And while Silver (2006) found that the maternal death rate was “only” 0.07% during a second cesarean, this is 3.5 times higher than the rate of maternal death in a trial of labor after cesarean (0.02%) and 1.4 times higher than the risk of infant death or oxygen deprivation (0.05%) (Landon, 2004.) Keep in mind that all the cesareans included in the Silver (2006) study were scheduled. All the complications noted were a direct result of the surgery, not of any other medical complication.

These are important facts for people to know before they make the judgment of which option is more “risky:” VBAC vs. repeat cesarean. It’s not enough to understand the risks of VBAC, one must also understand the risks of cesarean section. Only then can one see that neither are inherently safe or risky. They both offer a different set of risks. You can read more about the specific risks that cesareans pose in the article The risks of cesarean sections.

Cesareans also have major implications for all future pregnancies and delivery options. The risks of complications increase with each cesarean section which make subsequent pregnancies more precarious which increases the likelihood of a bad outcome for mom or baby. According to Silver (2006), a four year study of up to six repeat cesareans in 30,000 women:

Increased risks of placenta accreta, hysterectomy, transfusion of 4 units or more of packed red blood cells, [bladder injury], bowel injury, urethral injury, ileus [absence of muscular contractions of the intestine which normally move the food through the system], ICU admission, and longer operative time were seen with an increasing number of cesarean deliveries…. After the first cesarean, increased risk of placenta previa, need for postoperative (maternal) ventilator support, and more hospital days were seen with increasing number of cesarean deliveries.

Because the risks of cesarean are so great, they conclude their study with the following statement, “Because serious maternal morbidity increases progressively with increasing number of cesarean deliveries, the number of intended pregnancies should be considered during counseling regarding elective repeat cesarean operation versus a trial of labor and when debating the merits of elective primary cesarean delivery.”

Additionally, 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.

According to the CDC (Menacker, 2010), “The number of cesarean births increased by 71% from 1996 (797,119) to 2007 (1,367,049) [and] In 2007, approximately 1.4 million women had a cesarean birth, representing 32% of all births, the highest rate ever recorded in the United States and higher than rates in most other industrialized countries.” The latest data from the CDC shows that 92% of women have a repeat cesarean (Martin, 2009).  So with 1.4 million cesareans annually, we can look forward to approximately 1 million repeat cesareans annually in the future.  With primary cesarean rates growing, our repeat cesarean rate will grow, we will witness more of the complications identified by Silver (2006), including more maternal deaths, and more cases of people who really need emergency surgery dying because operating rooms are filled with otherwise healthy moms and healthy babies undergoing scheduled cesareans.

You said, “It happened because the hospital and physicians were not prepared to deal with the profound emergency.” I would gently suggest that the problem was more with your hospital than VBAC. They induced your wife with a drug that was contraindicated in a trial of labor after cesarean and then were unprepared for an obstetrical emergency. If your wife had a placental abruption or a serious complication from a repeat cesarean, it sounds like they would have been just as unprepared. That is an entirely separate issue than whether VBACs are excessively risky.

Thank you again for your comments and I wish you the best.

Warmly,

Jen

Two-Thirds of OB-GYN Guidelines Have No Basis in Science

PushNews from The Big Push for Midwives Campaign
CONTACT: Katherine Prown, (414) 550-8025, katie@pushformidwives.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 15, 2011
Study: Two-Thirds of OB-GYN Clinical Guidelines Have No Basis in Science
Majority of ACOG Recommendations for Patient Care Found to Be Based on Opinion and Inconsistent Evidence
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 15, 2011)—A study published this month in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, found that barely one-third of the organization’s clinical guidelines for OB/GYN practice meet the Level A standard of “good and consistent scientific evidence.” The authors of the study found instead that the majority of ACOG recommendations for patient care rank at Levels B and C, based on research that relies on “limited or inconsistent evidence” and on “expert opinion,” both of which are known to be inadequate predictors of safety or efficacy.

“The fact that so few of the guidelines that govern routine OB/GYN care in this country are supported by solid scientific evidence—and worse, are far more likely to be based on anecdote and opinion—is a sobering reminder that our maternity care system is in urgent need of reform,” said Katherine Prown, PhD, Campaign Manager of The Big Push for Midwives. “As the authors of the study remind us, guidelines are only as good as the evidence that supports them.”

ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 22 on the management of fetal macrosomia—infants weighing roughly 8 ½ lbs or more at birth—illustrates the possible risks to mothers and babies of relying on unscientific clinical guidelines. The only Level A evidence-based recommendation on the delivery of large-sized babies the Bulletin makes is to caution providers that the methods for detection are imprecise and unreliable. Yet at the same time, the Bulletin makes a Level C opinion-based recommendation that, despite the lack of a reliable diagnosis, women with “suspected” large babies should be offered potentially unnecessary cesarean sections as a precaution, putting mothers at risk of surgical complications and babies at risk of being born too early.

“It’s no wonder that the cesarean rate is going through the roof and women are seeking alternatives to hospital-based OB/GYN care in unprecedented numbers,” said Susan M. Jenkins, Legal Counsel of The Big Push for Midwives. “ACOG’s very own recommendations give its members permission to follow opinion-based practice guidelines that have far more to do with avoiding litigation than with adhering to scientific, evidence-based principles about what’s best for mothers and babies.”

The Big Push for Midwives Campaign represents tens of thousands of grassroots advocates in the United States who support expanding access to Certified Professional Midwives and out-of-hospital maternity care. The mission of The Big Push for Midwives is to educate state and national policymakers and the general public about the reduced costs and improved outcomes associated with out-of-hospital maternity care and to advocate for expanding access to the services of Certified Professional Midwives, who are specially trained to provide it.

Media inquiries: Katherine Prown (414) 550-8025, katie@pushformidwives.org

pregnant-woman-in-field

A reader asks, Am I making the right choice?

Isha recently left this comment:

I am pregnant and plan on having a VBAC. As my due date gets closer, I get more nervous about it. I hope I am making the right choice in having the VBAC.

Hi Isha!

I too wondered if it was unreasonable to plan a VBAC and that is when I started researching.  I found that learning more about the risks and benefits of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean gave me a lot of peace.  Check out the Quick Facts page for a brief overview and for more information, check out the information made available by the 2010 National Institutes of Health VBAC Conference.

There is about a 0.4% risk of having a uterine rupture with one prior low transverse cesarean in a spontaneous labor (meaning you weren’t induced or given pitocin or other similar drugs during your labor) (Landon, 2004).  One would think that with all the hoopla about uterine rupture, that this rate would be significantly higher than other obstetrical complications.

So I was really surprised to learn that uterine rupture occurs at a similar rate to other obstetrical complications such as shoulder dystocia, cord prolapse or placental abruption!  And when we look at infant outcomes, there is about a 6% chance of infant death or oxygen deprivation after an uterine rupture (Landon, 2004) compared to the 12% risk of infant death after a placental abruption (Ananth, 1999).

Yet how many of us as first time moms worried our entire pregnancies about any of those complications? How many of us considered an elective primary cesarean in an attempt to circumvent them? How many of us were offered, or even strongly pressured, to consider an elective cesarean by our friends, family, or OB?  How many of us where made to feel selfish over our desire to plan a vaginal birth?

Yet moms planning a VBAC are often made to feel that having a repeat cesarean is the most prudent, conservative choice whereas only selfish women who wish to experience vaginal birth plan a VBAC.  Only people who do not understand the statistics would make such a bold claim.

Just looking at the risks of VBAC isn’t enough when considering your options.  One must also consider the risks of a repeat cesarean.

I also suggest reading Another VBAC Consult Misinforms and Scare Tactics vs. Informed Consent for more discussion on how women are subtley, and sometimes not so subtley, coerced into repeat cesareans by their care providers.  Additionally, check out VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational for why the much often quoted “24/7 anesthesia requirement” doesn’t make laboring women or hospitals safer.

Most people are not aware of these facts and thus rely on the conventional wisdom and persistent rumor that VBAC is so risky and cesareans are so safe. Neither are true. Both have risks and benefits.

But when comparing the risks and benefits, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010) and the National Institutes of Health (2010) have deemed VBAC a “reasonable option” for “most women” with one prior cesarean and “some women” with two prior cesareans.  Most people don’t know that either.

I hope this information gives you some peace.  While it’s not terribly soothing to learn that there are major, rare complications that can occur with either option, it’s also good to know that VBAC is not an excessively risky choice.

Warmly,

Jen

_________________________________

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

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Washington DC.

Ananth, C. V., Berkowitz, G. S., Savitz, D. A., & Lapinski, R. H. (1999). Placental abruption and adverse perinatal outcomes. JAMA , 282 (17), 1646-1651.

Goer, H. (n.d.). When Research is Flawed: The Safety of Planned Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Retrieved August 23, 2010, from Lamaze International: http://www.lamaze.org/Research/WhenResearchisFlawed/VBACLandon/tabid/175/Default.aspx

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.

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

ACOG-logo

ACOG issues less restrictive VBAC guidelines

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

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

What follows is a brief overview of these new guidelines.

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

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

They express support for VBAC with twins or unknown scars:

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

They say a Pitocin induction remains an option:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Women Speak About VBAC

I’m here at the NIH VBAC conference and my brain is swimming!  I want to write a separate article later on the conference itself, but for now I want to share with you a piece I put together for the benefit of the panel who will be writing the Consensus Statement.

I received many requests to share it online, not only from conference attendees but by the women themselves who contributed their stories for this piece.  You can download a PDF copy of this document here.

I’m especially excited that I had the opportunity to share the comments provided by Wendy S. from California, Kristen K. of Nebraska, and Rachel R. of Oregon during the public discussion time which you can view via the Day 2 Webcast.  (You can also view the Day 1 Webcast, download a PDF of the Program and Abstracts, as well as pre-order the consensus statement.  The more people who order the consensus statement, the more powerful the message that people are interested in the option of VBAC.)

While the contributors gave permission for their full names to be used on the  handout I distributed at the NIH, not everyone is comfortable with their name on the internet.

American Women Speak About VBAC

In an effort to bring the consumer perspective to the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference,  Jennifer Kamel, Founder of VBAC Facts, asked women across America, “Why is the option of VBAC important to you?”  This is what they said.

Alabama – To avoid not being able to carry your baby because he’s dead from the placental abruption (or uterine rupture) as a result of those damn previous cesareans. – Amanda M.

Arizona – VBAC is important to me because I don’t want to continue to have increased risks with each major surgery. – Amanda McM.

Arkansas – Personally, VBAC is stellar important to me because I wanted to give birth to my babies, not have them cut out and handed to me.  On a soul-deep level, I believe it was necessary to validate my purpose in existing.  – Jer W.

California – It is important to me because I have the right to experience the complex passage of vaginal birth and the positive cascade of effects for mom and baby.  I want the right to experience VBAC without driving 90 minutes or more with traffic. Successful or not, VBAC empowers women for choice and a chance to fill an emotional void that is unmatched.  The whole “readily available” lawyer talk certainly is not protecting our other high risk patients.  – Wendy S., L&D RN

Because when a woman experiences a VBAC, she reclaims her body and gets to see that she is in fact perfectly capable of giving birth without surgery.  She is no longer broken.  Her body and spirit heal. – Layla M.

To me it is like saying someone should be required to have open heart surgery, even though a laparoscope would be safer, just because doctors/ hospitals/ insurance companies, prefer it that way.  It is so much bigger than our desires to experience a vaginal birth or even to be some kind of hippie earth mother. It is about our right to safe and respectful medical care. Courtney Stange-Tregear

I wanted a VBAC to heal my raw emotions and psychological trauma caused by not having a vaginal birth the first time and because I believe it’s safer. Unfortunately, I had to travel 3 hours to get to the closest facility that allowed VBACs. But having the chance to VBAC was great! – Andrea O.

Because I love women and love babies and have spent 20 years investigating what affords the best possible beginning for them both and that is a vaginal birth. – Joni Nichols BS MS CCE CD(DONA) (CBI)

It is wrong that I have to travel to another county and fight for a normal, safe, healthy birth for my baby.  Hospitals and doctors need to get their priorities straight and practice true informed consent. – Kathleen S.

My VBAC proved to me that I was not as broken as I felt after receiving so many labels [FTP, etc] regarding my cesarean. – Alexandra R.

Colorado – VBAC allowed me to trust in my body and let it do what it needed to do.  My midwife and her assistant viewed my “long labor” as simply a variation of normal.  I was finally able to deliver my 10 lb baby, with a nuchal hand, in an amazing waterbirth.  My body is amazing and strong and did not let me down. Jill K., Ph.D. (Clinical Psychologist and Professor)

Connecticut – Without VBAC, women have no choice and are forced into dangerous births. – Danielle M.

Florida – VBAC matters because it is lifelong; it is forever; it is not short term.  The effects of a VBAC never wear off. – Shannon M.

My VBAC offered me a better recovery without worrying about an incision site. – Meredith S., HBA2C mom

Hawaii – The fact that the possibility of a malpractice suit dictates what most obstetricians offer and results in them pushing the birth option that is more likely to end in a mother’s death is totally incomprehensible to me. Evidence-based care is what our standard should be.  Every single obstetrician should be pushing the safest option for mother and baby, not the safest option for avoiding a lawsuit. – Naomi S.

Idaho – My VBAC was validation of my womanhood. It has made me a better mother and spouse. – Bonnie M.

Indiana – I wanted to have a large family and I think VBAC is the best option instead of repeat c-sections!!  I have had 6 VBACs so far and hope to be able to have as many more! – Stacy G.

Kentucky – Because having my baby cut out of my abdomen was very traumatic for me.  The bonding was more difficult [than my three previous vaginal births] and PPD followed. – Denise H.

Massachusetts – When my son was born by (unnecessary) cesarean, I felt like someone had deflated my belly and handed me a baby. He was mine, but a part of me felt like they could have handed me any baby. But when I look at my daughter’s head and stroke it while I am nursing her, I can say I gave birth to that head. I gave birth to that head! This is my baby. And no one can take that away from me. – Catie Ladd

Michigan – There are all sorts of “soft” reasons why VBAC is great but when it really comes down to the bottom line, what keeps me working for ICAN, what brings tears to my eyes, is the fact that women and babies are dying who shouldn’t, because VBAC is no longer a real option for most women in the U.S. – Gretchen Humphries, MS DVM

Mississippi. After my first baby’s labor ended with a cesarean, I felt that I really hadn’t been given a chance.  I felt bullied and pushed into a cesarean I didn’t want because it was more convenient for the doctor than letting me continue at a ‘slower than normal’ dilation rate. – Nancy W.

Nebraska – If VBAC was not an option, my daughter would have been an only child.  I could never willingly conceive knowing my child would be cut out of me via a completely unnecessary surgery. – Kristen K.

New Jersey – VBAC is certainly safe for both mom and baby as long as the original incision in the uterus was a low segment transverse incision. Evidence based medicine reports approximately 75% of women can successfully VBAC. As long as the mom is aware of the risks (minimal) and the benefits (MANY) they should have the right to VBAC. – JoAnn McQueen Yates, CNM

New York – Because I didn’t want to go through surgery if it wasn’t necessary.   Doctors take little stock in the emotional and psychological factors of giving birth – it’s not just about pushing out a baby!! – Carrie Moyer Howe

Ohio – Delivering vaginally for me was a “rite of passage.” I was finally able to cast off the numerous doubts and my sense of failure I experienced. I really was “adequate.” – Ellen B., Nurse Manager & VBAC mom X2

Oregon – After my c-section with my daughter, laughing was extremely painful for weeks.  I would think, how awful that during a time that should be filled with joy, I’m unable to laugh.  – Rachel R., HBAC mom

I think it’s important for the operating room space and staff to be available for a true emergency cesarean, rather than have me taking up their space and time for convenience. – Rebecca C.

Pennsylvania – If I had to plan a pregnancy to end in surgery, I would not have another child, period.  – Judy P., DVM, PhD (molecular biology)

VBAC is important to me because it has the capacity of healing my broken Self. – Monica R., PhD.

South Carolina – VBAC is a natural conclusion to a natural process.  Not to mention, how many babies with true emergencies, would be saved by not having operating rooms tied up with elective cesareans? – Raechel Fredrickson

West Virginia – Aside from the fact that offering VBACs is practicing Evidence Based Medicine and should be offered without question, I would like for other women to experience the joy and self-assurance that comes from working with her body as well as the indescribable feeling of pulling her fresh, warm baby up to her chest as I experienced with my HBA3C. – Teresa S.

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.

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

Risk of serious complications increase with each cesarean surgery

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

Definitions

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

Placenta accreta (March of Dimes 2005):

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

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

Hysterectomy (Women’s Health 2009):

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

Placenta previa (PubMedHealth 2011):

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

There are different forms of placenta previa:

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

Increasing risks with multiple cesareans: Focusing on accreta

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

Silver (2006) found:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accreta, previa, and cesarean hysterectomies

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

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

Complications associated with accreta

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

Rate of hysterectomy by cesarean number (Silver 2006).

Women who had accreta also experienced the following complications:

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

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

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

Alternatives to cesarean hysterectomy

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

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

Conservative or alternate techniques for treating placenta accreta include:

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

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

Using ultrasound and MRI to diagnose accreta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering your future fertility

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

Last updated 9/13/12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subject Codes:
womans_health;
Elsevier Global Medical News
http://www.imng.com

June 19, 2009   10:04 AM EDT

questioning-question-marks-woman-white 400

Want a VBAC? Ask your care provider these questions.

While there are care providers who may mislead you about your risks, benefits, and options, this article is written assuming that you are meeting with an ethical care provider who supports the option of VBAC.  Read more on how to find a providers like this.

If you are a good candidate for VBAC, the single most important decision you can make that will have the greatest impact on your chances of VBAC success is who you hire to attend your birth.   This is why it’s important to interview several care providers and ask specific questions.

You will often receive different information when speaking to the doctor or midwife directly than you would from the people who answer their phones.  When calling their office, be sure to state that you want to have a consultation.  Ideally, you want to meet in an office, not in an exam room.

Questions You Should Ask

These questions are relevant to all birthing people, VBAC or not.

I think the most important ones relate to going overdue and suspecting a big baby, so I recommend asking those first.

If you want to learn more, check out my workshop “The Truth About VBAC.” There, I translate the evidence on each question so you know how to decode the provider’s response as well as red flags to avoid. In the workshop, I also provide an extensive list of questions for out-of-hospital providers.


What is your philosophy on planned VBACs?

What is your philosophy on planned VBACs going past 40 weeks?

What is your philosophy on suspected “big babies” (macrosomia) among planned VBACs?

How many VBACs have you attended?

Of the last 10 planned VBACs you attended, how many had a VBAC?

What is your philosophy on inducing VBACs?

What is your philosophy on monitoring planned VBACs?

Does your hospital have telemetry (wireless monitoring)? How often is it used?

What is your philosophy on waters being broken for more than 24 hours?

How long do you think it’s safe for VBACs to  labor?

What is your philosophy on epidurals in planned VBACs?

What are your standing orders for planned VBACs and do they differ from your standing orders for first time parents?

How does your on-call schedule work?

What is your cesarean rate?

What are their thoughts on movement during labor and delivery positions?

What is your philosophy on IV or saline lock?

Do you offer family-friendly cesareans?

Special Circumstances

In the event that the baby isn’t head down, do they manually turn babies? (This is called an external cephalic version or ECV.)

Do they attend vaginal breech births? If not, can they refer you to a provider who does?

Do they attend vaginal twin VBACs?

Do you attend VBAC after 2 cesareans?

Do they attend VBACs with a classical (high vertical), T, or J scar?

Do they attend VBACs with a low vertical or unknown scar?


You might have to interview several providers until you find one who is truly supportive of VBAC.

If you do find such a provider, refer all your friends, VBAC or not, to this provider so that they can reap the benefit of someone who supports non-interventive birth!

I really think that true change won’t occur in the medical community in terms of supporting natural non-interventive birth and VBAC until the OBs and hospitals see their revenue decrease.

For this reason, we all need to support OBs, midwives, and hospitals that support VBAC.

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.