Tag Archives: immediately available

“Hospitals offering VBAC are required to have 24/7 anesthesia” is false

In 2010, I was sitting next to an OB/GYN during a lunch break at the National Institutes of Health VBAC Conference. She was telling me about how she had worked at a rural hospital, without 24/7 anesthesia, that offered vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).

I asked her what they did in the event of an emergency. “I perform an emergency cesarean under local anesthetic,” she plainly stated. She explained how you inject the anesthetic along the intended incision line, cut and then inject the next layer and cut, all the way down until you get to the baby.

It certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was how her small facility was able to support VBAC while responding to those uncommon, but inevitable, complications that require immediate surgical delivery.

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They had everything a hospital needs to offer VBAC: a supportive policy, supportive providers, and motivation to make VBAC available at their hospital.

From a public health standpoint, it’s to our benefit to offer VBAC because repeat cesareans increase the rate of accreta in future pregnancies as well as hysterectomy and excessive bleeding.

And rural hospitals are NOT capable of managing an accreta because it requires far more than (local) anesthesia and a surgeon. (Read more on how morbidity, mortality, and ideal response differs between uterine rupture & accreta.)

When I hear of smaller, rural hospitals telling women that they can’t offer VBAC because “ACOG requires” 24/7 anesthesia, I think of that OB/GYN and ACOG’s (2010) guidelines which state

Women and their physicians may still make a plan for a TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] 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.

So, yes, it is possible and reasonable to offer VBAC without 24/7 anesthesia.

It is ideal? No.

But do you know what else is not ideal?

It’s not ideal to have VBAC bans mandating repeat cesareans that expose women to the increasing risks of surgical birth across the board as a matter of policy—risks that can be far more serious and life-threatening than the risks of VBAC.

It’s not ideal to have any vaginal delivery at a hospital that doesn’t offer 24/7 anesthesia, because any woman giving birth may require emergency surgery.

It’s not ideal to have a cesarean (scheduled or emergency) at a hospital that doesn’t have a blood bank.

It’s not ideal nor realistic to have every pregnant woman drive hours in labor to larger hospitals that offer blood banks, 24/7 anesthesia, and various obstetric sub-specialties for planned VBAC.

It’s not ideal to have state troopers attending roadside births for some of those women.

And it’s deadly for rural hospitals to be managing a surprise accreta.

So, we have to come up with better options.

We can’t continue to pretend that banning VBAC is in the best interest of families.  It does not serve our communities in the long run because it simply exposes the ones we love to a more serious complication in future pregnancies.

Learning how to perform a cesarean under local anesthetic makes hospitals—regardless of geography—safer places to give birth. It enables them to perform cesareans more quickly when they don’t have an anesthesiologist in the hospital but the baby needs to be born NOW.

This could make a huge difference in the outcomes for any laboring mom—VBAC or non-VBAC—as well as her baby.

Learn more about VBAC barriers and watch me debunk the four reasons why hospitals ban VBAC in my workshop, “The Truth About VBAC.”

Does your rural hospital offer VBAC or not?

Does your urban or suburban hospital offer VBAC or not?

Leave a comment below!


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116 (2), 450-463,http://m.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Practice_Bulletins/Committee_on_Practice_Bulletins_Obstetrics/Vaginal_Birth_After_Previous_Cesarean_Delivery

Kamel, J. (2015, April 2). Too Bad We Can’t Just “Ban” Accreta – The Downstream Consequences of VBAC Bans. Retrieved from Science & Sensibility: http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/placenta-accreta-vbac-ban/

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/

Komorowski, J. (2010, Oct 11). A Woman’s Guide to VBAC: Putting Uterine Rupture into Perspective. Retrieved from Giving Birth with Confidence: http://www.givingbirthwithconfidence.org/p/bl/ar/blogaid=181

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/

Confusing fact: Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic

It is important to note that the information shared in Guise (2010), the 400 page Evidence Report on which the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference was based, collected the best data we have available on trial of labor after cesarean.  That said, they reported, “Overall, the strength of evidence on perinatal mortality was low to moderate” due to the wide range of perinatal mortality rates reported by the studies included in the report.  Bottom line: We still don’t have an accurate idea of how deadly uterine rupture is to babies.  This is a topic on which Guise recommended future researchers focus.  I highly recommend that anyone interested in TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean), especially those who blog or share information on social networking sites, review this very important document as it is a fascinating analysis of the best research we have to date on TOLAC.

How many times have you heard, “Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic” or “Uterine rupture not only happens less that one percent of the time, but the vast majority of ruptures are non-catastrophic?” But what does that mean? Does that mean only 6% of uterine ruptures are “complete” ruptures? Result in maternal death? Infant death? Serious injury to mom or baby? This article will explain to you the difference between uterine rupture and uterine dehiscence as well as explain the source and meaning of the 6% statistic.

Distinguishing between uterine rupture and uterine dehiscence

First, it’s important to understand what a uterine rupture is and how that differs from a uterine dehiscence. Uterine rupture, also called true, complete, or even (to further add to the confusion) catastrophic rupture, is a opening through all the layers of the uterus. Per a Medscape article on Uterine Rupture in Pregnancy:

Uterine rupture is defined as a full-thickness separation of the uterine wall and the overlying serosa. Uterine rupture is associated with (1) clinically significant uterine bleeding; (2) fetal distress; (3) expulsion or protrusion of the fetus, placenta, or both into the abdominal cavity; and (4) the need for prompt cesarean delivery and uterine repair or hysterectomy.

Whereas a uterine dehiscence, also called a incomplete rupture or a uterine window, is not a full-thickness separation. It’s often asymptomatic, does not pose any risk to mom or baby, and does not require repair. Again, I refer to Medscape:

Uterine scar dehiscence is a more common event that seldom results in major maternal or fetal complications. By definition, uterine scar dehiscence constitutes separation of a preexisting scar that does not disrupt the overlying visceral peritoneum (uterine serosa) and that does not significantly bleed from its edges. In addition, the fetus, placenta, and umbilical cord must be contained within the uterine cavity, without a need for cesarean delivery due to fetal distress.

When reading medical studies, look for how they define uterine rupture in the “Methods” section. While some medical studies combine the statistics for rupture and dehiscence, ultimately reporting an inflated rate of rupture, other studies distinguish between the two events.

So, what does the 6% statistic mean and where did it come from?

The statistic “Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic” is from the Evidence Report (Guise 2010) which was the basis of the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and it refers to the rate of infant death due to uterine rupture. Here is the exact quote:

The overall risk of perinatal death due to uterine rupture was 6.2 percent. The two studies of women delivering at term that reported perinatal death rates report that 0 to 2.8 percent of all uterine ruptures resulted in a perinatal death (Guise 2010).

In other words, of the women who had uterine ruptures, 6.2% (1 in 16) resulted in infant deaths. When we limited the data to women delivering at term, as opposed to babies of all gestational ages, the risk was as high as 2.8 (1 in 36)%.

When we look at the overall risk of an infant death during a trial of labor after cesarean, the NIH reported the rate of 0.13%, which works out to be one infant death per 769 trials of labor.

The source of the confusion

The problem with this statistic is that some people have misinterpreted it to mean that only 6% of ruptures are true, complete uterine ruptures. In other words, if we take the 0.4% (1 in 240) uterine rupture rate (Landon, 2004), they believe that only 6% of those ruptures or 0.024% (1 in 4166) are true, complete ruptures. This is false. The 0.4% uterine rupture statistic measured true, complete, uterine ruptures in spontaneous labors after one prior low, transverse (“bikini cut”) cesarean.

So how many dehiscences did Landon (2004) detect? Landon reported a 0.7% uterine rupture rate and a 0.7% dehiscence rate. (Note that these statistics include a variety of scar types as well spontaneous, augmented, and induced labors.) So Landon found that dehiscence occurs at the same rate as uterine rupture.

I think the best way to avoid confusion is to use very clear language: 6.2% (1 in 16) of uterine ruptures result in an infant death. Put another way, for every 16 uterine ruptures, there will be one baby that dies.

Elapsed time and infant death

What determines if a baby dies or has brain damage? Some research on infant cord blood gases has suggested that if the baby isn’t delivered (almost always by CS) within 16 – 17 minutes of a uterine rupture, there can be serious brain damage or death to baby. You can watch a presentation from the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference entitled “The Immediately Available Physician Standard” by Howard Minkoff, M.D. for more information or read his presentation abstract.

Now you know the difference between uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence and the meaning of the 6% statistic. It’s helpful to understand the terminology used in relation to uterine rupture otherwise it can be very confusing as you wade your way through the statistics! It’s also very important for people to use specific words whose definitions are clear instead of words such as “catastrophic” that could mean multiple things.

Afterward – The big picture

The following are excerpts from the Evidence Report (Guise 2010) , the 400 page evidence report assembled for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference. The limitation of Guise (2010) is that these stats are for all VBACs – all scar types, multiple prior cesareans, induced/augmented labors, etc. It would have been helpful if they had broke out the data in these ways.

While rare for both TOL [trial of labor] 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 death due to UR from term studies was 2.8%. “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.

A systematic review strives to be patient-centered and to provide both patients and clinicians with meaningful numbers or estimates so they can make informed decisions. Often, however, the data do not allow a direct estimate to calculate the numbers that people desire such as the number of cesareans needed to avoid one uterine rupture related death. The assumptions that are required to make such estimates from the available data introduce additional uncertainty that cannot be quantified. If we make a simplistic assumption that 6 percent of all uterine ruptures result in perinatal death (as found from the summary estimate), the range of estimated numbers of cesareans needed to be performed to prevent one uterine rupture related perinatal death would be 2,400 from the largest study,204 and 3,900-6,100 from the other three studies of uterine rupture for TOL and ERCD.10, 97, 205 Taken in aggregate, the evidence suggests that the approximate risks and benefits that would be expected for a hypothetical group of 100,000 women at term gestational age (GA) who plan VBAC rather than ERCD include: 10 fewer maternal deaths, 650 additional uterine ruptures, and 50 additional neonatal deaths. Additionally, it is important to consider the morbidity in future pregnancies that would be averted from multiple cesareans particularly in association with placental abnormalities.

VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational

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

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

Hi Virginia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I urge you to watch Dr. Birnbach’s presentation along with all the presentations from the 2010 NIH VBAC conference.  The American Association of Justice article entitled “When every minute counts,” also discusses improving response times.

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

Additionally, as I argued here:

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

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

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

This is a huge change.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.