Tag Archives: nihvbac

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.

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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.

Another VBAC consult misinforms

At the NIH VBAC Conference, I was happy to hear the draft Consensus Statement acknowledge that there were non-medical factors that affect women’s access to VBAC:

We are concerned about the barriers that women face in accessing clinicians and facilities that are able and willing to offer TOL [trial of labor after cesarean]. . . We are concerned that medico-legal considerations add to, as well as exacerbate, these barriers.

Many women assume that their local hospital has banned VBAC, or their OB doesn’t attend them, because VBAC is excessively dangerous.  Most women are unaware of the many non-medical factors that play into VBAC accessibility.

What disappointed me, however, was the panel’s surprise at the misinformation and bait & switch tactics to which many women are subjected.  I think when you are a VBAC supportive practitioner, it may be hard to believe that your colleagues practice in a manner like I describe below.

To give you an idea of the kind of advice that many, many moms seeking VBAC receive, here are excerpts of an email from Brooke Addley of northeastern Pennsylvania.  She decided to ask her OB about VBAC at her annual exam in March 2010.  This is what happened:

Once I brought the subject up stating that I really would not be open to a c-section unless it was medically necessary he said “they are all medically necessary” and then went on to mention that just within this last month there were two major ruptures at the local hospital.  From there he just talked about the risk of VBAC and how catastrophic it could be if there was a rupture.

A uterine rupture can be catastrophic, but it is rare and the incidence of uterine rupture is comparable to other obstetrical emergencies such as placental abruption which has a worldwide rate of 1%.  As Mona Lydon-Rochelle PhD, MPH, MS, CNM said at the NIH VBAC conference, “There is a major misperception that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] is extremely risky” and George Macones MD who stated in terms of VBAC, “Your risk is really, really quite low.”  Additionally, 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).

One of the factors discussed at the NIH VBAC conference is that a practitioner is less likely to offer VBAC if they have experienced a uterine rupture, particularly if there is a bad outcome.  However, that ethically should not interfere with him providing his client with accurate information on the rate of uterine rupture as well as studies that substantiate the rate provided.

When I cited the low rate of uterine rupture [of 0.5% – 2% after one prior low transverse cesarean] he said “that information is incorrect and the rate is actually higher.”  Yet when I asked him to lead me in the direction of the study or studies where he found that out he said there isn’t any because many women have repeat [cesareans] and once in the OR it is discovered that they have a thin window in their uterus and if they labored/pushed it would have ruptured for sure.

The rate of rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low transverse incision is 0.4% (Landon, 2004). So not only did he give her an inaccurate picture about the rate of rupture, but he led her to believe that there are no studies on VBAC.  (I always wonder in situations like these: Is the OB really actively trying to mislead the patient or is he really so misinformed?)  This OB should read the NIH VBAC conference Program & Abstracts, or my VBAC Class bibliography, to see that in fact there are many studies on VBAC.

Then the OB gives her inaccurate information on VBAC success rates:

I asked the VBAC success rate and he said that most fail.

VBACs have a success rate of about 75% which has been the conclusion of many studies  (Coassolo, 2005; Huang, 2002; Landon, 2005; Landon, 2006; Macones, 2005).  Success rates vary based on a variety of factors, but to say that ‘most fail’ is absolutely false.  What this OB should say is, “Most women who attempt a VBAC with me as their care provider fail,” which is probably 100% true.

And then the OB gives her the line that many women fall for:

He did however say that although he really does not recommend it . . . he would allow me to try.

And there is the hook.  So many women are satisfied to simply be given the opportunity to VBAC.  Unfortunately, from what this OB has said already, I do not believe Brooke would have a genuine opportunity to VBAC.  Surely this OB would come up with some “valid medical reason” that she needs a cesarean sometime during her pregnancy or labor.  Here come the requirements to be granted a trail of labor:

…yet there are many things that would have to be taken into consideration, including my unproven pelvis. He mentioned that in the hospital I would have to have continuous monitoring and 18 hours after my water broke, if I was not progressing, they would want to use Pitocin to advance the labor.  He also mentioned that he does not allow any woman under his care to go past 40 weeks.

The unproven pelvis standard is bizarre.  Don’t all women pregnant with their first child have an unproven pelvis?  Do we offer them all of them an elective primary cesarean to prevent a “failed vaginal delivery?”

No stereotypical VBAC consult full of misinformation is complete without a healthy helping of repeat cesarean risk minimization:

He did not mention risks to repeat c-sections.  When I brought it up he said there aren’t any except the obvious risks that come with any surgery.

False, false, false.  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 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.

It is quite typical for a woman to receive inflated rates of uterine rupture while the practitioner minimizes the risks of repeat cesarean.  This OB goes one step further and claims there are no risks at all besides the general risks associated with surgery.

It is no wonder that most women ‘chose’ repeat cesareans and only 45% of American women are interested in the option of a VBAC (Declercq, 2006).  What kind of choice is it when you make major medical decisions without even a fraction of accurate information?

There is much discussion and debate about what constitutes informed consent.  However, there is no debate that informed consent fundamentally consists of understanding the risks and benefits of your options.  When a woman only hears the (inflated) risks of option one and the (inaccurate) nonexistent risks of option two, it is clear that her practitioner is trying to influence her final decision by skewing the information provided.

Finally, the OB suggests that the desire to have a vaginal birth and avoid medically unnecessary surgery warrants psychological help:

I flat out said to him that I just cannot have another c-section [without medical indication] and he told me that I need to see a therapist, [that] it’s not that big of a deal and it is the safest way to go!

It might be helpful for this OB, and others who think like him, to learn more about how women are impacted by their cesareans.  Cesareans performed on otherwise healthy babies and healthy moms are absolutely a big deal to many women.  Even when cesareans are medically indicated, there are women who still mourn the loss of a vaginal birth even as they celebrate their healthy baby and the technology that made their entrance into the world safe.  Read American Women Speak About VBAC for more personal stories.

Then the OB makes it sound like he’s the only game in town:

Oh and then at the very end he said I could always go with another provider but he is pretty much the most open to VBAC.  I flat out told him that he is not VBAC friendly at all and that if he is the most open in town I have quite the battle ahead of me.

The emotional fallout of the appointment:

The entire visit I just had to hold back tears and once I hit the street I lost it.  I just want to hit my head against a wall!! I’m just sad, sad that it has to be this way – sad that, as much as I want to have another baby, I dread getting pregnant.  Sad that women are told this shit and forced to believe it.  I’m just in such a funk now…..just a sad, sad funk.

But it’s not just Brooke.

Michelle was told by her OB that uterine rupture rates increase with each VBAC which contradicts a 2008 study that concluded the risk of uterine rupture drops 50% after the first VBAC (Mercer, 2008).  One of the women who attended the VBAC class this past Sunday said that her OB quoted a uterine rupture rate of 6-10% after one prior low transverse cesarean. Sarah was quoted a rate of 10% “after the first section.”  Karla was also quoted 10% and called “selfish” by her OB who was “appalled that [she] would risk the life of [her] baby.”  Once again, the correct rate for uterine rupture in a spontaneous labor after one prior low transverse cesarean is 0.4% (Landon, 2004) and these women are quoted rates 15 – 25 times higher.

Another way doctors lie is by circumventing the risk of VBAC issue entirely.  A friend told me that her doctor said her medical insurance wouldn’t pay for a VBAC.  So believing her doctor and thinking she didn’t have any other option, she had a scheduled repeat cesarean. Turns out, my friend had the same medical insurance as me and that same insurance reimbursed me for my homebirth VBAC.

And who can forget the irate mom who left a comment on the VBACfacts Facebook fan page expressing her disbelief that any “selfish idiot” would pursue a VBAC.  Her OB told her that there was a 10% infant and maternal mortality rate with trials of labor after cesarean.  When I emailed her with the correct rates of 0.02% for maternal mortality and 0.05% for infant death or brain damage (Landon, 2004) and requested she forward any studies supporting a 10% mortality rate, she didn’t reply.

VBAC consults that misinform are all to common and help contribute to the 90% repeat cesarean rate in American (Hamilton, 2009).  If you are a VBAC supportive practitioner, and would like to make it easier for women in your community to find you, please read: How to best connect moms with VBAC supportive practitioners?

Learn more about finding a supportive care provider:

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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.

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.

Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. (2009, March 18). Births: Preliminary Data for 2007. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_12.pdf

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.

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.

Landon, M. B., Leindecker, S., Spong, C., Hauth, J., Bloom, S., Varner, M., et al. (2005). The MFMU Cesarean Registry: Factors affecting the success of trial of labor after previous cesarean delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology , 193, 1016-1023.

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.

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.

Mercer, B. M., Gilbert, S., Landon, M. B., & Spong, C. Y. (2008). Labor Outcomes With Increasing Number of Prior Vaginal Births After Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics & Gynecology , 11, 285-91.

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.

Smith, G. C., Pell, J. P., Cameron, A. D., & Dobbie, R. (2002). Risk of perinatal death associated with labor after previous cesarean delivery in uncomplicated term pregnancies. Journal of the American Medical Association , 287 (20), 2684-2690.