Tag Archives: risk assessment

Judgment in the birth community: Fitting in after a cesarean

A woman who had four cesareans, after planning VBACs and home births, recently contacted me. She didn’t know where she fit into the birth community.

My heart went out to her because there have been periods in my life when I have felt isolated and alone. And it’s a crappy feeling.

I replied to her:

A vaginal delivery is not required to participate in the birth community. There are many cesarean moms just like you who are seeking compassion, connection, and understanding. You could be a soft place for other women to land as they mourn (or celebrate!) their cesarean deliveries.

The mission of VBAC Facts goes above and beyond our personal birth preferences. Really, the goal is education and access to VBAC.

The goal *is not* for everyone to have a VBAC because, as you know, there are many reasons why someone would have a cesarean birth, including scheduling an elective cesarean. And that is that parent’s choice! And those mothers are no less of a parent, advocate, or sister to those within the birth community.

I know one woman who had four cesareans and runs an ICAN chapter. Again, it’s not about how her births played out, but rather education and, ultimately, respecting the choices other parents make while holding space for them when birth doesn’t go as planned.

If you are feeling rejected, perhaps you need to find a new group of people to hang with! 🙂

We all don’t have to birth the same to support each other

The judgment that this mom is experiencing is why I spend so much time in my workshop, “The Truth About VBAC” talking about individualized risk assessment. This is a fancy way of saying, “There are a lot of different reasons that go into why someone plans a specific type of birth.”

I discuss this subject at great length, including all the factors that one might consider and the fact that both VBAC and repeat cesarean are valid options.

I really want to assure students that there is no Right Way to Birth. Only what is Right for Them.

Releasing the judgment about how other people birth

I also want to explore the subject so that people who staunchly believe that there is a Right Way to Birth can see how there are so many reasons why someone might choose to birth differently than them… and possibly release that judgment.

(That’s also why I recently revamped the VBAC Facts homepage to feature two cesarean births.)

The whole point is: How you birth, is up to you. It’s frankly no one else’s business. Not mine. Not your girlfriend’s. Not the PTA president’s. It’s Your Birth.

And no matter what birth you choose, if you believe that parents should have access to VBAC, VBAC Facts is your birth community.

I have said this so many times in so many venues and yet I still receive comments like this from email subscribers:

I’m leaning toward repeat c-section. I already feel you scrunching up your face. I feel shamed for going with repeat c-section. People assume I am ignorant to the facts. They assume a lot of things. I feel like I have to justify this decision to everyone.

Ouch. Dear reader, I don’t feel that way at all. It hurts my heart that what should be a joyous time in your life is filled with deflecting the unsupportive opinions of others. Regardless of how you birth, your choices should be respected because it’s Your Birth.

Supporting access and respect, not dictating outcomes

It’s tough because there is so much judgment and so much defensiveness when it comes to birth and even what advocacy really means.

For me, VBAC advocacy is about access to VBAC, which is very different than saying, “I think everyone should have a VBAC.” And because my focus is access and not a specific mode of delivery, I don’t judge women who plan to have a repeat cesarean section. Full stop.

One of the reasons why I started VBAC Facts is that I saw people cherry picking information, misinterpreting the conclusions of medical studies, and basically manipulating the facts in order to convince other people to make the same birthing decisions they did.

Because they judged those that birthed differently than them.

How what other people think can impact your options

I created VBAC Facts, and I ultimately developed educational programs, so parents, birth professionals, and even medical providers could get the actual facts. The actual statistics. The actual recommendations. Rather than basing their opinion on someone else’s personal risk assessment of what was “safe” or “risky.”

And sometimes what other people think – like the Head of Obstetrics at your hospital or your hospital administrator – can set of the tone of your facility and even if they “allow” you to attend VBAC.

And for pregnant people, it can be the well-intended, but misinformed opinion of their friends and family. And that judgment and disapproval is enough to persuade some mothers to schedule a repeat cesarean just to keep the family peace.

It’s all about learning the facts so you can make your own decisions… and giving others the space to make theirs. And once people realize that there is no Right Way to Birth and that everyone knows the Right Way for Them, we can truly celebrate how we each start and grow our families without judging each other for how we do it. That’s what I call #factsoveragenda.

How do you describe your birth community? As a cesarean parent, how were you received and did you feel supported? If not, where did you go to find support?

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are serious issues:

Disrespectful care.

Abusive care.

Obstetric violence.

Forced/coerced cesareans.

VBAC bans.

Restrictive VBAC policies.

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t slam the other restaurant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Induction is wrong, wrong, wrong… wait, what?

I hear all the time how induction in VBAC is contraindicated. This is false. This is the kind of misinformation that materializes when we demonize all induction rather than specifying that elective inductions are not worth the increased risks.

It’s important to use clear, specific language when we talk about birth because there is a lot of confusion among moms, advocates, doulas, and health care providers about VBAC and induction. When I point out the lack of clarity many people have on the topic to “anti-induction advocates” (for the lack of a better term), they respond with the fact that their focus is warning moms about elective inductions, which is absolutely needed. And they genuinely believe that people are aware of the distinction between elective and medically-indicated inductions. However, that has not been my experience, in fact it’s been quite the opposite.  There are many people who don’t understand the why, when, and how of inducing VBACs and that is impacting the abilities of women to make informed decisions and exercise their right of patient autonomy.

First, you can induce VBACs

To be clear, medically indicated induction in a VBAC is not contraindicated! Yet, many, many, many people persist that it is citing ACOG (1) and the Pitocin insert (2). ACOG clearly says in their latest VBAC guidelines (3) that “induction remains an option” in a mom planning a VBAC via Pitocin or Foley catheter. The Pitocin drug insert (2) does state, “Except in unusual circumstances, oxytocin [Pitocin] should not be administered in the following conditions” and then lists “previous major surgery on the cervix or uterus including cesarean section.” However, despite conventional wisdom, a prior cesarean is not listed under the contraindications section.  Further, the drug insert recognizes the value of individualized care:

The decision [to use Pitocin in a woman with a prior cesarean] can be made only by carefully weighing the potential benefits which oxytocin can provide in a given case against rare but definite potential for the drug to produce hypertonicity or tetanic spasm.

This is in line with ACOG’s latest VBAC recommendations (3) where they say, “Respect for patient autonomy supports the concept that patients should be allowed to accept increased levels of risk…” So this is information a woman can use to make an informed decision if she is faced with a medical condition that requires sooner rather than later delivery of her baby, but not necessarily in the next 15 minutes.  To induce, have a cesarean, or wait for spontaneous labor when facing a true medical issue is a decision for the mom to make in conjunction with her supportive heath care provider based on the evidence of her risks, benefits, and options.

My point is, if you just read bits and pieces of the insert, or a few key quotes from an anti-induction article, you are going to miss the full story; much like how reading the full text of a study gives you context and details that you lack by just reading the abstract.  Read my article (4) for more information on inducing VBACs.

Yet, misinformation persists

Ok, so now you know that induction remains an option per the Pitocin insert, ACOG, and respect for patient autonomy.  Now check out these quotes, from the last couple days, from six different people. If I were to keep a list of comments like these, just referring to induction and VBAC for a month, I would literally have dozens if not hundreds.  Misinformation is rampant:

“pitocin is CONTRAINDICATED for vbac bc the risk of uterine rupture”

“I thought it was unsafe to use pitocin with a vbac.”

“vbac should never be induced!”

“It is unsafe for prev surgical births. It says so in the PDR, or at least it did.”

“Not supposed to induce with a VBAC.”

“Never never never have an induction, especially with any kind of vbac!! Oh my goodness. it drastically raises your chances of uterine rupture!! Holy toledo. If you don’t know the risks involved with inductions, especially in vbacs, don’t offer the advice! Smh. Pitocin is completely contraindicated for vbacs, I’m pretty sure it even says that on the insert.”

“Are you actually trying to argue that induction of labour on a VBAC is OK???WOW…that is not evidence based AT ALL. Every study that has been done comparing the two shows a clear rise in risk associated with induction of labour and rupture. I am ALL for choice no matter the case, but I think every women has a right to INFORMED choice and you clearly are not. UNLIKE.”

Note the tone of these comments.  There is no room for negotiation.  Do you get the sense that they are just referring to elective inductions or all inductions? The message I get from these comments is loud and clear: these individuals believe that VBACs should not be induced. Period.

“Well, I would choose an induction…”

What is especially ironic is that some women who speak this way in public, privately share with me, that they themselves would opt for an induction over a repeat cesarean. Though do you see room for that option in any of the comments above?  They preserve that choice for themselves and yet pound the party line that all induction is always wrong and publicly deny that option to other women… for what purpose?  To maintain ad nauseam that induction is an evil, evil thing? Yes, apparently that is the case.

The last person’s comment was in response to me sharing my article (4) and saying that induction with medical indication does and should remain an option for moms planing VBACs.  Her reply equates my actions of sharing this reality with advocating against informed choice. How is keeping women in the dark about their options supporting the notion of informed consent? That faulty logic deserves a capitalized “WOW” with excessive exclamation points.

This is not the first person to say something like this to me. People so staunchly (and incorrectly) maintain that VBACs should never be induced because they have been indoctrinated to believe that induction is always wrong, it always introduces more risks.

More risk than what?

But the key question is: More risk than what? That is always what women should ask.

More risk than having a fetal demise before labor, partial placental abruption, or serious uterine infection and remaining pregnant? OK, so let’s say that is the truth.

Then any time any scarred woman has any of those medical conditions as well as those listed in my article (4), and they agree that remaining pregnant has higher risks that delivering the baby, they should have a cesarean, right? Even if vaginal birth remains an option, albeit via an induced labor?  Even if baby needs to be born sooner rather than later, but not necessarily in the next 15 minutes?  Those moms shouldn’t have a choice, they shouldn’t have a say, they should just go straight to cesarean?  How is that preserving choice for women?

Don’t misrepresent the facts

That is what these (extreme) “induction is wrong” proponents don’t understand. Induction has its place, as does every other medical intervention, and if you want to go straight to cesarean, rather than having a medically-indicated induction, fine.

But don’t misrepresent the truth to other women.

Don’t misrepresent what ACOG (1) or the Pitocin insert (2) says.

Don’t misrepresent the risks of Pitocin by listing a mish-mash of complications with no rates.  (How are women to understand the risks if you don’t tell them how frequently those emergencies occur?)

Don’t say things that can be disproved with a single mouse click like inducing VBACs is against evidence based medicine.

Don’t undermine a woman’s legal right to autonomy (5) by perpetuating the myth, that all induction, including when medically indicated, is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Don’t dictate specific actions while withholding facts that would enable women to make their own decisions, even if they are different that what you would prefer.

Medically indicated induction = choice

People don’t appreciate that standing for medically indicated induction is standing for women to have a choice: induction vs. repeat cesarean. Without induction, there is no choice when a valid medical reason presents. By eliminating the option of induction, women are mandated to the increasing risks (6) of repeat cesarean. And yet people who persist in their agenda say things like this to me (naturally, the following was asserted after I shared my article (4) and they didn’t read it),

Does inducing a VBAC increase the chance of rupture??? YES. Does a women, and should a women have the right to choose that irregardless of that FACT??? YES. Is the most important thing informed consent?? I believe it is.

Clear language provides clarity

So if people think that, then they should use clear, unambiguous language like, “Induction remains an option when a medical indication presents” or “Elective induction isn’t worth the increased risks” rather than flat out declaring “pitocin is contraindicated” (false) and claiming that induction in a VBAC is not evidenced based (false) as this very commenter did earlier in the thread. If someone maintains that it should be a woman’s choice, then they should share substantiated facts, context, statistics, and references, not erroneous blanket statements.

Women can make informed decisions only when they are informed

To provide information supports choice and informed consent. To dictate a specific action while misrepresenting the evidence eliminates choice and prohibits informed consent . I do not dictate to other women what they should do (7).

If you read my article (4), you will see that I list the reasons for medically indicated induction as well as provide an extensive review of studies illustrating the increased risk of uterine rupture. I do this rather than simply saying, “the risk of rupture is higher and thus you shouldn’t do it” because providing facts with context puts the choice in the hands of the mom, rather than me (or anyone else) dictating to her what she should do.

Some women will accept that higher rate of rupture in order to have a vaginal birth. Others will choose to accept the risks of a repeat cesarean section. Those are choices for women to make for themselves based on facts, not on misrepresentations of what other women (incorrectly) think is contraindicated.

“Induction is wrong” & patient autonomy

People who advocate that “induction is always wrong” don’t understand the implications of their assertions. By arguing against inductions, which in the minds of many include medically indicated inductions since no distinction is made, they are effectively advocating for more cesareans and against informed consent and patient autonomy. The mission of VBAC Facts is to make hard-to-find, interesting, and pertinent information relative to post-cesarean birth options easily accessible to the people who seek it. I advocate for informed consent and patient autonomy and that is why I share evidence (4) rather than dictating what others should do. I only hope that this reasoning and evidence based position spreads because there are far to many people out there who persist in the inaccurate philosophy that inductions in a VBAC are always wrong even in the face of a valid medical reason. This does not support choice, women, or birth.

I profusely apologize for the excessive underlining in this article, but I think you will agree, that it was absolutely necessary.

Sources

1. Kamel, J. (2010, Jul 21). ACOG issues less restrictive VBAC guidelines. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2010/07/21/acog-issues-less-restrictive-vbac-guidelines/

2. JHP Pharmaceuticals LLC. (2012, Sept). Pitocin official FDA information, side effects and uses. Retrieved from Drugs.com: http://www.drugs.com/pro/pitocin.html

3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Practice Bulletin No. 115: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Delivery. Obstetrics and Gynecology , 116 (2), 450-463. Retrieved from Our Bodies Our Blog: http://www.ourbodiesourblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/ACOG_guidelines_vbac_2010.pdf

4. Kamel, J. (2012, May 27). Myth: VBACs should never be induced. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/05/27/myth-vbacs-should-never-be-induced/

5. Kamel, J. (n.d.). Legal stuff. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/category/vbac/legal-stuff

6. Kamel, J. (2012, Dec 9). Why cesareans are a big deal to you, your wife, and your daughter. Retrieved from VBAC Facts: http://vbacfacts.com/2012/12/09/why-cesareans-are-a-big-deal-to-you-your-wife-and-your-daughter/

7. 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/

 

Evening primrose oil: “Don’t use it if you are pregnant?”

Many moms and midwives use evening primrose oil (EPO) for cervical ripening. So I was absolutely shocked at the complete lack of evidence on the effectiveness and safety of EPO use among pregnant women.

There are only two studies that examine the oral use EPO and its ability to ripen the cervix during pregnancy.  There are no studies on the vaginal use of EPO. In short, there is insufficient clinical evidence documenting the risks and benefits of EPO and without that information,  the question is, should pregnant women take it?

The available evidence on EPO

Paula Senner gives an excellent review of the first study (Dove 1999) in her Quantitative Research Proposal entitled, “Oral Evening Primrose Oil as a Cervical Ripening Agent in Low Risk Nulliparous Women” (emphasis mine),

The study group consisted of 54 women who took oral evening primrose oil in their pregnancy (500 mg three times a day starting at 37 weeks gestation for the first week of treatment, followed by 500 mg once a day until labor ensued), and the control group was composed of 54 women who did not take anything. Antepartum and intrapartum records of all women were reviewed focusing on the above identified criteria.

Results showed no significant differences between the evening primrose oil group and the control group on age, Apgar score, or days of gestation (P>.05)… This retrospective chart review showed no benefit from taking oral evening primrose oil for the purpose of reducing adverse labor outcomes or for reduction of length of labor.

The study’s abstract gives us more details on the its findings (emphasis mine):

Findings suggest that the oral administration of evening primrose oil from the 37th gestational week until birth does not shorten gestation or decrease the overall length of labor. Further, the use of orally administered evening primrose oil may be associated with an increase in the incidence of prolonged rupture of membranes, oxytocin [Pitocin] augmentation, arrest of descent, and vacuum extraction.

The second study found that while women who took EPO experienced a greater degree of cervical ripening, that did not result in a shorter pregnancy or labor: “There was no significant difference in the interval from onset or end of treatment to onset of labor between the two groups” (Ty-Torredes, 2006).

So one study on oral EPO found that it doesn’t work as we thought it did and it offers considerable risks.  The other study found that it does result in some cervical ripening, but that did not translate into shorter pregnancies or labors.

As a result, a December 2009 article published in the American Family Physician recommended,

The use of evening primrose oil during pregnancy is not supported in the literature and should be avoided.

Medline Plus, a website published by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, published an April 2012 article on EPO.  Medline echoes the sentiments of the American Family Physician article when it said there was,

insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for [EPO during pregnancy and] research to date suggests that taking evening primrose oil doesn’t seem to shorten labor, prevent high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia), or prevent late deliveries in pregnant women… [Further,] taking evening primrose oil is POSSIBLY UNSAFE [their emphasis] during pregnancy.  It might increase the chance of having complications. Don’t use it if you are pregnant [emphasis mine.]

Bleeding issues could complicate cesareans

Research on the use of EPO for other aliments among non-pregnant people has suggested there could be a possible association between the use of EPO and bleeding problems during surgery.

As a result, Medline recommends that people don’t use it at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

This poses a special problem for women using EPO during the last weeks of pregnancy. Since we cannot predict who will have a vaginal birth and who will have a cesarean, it is important to consider that EPO could contribute to hemorrhage during a cesarean and possibly even during a normal vaginal delivery.

We just don’t know because there is a lack of data.

Dosages and mode of delivery

Another hole in the research and our knowledge relates to dosage.

I see women reporting an incredible range of dosages on the internet. What is safe?

There are no clinical studies documenting how much women should take. Maybe X dose of EPO is good, but Y dose introduces XYZ risks.

How long should women take EPO? The last month of pregnancy? The last two weeks?  (Remember, we just read how there is a possible bleeding issue.)

Should they take it twice a day or once a day? Does the body absorb or metabolize EPO differently if it is administrated vaginally or orally?

We just don’t know the answers to these questions.

What about our bodies’ innate ability to birth?

It comes down to the fundamental question: Do our bodies need something to help us go into labor?

Many natural birth advocates reject the routine use of Pitocin augmentation during labor because they say our bodies know how to birth. Yet it’s often women from this same mindset that use EPO.

Either pregnant people as a whole need something to help them go into labor – whether that is EPO or Pitocin – or they don’t.

Are we less leery of EPO because it comes from a flower? Because it’s not produced by “big pharma?”

Because midwives suggest it more than OBs?

Because we can purchase it over the counter? Because it’s a pill, not an injection? Because we can administer it to ourselves in the comfort of our home?

Because it is used so routinely that no one questions it? Or is it simply because we all assume since everyone takes it, the evidence must be on the side of EPO?

On (the lack of) evidence: Holding ourselves to the same standard

When I have shared the lack of evidence on EPO’s ability to ripen cervi or prepare a woman’s body for labor, sometimes women reply with “But there is no evidence to suggest it won’t help either.”

American OBs used this same rationale when they induced scarred moms with Cytotec in the 1990s. There were no published medical studies on Cytotec induction in scarred women, so we didn’t know the risks and benefits. But people used it because we knew it caused uterine contractions. What can go wrong, right?

But the problem is, when there is a lack of clinical evidence on large populations of women, we are sometimes surprised with dire outcomes that no one could have predicted as was the case of Cytotec.

We cannot look back at that period and think, “How could they have done that” when we are now doing the same thing with EPO: using a chemical without evidence of its benefits and harms.

Some rail against “the medical system” because Pitocin/ultrasound/etc hasn’t been “proven safe,” yet we use EPO with no evidence that it does what we think it does, no evidence that it is safe, and the limited evidence we do have says that it’s associated with a variety of complications.

As Hilary Gerber D.O. aka Mom’s Tin Foil Hat says,

As someone who spent many years in the natural supplements industry, I agree that we need to hold natural products to the same scrutiny.

Also, most EPO is extracted with solvents like hexane. I am much more supportive of natural products or interventions that have been used in that form or method for generations (e.g. sexual intercourse at term, ingesting a substance that is a common food item, etc) than a chemically extracted, concentrated, unstudied substance.

Anecdote vs. evidence

OBs who used Cytotec on women with a prior cesarean in the 1990s inevitably would have said, “I haven’t had a bad outcome yet,” and I suspect that many people who use EPO now would say the same thing.

When we have one woman who used EPO and had an arrest of descent, do care providers recognize that this could be as a result of the EPO?

When we have one women who used EPO and it worked as expected, how can we determine her labor progressed because of the EPO?

When you have a small sample size, it’s hard to make a connection.  It’s even more difficult to connect EPO to it’s possible list of complications when not many care providers are aware of the lack of evidence on EPO and the findings of this one lone study.

Is our limited experience, with relatively few patients, without meticulous record keeping that can detect patterns across groups of patients, sufficient evidence?  I don’t think so.

We would likely need thousands of women in order to create a sample size powerful enough to detect – or rule out – common and more rare EPO complications in addition to answering the many questions I posed above.

Take away message

I’m not saying to use EPO or not.

I’m simply pointing out how little we know about this commonly used substance and questioning if that should make a difference in how we view and/or use it.

There is limited evidence on EPO’s ability to ripen the cervix and aid with labor.  We have two studies on the oral use of EPO that looked at this question and none on the vaginal use of EPO among pregnant women.

One study found that EPO doesn’t ripen the cervix and poses considerable risk.  Another study found that EPO does ripen the cervix but those women did not go into labor sooner than the women that didn’t take EPO.

We have no evidence on an appropriate or safe dosage (if that exists).

We have no evidence on the risks and benefits of oral vs vaginal administration.

In order to make the association between EPO and complications, care providers need to be aware of the complications with which EPO may be associated.

We need more large studies to confirm or refute the notion that EPO = ripen cervix = shorter pregnancies. Without that information, we are using a product that we know very little about.

_______________

Bayles, B., & Usatine, R. (2009, Dec 15). Evening Primrose Oil. American Family Physician, 80(12), 1405-1408. Retrieved from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/1215/p1405.html

Dove, D., & Johnson, P. (1999, May-Jun). Oral evening primrose oil: its effect on length of pregnancy and selected intrapartum outcomes in low-risk nulliparous women. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 44(3), 320-4. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10380450

Gerber, H. (2012, November 13). Facebook comments on evening primrose oil.

McFarlin, B. L., Gibson, M. H., O’Rear, J., & Harman, P. (1999, May-Jun). A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse-midwives for labor stimulation. Review of the literature and recommendations for practice. Journal of Nurse Midwifery, 44(3), 205-16. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10380441

Medline Plus. (2012, Apr 10). Evening primrose oil. Retrieved from Medline Plus: A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1006.html

Senner, Paula. (2003, December). Oral Evening Primrose Oil as a Cervical Ripening Agent in Low Risk Nulliparous Women. Retrieved from Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing, Philadelphia University: http://www.instituteofmidwifery.org/MSFinalProj.nsf/a9ee58d7a82396768525684f0056be8d/f44c26c0836acbb585256dd1006b2a22?OpenDocument

Ty-Torredes, K. A. (2006). The effect of oral evening primrose oil on bishop score and cervical length among term gravidas. AJOG, 195(6), S30. Retrieved from http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378%2806%2901323-8/fulltext

Wagner, Marsden. (1999). Misoprostol (Cytotec) for Labor Induction: A Cautionary Tale. Retrieved from Midwifery Today: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/cytotecwagner.asp

Myth: VBACs should never be induced

Note: When I refer to a spontaneous labor, I mean a non-induced/augmented labor. Also, given that the risk of rupture increases with induction, a hospital is the best location for an induction.

___________________________________________

Many of the comments left at the Forced Cesarean mom story questioned the safety of inducing a VBAC mom. Many people believe that is it excessively dangerous and that VBACs should never been induced or augmented. This is just not the case.

Spontaneous labor is always preferable to induced or augmented labor but there are medical conditions that can necessitate the immediate birth of a baby. It’s nice for those women for whom vaginal birth is still an option to have a choice: gentle induction/ augmentation or repeat cesarean. Of course, reviewing the risks and benefits of available options, including doing nothing, is essential. Some women might be more comfortable scheduling a cesarean whereas others might want to give a gentle Pitocin and/or Foley catheter induction a go.

ACOG’s stance on inducing VBACs

The latest 2010 VBAC Practice Bulletin No. 115 produced by the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) asserts:

Induction of labor for maternal or fetal indications remains an option in women undergoing TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean]… However, the potential increased risk of uterine rupture associated with any induction, and the potential decreased possibility of achieving VBAC, should be discussed… 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.

Stuart Fischbein MD, a vaginal breech/twins and VBAC supportive Southern California OB, recently shared this on my Facebook page,

According to ACOG, prior low transverse c/section is not a contraindication to induction (other than the use of Misoprostol [Cytotec]) so a Foley balloon or Pitocin may be used safely in these women. The problem arises when a practitioner does not believe in doing inductions on women with prior c/section. Despite the evidence and the ACOG clinical guideline the reality is that many doctors will just not want to deal with it.

“Many doctors will just not want to deal with it” for a variety of reasons including experiencing a recent uterine rupture or lawsuit and pressure from hospital administrators or other OBs in their practice. It’s good to know from the beginning if your care provider is open to a gentle VBAC induction and under what conditions they would recommend induction. (See below for the Mayo Clinic’s reasons for induction.) This is why I suggest asking care providers when you first meet with them: “Under what circumstances would you induce a VBAC?” and “What induction methods do you use?”

Medical reasons for induction

While many women are induced for non-medical reasons, such as being pregnant for 40 weeks and one day, there are many medical conditions where induction is a reasonable option. According to the Mayo Clinic’s article Inducing labor: when to wait, when to induce dated July 23, 2011:

Your health care provider might recommend inducing labor for various reasons, primarily when there’s concern for your health or your baby’s health. For example:

  • You’re approaching two weeks beyond your due date, and labor hasn’t started naturally
  • Your water has broken, but you’re not having contractions
  • There’s an infection in your uterus
  • Your baby has stopped growing at the expected pace
  • There’s not enough amniotic fluid surrounding the baby (oligohydramnios)
  • Your placenta has begun to deteriorate
  • The placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery — either partially or completely (placental abruption)
  • You have a medical condition that might put you or your baby at risk, such as high blood pressure or diabetes

ACOG’s 2009 recommendations on induction lists the following reasons:

  • Abruptio placentae [placental abruption]
  • Chorioamnionitis [infection in your uterus]
  • Fetal demise [baby has passed away]
  • Gestational hypertension
  • Preeclampsia, eclampsia
  • Premature rupture of membranes
  • Postterm pregnancy [after 42 weeks]
  • Maternal medical conditions (eg, diabetes, mellitus, renal [kidney] disease, chronic pulmonary disease, chronic hypertension, antiphospholipid syndrome)
  • Fetal compromise (eg, severe fetal growth restriction, isoimmunization, oligohydramnios)

Big babies & going overdue

ACOG’s latest VBAC Pratice Bulletin No. 115 states that going over 40 weeks or suspecting a “big baby” should not prevent a woman from planning a VBAC. I suggest asking your care provider at your first appointment about what they would recommend doing if you go past 40 weeks, past 42 weeks, or if they believe your baby is large. They may suggest a cesarean, a gentle induction, or they be open to waiting for spontaneous labor. Then you decide how you feel about their answer. If you decide that their answer is not a good fit for you, you can weigh that against the responses of other VBAC supportive care providers in your area.

Uterine rupture rates in induced/augmented labors

There are two primary factors when looking at uterine rupture during an induction: the drug and the dose. Keep in mind that while the risk of rupture generally increases as the dosage increases, two women can respond very differently to the same dose of the same drug. According to JHP Pharmaceuticals, LLC, the manufacturer of Pitocin,

Oxytocin has specific receptors in the myometrium and the receptor concentration increases greatly during pregnancy, reaching a maximum in early labor at term. The response to a given dose of oxytocin is very individualized and depends on the sensitivity of the uterus, which is determined by the oxytocin receptor concentration.

Additionally, they assert that Pitocin should not be used for induction without medical indication:

Elective induction of labor is defined as the initiation of labor in a pregnant individual who has no medical indications for induction. Since the available data are inadequate to evaluate the benefits-to-risks considerations, Pitocin is not indicated for elective induction of labor.

Many women point to the fact that the Pitocin drug insert states, “Except in unusual circumstances, oxytocin should not be administered in the following conditions” and then lists “previous major surgery on the cervix or uterus including cesarean section.” However, a prior cesarean is not listed under contraindications and the drug insert is clear:

The decision [to use Pitocin in a woman with a prior cesarean] can be made only by carefully weighing the potential benefits which oxytocin can provide in a given case against rare but definite potential for the drug to produce hypertonicity or tetanic spasm.

The elevated risk of rupture due to induction has been documented in several studies. Landon (2004) found that spontaneous labors had a 0.4% rate of rupture. That increased 2.5 times for induced labors (1.0%) and 2.25 times for augmented labors (0.9%).

Landon further broke out rupture rates by type of induction:

  • 1.4% (N = 13) with any prostaglandins (with or without oxytocin)
  • 0% with prostaglandins alone
  • 0.9% (n = 15) with no prostaglandins (includes mechanical dilation with a foley catheter with or without oxytocin), and
  • 1.1% (N = 20) with oxytocin alone.

Overall, they found 0.7% of women experienced an uterine rupture with an additional 0.7% experiencing a dehiscence.

Landon (2004) did a great job in providing rates of rupture per drug, but we don’t know the dose used in the induced/ augmented labors that ruptured versus those that didn’t rupture.

ACOG quotes a couple studies in their 2010 VBAC Practice Bulletin (emphasis mine):

One study of 20,095 women who had undergone prior cesarean delivery (81) found a rate of uterine rupture of 0.52% for spontaneous labor, 0.77% for labor induced without prostaglandins, and 2.24% for prostaglandin induced labor. This study was limited by reliance on the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision coding for diagnosis of uterine rupture and the inability to determine whether prostaglandin use itself or the context of its use (eg, unfavorable cervix, need for multiple induction agents) was associated with uterine rupture.

In a multicenter study of 33,699 women undergoing TOLAC, augmentation or induction of labor also was associated with an increased risk of uterine rupture compared with spontaneous labor (0.4 % for spontaneous labor, 0.9% for augmented labor, 1.1% for oxytocin alone, and 1.4% for induction with prostaglandins with or without oxytocin) (4). A secondary analysis of 11,778 women from this study with one prior low transverse cesarean delivery showed an increase in uterine rupture only in women undergoing induction who had no prior vaginal delivery (1.5% versus 0.8%, P=.02). Additionally, uterine rupture was no more likely to occur when labor induction was initiated with an unfavorable cervix than with a favorable cervix (91). Another secondary analysis examined the association between maximum oxytocin dose and the risk of uterine rupture (94). They noted a dose response effect with increasing risk of uterine rupture with higher maximum doses of oxytocin. Because studies have not identified a clear threshold for rupture, an upper limit for oxytocin dosing with TOLAC has not been established.

Induced labor is less likely to result in VBAC than spontaneous labor (44, 47, 92, 99). There is some evidence that this is the case regardless of whether the cervix is favorable or unfavorable, although an unfavorable cervix decreases the chance of success to the greatest extent (91, 100, 101). These factors may affect patient and health care provider decisions as they consider the risks and benefits of TOLAC associated with labor induction.

Given the lack of compelling data suggesting increased risk with mechanical dilation and transcervical catheters, such interventions may be an option for TOLAC candidates with an unfavorable cervix.

The Guise 2010 Evidence Report is another excellent resource that reviewed VBAC research published to date. It talks extensively about uterine rupture in induced births on pages 58 – 69 and concluded (emphasis mine):

The strength of evidence on the risk of uterine rupture with pharmacologic IOL [induction of labor] methods was low due to lack of precision in estimates and inconsistency in findings. The overall risk of rupture with any IOL method at term was 1.5 percent [1 in 67] and 1.0 percent [1 in 100] when any GA [gestational age] is considered. Among women with GA greater than 40 weeks, the rate was highest at 3.2 percent [1 in 31]. Evaluation of the evidence on specific methods of IOL reveal that the lowest rate occurs with oxytocin [Pitocin] at 1.1 percent [1 in 91], then PGE2 [prostaglandin E2] at 2 percent [1 in 50], and the highest rate with misoprostol [Cytotec] at 6 percent [1 in 17]. These findings should be interpreted with caution as there was imprecision and inconsistency in the results among these studies. The risk of uterine rupture with mechanical methods of IOL is understudied. Other harms were inadequately reported to make conclusions. Relative to women with spontaneous labor, there was no increase in risk of rupture among those induced at term. However, the available evidence on women with induced labor after 40 weeks GA indicates an increased risk compared with spontaneous labor (risk difference 1.8 percent; 95 percent CI: 0.1 to 3.5 percent). The NNH [number needed to harm] in this group is 56 (for every 56 women greater than 40 weeks GA with IOL during a TOL [trial of labor], one additional rupture will occur compared with having spontaneous labor).

So the bottom line is: more large, good quality studies that control for induction are needed.

What is too risky?

As ACOG (2010) states in their latest Practice Bulletin:

Respect for patient autonomy supports the concept that patients should be allowed to accept increased levels of risk, however, patients should be clearly informed of such potential increase in risk and management alternatives.

I agree and believe that each individual woman has the right to informed consent and, together with her care provider, can make the best decision for her individual situation. I think it’s hard to argue that women seeking VBA2C, home birth, or unassisted birth should have the right to accept the elevated levels of risk that come with those decisions and yet say that the elevated risk that comes with induced VBACs is unacceptable.

Keep in mind that while the risk of rupture is higher in an induced VBAC, the risk is similar to the risk of rupture in a VBA2C (0.9% per Landon 2006). So it’s hard for one to support VBA2C and yet demonize a VBA1C induced for medical indication by saying the risk of rupture is to high.

It is also important to note that 90 out of 91 Pitocin induced TOLACs do not rupture (Landon, 2004 & Guise, 2010). So while the risk is generally higher in induced/ augmented labors, the overall risk is still low and occurs at a rate comparable to other obstetrical emergencies.

Myth: Most ruptures occur in induced/augmented labors

It’s imperative that women seeking VBAC understand that the single factor that increases their risk of uterine rupture the most is their prior cesarean section. And while having your labor induced/augmented does increase your risk of rupture, please do not believe the myth that a spontaneous labor provides complete protection from uterine rupture.

To disprove this myth, I direct you to “the largest prospective report of uterine rupture in women without a previous cesarean in a Western country” which found that most ruptures occur in spontaneous labors (Zwart, 2009). Zwart differentiated between uterine rupture and dehiscence and found (emphasis mine):

of the 208 scarred and unscarred uterine ruptures, 130 (62.5%) occurred during spontaneous labor reflecting 72% of scarred ruptures and 56% of unscarred ruptures.

It is interesting to note that 16% of unscarred ruptures (representing 4 unscarred women) and 9% of scarred ruptures (representing 16 scarred women) happened before the onset of labor (Zwart, 2009).

What I would do

If there was a medical reason for my baby to born (as detailed by the Mayo Clinic above), and it was the difference between a VBAC and a repeat cesarean, and I had a favorable Bishop’s score (download the app), I would consent to a foley catheter and/or low-dose Pitocin induction (not Cytotec or Cervidil).

If I was induced or augmented with Pitocin, I would be comfortable with continuous external fetal monitoring. Some hospitals do offer telemetry which is wireless monitoring giving you more freedom of movement. I’ve even seen telemetry in tube tops (naturally I can’t find a link to it now, if you have a link, can you leave a comment?) and units that can be worn in birth tubs. It’s good to call the hospital beforehand to determine what kind of telemetry monitoring units they offer and to confirm that it’s not lost in a closet.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that Pitocin is overused in America and often results in unnecessary emergency cesareans. However, it’s important not to cloud the two issues: medically unnecessary inductions and inductions with medical indication. There are situations where induction/ augmentation are reasonable and can give the mom one last option before having a cesarean. Thankfully, a low-dose Pitocin and/or foley catheter induction “remains an option” in women planning a VBAC according to ACOG. I think that is a good thing.

Further reading

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

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

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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

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

Uterine rupture risk drops significantly after first VBAC

As we know, the risks of cesareans increase with each surgery which is why family size should be considered when evaluating your post-cesarean birth options. Couple that fact with the results of Mercer (2008) which found that successful VBAC also provides a level of protection to future deliveries.

Mercer found that not only do the risks of uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence and other peripartum complications decrease after the first VBAC, but “VBAC success increased with increasing number of prior VBACs” to rates over 90% for women with two or more prior VBACs.  They also found that while two or more VBACs did not decrease the risk of rupture further (so a scarred mom’s risk of rupture never goes down to the risk of an unscarred mom), it’s important to note that the risk of rupture did not increase with subsequent VBACs as women are sometimes told in an effort to obtain their consent for a repeat cesarean.

 

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. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2008/02000/Labor_Outcomes_With_Increasing_Number_of_Prior.6.aspx