[Editor's note: Today presents Part Two of the three-part interview with childbirth researcher Hélène Vadeboncoeur, author of the recently released in English book, Birthing Normally After a Cesarean or Two. To read Part One of this interview, go here.]
Science & Sensibility: Help us to understand a woman’s chances of undergoing a VBAC, based on where and with whom she chooses to give birth.
Hélène: Let’s say first that most women can give birth vaginally, and that on average, 3 women out of 4 complete a VBAC after they begin labour. True contraindications to VBAC are rare. Having a ‘classical’ incision (its name is misleading, it’s not done very often), i-e a vertical uterine incision done in the upper part of the uterus, is considered as being a contraindication by most medical associations, as is a previous uterine rupture. ACOG also includes extensive transfundal uterine surgery. Factors related to a woman’s chances of undergoing a VBAC have a lot to do with the ‘environment’ in which it’s prepared and done. Finding a doctor or a midwife who is supportive of their choice, finding a place of birth where people are not scared by VBAC, is important (and if all factors are not there, the woman’s determination and support from a doula is crucial), as is giving birth in a place where the physiology of birth is supported, where it’s considered a multi-dimensional event (familial, social, cultural, and, for some, spiritual event). The presence of a doula can be very important, for a woman that previously gave birth by cesarean, because she may lack confidence in her capacities to give birth (notwithstanding the fact that as shown by multiple studies, the presence of a doula has beneficial effects on labour). Statistics also show that a woman’s chances of completing a VBAC increases if her caregiver is a midwife, for instance (up to 97 %).
Science & Sensibility: You attended the March 2010 National Institutes of Health Conference on VBAC. Do you feel the recommendations coming from that conference were ultimately helpful, or harmful to women interested in achieving a vaginal birth after cesarean?
Hélène: I have mixed feelings about this conference. While it was very good to review the scientific literature on VBAC and related issues, the group of invited experts did not include women who had cesareans/VBAC nor grassroots organizations like ICAN, for instance. Happily though, the conference was open to the public, so individuals and organizations could comment or question what they heard from the invited experts (either in person at the conference or via the Internet). Another element of the conclusions of the final report was their saying that with regards to VBAC and repeat cesarean “benefit for the woman may come at the price of increased risk for the fetus and vice versa.” I don’t agree with this point of view. Although risks vary for the women, their babies, in vaginal births and in cesareans, it does not make sense to oppose the interests of the mother and of her baby. And a cesarean presents a higher number of risks than a vaginal birth, as Childbirth Connection showed.
The conference was helpful though in the following ways: by pointing out gaps in research, by saying that, “given the available evidence, TOL (I don’t like that term, ‘trial-of-labor’) is a reasonable option for many pregnant women with a prior low transverse incision” and that one of their major goals is to support pregnant women… to make informed decisions about TOL versus ERCD. They also urged providers to incorporate an evidence-based approach into the decision-making process.
So I would conclude by saying that this conference was more than necessary (it was the first consensus development conference on VBAC), that it helped look at the situation and understand it, but that it did not position itself unequivocally in favor of VBAC (the position of the earlier consensus conferences in the 80s on cesarean about VBAC was clearer).
Science & Sensibility: In Chapter Two of your book, you review the risk assessment of various types of childbirth. With increasing rates of labor induction occurring in many developed nations, can you help our readers understand the comparative risk of uterine rupture for women undergoing labor induction with synthetic oxytocin, with prostaglandin gels and during a VBAC?
Hélène: In my book, I center on VBAC and cesarean. What the research has shown, is that induction presents increased risks for a uterine rupture during VBAC (separation of the uterine incision), especially the use of prostaglandin gels. It seems that oxytocin use is not as risky, as concluded the NIH VBAC Conference (some studies have shown than its use can increase the risk of uterine rupture and others not). And regarding the use of oxytocin for acceleration of labour, it’s not contraindicated but it should at the least be used with caution.
Science & Sensibility: You mention that 90% of cesareans are prompted by controversial indicators for operative surgery. What are the top three controversial reasons C-sections are performed?
Hélène: The top ? I don’t know. The more frequent ? Maybe.
Dystocia: is a category frequently mentioned as the reason to do a cesarean (failure to progress, cephalopelvic disproportion). It’s quite a vague category (lots has been put under that name), and often the approach to birth in hospitals leads to malfunctioning of labour–like preventing women to move, having them lay in bed on their back, withholding nourishment, breaking the waters or administering oxytocin which leads to a cascade of interventions (contractions more painful, epidural or Demerol, stimulation of labor, continuous monitoring, etc.). Epidurals can also affect labour.
Fetal distress : EFM readings and interpretations are not always right (mistakes), and cesareans are performed without the baby being necessarily in danger
Breech baby : A cesarean is not necessarily better for all babies that are breech, as research in recent years has shown
[Tomorrow, during Part Three of this interview, Dr. Vadeboncoeur discusses informed consent prior to cesarean delivery, in terms of future VBAC, optimal candidacy for achieving a VBAC and the barriers that make it more difficult, as well as the emotional and psychological aspects of vaginal birth after cesarean and more...]
Posted by: Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE