Posts Tagged ‘cesarean’

Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part Two: The Forgotten Mothers

November 10th, 2015 by avatar

By Pamela Vireday

“CBAC mothers have powerful lessons to teach, if you are willing and able to hear us.”  — Melek Speros

CBAC part 2We continue our current series on Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, written by Pamela Vireday, who is an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility.  In this series, Pamela examines the topic of women who experience a Cesarean Birth after a Cesarean. This is when families are planning for a vaginal birth after a prior cesarean, but the birth does not go as planned.  The experiences of women who have a CBAC are often negated and their emotional and physical well-being given short-shrift by both professionals and their social community of friends and family.  The research on this topic is slim and begs for exploration by qualified investigators.  Last week, Pamela discussed the unique grief that CBAC women may experience. Today, Pamela examines the limited research available and part three (on Thursday) will provide information on how to support CBAC women in the absence of published research.  We will also conclude the series with a useful resource list to share with the families you may work with who find themselves in this situation.  You can also read a companion piece of Pamela’s own personal story, “Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, 18 Years Later” on her own website.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.


In Part One of the series – Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen, we discussed how women who work for a VBAC but end up with a cesarean have a unique grief that is different from that of a mother who has a primary cesarean or who chooses to have a repeat cesarean.

There is a pressing need for better support for CBAC mothers, but often birth professionals and family members have no idea how to go about offering this support. Does research have any insight on improving CBAC support to these women?

CBAC Research

Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on CBACs. Most VBAC-related research deals with VBAC rates, complications, cost-effectiveness, or the woman’s decision-making process. Women who choose VBAC but don’t end up with one are largely ignored in academic studies.

However, there are a few studies with implications for the CBAC mother, including those that address physical recovery and a few that address emotional recovery.

Physical Recovery

Most CBAC research focuses on physical morbidity, which can certainly have an influence on how a woman feels after a CBAC.

Although most CBAC mothers recover just fine, women who have a trial of labor cesarean do have higher rates of infectious morbidity, postpartum hemorrhage, hysterectomy, blood transfusions, and neonatal morbidities (El-Sayed 2007, Hibbard 2001, Durnwald and Mercer 2004).

One study found that 2.1% of women with a trial of labor experienced major maternal morbidity (Scifres 2011). How much more complicated is emotional recovery if the mother is also dealing with the aftermath of a serious infection, a sick baby, surgical injuries to nearby organs, anemia from a major hemorrhage, or heaven forbid, a uterine rupture, hysterectomy, or stillbirth?

The lesson here is that some mothers will be dealing not only with the disappointment of CBAC, but also with significant physical fallout afterwards. This can greatly complicate emotional processing, but sadly, these are often the mothers who receive the least emotional support afterwards. It’s as if their complications have made them toxic to the birth community because their experiences represent the rare worst-case scenarios no one wants to acknowledge.

The first step in helping a CBAC mother is to help her focus on her physical recovery, especially if there have been complications, even as you help her explore her emotions around the CBAC.

Emotional Recovery

There is only a small amount of research available on the emotional impact of CBACs. How do women feel about the CBAC experience? Do they regret having tried for a VBAC? Would they want to try again? What can be done to help women process the experience emotionally?

One study surveyed CBAC mothers.(Chigbu 2007) Not surprisingly, they found CBAC mothers, particularly those with no previous vaginal birth experience, often had feelings of:

  • Dashed expectations
  • Inadequacy as a mother
  • Frustration of experiencing the pain of both labor and surgery

Some women experience long-lasting trauma from birth. Although many people have written about Post-Traumatic Stress in childbirth, it is unclear from the research what the most effective approach is for dealing with PTSD in birth.

Some research indicates that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment (EMDR) can be helpful (Sandström 2008, Stramrood 2012). However, research trials have been extremely small and limited in the childbirth field.

A recent Cochrane review (Bastos, 2015) concluded that there was little high-quality evidence for or against using debriefing interventions to prevent psychological trauma after childbirth. Still, many women find counseling helpful after a traumatic birth, and EMDR helpful if flashbacks are frequent or intrusive.

From anecdotal evidence, anger is a common theme among some CBAC mothers. They may be furious with care providers who let them down, with the seemingly random nature of birth fortunes, or with their bodies for “not working right”:

It was very important to me that someone recognize and validate my anger. I was SO FREAKING ANGRY!!!!! And I needed to hear, “You have every right to your anger!”    – Jer 

This kind of anger is uncomfortable for birth professionals to hear. We want women to have happy endings and just be enthralled with their babies. But denying anger doesn’t make it go away; it just makes it burrow down more destructively. Helping a mother speak her anger without taking it personally vents it and takes away some of its toxicity so that healing can start to take place.

Many CBAC mothers deal with a strong sense of shame and failure, of feeling broken. Health care providers make this worse when they blame women by telling them their pelvises are “too narrow,” their cervix is “horrible,” or that they have “too much soft tissue” around their vaginas. Health care providers must be careful in issuing judgments such as these because many women told these things have gone on to have vaginal births. More often it’s a case of “this baby, this birth, this time” didn’t work, not that the woman’s body is defective.

Some CBAC mothers obsess over the “what-ifs” of birth decisions or spend a lot of time analyzing what went wrong. This can be a way of asserting a sense of control over what feels uncontrollable. Analysis can sometimes be useful, but it also can lead to a never-ending rabbit hole of self-blame. Sometimes we just don’t know why birth turns out the way it does, and it can help when health care providers and birth professionals share this.

“Pregnancy/childbirth is one of the most unfair endeavors I’ve encountered. Realizing that has set me free in a way. If something as commonplace as childbirth has so many variations even despite what is actively chosen/done, then how can anything else in our lives go the way we want if we just. work. hard. enough. Life isn’t fair. Childbirth, the ease for some, the struggle for others, just isn’t fair. And that’s been liberating for me.”  – L  

Common Recovery Arcs

Recovery from a CBAC can be an emotional roller-coaster. Many women experience ambivalent feelings and these feelings can change considerably over time.

Immediately after a CBAC, some women are so traumatized that they need to process it immediately. Yet the people around them may feel threatened by any negative feelings around the birth; they don’t understand that women can love their babies but still feel upset about how the baby arrived.

Some CBAC women find a place of temporary peace about the experience. They may be reconciled to its necessity, or may simply need to focus first on the baby and put aside any other feelings. It may only be later that more ambivalent feelings rise up and must be dealt with.

Sometimes right after the birth, women wish they had just chosen a planned repeat cesarean. However, with time, this feeling changes for many CBAC women. One study found that, while women were disappointed at not having a VBAC, 92% of CBAC women “were pleased that they had attempted a vaginal birth” (Cleary-Goldman, 2005). The authors concluded that “Although the most satisfied patients were those who succeeded at vaginal birth, most women valued the opportunity to attempt a vaginal birth regardless of outcome.”

This result was also found by Phillips (2009). Indeed, Chigbu (2007) noted, “This survey revealed that most women still would prefer to be delivered vaginally after 2 previous cesarean deliveries.”

What few surveys have been done show the emotional impact a CBAC can have, but the topic is glaringly understudied. More research is urgently needed on the experiences of CBAC mothers and what can be done to help support them.

In the absence of research to guide us, we must trust what CBAC women tell us they need. More on that in Part Three of the series on Thursday.


Bastos MH, Furuta M, Small R, McKenzie-McHarg K, Bick D. Debriefing interventions for the prevention of psychological trauma in women following childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Apr 10;4:CD007194. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007194.pub2. PMID: 25858181

Chigbu CO, Enwereji JO, Ikeme AC.  Women’s experiences following failed vaginal birth after cesarean delivery. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 2007 Nov;99(2):113-6.   PMID: 17662288

Cleary-Goldman J, Cornelisse K, Simpson LL, Robinson JN. Previous cesarean delivery: understanding and satisfaction with mode of delivery in a subsequent pregnancy in patients participating in a formal vaginal birth after cesarean counseling program.  Am J Perinatol. 2005 May;22(4):217-21.  PMID:15906216

Durnwald C and Mercer B.  Vaginal birth after Cesarean delivery: predicting success, risks of failure. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med 2004 Jun;15(6):388-93.  PMID:15280110

El-Sayed YY, Watkins MM, Fix M, Druzin ML, Pullen KKM, Caughey AB.  Perinatal outcomes after successful and failed trials of labor after cesarean delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2007 Jun;196(6):583.e1-5; discussion 583.e5.  PMID: 17547905

Hibbard JU, Ismail MA, Wang Y, Te C, Karrison T, Ismail MA. Failed vaginal birth after a cesarean section: how risky is it? I. Maternal morbidity.  American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  2001 Jun;184(7):1365-71; discussion 1371-3.  PMID: 11408854.

Phillips E, McGrath P, Vaughan G.  ‘I wanted desperately to have a natural birth’: Mothers’ insights on Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC).  Contemporary Nurse 2009 Dec-2010 Jan:34(1):77-84. PMID: 20230174

Sandström M, Wiberg B, Wikman M, Willman AK, Högberg U. A pilot study of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing treatment (EMDR) for post-traumatic stress after childbirth. Midwifery. 2008 Mar;24(1):62-73. Epub 2007 Jan 12. PMID: 17223232

Scifres CM, Rohn A, Odibo A, Stamilio D, Macones GA.  Predicting significant maternal morbidity in women attempting vaginal birth after cesarean section.  Am J Perinatol 2011 Mar;28(3):181-6. PMID:  20842616

Stramrood CA, van der Velde J, Doornbos B, Marieke Paarlberg K, Weijmar Schultz WC, van Pampus MG. The patient observer: eye movement  desensitization and reprocessing for the treatment of posttraumaticstress following childbirth. Birth. 2012 Mar;39(1):70-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536X.2011.00517.x. Epub 2011 Dec 19. PMID: 22369608

About Pamela Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 20 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Research, Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn't Happen , , , , , , ,

Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn’t Happen – Part One: A Unique Grief

November 5th, 2015 by avatar

By Pamela Vireday 

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  –Helen Keller

CBAC part 1I am delighted to share with you a three part series that begins today, written by Pamela Vireday, who is an occasional contributor to Science & Sensibility.  In this series, Pamela examines the topic of women who experience a Cesarean Birth after a Cesarean. This is when families are planning for a vaginal birth after a prior cesarean, but the birth does not go as planned.  The experiences of women who have a CBAC are often negated and their emotional and physical well-being given short-shrift by both professionals and their social community of friends and family.  The research on this topic is slim and begs for exploration by qualified investigators.  Today, Pamela discusses the unique grief that CBAC women may experience.  Part two will examine the limited research available and part three will provide information on how to support CBAC women in the absence of published research.  We will also conclude the series with a useful resource list to share with the families you may work with  who find themselves in this situation.  You can also read a companion piece of Pamela’s own personal story, “Cesarean Birth after Cesarean, 18 Years Later” on her own website.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

It is a hard truth that not all women who want a VBAC will have one.

In a typical high-intervention hospital setting, about 60-80% of women who attempt a VBAC will have one. (Grobman 2010) That’s a terrific, strong reason to support VBACs.

The underappreciated flip side of this statistic, however, is that about 20-40% of women who attempt a VBAC will have another cesarean instead, often after a long, hard labor. Yet little attention has been paid to these women and their families. How do they feel about their experience? How is their emotional journey different than after a primary cesarean or an elective repeat cesarean? What do these women need to integrate this experience into their lives?

Anecdotally, many women report that they did not feel supported after a VBAC attempt  (referred to as TOLAC – Trial of Labor after Cesarean) that ended in another cesarean. Some even felt judged or deserted by their care providers and friends. Research shows that the physical recovery is often harder, too. Yet little attention has been paid in the research to the needs of these women, and few resources exist that directly address their experiences.

Where is the support for women who have an undesired, unplanned second cesarean? Where is the acknowledgement of all the work they put in towards a VBAC, the hours of labor, the pain, the worry? Does all that preparation and work not count if one does not end up with a VBAC?

How can we in the birth field better support the women who do not have a VBAC? How can we help all mothers feel supported, regardless of outcome?


The first thing that we can do is to be mindful of our terminology.

Obstetric research typically uses the terms “Failed VBAC” or “Failed Trial of Labor After Cesarean” (Failed TOLAC). Many women feel that this terminology is judgmental and insensitive, adding to their emotional wounds at a time when they feel most vulnerable. Women who did not get a VBAC are not failures. The reality of birth is much grayer than a black-or-white, success-or-failure binary equation.

The term, “trial of labor cesarean,” is a better alternative than “failed VBAC.” However, it is cumbersome and perpetuates the mentality of being “on trial.”

Members of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) created the more-neutral term “Cesarean Birth After Cesarean” (CBAC) as an alternative. It helps distinguish between a repeat cesarean that was gladly chosen and one that occurred when a mother planned and worked for a VBAC but didn’t get one.

Most of the time, CBAC refers to a woman who labored and then had a repeat cesarean. However, sometimes CBAC can also refer to an unwanted repeat cesarean performed before labor for legitimate medical reasons, because the mother was coerced or scared into a repeat cesarean, or because she was unable to find a supportive provider. The point is that an undesired cesarean is going to have a different emotional resonance than one which was wanted.

Some women prefer “CSAC” (Cesarean Surgery After Cesarean). We will use “CBAC” here because its meaning is intuitive and it is a logical companion term to “VBAC” but women should choose the term that feels right for their experience.

Women’s Stories

Women who have had CBACs often report that they did not receive adequate emotional support from birth professionals, friends, or family after the birth.

“When it comes to support, I had tons when PLANNING the VBAC but once it turned into a CBAC? Everyone disappeared. No one was willing to talk to me about it. No one really had information to GIVE me about a ‘failed VBAC.’ “Sarah Vincent

“I remember after my failed [VBAC] attempt how much I needed to share my story, talk about my disappointment and sadness, and process what went wrong. But it seemed as though nobody wanted to hear it. It was almost as if my CBAC might be contagious so I should refrain from talking much about it.” Teresa Stire

Personally, I had a CBAC after 5 hours pushing with no progress. My doula made me feel like I had given up too soon. She left soon after the cesarean and I never saw or heard from her again, despite the fact that she was supposed to do a postpartum visit. Her abandonment spoke volumes. Sadly, her judgment was only the first of many from the birth world.

CBAC mothers often feel their decisions are second-guessed like this. Well-meaning people will go through a CBAC mother’s birth story, looking for “wrong” decisions that caused the CBAC. Sometimes CBAC stories are used as cautionary tales to other hopeful VBAC mothers. Even when there are things a CBAC mother might have changed about her decisions, being held up as an example of “what not to do” is incredibly hurtful.

Furthermore, the grief around a CBAC is different in some ways than that around a primary cesarean; women tend to feel more “broken” after a CBAC, as if their bodies had truly failed them, and many feel isolated and unsupported. Yet the birth community treats CBACs as if they are no different from primary cesareans. CBAC mothers have shared:

“I personally felt screwed by careproviders after my 1st CS, but after my 2nd I felt screwed by my body― I truly was broken.” Elaine Mills

“The isolation of CBAC is another aspect that may be relatively unknown. I felt very isolated ― from vaginal birth moms, from Elective Repeat Cesarean moms (ERCS) moms, and very much from VBAC moms. This has been very toxic for me.”   Rebecca H.

“Validating the…compounding nature of that loss (as opposed to a primary c/s) ― the nail in the coffin feeling ─ is so important.” Caroline Kelley

A CBAC is not experienced in the same way as a primary cesarean or an elective repeat cesarean. The grief resonates differently, even if the CBAC was prudent or necessary. Yet seldom is the unique nature of this loss acknowledged. How can we, as birth professionals, recognize these differences and support these women through this emotional journey? More on this in the Part Two of the series on Tuesday.


Grobman, W. A. (2010, August). Rates and prediction of successful vaginal birth after cesarean. In Seminars in perinatology (Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 244-248). WB Saunders.

About Pamela Vireday

Painting by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926. (public domain) Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Pamela Vireday is a childbirth educator, writer, woman of size, and mother to four children. She has been collecting the stories of women of size and writing about childbirth research for 20 years. She writes at www.wellroundedmama.blogspot.com and www.plus-size-pregnancy.org.


Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Series: Supporting Women When a VBAC Doesn't Happen, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elective Induction at 40 Weeks? “Decision-Based Evidence Making” Strikes Again

July 14th, 2015 by avatar

Today on Science & Sensibility, contributor Henci Goer takes a look at a systematic review released in spring that examined the impact of elective inductions on the cesarean rate.  Sound analysis or a house of cards?  Looking closer at the studies reviewed provides insight into how the conclusions reached by the investigators might need to be examined more closely.  Henci does that in this review.  Have you read this new systematic review?  Did you come to the same conclusions?  I invite you to share your thoughts in our comments section below. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.

flickr photo by catharticflux http://flickr.com/photos/catharticflux/2710057340  CC licensed.

flickr photo by catharticflux http://flickr.com/photos/catharticflux/2710057340 CC licensed.

Yet another systematic review has surfaced “Induction of labor at full term in uncomplicated singleton gestations: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials”  in which reviewers claim that electively inducing healthy women, this time at 40, not 41 weeks, offers benefits and doesn’t increase the cesarean surgery rate (Saccone 2015).

Let’s take a closer look.

Reviewers included five trials: three of them conducted in the 1970s (Cole 1975; Martin 1978; Tylleskar 1979), the fourth published in 2005 (Nielsen 2005), and the fifth in 2014 (Miller 2014). Already we have a problem. Induction management in the 1970s is sufficiently different from management today that results are unlikely to apply to contemporary care, but let’s get down to specifics. Two of the 1970s trials were deemed inadequate for inclusion in the Cochrane review of elective induction (Gulmezoglu 2012), and Miller 2014 is published only as an abstract. Quality systematic reviews exclude abstracts because they don’t provide enough information to evaluate the study. For these reasons, these three trials should be taken off the table..

That leaves us with the other two. Nielsen 2005 states in the title “Comparison of elective induction of labor with favorable Bishop scores versus expectant management: a randomized clinical trial” that it is confined to women with favorable Bishop scores. Anyone familiar with elective induction research should know that inducing when the cervix is ready to go won’t increase the cesarean rate compared with spontaneous onset, but inducing with an unripe cervix is a different story even when using cervical ripening agents (Dunne 2009; Jonsson 2013; Le Ray 2007; Macer 1992; Prysak 1998; Thorsell 2011; Vahratian 2005). As you move the induction date earlier and earlier, more and more women will have an unfavorable cervix, so including a trial limited to women with a ripe one will tilt the playing field in favor of induction. Furthermore, half the participants were multiparous women (113/226). Women with prior vaginal births will go on having vaginal births pretty much no matter what you do to them, which raises another point: inducing earlier means a higher percentage of the inductees will be first-time mothers because first time mothers tend to run longer pregnancies (Mittendorf 1990). Nulliparous women are much more vulnerable to anything that pushes them in the direction of a cesarean. That’s not all: The authors tell us that their hospital has a 7% cesarean rate for dystocia in women at term. If a hospital has a cesarean rate much higher than that—and many do—then results can’t be generalized to it, although, frankly, if the doctors are performing cesareans left and right, induction or spontaneous onset may not make much difference. In short, Nielsen (2005) doesn’t make a compelling argument for 40-week elective induction.

flickr photo by Selbe <3 http://flickr.com/photos/stacylynn/11944718954 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by Selbe < http://flickr.com/photos/stacylynn/11944718954 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

This brings us to the last trial, Cole (1975). Investigators allocated healthy women either to induction at 40 weeks (111 women) or 41 weeks (117 women). As with Nielsen, half the women had prior vaginal births. Despite being healthy, 22 women were induced for “obstetric complications” (undefined) in the 41-week induction group before reaching 41 weeks. If their doctors induced labor because they had concerns, then this would likely put the women at heightened risk for cesarean. Another 32 women were induced for exceeding 41 weeks. This means that overall, nearly half (46%) of the comparison group didn’t begin labor spontaneously, which would mask any association between induction and cesarean. Leaving the induction vs. spontaneous onset issue aside, the U.S. cesarean rate in the early 1970s was around 5%, which means it was a rare woman who would have one regardless of circumstances. Again, not exactly a strong case for inducing at 40 weeks.

What about the benefits? The best reviewers can come up with are a clinically meaningless reduction in mean blood loss (-58 ml); a lower rate of meconium-stained amniotic fluid (4% vs. 14%), not, mind you, a reduction in meconium aspiration, and therefore clinically meaningless as well; and an equally meaningless reduction in mean birth weight of -136 g (5 oz). If they had found something more impressive, surely they would have reported it.

Really? This merited a pre-publication media blast? Because it amounts to a textbook example of “garbage in, garbage out.” I can see only three possibilities to explain it: either 1) the authors and peer reviewers at the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) don’t know as much as they should about what constitutes a quality systematic review, 2) they are so steeped in medical model thinking—“How early can we get the baby out of that treacherous maternal environment?”—that their judgment is compromised, or 3) we have a “pay no attention to what’s behind the curtain” effort to promote elective induction. I don’t know which is the more troubling, but if it’s the last one, the sad thing is that because it’s got the magic words “systematic review,” “meta-analysis,” and “randomized controlled trials” in the title, it’s likely to succeed.


Cole, R. A., Howie, P. W., & Macnaughton, M. C. (1975). Elective induction of labour. A randomised prospective trial. Lancet, 1(7910), 767-770.

Dunne, C., Da Silva, O., Schmidt, G., & Natale, R. (2009). Outcomes of elective labour induction and elective caesarean section in low-risk pregnancies between 37 and 41 weeks’ gestation. J Obstet Gynaecol Can, 31(12), 1124-1130.

Gulmezoglu, A. M., Crowther, C. A., Middleton, P., & Heatley, E. (2012). Induction of labour for improving birth outcomes for women at or beyond term. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 6, CD004945.

Jonsson, M., Cnattingius, S., & Wikstrom, A. K. (2013). Elective induction of labor and the risk of cesarean section in low-risk parous women: a cohort study. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 92(2), 198-203. doi: 10.1111/aogs.12043

Le Ray, C., Carayol, M., Breart, G., & Goffinet, F. (2007). Elective induction of labor: failure to follow guidelines and risk of cesarean delivery. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 86(6), 657-665.

Macer, J. A., Macer, C. L., & Chan, L. S. (1992). Elective induction versus spontaneous labor: a retrospective study of complications and outcome. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 166(6 Pt 1), 1690-1696; discussion 1696-1697.

Martin, D. H., Thompson, W., Pinkerton, J. H., & Watson, J. D. (1978). A randomized controlled trial of selective planned delivery. Br J Obstet Gynaecol, 85(2), 109-113.

Miller, N., Cypher, R., Pates, J., & Nielsen, P. E. (2014). Elective induction of nulliparous labor at 39 weeks of gestation: a randomized clinical trial. Obstet Gynecol,132(Suppl 1):72S.

Mittendorf, R., Williams, M. A., Berkey, C. S., & Cotter, P. F. (1990). The length of uncomplicated human gestation. Obstet Gynecol, 75(6), 929-932.

Nielsen, P. E., Howard, B. C., Hill, C. C., Larson, P. L., Holland, R. H., & Smith, P. N. (2005). Comparison of elective induction of labor with favorable Bishop scores versus expectant management: a randomized clinical trial. J Matern Fetal Neontal Med, 18:59-64.

Prysak, M., & Castronova, F. C. (1998). Elective induction versus spontaneous labor: a case-control analysis of safety and efficacy. Obstet Gynecol, 92(1), 47-52.

Saccone, G., & Berghella, V. (2015). Induction of labor at full term in uncomplicated singleton gestations: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology.

Thorsell, M., Lyrenas, S., Andolf, E., & Kaijser, M. (2011). Induction of labor and the risk for emergency cesarean section in nulliparous and multiparous women. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 90(10), 1094-1099. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0412.2011.01213.x

Tylleskar, J., Finnstrom, O., Leijon, I, et al. (1979). Spontaneous labor and elective induction – a prospective randomized study. Effects on mother and fetus. Acta Obstet Gynaecol Scand, 58:513-518.

Vahratian, A., Zhang, J., Troendle, J. F., Sciscione, A. C., & Hoffman, M. K. (2005). Labor progression and risk of cesarean delivery in electively induced nulliparas. Obstet Gynecol, 105(4), 698-704.out

About Henci Goer

Henci Goer

Henci Goer, award-winning medical writer and internationally known speaker, is the author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth and Optimal Care in Childbirth: The Case for a Physiologic Approach She is the winner of the American College of Nurse-Midwives “Best Book of the Year” award. An independent scholar, she is an acknowledged expert on evidence-based maternity care.


ACOG, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Do No Harm, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, Medical Interventions, New Research, Research , , , , , ,

Series: Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators – Cesarean Section Role Play Helps Prepare Families

April 30th, 2015 by avatar

apron and babyToday, in our monthly series “Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators,” I would like to share one of the activities that I do in my Lamaze class to help families feel prepared for a cesarean section. Most families in my classes are planning a vaginal birth, but it never hurts to be prepared should plans change.  One in three pregnant people will birth by cesarean in the USA.  April is Cesarean Awareness Month and that is why I am sharing this activity at this time.


My objectives for this specific activity are threefold – 1) to share how the procedure is done 2) to offer different options that might be available for the family to request (skin to skin in the OR, delayed newborn procedures, etc., and 3) brainstorm the role of the support person during a cesarean and what kind of support the pregnant person will find comforting and helpful.

This role play is done in the fifth week of a seven week series. We have just covered variations in labor (induction, augmentation, EFM, AROM, pain medications, assisted second stage and more). They have heard about the hard and soft reasons for a cesarean and now I hope that they will understand the procedure and the choices and options they might have at the time.

Supplies for the activity and the setup

  • Cesarean apron
  • surgical masks
  • drape
  • soft baby
  • hair nets
  • scrubs
  • surgical clothing
  • laminated labels for each role
  • optional – IV bag, BP cuff, EKG leads, etc
up close cesarean apron

Up close of four zippers on cesarean apron

My main prop in this activity is a “cesarean apron” handmade by Kris Avery, a fellow LCCE here in Washington State. The apron has breasts, a belly button and some pubic hair painted on it, but what makes it special is a series of zippers that correspond to the different layers of a person’s body that will be cut during the cesarean procedure. Each zipper is sewn into a different layer and opens to reveal the layer underneath. The skin is represented by the apron, and then there is a layer of fat (yellow felt) that zips open, revealing the uterus (red felt). There are no muscles to “open” because as we know, the abdominal muscles are retracted and not cut. Finally, underneath the uterus, is the amniotic sac, represented by a thin white nylon material.

I ask a partner to come with me out of sight of the class and place the cesarean apron on them. All the zippers are closed. I place a soft baby doll (I use the baby from IKEA) underneath the apron with the head positioned right near the inner zipper.  Sometimes I place the baby in the breech position and plan on having the bum be removed first. When the partner is ready, we walk together back into the classroom and I ask them to lay on a table, where I have placed a pillow.

How I conduct the role play

I invite two class members to come up and hold a drape at chest level, just like it might be positioned in the OR.  I hand out laminated cards to all the other class members. Each card has the role of someone who might be in the OR during a cesarean section – surgeon, baby nurse, anesthesiologist, surgical tech, respiratory therapist, and so on.   I ask the pregnant person who is partnered with my “cesarean person” to play the role of “partner.”  I invite the partner to get into the white “moon suit” that is normally provided to family members during a cesarean.  I hand out hair nets, scrubs, face masks, surgical gowns, to all those who will be in the OR and everyone suits up.  I position all the “actors” in the appropriate spot.  Some go by a pretend “baby warmer” and others stand around the birthing person while others go where they might be in the real operating room. I talk about how hard it is to tell who is in the room and what their role is, when everyone is wearing scrubs/gowns/hats/masks and suggest that they ask people to introduce themselves.  I discuss strategies that the birthing person can use if they are temporarily separated from their support person.  I bring the support person over and seat them at the head of the OR table near the “anesthesiologist” and discuss how they cannot see over the drape for both the patient and the partner. The partner can stand up at the time of birth if they wish, or together they could ask for the drape to be dropped at that moment.  I ask the pregnant person how they are feeling as the surgery is about to begin.FullSizeRender

I walk everyone through the procedure step by step and describe what is happening.  I share what noises they might hear, and what sensations the pregnant person might “feel.”  (Tugging, pressure, pulling, but no pain.)  I try and give a sense of how long it takes for each part of the operation, (prep, incision to baby, closure)  I ask the surgeons to begin to open the zippers, and talk about each layer that they come to.  Finally the surgeons are through the amniotic sac and they reach in and remove the baby’s head through the opening. It is a somewhat tight fit and we discuss how that might benefit the baby.

The baby is delivered, shown to the parents and taken over to the “warmer” where the baby team is waiting.  I encourage partner to go over and see the baby, initiate talking to the baby and start sharing information with the birthing person – what the baby looks like, how s/he is doing, and so on.

cesarean apronWe go on to discuss how the partner can facilitate having the baby brought over to the birthing person ASAP, skin-to-skin, what might need to happen if baby is moved to the special care nursery, and more.  Throughout all of this, the class participants are role-playing through all of the likely activities and people are stepping up to help the family to have a positive experience, within the scope of their assigned role.  The surgeons close (zip up) the different layers and close the outer zipper on the skin.

I am leaving out much of the detail, as I am confident that you can fill in the activities that happen when a person is prepped, taken to the OR, has the cesarean surgery and is then taken to recover.  My hope is to have parents aware of some of the major points of the overall procedure.

Processing the activity

The class members take off the “costumes” and return to their seats.  I feel it is very important to debrief this activity.  It can be overwhelming to some. We debrief further, discussing any observations they had, how they felt as our role play was happening. I ask what are the values that are important to them and their family, if a cesarean should be needed.  A discussion also takes place about what a cesarean recovery plan might look like and how the family’s needs might change if they do not have a vaginal birth.

How is this activity received?

IMG_0116During the activity, class members are usually very engaged and creative in answering questions, acting out their “roles” and brainstorming solutions to the situations I present.  The real magic happens when we debrief.  I can see the wheels turning as families articulate what they will want and need should they have a cesarean birth.  They learn that they have a voice and can share what is important with their medical team.

Time and time again, I receive emails and and notes from class members who ended up having a cesarean. They share how “accurate” our role play was and how it helped them to understand the steps involved with their cesarean.  They were able to speak up in regards to their preferences and felt like their class preparation helped to reduce their stress and anxiety.


This activity takes time and I often wonder if I should replace it with something much shorter that covers the same topic.  But, I continue to do this role play activity because I see how it really helps families to understand how to play an active role in the birth of their baby, even if it is by cesarean section.

Other resources that I share with the class are the following links:

How might you make a “cesarean apron” that you could use for this activity?  Do you have ideas on how you could modify this activity for your classes?  What other things do you do to help your families to be prepared for a cesarean birth?  I would love to learn how you cover this important topic.  Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Note/Disclaimer: The use of the acronym “BABE” (Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators) is not affiliated with, aligned with or associated with any particular childbirth program or organization.


Babies, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Medical Interventions, Newborns, Push for Your Baby, Series: Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators , , , ,

The Healthy Birth: Dyad or Triad? Exploring Birth and the Microbiome

April 28th, 2015 by avatar

By Anne Estes, PhD, Illustrated by Cara Gibson, PhD

There has been much discussion and burgeoning research on how the mode of birth affects the microbiome of the infant (and later on the adult).  It is becoming clear that how babies are born impacts the type of bacteria that take up residence in and on our bodies. Today, I would like to welcome researcher and writer Anne Estes, PhD, and researcher and illustrator Cara Gibson, PhD to Science & Sensibility.  Anne shares information on the research into a newborn’s (and later on the adult) microbiome and how it can be affected by the location of birth, the type of birth and the interventions that occur during birth.  Learn more about what this new field of research is telling us about the importance of the microbiome. Stay tuned for a future interview by Anne, with some of the research scientists attempting to supplement the microbiome of infants delivered by planned Cesareans. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager

Birth plans often change. Neither my husband nor I anticipated the series of interventions with my first daughter’s birth. In the end, though we had the most important outcome – a healthy mom and baby dyad. How did these interventions influence the health of the third, silent, and invisible member of my daughter’s birth that I hadn’t included in her birth plan – her microbiome?

The helpful and harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in and on every environment, both living and non-living, are the microbiome of that environment. The bacterial component of the microbiome is best understood to date and will be this post’s focus. An organism’s microbiome influences the development and health of those animals and plants, whereas the microbiome of soil and buildings influence organisms that reside in those non-living environments. Our helpful microbes provide services that range from vitamin synthesis and food degradation to preventing attacks by pathogens. However, in the last few centuries of human-microbe interactions, changes in our birth and medical practices and living conditions may have altered the acquisition of our microbial communities. Our altered microbiomes, especially in the industrialized world, may help explain the increase in allergies, asthma, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and autism.

Humans as ecosystems for microbes

To a bacterium, you are a planet made up of several different ecosystems. From the dry, UV-intense “desert” of your skin to the warm, wet, nutrient-rich “lake” of your mouth, specific bacteria live in different regions on a person, just as specific vertebrate animals live in different ecosystems on the Earth (Figure 1, left and center). As ecosystems of the human environment change during development, pregnancy, or with changing diets, which bacterial species remain or how these microbial species function may shift is slowly becoming understood. How do we first acquire these microbes? Previous posts here and other blogs have done excellent reviews of the human microbiome and birth, so my post will serve to provide updates and pose new questions for consideration.


The source of the infant microbiome

The infant microbiome is acquired during birth [1, 2], from first foods [3-5], and the environment [6], and may also be partially colonized in utero [7]. The microbiome of infants born vaginally most closely represents the microbiome of the mother’s vagina and feces [1], and is rich in beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis and Bacteroidetes [8, 9] (Figure 2, left). In contrast, the microbiome of infants born via planned Cesarean is more similar to that of the mother’s skin and hospital environment [1]. The microbiomes of planned Cesarean-born infants are more likely to have hospital-acquired pathogens such as Clostridium difficile, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and pathogenic Es. coli [1] and lack beneficial Bacteroidetes and Bi. longum subsp. infantis [10] (Figure 2, right). However, when beneficial Bifidobacterium were occasionally present in Cesarean-born infants, pathogenic Es. coli and C. difficile were not found [11] suggesting that one benefit of Bifidobacterium, especially Bi. longum subsp. infantis, may be outcompeting these potential pathogens.

Influence of birth mode on microbiome transmission

Repeatedly, studies in different countries, ethnic groups, ages, and health status have suggested that planned Cesarean-born infants are more likely to have more health issues and a different microbiome, as compared to vaginally born infants [2, 10, 12-14]. These differences in community composition can even be seen in adulthood [15]. A new Canadian study finds that the microbiome of infants born via unplanned Cesarean had increased bacterial richness and diversity, more similar to that of vaginally born infants than planned Cesarean [10]. Unfortunately, this was only a small study where fewer than ten mother-infant pairs were examined. Several variables such as length of time in labor or how far labor progressed, antibiotic use, natural vs. artificial rupture of membranes, and/or other interventions that may influence the microbiome were also not examined [10]. However, it does suggest that the process of labor, perhaps the hormonal or other physiological changes, may influence the microbiome. Additionally, some maternal bacteria may be transmitted when membranes rupture during labor [10]. Are bacteria “eavesdropping” on the chemical changes in the human to prepare themselves for transmission to the baby? Do these maternal hormone changes lead to increased vaginal or gut epithelial sloughing to transmit more or specific bacteria? Certainly, studies with larger sample sizes that can help control for these variables along with experimental studies on model animals are warranted.

Influence of birth place on microbiome transmission

Infants also acquire a proportion of their microbiome from their physical, inanimate surroundings. What proportion of the microbiome and which bacteria are acquired most likely depends on how many and what kinds of bacteria are acquired in utero, through birth method, and first foods. Since Cesarean delivered infants seem to be exposed to a lower density of maternal bacteria than vaginally delivered babies, the former may be more likely to acquire bacteria from their environment. However, this hypothesis has not been examined.



Just as living organisms are a microbial environment, so are non-living structures such as buildings. Scientists at several universities working together on The Microbiology of the Built Environment Project funded by the Sloan Foundation are comparing the microbes of homes and hospitals. They have found that buildings are quickly colonized by the microbes of the people living in them [16]. Such rapid colonization specific to the individual being housed is even seen in infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) [17, 18] (Figure 3).


One group is surveying the microbiome of a hospital over time, as it is being built and then occupied. Hospital-acquired infections are an increasing concern for all patients, especially newborns. Infants born by Cesarean have an increased rate of MRSA, C. difficile, and other opportunistic pathogens [1]. However, different hospitals and even wards within a hospital might be expected to have disparate levels of pathogens depending on how prevalent the disease is within the hospital patients and staff. Whether freestanding birth centers, operating rooms dedicated to labor-and-delivery only, and mixed-use operating rooms have dissimilar microbiomes has yet to be investigated. Infants born in private homes would be exposed to the same microbiomes of members of the household.


Influence of first foods on microbiome transmission

Fig4_MicrobirthBreastvBottle5First foods are another influence on the infant microbiome. Breastfed infants have two “moms:” their human mother and their Milk-Oriented Microbiota (MOM) (Figure 4, left). The MOM are beneficial, protective bacteria in the infant’s gut that thrive when fed the sugars in breast milk [19]. Although human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are the third most abundant component of breast milk, the infant cannot digest these sugars. Instead, HMOs are a natural prebiotic or “bacterial food”. Various HMO sugar types and concentrations influence bacterial diversity, keeping strains of Bifidobacterium longum subsp infantis in highest abundance in the first few months of life and preventing pathogens from binding to the gut [20]. HMOs vary between pre-term and full term birth, vaginal deliveries and planned Cesarean births (reviewed in [20]), and even between mothers with different types of “secretor” genes [21]. Does this HMO variability serve to maintain and enhance some of the differences in bacterial communities between individuals? In addition to the MOM, a diversity and abundance of bacteria are found in breast milk. The average breastfed baby is exposed to between 1 and 10 million bacteria daily from their mother’s milk [5]! The breast milk microbiome is a unique assemblage of bacteria, distinct from human skin, gut, oral, vaginal, and other specific body site microbiomes [4]. Like other components of breast milk, the bacterial community changes dramatically between colostrum and mature milk with colostrum being the most diverse with over 1,000 different bacterial types [4]. Although only ten women were followed, it is intriguing that the breast milk microbiome of women delivering via planned Cesarean at birth, one month, and six months post-birth, was more similar to their gut microbiome than the breast milk of mothers who delivered vaginally [4]. Milk of moms undergoing unplanned Cesarean and vaginally delivering mothers were most similar [4]. How the presence of different microbes influences the developing human infant immune system has yet to be determined. Additionally, does the breast milk bacteria colonize the infant gut or are they digested? Could breast milk bacteria change how the MOM infant gut microbiome works as they pass through the gut, as one probiotic does in elderly patients [22]?

Formula-fed babies have a more diverse and rich microbiome than breast-fed babies, with lower numbers of Bifidobacterium and higher abundances of Peptostreptococcaceae, which includes C. difficile [10, 23] (Figure 4, right). Gut bacterial diversity is essential in increasing the ability of adults to digest a wide variety of foods. However, bacterial diversity may be detrimental in the infant stage when the immune system is developing and learning to distinguish between microbes that are friends and those that are foes. Breast milk sugars may mediate the relative abundances of different bacterial species [24]. Through studies like the Milk Bioactives Program at University of California at Davis, more is learned about the interaction between breast milk sugars and specific bacteria that can lead to better probiotic and prebiotic formulas and improve infant health.

Influence of in utero environment on microbiome transmission

Many other factors surrounding birth may influence the infant microbiome. High levels of reported maternal stress and high cortisol concentrations during pregnancy, correlated with lower relative abundances of beneficial Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium sp. and higher abundances of Proteobacteria, such as Enterobacter and Escherichia. Infants of these highly stressed mothers had increased reports of gastrointestinal symptoms and allergic reactions, though these issues were reported by caregivers, not physicians, which may confound the findings [25]. A separate study found infants whose gestation lengths were less than 38 weeks had microbiome communities that were low in Bifidobacterium and took 3 to 6 months to reach a normal Bifidiobacterium-rich community as compared to infants born at 40 or more weeks [9]. Finally, the use of antibiotics during pregnancy [12] may also lead to infant health issues.

Do birth interventions change the microbiome?

The potential “eavesdropping” of bacteria on human hormones during pregnancy and labor led me to wonder how the use of synthetic hormones such as Pitocin, especially during stalled labor, might influence the microbiome and overall infant health. There are so many variables to the birth process that many of these questions could only be answered with extremely detailed data of tens of thousands of mother-infant-microbiome triads over time. The influence of interventions such as epidurals, frequency of cervical checks, episiotomies, vaginal preparation with betadine, enemas, and other procedures used during labor and delivery also have not been extensively examined. In general, any procedure that “sterilizes” or cleans the vaginal and rectal area would most likely decrease the transmission of the mother’s microbial community. Whether cervical checks introduce skin or environmental microbes to the infant should also be considered. Finally, what effect does postponing baby’s first bath until 24 or 48 hours after birth have on microbial colonization? What role does the vernix have in facilitating the colonization of the infant’s microbiome?

From lab bench to birth room

Antibiotics, Cesarean delivery, and other interventions are valuable and life-saving for many women and infants; however, as they have become more commonly used we have seen an increase in many long-term diseases and disorders. Recent microbiome research suggests that we should consider birth as delivering and nurturing a healthy triad – mom, infant, and microbiome. Currently, studies are being conducted to swab Cesarean delivered infants with vaginal secretions immediately after birth. Should fecal microbiome members also be considered? If hormone surges are important for the microbiome transmission during labor and in breast milk, as the unplanned Cesarean data suggest, how could the natural hormone surges of labor be mimicked for planned Cesarean? When antibiotics are needed for mother or infant, how best can we quickly repopulate the disturbance to the native microbiome?

Humans, and all organisms, are planets with diverse ecosystems. In sequencing of the human genome, we learned that diseases rarely correlated to specific human genes. Most likely instead of focusing on only the human or only the microbes, we should be examining the intersection between human genomics and microbiome structure and function to best understand health and disease of human-microbe ecosystems. Both human genomics and microbiome work are in their infancy (pun intended). Researchers examine correlations to develop testable hypotheses that can be examined in non-human animal models. Yet many of the microbes of interest are currently unable to be cultivated for direct testing or probiotic use. At this time, directly translating research findings to the delivery room is difficult, but I hope that this post will stimulate thought and conversations about the silent, invisible, yet important third member of human birth and life.


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About Anne Estes

AnneMEstes_headshot 2015Anne M. Estes, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, MD. She is interested in how microbes and their host organisms work together throughout host development. Anne blogs about the importance of microbes, especially during pregnancy, birth, first foods, and early childhood at Mostly Microbes.



About Cara Gibson

cara gibson head shot 2015Cara Gibson, BSc (Hon), MS, PhD was trained as an entomologist (insect scientist) and her interests include ecology, biodiversity, and interactions with microbial symbionts. She has worked as a field ecologist, research scientist, educator, outreach coordinator, and scientific illustrator. Dr. Gibson would like to help bridge the gap between current practices and new research to improve women’s health and birth outcomes. Contact Cara at caramgibson at gmail dot com for illustration inquiries / permissions.





Babies, Breastfeeding, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Guest Posts, New Research, Newborns , , , , , ,

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