Posts Tagged ‘VBAC’

The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion: A Book Review

September 10th, 2013 by avatar

I recently had the opportunity to review a book published in January, 2013, written for birthing families. The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion; A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Birthing Plan for a Safe, Less Painful, and Successful Delivery for You and Your Baby.  This book is authored by a diverse team of experts, Amanda French, M.D., an OB/Gyn, Susan Thomforde, CNM, Jeanne Faulkner, RN and Dana Rousmaniere, author of pregnancy and birth topics. I wanted to share my review with Science & Sensibility readers so you can consider if you want to add this book to your recommended reading list for expecting families. The book is available on Amazon for 14.29 and a Kindle version is available as well.

This book is marketed as a large 8 1/2 by 11 inch paperback with an attractive cover.  Inside is easy to read print, a pleasant amount of white space on semi-glossy paper, along with full color photographs and illustrations.  There are some beautiful photographs in there, clearly taken by talented photographers, but some of the photos seemed too unnatural, women posed in the perfect position, wearing make-up with hair just so.  The pictures are all completely modest, with the exception of just one woman in a birth tub, which surprised me in a book about birth.  In my experience, birth is a bit more “gritty” than represented by the pictures chosen for this book.  I really appreciated the diversity of images of the women and their families, women of color and their families are well represented throughout. I also appreciated the choice of language, women have partners and those partners can be men or women.

Who is this book for?

This book for is for women who are still deciding on a birth along the spectrum of options, from a home birth to a planned cesarean. It also makes sense for women who are not quite sure what type of birth they want; they can read about all the choices as they settle on what feels good to themselves and their families.  The book is written in easy to understand language, and when medical vocabulary is introduced, a definition is provided so that readers can be clearly understand what is being discussed.  The book is best used for determining what type of birth a woman is interested in having.  If the mother has already determined where and how she would like to birth,  then this book, which is in large part a comparison of the different options, would be less useful.

Jeanne Faulkner, RN

What will families find inside?

The book starts off by asking women to imagine their perfect birth, encouraging them to hold this in their minds, but to also remember that birth requires flexibility as things can change during a pregnancy or labor that will require a deviation from what a mother was planning.  A brief but accurate overview of provider types (and a good list of questions to ask providers to determine who is right for each mother) and childbirth education options are covered, and states Lamaze includes a “good, comprehensive overview of childbirth.”  The chapters are then divided into options by birth location as well as pain medication choices, and then goes on to cover induction, planned and unplanned cesarean. Natural coping techniques and pharmacological pain medication options are covered in a chapter toward the end, along with a guideline for writing a birth plan.

“Unmedicated Vaginal Birth at Home” or “Epidural, Vaginal Birth in the Hospital” are some of the chapter titles and for each section the authors take the time to explain what this option is, why it may or may not be right for any particular woman (in the case of home birth, why a woman  might risk out of this option prenatally or in labor), the pros and cons of each option and how to best prepare if this is the choice a woman has made.  Throughout the book, the authors take care to state that women should be flexible and things may change. Desiring an epidural but not having time for one is a possibility that women need to consider.  I really appreciate this gentle reminder throughout the book, as I too believe that being flexible and being able to deviate from what a woman originally planned will help as the labor unfolds.

For each type of birth, women are given suggestions to help them achieve the birth they want and are encouraged to have a variety of coping techniques lined up for dealing with labor pain if they are choosing to go unmedicated.  Realistic and useful advice is given, even when the birth is highly managed, so that the mother and her partner can have a positive experience.

Amanda French, M.D.

What families won’t find inside?

This is not a book about pregnancy, breastfeeding, postpartum care or newborn care and it doesn’t claim to be.  This is a book about birth and the choices surrounding birth.  Families who want to read about prenatal testing, or learn about breastfeeding techniques will want to have other books in their collection that cover those topics.  While this book does a nice job covering the different options, birth locations and provider choices available to them,  it does so in a very matter of fact way.  There is not a lot of “rah-rah you can do it” language or encouragement for women to stretch for a low intervention option.  On one hand, it is nice to have the facts. On the other hand, evidence shows that for normal, low risk women, the less interventions the better for both mother and baby.  I am not sure that parents will walk away with that message after reading this book.

Would I recommend this book?

While providing a nice general overview of birth choices, I felt like there were several times that the authors wrote that women should trust their care provider’s expert recommendations versus becoming more informed and discussing all options, including the right to informed refusal.

For example, in the small section on episiotomy, it reads “How do I decide whether I want an episiotomy or a tear?  The short answer is this: You don’t make that decision, your provider does…If your provider decides an episiotomy is absolutely necessary, for example, to get the baby out more quickly, then so be it.  Your provider makes that decision based on the medical situation at hand.”  No mention of informing the woman, seeking consent or alternatives to cutting, for example changing position or waiting.

One of the authors, Dr. Amanda French also states several times that she stands with ACOG’s statement on homebirth (which is that birth should occur in a hospital or birth center attached to a hospital) and does not believe that having a baby at home is safe. She does acknowledge a woman’s right to make the decision on birth location for herself.  In reading the chapter on home birth, this bias does come through.

Dana Rousmaniere

In my opinion, the book is written through the health care provider’s lens.  Doulas are promoted- but readers are warned to watch out for those doulas who may have a “strong personal agenda” and parents are encouraged to work with experienced doulas, instead of doulas-in-training or those just starting out.  Birthing women are asked to let the anesthesiologist attempt two epidural placements, (if the first one does not work due to the mother having a “challenging back” or “not being in the ideal position”) before asking for another doctor to try.  Women are told to follow the recommendations of health staff in several places in the book.  Families are told that their newborn will have antibiotic eye ointment and hepatitis B vaccines administered.

In the chapter on VBACs, women are told that a con of VBAC-ing is that “Vaginal delivery can result in tears in the vagina, which can be repaired immediately after delivery but may result in pain for several weeks after birth.”  Isn’t this a risk of any vaginal delivery?  For the families that I work with, I try to have mothers (and their partners) view themselves as a more equal partner in the decisions that are being made during labor and birth.

In summary

Overall, this book does a fair job of representing what to expect in eight different labor and birth scenarios, who might be a good candidate for each option and how best to be prepared.  Women can read and get assistance in choosing what might be the best option for them. Information on coping techniques and even pictures of good labor positions to try are well organized for easy reference.  For a woman who is undecided about where she wants to birth, this book will help her to understand the differences and the pros and cons of each location and type of birth, along with who attends births in each location.  For women who are have more clarity on what type of birth they want, I might make a different birth book recommendation.

Have you read this book?  Can you share your thoughts and opinion in our comments section?


Book Reviews, Epidural Analgesia, Home Birth, informed Consent, Maternity Care, Medical Interventions, Midwifery, Pain Management, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , , , , ,

April is Cesarean Awareness Month! Resources for You and Your Classes

April 4th, 2013 by avatar

April is Cesarean Awareness Month (CAM) and that presents a wonderful opportunity to share resources for cesarean prevention and recovery as well as Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC) support.

I am a co-leader of the Seattle chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) and teach classes in Seattle on both VBAC and Cesarean birth. (I call them VBAC YOUR Way and Cesarean YOUR Way)  I thought I might share my favorite resources on this topic and ask you to share with readers what you prefer to share with your students, patients and clients on this topic.

ACOG Committee Opinion on Cesarean Delivery on Maternal Request

ACOG Practice Bulletin on Vaginal Birth after Cesarean Delivery

Birthing Beautiful Ideas; VBAC Scare Tactics – Kristen Oganowski has a great series on scare tactics that women hoping to VBAC might face.  Good balance of heart and science.

Birthing Normally after A Cesarean or Two – Science & Sensibility three part interview with author and childbirth researcher Hélène Vadeboncoeur, done by Kimmelin Hull, former Science & Sensibility Community Manager

Cesareanrates.com – organized by Jill Arnold (of The Unnecessarean), provides a comprehensive breakdown of cesarean rates by state and hospital for the USA.

Childbirth Connection – Vaginal Birth or Repeat C Section: What You Need to Know

Evidence Based Birth – Rebecca Dekker is a Science & Sensibility contributor and writes a great fact based blog.  She frequently writes on the topic of cesareans.

Giving Birth With Confidence”s A Woman”s Guide to VBAC: Navigating the NIH VBAC Recommendations – Lamaze International”s parent blog hosts this wonderful resource written by Amy Romano and Kristen Oganowski

International Cesarean Awareness Networkonline casino dgfev international organization that works to prevent unneeded cesareans, promote cesarean recover and help women striving for a VBAC. Offers both online support as well as local chapter meetings.

A Natural Cesarean – A Woman Centered Technique. This video demonstrates and discusses ways that health care providers can make the cesarean more mother-baby centric, offering techniques that provide a great degree of satisfaction to the birthing woman.

NIH VBAC Consensus Statement – In 2010,  the National Institute of Health, a US government agency convened experts on VBAC and Cesareans and took testimony and heard discussions about best practice.  They summarized the results of this groundbreaking forum in this document.

The Truth about Cesareans – by Eugene Declercq.  Short 6 minute video on why the cesarean rate might be so high.


VBACFacts.com – A blog run by Jen Kamel, this website is a wealth of information and analysis on current studies and data as it relates to cesareans and VBAC birth.  Jen also runs a fabulous VBAC webinar that is available online.

The Well-Rounded Mama – blog run by occasional Science & Sensibility contributor Pamela Vireday, provides frequent information on VBACs, cesareans and large sized women, but the insight is valuable for all.

I am also aware of a free webinar, for birth professionals and providers as well as parents, “Family Centered Cesarean Birth” that you may want to consider signing up for.  Click here for more information. The webinar is presented live on Thursday, April 11th and then available after the presentation to watch as a recording.

What are your favorite go to resources to share with expectant parents?  Do you have a particular film clip that you like to show?  A book recommendation?  Do you have an effective method of presenting information on Cesareans and VBACs in your classes and with your clients and patients.  Let”s have a discussion in the comments section.  I welcome your thoughts.



ACOG, Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Maternal Quality Improvement, Maternity Care, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , ,

ICAN, VBAC Friendly Hospitals, Midwives, Childbirth Educators: Speaking with Elaine Diegman, CNM, Ph.D

April 30th, 2012 by avatar

We wrap up Cesarean Awareness Month and acknowledge the week of International Midwifery Day with a post about an initiative to  create a VBAC Friendly Hospital, led by midwives.

ln honor of Cesarean Awareness Month, Lakeisha Dennis, the Chapter Leader of International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) of Greater Essex County, New Jersey, invited Elaine Diegman, CNM, Ph.D, to speak about Worst to First, a talk about how to modify New Jersey’s high cesarean rate. Professor Diegman is head of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s (UMDNJ) School of Nursing’s Midwifery Program.

Nationwide, the cesarean section rate is about 33%; in other words, one in three women in the United States give birth by surgical cesarean section. The cesarean section rate has risen about 50% in 15 years. According to the World Health Organization, a cesarean section rate of about 5 – 10% is the target for overall optimal maternal – baby outcome.

The state of New Jersey has a cesarean section rate of about 39%. New Jersey consistently places in the top two states for the highest cesarean section rate, sharing this distinction at the moment with the state of Louisiana.

Despite the National Institute of Health’s recommendation about vaginal brith after cesarean (VBAC) being safe under certain circumstances, there is a ourtright ban on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in many hospitals across the nation and the birth educators and doulas at this meeting said they noticed some ob-gyn practices have a quiet bait and switch tactic in place around this issue.

Professor Diegman has a long and distinguished career. She started out by telling us she’s actually the oldest practicing midwife in New Jersey (and maybe in the American College of Nurse Midwives). She gave us some history about the profession of midwifery. She reminded us midwifery is mentioned in the Bible and all the past royal houses of Europe used midwives for their births. She added she attended so many births in her career, she stopped counting after 3000.

Professor Diegman wanted to talk to us about pro-active change regarding lowering the cesarean section rate. UMDNJK has spearheaded a new initiative at Newark Beth Israel Hospital. UMDNJ has worked to become an official Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) Center, keeping with the guidelines developed by the National Institutes of Health and the New Jersey Hospital Association. Dr. Diegman and Mary Markowsky, CNM, who heads the midwifery area of Newark Beth Israel, were instrumental in helping the hospital gain this distinction.

The empowering role of the childbirth educator

Professor Diegman stressed it is crucial we educate women about the normalcy of birth. She is passionate about the midwifery model of birthing. She wants to spread the word about how pain in childbirth is not like pain in illness, and emphasizes women do have the ability to rise to the experience of childbirth.

She emphasized the crucial role of education in preserving a woman-baby-centered birth culture. Professor Diegman said healthcare providers don’t normalize birth for women and don’t introduce women to nonpharmacological techniques to manage their birth.

Women only learn these techniques in independent childbirth education classes. So, the role of the childbirth educator is crucial in helping women understand what birth really can be and in getting our women back. The childbirth educator has a unique role to educate and empower women.

Dr. Diegman said the media and our constant exposure to technology has eroded women’s confidence in their ability to give birth. She wants to bring our women back. When Oprah, a powerful media presence, comes out positively about epidurals, that hugely influences our society’s views of birth. Dr. Diegman went on to say Oprah’s not the only one; there’s a constant flow of negative media stereotypes about birth. In addition, she said our constant reliance on technology has eroded our confidence in our bodies. She said “We need to be warriors and get our women back!”

Sonora Davis, community doula with the Hudson Perinatal Consortium, says “….women don’t seem to be taking the time to acknowledge their pregnancy or bond with their babies in utero.” She said she’s noticed this leads to a lack of focus on the birth. The other doulas, childbirth educators and midwives in the room echoed this concern, saying the disconnect during pregnancy sets up a disconnect to the experience in the birth room.

Childbirth educators play a crucial role in helping women know what their options are for birth, showing them what normal physiological birth looks like, and helping them focus on their pregnancy and the miracle of becoming a mother.

It is indeed good news that there appears to be a small upswing in one corner of the world back to women-baby-centered birth. As childbirth educators we can help women learn their options for women-baby-centered birth.

We need to keep asking, as Beverly Chalmers did in her editorial in Birth (2002):

How Often Must We Ask for Sensitive Care Before We Get It? 


Chalmers, B. (2002).How often must we ask for sensitive care before we get it? Birth, 29(2), 79-82.

 I wish to acknowledge Jill Wodnick, MS, in helping collate the information in this article.

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Uncategorized, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , ,

A Teamwork Approach to Maternity Care in Nelson, BC

October 6th, 2011 by avatar

All pregnant women deserve to have access to compassionate, evidence-based maternity care which inherently supports the normalcy of labor and birth—and remains poised to effectively handle the occasional circumstance when birth strays from normal.  They deserve to be cared for by well-trained midwives, family physicians or obstetricians–depending on their particular situation and which type of care is most warranted–who work together seamlessly as a congruent maternity care team.  They deserve to be cared for by maternity care professionals who trust each others’ skills and resist the urge to question each others’ motives.  Expectant families deserve to remain center stage throughout their pregnancies, labors and births—avoiding being lost in the cacophony of politics that so often suffocates the system and obscures the practice of pure, evidence-based care.

Last weekend, Dr. Brian Goldman introduced his CBC Radio audience to this very scenario, during his show, White Coat, Black Art.  During the show “Dr. Brian,” who is both an emergency department physician in Toronto, and a medical journalist, takes listeners to Nelson, B.C., Canada, where he follows obstetrician Shiraz “Raz” Moola and registered midwife Ilene Bell who both work at Kootenay Lake Hospital.

Only minutes into the radio show, it becomes clear: expectant families delivering at Kootenay Lake Hospital are the beneficiaries of a truly integrated maternity care team where family physicians and midwives handle the majority of deliveries, leaving the complicated scenarios to obstetricians.  This is despite Canada’s fee for service medical system in which, “an obstetrician uses the fees he or she earns from doing easy deliveries to offset or subsidize the more time-consuming and more stressful deliveries that require additional skill and experience.”

During the course of the radio show, scenarios in which obstetricians are called in for deliveries are described.   Despite what sometimes feels like a disbelief in the humanity of obstetricians that some normal birth advocates imply, this radio show does an excellent job of pictorializing  the “why” behind the impetus to medicalize labor and birth.  During the interview, Dr. Moola describes a scenario in which he could palpate a fetus inside it’s mothers abdominal cavity—but outside the womb—following a cesarean scar rupture during an attempted VBAC.  Carrying around past experiences like this can prompt a level of caution—even if not evidence-based caution—as the human side of a physician hopes to avoid dealing with such a circumstance in the future.  And yet, the maternity care providers interviewed in Dr. Goldman’s story don’t seem to allow those past experiences—as few or frequent as they may be—to prompt a technocratic approach to their maternity care services.

“Our training is to promote the normal,”  says Ilene Bell.  “We want to normalize.”

In fact, the radio show audibly follows the progress of a VBAC candidate through parts of her labor and successful delivery, attended by  Bell.

“At one level, we all think we can do it the best,” says Dr. Moola.  But he goes on to describe how the “best” (maternity care provider) is most often a midwife or family physician, and only sometimes an obstetrician.

I highly recommend listening to the whole radio show, and forwarding the link onto your colleagues.  After listening, please come back here and answer the following questions:


  1.  What elements of the maternity care partnership described in this show does my local birth community already harbor?
  2. What elements of the maternity care partnership described in this show can my local birth community/hospital learn from?
  3. What are three steps I can take in my community to encourage this type of partnership approach to maternity care?



Posted by:  Kimmelin Hull, PA, LCCE, FACCE

Evidence Based Medicine, Science & Sensibility, Uncategorized, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , , , , ,

Reasonable Choices for Bringing Back VBAC

September 27th, 2011 by avatar

[Editor’s note:  This article by Amy Romano was originally posted on Childbirth Connection’s Transforming Maternity Care site, September 12, 2011 and is re-purposed with permission.]


When I recently updated Childbirth Connection’s VBAC or Repeat C-Section Topic to reflect the findings of a government-sponsored systematic review and national consensus recommendations, I was struck by how few of the facts have changed in the years since the government’s previous VBAC evidence report. While there are more data than before, we already knew that the risks of uterine rupture in labor were about 1 in 200, that accumulating cesareans sharply increases the likelihood of life-threatening complications in future pregnancies, and that there are few situations when planned VBAC is objectively unreasonable. Although the evidence has not abated the precipitous drop in VBACs, perhaps unprecedented national consensus about the importance of prioritizing VBAC services, an increasingly savvy grassroots movement, and urgent calls from obstetric leaders will begin to move the needle.

As we shift the conversation from whether to do VBACs to how to enable more of them, focus on quality and safety in the context of VBAC is long overdue. According to new government statistics (pdf), one in five of the more than 4 million births each year in the United States occur to women who have previously given birth by cesarean. If evidence supports VBAC as a “reasonable option” for most of this population – and indeed the better option for many – it is time to be reasonable about how to make VBAC as safe, accessible, and satisfying as it can possibly be.

In the absence of nationally endorsed quality measures for VBAC, payment reform to provide better incentives to offer and achieve VBAC, and care coordination to help pregnant women navigate the health care system (all urgently needed), we turn to the broader concept of maternity care quality to offer a framework for high-quality VBAC care. We’re interested in hearing what VBAC quality improvement projects exist in your community, and are eager to feature them in our TMC Directory.


1. Help more women make and implement choices that are informed by the best quality evidence and aligned with their own values and preferences.

Rationale: While much attention has been given to ACOG’s “Level C” recommendation to undertake planned VBAC “in facilities with staff immediately available to provide emergency care,” this recommendation is superseded by their “Level A” recommendation to “counsel women about VBAC and offer [trial of labor]” to appropriate VBAC candidates. In addition, “decision quality,” i.e., the extent to which choices align with a woman’s stated preferences and values and available evidence, is a marker of overall health care quality. Not to mention, honoring people’s informed choices is the legal and ethical standard, acknowledged by all major health care bodies.

Current approach: Few women have a choice at all. According to the VBAC Policy Database, a voluntary monitoring project by the International Cesarean Awareness Network, half of U.S. hospitals either ban VBAC outright or have no providers willing to attend VBACs. In our most recent national Listening to Mothers survey, more than half of women interested in a VBAC were denied the option, usually because of provider refusal or hospital policies. In areas where VBACs are “offered,” women must often meet eligibility criteria that are not supported by high-quality evidence. Informed consent processes typically solicit consent for VBAC but may not provide a special consent process for repeat cesareans, despite the fact that repeat cesareans pose different and in some cases much more serious risks than first cesareans.

Why this is inadequate: Both planned VBAC and planned repeat cesarean section are reasonable choices with important potential benefits and harms but the trade-offs are very different. The current approach, which ostensibly is intended to reduce the already low likelihood of avoidable perinatal death or injury and associated liability, has resulted in significant collateral damage: most notably an increased risk of maternal mortality and a growing prevalence of life-threatening complications for both mothers and babies in future pregnancies. We are also seeing troubling care patterns, including court-ordered repeat cesareans, women laboring in hospital parking lots so they can show up just in time to give birth and avoid the pressure for a cesarean, and a sharp increase in the number of women with prior cesareans choosing to give birth at home, sometimes with no skilled provider present at all. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) team that conducted the 2010 systematic review on VBAC versus routine repeat cesarean referred to the VBAC access issues as “chilling,” an assessment with which we at Childbirth Connection agree.

Another approach: We urgently need evidence-based, field-tested shared decision making tools to communicate the research evidence and help women clarify their preferences and values. We have seen a commitment to this approach in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, but thus far nothing in the U.S. (a situation we hope to change through our Shared Decision Making Maternity Initiative). Although decision support tools can help a woman select the best choice for her, system barriers including payment incentives, liability concerns, and clinician education must be addressed simultaneously to ensure that she can implement her choice. Assessing the potential for shared decision making tools and processes to reduce liability should be a research priority.

2. Maximize the proportion of women planning VBAC who experience uncomplicated vaginal births

Rationale: Morbidity in VBAC labors is concentrated in the subset of women who have unplanned repeat c-sections. These risks include infection, hemorrhage, blood clots and emotional distress. In addition, having a VBAC reduces risks in subsequent pregnancies and virtually ensures that future births will be vaginal, while having a repeat cesarean sharply increases risks in subsequent pregnancies and virtually ensures that future births will be surgical. Finally, repeat cesarean costs payers significantly more than VBAC and has significant downstream economic costs because of these effects in subsequent pregnancies.

Current approach: Clinicians and researchers seem to have responded by focusing on selecting the women most likely to have a vaginal birth. Several researchers have attempted to create prediction tools to select these women, and some clinicians and hospitals have imposed strict eligibility criteria for planned VBAC. Significantly less attention has been given to prenatal and intrapartum interventions and care processes that may enhance a woman’s likelihood of having a safe vaginal birth.

Why this is inadequate: Calculating the likelihood of vaginal birth can provide helpful information to women making an informed choice to plan a VBAC or repeat cesarean. However, even women with a lower-than-average likelihood of vaginal birth usually have a better than 50-50 chance. Moreover, some groups with lower likelihoods of vaginal birth, such as women with high BMI or multiple prior cesareans, also face significantly higher than average likelihood of harm if they end up with a cesarean. The AHRQ systematic review concluded that none of the available prediction tools adequately selected women for successful trial of labor.

Another approach: The AHRQ systematic review researchers emphasized the need to incorporate “non-medical factors” in prediction tools to enhance their usefulness. These factors, which include liability concerns, the nature and extent of informed decision-making, and provider and birth setting characteristics, appear to have a stronger effect on VBAC likelihood than factors intrinsic to the woman. In addition, research is urgently needed to identify labor care strategies to promote safe vaginal birth in women with prior cesareans, in particular the potential contribution of midwives and doulas. A randomized controlled trial examining the impact of doula care on VBAC labors is currently underway in Canada.

3. Provide the best possible response to obstetric emergencies including uterine rupture

Rationale: Uterine rupture occurs in about 4.7 per 1000 VBAC labors and is an obstetric emergency requiring prompt delivery. Although the outcome of uterine rupture is usually favorable for both infants and mothers, morbidity and mortality may be minimized if the team is prepared, communicates well, and responds quickly and in a coordinated fashion.

Current approach: The small chance of a sudden emergency with high risk of serious fetal and maternal harm resulted in ACOG’s recommendation that surgical and anesthesia staff should be “immediately available” for VBAC labors. Although in 2010 ACOG clarified that women should be able to make an informed choice for a VBAC despite this recommendation, or be referred to another facility, the response to the possibility of uterine rupture continues to favor simply prohibiting women from planning VBACs.

Why this is approach is inadequate: The singular focus on availability of a surgical team has created a situation where women in communities without these resources must consent to unwanted and potentially unneeded cesareans in order to access any maternity care at all. It also assumes that availability of surgical resources automatically translates into an optimal outcome, but unprepared or ineffective care teams may not be able to avert preventable poor outcomes despite being “available.” The AHRQ review researchers identified several other obstetric emergencies that occur with similar frequency as uterine rupture and result in similar likelihoods of serious harm but for which the obstetric community does not deem 24/7 cesarean capability to be necessary.  For these obstetric emergencies, rather than forbidding labor, hospitals have begun focusing on proven patient safety strategies like enhancing teamwork, implementing checklists, and conducting drills and simulations.

Another approach: As noted above, obstetric emergencies requiring prompt cesarean delivery can happen in any labor and in any birth setting. The emerging concept of “high reliability obstetrics” provides a framework for preventing adverse events and managing them in a consistent fashion when they occur despite prevention efforts. This requires a multi-disciplinary commitment to preparedness, teamwork, communication, and documentation. Various safety courses teach teamwork and management of emergencies in obstetrics. A systematic review of multi-disciplinary simulation training found that such programs improved knowledge, practical skills, communication, and team performance in acute obstetric situations and were associated with improved neonatal outcome.


If VBAC is a reasonable option for most women, we need a reasonable approach to ensuring quality and safety in VBAC. Like maternity care generally, transforming VBAC care will take multi-stakeholder commitment to system reform. With so much inertia in the system, consumers and advocates must maintain a strong voice to push for positive change. Our newly updated VBAC or Repeat C-section Topic and the latest data on cesarean and VBAC trends are two resources to help women and their advocates. Our Action Center provides more ideas for engaging in maternity care transformation.


Posted by:  Amy Romano, CNM


Cesarean Birth, Research, Transforming Maternity Care, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , ,

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