Quick VBAC Facts
The mission of VBAC Facts is simple: to make hard-to-find, interesting, and pertinent information relative to post-cesarean birth options easily accessible to the people who seek it.
After a cesarean, most women have two choices for future births: a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) or a repeat cesarean section (RCS). There is a lot of misinformation about these two options. Let’s review some quick facts.
Per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, VBAC is a “safe and appropriate choice for most women” with one prior cesarean and for “some women” with two prior cesareans (1). Being pregnant with twins, going over 40 weeks, having an unknown or low vertical scar, or suspecting a “big baby” should not prevent a woman from planning a VBAC (1).
VBAC is successful 75% of the time (4-8). Successful VBACs have lower maternal complication rates than planned repeat cesareans which have lower rates than VBACs that end in a cesarean (6), otherwise known as cesarean birth after cesarean or CBAC.
Uterine rupture is the major concern in terms of VBAC and while it can be catastrophic, it is rare (9). As the National Institutes of Health asserts, “VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans… The majority of women who have TOL [trial of labor] will have a VBAC, and they and their infants will be healthy. However, there is a minority of women who will suffer serious adverse consequences of both TOL and ERCS” (10).
Permitting labor to begin naturally after one prior low transverse (“bikini cut”) cesarean carries a 0.4% risk of rupture which can increase upon labor augmentation or induction (6). These rates are similar to other serious obstetrical emergencies such as placental abruption, cord prolapse, and shoulder dystocia.
Cesarean risks, including placenta accreta, hysterectomy, blood transfusion, and ICU admission, increase with each surgery (11); whereas after a successful VBAC, the future risk of uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence, and other labor related complications significantly decrease (12).
With each option, the risk of maternal death is very low: ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL (10). The evidence quality on perinatal mortality (infant death within 28 days of birth) is low due to the wide range of rates reported by various studies (11).
45% of American women are interested in the option of VBAC (14), yet 92% have a RCS (15). Some women chose their RCS or it was medically necessary. Others felt like they didn’t have much of a choice for numerous reasons including hospital VBAC bans (16); immense social pressure; or the misrepresentation of VBAC risks (17).
Our repeat cesarean rate feeds America’s rising total cesarean rate, currently at 32% (18). Declercq (2009) links our high cesarean rate with our high maternal mortality rate relative to other developed countries (19).
Throughout America, hospital and doctor attended VBACs are legal (20). In some states, it is legal for a midwife to attend an out-of-hospital VBAC. However, of the women interested in VBAC, 57% are unable to find a supportive care provider or hospital (14). This is due primarily to the 1999 ACOG recommendation that a doctor be “immediately available” to perform a cesarean, yet they provided no clear definition or standard for where the obstetrician and/or anesthesiologist should be or what they could be doing (1).
As a result, hospitals developed their own definitions producing differing VBAC protocols and requirements. The most severe variety was the institution of formal VBAC bans in 28% of all American hospitals and de facto bans in an additional 21% (21), disproportionally affecting women living in rural areas. The 2010 ACOG guidelines addressed these bans and confirmed: “restrictive VBAC policies should not be used to force women to undergo a repeat cesarean delivery against their will” (1). Hopefully VBAC will become a viable option to the many women who desire it (22).
Jennifer Kamel is a consumer advocate and founder of VBAC Facts. Her mission is to make hard-to-find, interesting, and pertinent information relative to post-cesarean birth options easily accessible to the people who seek it through her website and classes. With a professional skillset in compiling information, performing analysis, and presenting findings in everyday terms and after a personal VBAC, she became passionate about sharing credible information regarding post-cesarean birth options and VBAC Facts was born.
For more information visit: www.vbacfacts.com