Thoughts on VBAC after three or more prior cesareans

Thoughts on VBAC after three or more prior cesareans

Note regarding “TOLAC.”  When reading from medical texts, remember that you are no longer in the land of emotion and warm fuzzies.  Rather, envision that you have been transported to another world, a clinical world, where terms like TOLAC/TOLAMC, or trial of labor after (multiple) cesareans, are used.  I don’t think that most care providers understand the emotional sting that many women seeking VBAC associate with the term TOLAC.  It’s important for women to understand the language care providers use so that they can translate TOLAC into “planning a VBAC” and not feel slighted.  You might want to read this article which describes what the term TOLAC means, how it’s used in medical research, and why it’s not synonymous with VBAC.

________________________________

A mom recently asked, “Does anyone have some facts on VBA3C?”

I provided this collection of info…

Who makes a good VBAC/VBAMC candidate?

ACOG’s 2010 VBAC recommendations affirm that VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) is reasonable in “some” women.  But they remain silent on VBAMC (VBAC after multiple cesareans.)

Some have interpreted that silence to mean that ACOG does not recommend VBAMC, yet ACOG is clear that women shouldn’t be forced to have cesareans.

Between what they say about VBA2C and who is a good VBAC candidate, we might be able to discern who might be a good VBAMC candidate.

A couple things to keep in mind while reading…

Reason for prior cesarean/history of vaginal birth.  Research has shown that women who have had cesareans for malpresentation (breech, transverse lie, etc) and/or a history of a prior vaginal delivery would have the highest VBAMC success rates.

Scar type.  Low transverse incisions (also called bikini cuts) carry the lowest risk of rupture in comparison to classical, high vertical and T/J incisions.  With the likely increased risk of uterine rupture in a VBAMC, having low transverse scars is a way to minimize that risk as much as possible.

What does ACOG say about VBAC?

In ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines, it describes the qualities of a good VBAC candidate:

The preponderance of evidence suggests that most women with one previous cesarean delivery with a low transverse incision are candidates for and should be counseled about VBAC and offered TOLAC.  Conversely, those at high risk for complications (eg, those with previous classical or T-incision, prior uterine rupture, or extensive transfundal uterine surgery) and those in whom vaginal delivery is otherwise contraindicated are not generally candidates for planned TOLAC.  Individual circumstances must be considered in all cases, and if, for example, a patient who may not otherwise be a candidate for TOLAC presents in advanced labor, the patient and her health care providers may judge it best to proceed with TOLAC.

What does ACOG say about VBA2C?

In those same guidelines, ACOG specifically addresses VBA2C:

Given the overall data, it is reasonable to consider women with two previous low transverse cesarean deliveries to be candidates for TOLAC, and to counsel them based on the combination of other factors that affect their probability of achieving a successful VBAC.  Data regarding the risk for women undergoing TOLAC with more than two previous cesarean deliveries are limited (69).

The power of context and training

How a provider approaches VBAMC depends a lot on their training as well as the support of their hospital administration. In the video below, Dr. Craig Klose discusses the merits of vaginal birth after cesarean and the various factors that may impede women obtaining VBAC.

One thing that stood out to me was Dr. Klose’s comments on VBAC after multiple prior low transverse cesareans (TLC). To sum, he says that he was taught that multiple LTCs were “no biggie” and he has attended up to VBA5C. This is the power of training and context!

ACOG guidelines, your legal rights, and “forced” cesareans

As attorney Lisa Pratt asserts, “ACOG guidelines are just that, guidelines, they are not law; while it is nice when they put out a guideline that supports your factual situation, falling outside of their recommendation does not mean you must consent to something you do not want.”  You can read in the article, “VBAC bans, exercising your rights, and when to contact an attorney.”

Further, ACOG’s 2010 VBAC guidelines also says that women cannot be forced to have cesareans even if there is a VBAC ban in place:

Respect for patient autonomy also argues that even if a center does not offer TOLAC, such a policy cannot be used to force women to have cesarean delivery or to deny care to women in labor who decline to have a repeat cesarean delivery.

You may also wish to review your options when encountering a VBAC ban and the story of a mom seeking VBA2C who was threatened with a “forced” cesarean when her OB group withdrew support at 38 weeks.

Making a plan and moving forward

Your best bet is to review your medical records with several VBAC supportive care providers and get their opinion.  Obtain a copy of your medical records and operative reports from each prior cesarean, get the names of VBAC supportive providers, and ask the right questions.

If you want to get up to speed quick on VBAC, repeat cesarean, hospital birth, home birth, and VBAC bans, the best way is via my online program, “The Truth About VBAC.”

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Jen Kamel

Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at hospitals, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is a board member for the California Association of Midwives.

Learn more >

Free Report Reveals...

Parents pregnant after a cesarean face so much misinformation about VBAC. As a result, many who are good VBAC candidates are coerced into repeat cesareans. This free report provides quick clarity on 5 uterine rupture myths so you can tell fact from fiction and avoid the bait & switch.

VBAC Facts does not provide any medical advice and the information provided should not be so construed or used. Nothing provided by VBAC Facts is intended to replace the services of a qualified physician or midwife or to be a substitute for medical advice of a qualified physician or midwife. You should not rely on anything provided by VBAC Facts and you should consult a qualified health care professional in all matters relating to your health.

Can you feel a uterine rupture with an epidural?

Can you feel a uterine rupture with an epidural?

Some care providers discourage epidurals in VBAC moms fearing that it will mask the symptoms of uterine rupture (namely abdominal pain) and delay diagnosis resulting in a poor outcome for baby and to a lesser extent, mom  Other care providers suggest or even require VBAC moms to have an epidural so that a cesarean can quickly take place if needed.  Which philosophy does the evidence support?

Review of 14 VBAC studies

I recently came across a study entitled “The Role of Epidural Anesthesia in Trial of Labor” (Johnson, 1990) that reviewed 14 VBAC studies.  Johnson found among scarred women who ruptured, a greater percentage of women with epidurals reported abdominal pain than women without epidurals.

  • 5 of 14 (35.7%) patients with an epidural who ruptured had abdominal pain.
  • 4 of 23 (17.4%) patients without an epidural who ruptured had abdominal pain.

Interestingly, only 22% of the women who ruptured in that study reported abdominal pain and Johnson concluded, “Thus abdominal pain is an unreliable sign of complete uterine rupture.”  But is it?  69% of women in Zwart (2009) reported abdominal pain. (I write about Zwart here and here.)

One difference between the studies is Zwart included significantly more scarred moms than Johnson: 26,000 versus 10,976.  The second different is that Zwart also included 332,000 unscarred women representing 93% of the sample population.

Unscarred moms, uterine rupture, and abdominal pain

I’m curious if the reason why Zwart reported such a high level of abdominal pain was because it included so many unscarred moms.  I wonder if unscarred moms are more likely to report pain and if so, why would that be.  Zwart combines the symptoms for scarred and unscarred rupture into one chart.  If they broke that chart out by scarred vs. unscarred rupture symptoms, would we see any major differences? Generally, unscarred rupture does more damage to the uterus and is more likely to result in an infant death (Zwart, 2009), so maybe because there is more damage, women report more abdominal pain?

Most common UR symptom: fetal heart tone abnormalities

I checked out  eMedicine’s article “Uterine Rupture in Pregnancy” and was fascinated to learn that several studies concur with Johnson.  They also found that abdominal pain is reported at a much lower rate than fetal distress/ abnormal fetal heart tones:

…sudden or atypical maternal abdominal pain occurs more rarely than do decelerations or bradycardia. In 9 studies from 1980-2002, abdominal pain occurred in 13-60% of cases of uterine rupture. In a review of 10,967 patients undergoing a TOL, only 22% of complete uterine ruptures presented with abdominal pain and 76% presented with signs of fetal distress diagnosed by continuous electronic fetal monitoring. [This is the Jonhson study.]

Moreover, in a study by Bujold and Gauthier, abdominal pain was the first sign of rupture in only 5% of patients and occurred in women who developed uterine rupture without epidural analgesia but not in women who received an epidural block.  (Bujold E, Gauthier RJ. Neonatal morbidity associated with uterine rupture: what are the risk factors?. Am J Obstet Gynecol. Feb 2002;186(2):311-4).  Thus, abdominal pain is an unreliable and uncommon sign of uterine rupture. Initial concerns that epidural anesthesia might mask the pain caused by uterine rupture have not been verified and there have been no reports of epidural anesthesia delaying the diagnosis of uterine rupture.

A 2012 study out of the UK (Fitzpatrick, 2012) also reported that 76% of uterine ruptures were accompanied by fetal heart rate abnormalities in comparison to 49% reporting abdominal pain.

ACOG’s stance on epidurals

It’s important to note that ACOG does support the use of epidurals in VBACs:

Epidural analgesia for labor may be used as part of TOLAC, and adequate pain relief may encourage more women to choose TOLAC (109, 110). No high quality evidence suggests that epidural analgesia is a causal risk factor for an unsuccessful TOLAC (44, 110, 111). In addition, effective regional analgesia should not be expected to mask signs and symptoms of uterine rupture, particularly because the most common sign of rupture is fetal heart tracing abnormalities (24, 112).

Remember that fetal heart tracing abnormalities were detected in 76% of the ruptures in Johnson ad 67% of the ruptures in Zwart.

I couldn’t find any mention of epidurals masking rupture pain in the Guise 2010 Evidence Report, but found that the Johnson study was excluded from their report because “No full-text paper, opinion or letter with no data.”  Interesting.

Uterine rupture symptoms

A list of uterine rupture symptoms and their frequency per Medscape’s article on uterine rupture.

  • “80% Prolonged deceleration in fetal heart rate or bradycardia
  • 54% Abnormal pattern in fetal heart rate
  • 40% Uterine hyper-stimulation
  • 37% Vaginal bleeding
  • 26% Abdominal pain
  • 4% Loss of intrauterine pressure or cessation of contractions”

A couple notes.  One, abdominal pain is not a consistent or reliable symptom of UR.  Two, there is a level of interpretation that goes into diagnosing abnormal fetal heart tones even among people who have extensive medical training.

Additional symptoms that I have collected from other sources include:

  • Baby’s head moves back up birth canal
  • Bulge in the abdomen or under the pubic bone (where the baby may be coming through the tear in the uterus)
  • Uterus becomes soft
  • Shoulder pain

Risks and benefits of epidurals

As with every option available to you regarding birth, it’s always good to be knowledgeable on the risks and benefits of epidurals so you can make an informed choice.  Three excellent resources are this article by Sarah Buckley MD, the PubMed Health Epidural Fact Sheet and this review of epidural research by the Cochrane Library.

Take home message

The limited information available tells us that epidurals do not mask abdominal pain from uterine rupture.

The most common symptom of uterine rupture is fetal distress diagnosed by fetal heart rate abnormalities.

Epidurals may be used during a trial of labor after cesarean per ACOG.

___

As always, if you can offer further research or perspective on this topic, please leave a comment.  Our knowledge is constantly growing and we can only work with the best information available to us now.  Who knows what future research will tell us?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Jen Kamel

Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at hospitals, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is a board member for the California Association of Midwives.

Learn more >

Free Report Reveals...

Parents pregnant after a cesarean face so much misinformation about VBAC. As a result, many who are good VBAC candidates are coerced into repeat cesareans. This free report provides quick clarity on 5 uterine rupture myths so you can tell fact from fiction and avoid the bait & switch.

VBAC Facts does not provide any medical advice and the information provided should not be so construed or used. Nothing provided by VBAC Facts is intended to replace the services of a qualified physician or midwife or to be a substitute for medical advice of a qualified physician or midwife. You should not rely on anything provided by VBAC Facts and you should consult a qualified health care professional in all matters relating to your health.

Woman has 4th cesarean and requires 33 gallons of blood

Woman has 4th cesarean and requires 33 gallons of blood

Update: This powerhouse of a woman has since started the non-profit organization “Hope for Accreta Foundation.”


What a miracle this woman survived!  This was her fifth baby and fourth cesarean.

She had a complication known as placenta percreta which is when “the placenta attaches itself and grows through the uterus, sometimes extending to nearby organs, such as the bladder” (March of Dimes 2012).  The risk of having placenta accreta, increta, or percreta during a fourth cesarean or a VBA3C (vaginal birth after three cesareans) is 2.13% (1 in 47) (Silver 2006).

Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

Most women planning a VBA1C (vaginal birth after one cesarean) are aware of the risks of uterine rupture.  However, women planning their first vaginal birth or VBA1C need the WHOLE picture so they can really work to prevent an unnecessary cesarean.  They need to understand the risks and benefits of VBAC versus repeat cesarean for mom and baby now as well as how current choices impact mom’s future health, fertility, delivery options, and complications that present in subsequent births.

A huge part of this – I believe – is hiring a vaginal birth/VBAC supportive care provider because once a woman has that first cesarean, her options narrow, and they do so even more drastically after that second cesarean.  As her options narrow, her risks increase and unlike uterine rupture which you can circumvent through a repeat cesarean, the risk of accreta, percreta, and increta are not as easily mitigated.

By avoiding one complication, we are increasing our risk for another serious complication in future pregnancies.  For women who plan for large families, this should be on your radar and every practitioner should be discussing intended family size with their patients so that it can be taken into consideration.

Read more about placenta abnormalities, the risks of multiple cesarean sections, the marketing of risk, and how reversing VBAC bans would make birth safer for everyone.

And please donate blood. These women need it.

Woman survives crisis delivery with 33 gallons of donated blood

Posted on April 11, 2012 at 9:46 PM

SAN ANTONIO — University Hospital is sharing an incredible story of survival. A San Antonio woman was saved during a crisis baby delivery. But it took more than 33 gallons of blood.

Two-month-old Addison Walker came into the world in an unusual way. Her mother, Gina, had a rare pregnancy condition called placenta percreta. The placenta invaded through the uterine wall into the bladder, causing massive bleeding during a delivery operation.

Doctors at University Hospital recalled the February eight-hour operation.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Walker had blood loss that superseded anything that we could have prepared for,” said Dr. Jason Parker, U.T. Health Science Center OB/GYN.

Walker lost more than ten times the amount of blood surgeons anticipated. She needed more than 33 gallons. That’s 540 units to keep her alive.

“After I watched cooler after cooler after cooler with my wife’s name on it full of blood going up and down the hallways, yeah, I did get worried,” recalled Gina’s husband Dustin. Read more.

A couple comments left on Facebook:

University is a Level 1 trauma center.  It is the trauma center in San Antonio.  Only other hospital that takes the worst of the worst is SAMMC [San Antonio Military Medical Center] which is the military hospital.  University takes all the gunshots, stabbings, multiple injury accidents, etc…. And these come in multiple times a day.  If any hospital has 100+ units on hand it would be that hospital.  Even if it didn’t, it is literally a couple hundred yards from a half dozen other hospitals that could dip into their supply.

It’s approx $1060 per unit of blood from the blood bank, not including the one time cost of all the testing, which is about $400-500. (These costs depend on the facility, but are a ball park.) Think about what the cost of the blood alone was…

I laboured just fine with my attempted VBA3C but the labour pains at the end were intense and I needed some meds of sorts so I went off to the hospital only to be bullied into the surgery room. All stats were excellent with me and my baby (and noted by the doctors in surgery that my little girl was down the birth canal and had I only been given something to help with pain, I would have pushed her out just fine). Because of that unnecessarian I had to endure a 6 hour reconstructive surgery to fix the mistakes of all the other batched c-sections and to repair the fistula left by the 4th C. But in the meantime I got the pleasure of toting around a catheter for the 5 months in between surgeries. That’s on top of the other procedures, tests and pain I had to go through. All of this could have been avoided had the doctors not allowed me that very first c-section and all the others that were not required. I kick myself in the butt for not educating myself right from the beginning, but how was I to know the doctors wouldn’t be educated either!

I desire to go on to have more children, but am terrified for things like this article speaks of.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Jen Kamel

Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at hospitals, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is a board member for the California Association of Midwives.

Learn more >

Free Report Reveals...

Parents pregnant after a cesarean face so much misinformation about VBAC. As a result, many who are good VBAC candidates are coerced into repeat cesareans. This free report provides quick clarity on 5 uterine rupture myths so you can tell fact from fiction and avoid the bait & switch.

VBAC Facts does not provide any medical advice and the information provided should not be so construed or used. Nothing provided by VBAC Facts is intended to replace the services of a qualified physician or midwife or to be a substitute for medical advice of a qualified physician or midwife. You should not rely on anything provided by VBAC Facts and you should consult a qualified health care professional in all matters relating to your health.

The best compilation of VBAC/ERCS research to date

The best compilation of VBAC/ERCS research to date

“There is a major misperception that TOLAC [trial of labor after cesarean] is extremely risky” – Mona Lydon-Rochelle PhD, MPH, MS, CNM, March 2010

In terms of VBAC, “your risk is really, really quite low” – George Macones MD, MSCE, March 2010

Both Drs. Macones and Lyndon-Rochelle are medical professionals and researchers who made these statements at the 2010 NIH [National Institutes of Health] VBAC Conference. Now you may think, “Wait a sec. Everything I’ve heard from my family, friends, and medical provider is how risky VBAC is and how cesareans are the conservative, prudent, and safest choice.” Why the discrepancy between the statements of these two prominent care provider researchers and the conventional wisdom prevalent in America?

It’s likely that your family, friends, and even your medical provider are not familiar with the latest and best compilation of VBAC research that was released in March 2010. It’s also possible that they are not familiar with the latest VBAC recommendations published in July 2010 by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Additionally, there are often legal and non-medical factors at play that influence how care providers counsel women on VBAC, including pressure from hospital administrators.

When I come across any VBAC study, I always wonder if it made the cut to be included in the 400 page Guise 2010 Evidence Report that was the basis for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference. Guise 2010 reviewed each published VBAC study, performed a quality assessment, and assembled an excellent review of the VBAC literature to date:

Quality assessment is an assessment of a study’s internal validity (the study’s ability to measure what it intends to measure). If a study is not conducted properly, the results that they produce are unlikely to represent the truth and thus are worthless (the old adage garbage in garbage out). If however, a study is structurally and analytically sound, then the results are valuable. A systematic review, is intended to evaluate the entire literature and distill those studies which are of the highest possible quality and therefore likely to be sound and defensible to affect practice.

Guise focused on these key questions: “1) a chain of evidence about factors that may influence VBAC, 2) maternal and infant benefits and harms of attempting a VBAC versus an elective repeat cesarean delivery (ERCD), and 3) factors that may influence maternal and infant outcomes.” Ultimately, this 400 page document was distilled into the 48 page VBAC Final Statement produced by the NIH VBAC Conference.

This is wonderful because people who want the big picture, can read the VBAC Final Statement whereas those who want to know the exact figures, how studies were included/excluded, and the strength of the data available, can read the Guise 2010 Evidence Report.

You can get a feel for the topics presented at the NIH VBAC Conference by reading the Programs & Abstracts document. If you want more detail, you can watch the individual presentations. I was there for the three day conference and it was eye opening. I wish more medical professionals and moms were aware of this information as they are excellent resources for anyone looking to learn more about VBAC.

Everyone wants to know the bottom line: what is the risk of death or major injury to mom and baby. Here is an overview of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity per Guise (2010). It’s important to remember that the quality of data relating to perinatal mortality was low to moderate due to the high range of rates reported by the strongest studies conducted thus far. Guise reports the high end of the range when they discuss perinatal mortality which was 6% for all gestational ages and 2.8% when limited to term studies. This is a long way of saying, we still don’t have a good picture of how many babies die due to uterine rupture.

It’s also important to remember that the statistics shared in Guise (2010) are for all VBACs. They include all scar types, women who have had multiple prior cesareans, induced/augmented labors, etc. It would have been helpful if they had broke out the data in these ways as we know we can reduce the risk of rupture (and thus perinatal mortality) through spontaneous labor.

While rare for both TOL [trial of labor after cesarean] and ERCD [elective repeat cesarean delivery], maternal mortality was significantly increased for ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL. The rates of maternal hysterectomy, hemorrhage, and transfusions did not differ significantly between TOL and ERCD. The rate of uterine rupture for all women with prior cesarean is 3 per 1,000 and the risk was significantly increased with TOL (4.7 1,000 versus 0.3 1,000 ERCD). Six percent of uterine ruptures were associated with perinatal death. Perinatal mortality was significantly increased for TOL at 1.3 per 1,000 versus 0.5 per 1,000 for ERCD… VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans… The occurrence of maternal and infant mortality for women with prior cesarean is not significantly elevated when compared with national rates overall of mortality in childbirth. The majority of women who have TOL 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 ERCD. While TOL rates have decreased over the last decade, VBAC rates and adverse outcomes have not changed suggesting that the reduction is not reflecting improved patient selection.

Women are entitled to accurate, honest, and high quality data. They don’t deserve to have the risks exaggerated by an OB who wishes to coerce them into a repeat cesarean nor do they deserve to have risks sugar-coated or minimized by a midwife or birth advocate who may not understand the risk or whose zealous desire for everyone to VBAC clouds their judgement. Sometimes it can be hard to find good data on VBAC which is why I’m so thankful for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and all the excellent data that became available to the public as a result. There are real risks and benefits to VBAC and repeat cesarean and once women have access to good data, they can individually choose which set of risks and benefits they want. I think the links I have provided above represents the best data we have to date.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Jen Kamel

Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at hospitals, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is a board member for the California Association of Midwives.

Learn more >

Free Report Reveals...

Parents pregnant after a cesarean face so much misinformation about VBAC. As a result, many who are good VBAC candidates are coerced into repeat cesareans. This free report provides quick clarity on 5 uterine rupture myths so you can tell fact from fiction and avoid the bait & switch.

VBAC Facts does not provide any medical advice and the information provided should not be so construed or used. Nothing provided by VBAC Facts is intended to replace the services of a qualified physician or midwife or to be a substitute for medical advice of a qualified physician or midwife. You should not rely on anything provided by VBAC Facts and you should consult a qualified health care professional in all matters relating to your health.

Confusing fact: Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic

Confusing fact: Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic

It is important to note that the information shared in Guise (2010), the 400 page Evidence Report on which the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference was based, collected the best data we have available on trial of labor after cesarean.  That said, they reported, “Overall, the strength of evidence on perinatal mortality was low to moderate” due to the wide range of perinatal mortality rates reported by the studies included in the report.  Bottom line: We still don’t have an accurate idea of how deadly uterine rupture is to babies.  This is a topic on which Guise recommended future researchers focus.  I highly recommend that anyone interested in TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean), especially those who blog or share information on social networking sites, review this very important document as it is a fascinating analysis of the best research we have to date on TOLAC.


How many times have you heard, “Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic” or “Uterine rupture not only happens less that one percent of the time, but the vast majority of ruptures are non-catastrophic?” But what does that mean? Does that mean only 6% of uterine ruptures are “complete” ruptures? Result in maternal death? Infant death? Serious injury to mom or baby? This article will explain to you the difference between uterine rupture and uterine dehiscence as well as explain the source and meaning of the 6% statistic.

Distinguishing between uterine rupture and uterine dehiscence

First, it’s important to understand what a uterine rupture is and how that differs from a uterine dehiscence. Uterine rupture, also called true, complete, or even (to further add to the confusion) catastrophic rupture, is a opening through all the layers of the uterus. Per a Medscape article on Uterine Rupture in Pregnancy:

Uterine rupture is defined as a full-thickness separation of the uterine wall and the overlying serosa. Uterine rupture is associated with (1) clinically significant uterine bleeding; (2) fetal distress; (3) expulsion or protrusion of the fetus, placenta, or both into the abdominal cavity; and (4) the need for prompt cesarean delivery and uterine repair or hysterectomy.

Whereas a uterine dehiscence, also called a incomplete rupture or a uterine window, is not a full-thickness separation. It’s often asymptomatic, does not pose any risk to mom or baby, and does not require repair. Again, I refer to Medscape:

Uterine scar dehiscence is a more common event that seldom results in major maternal or fetal complications. By definition, uterine scar dehiscence constitutes separation of a preexisting scar that does not disrupt the overlying visceral peritoneum (uterine serosa) and that does not significantly bleed from its edges. In addition, the fetus, placenta, and umbilical cord must be contained within the uterine cavity, without a need for cesarean delivery due to fetal distress.

When reading medical studies, look for how they define uterine rupture in the “Methods” section. While some medical studies combine the statistics for rupture and dehiscence, ultimately reporting an inflated rate of rupture, other studies distinguish between the two events.

So, what does the 6% statistic mean and where did it come from?

The statistic “Only 6% of uterine ruptures are catastrophic” is from the Evidence Report (Guise 2010) which was the basis of the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference and it refers to the rate of infant death due to uterine rupture. Here is the exact quote:

The overall risk of perinatal death due to uterine rupture was 6.2 percent. The two studies of women delivering at term that reported perinatal death rates report that 0 to 2.8 percent of all uterine ruptures resulted in a perinatal death (Guise 2010).

In other words, of the women who had uterine ruptures, 6.2% (1 in 16) resulted in infant deaths. When we limited the data to women delivering at term, as opposed to babies of all gestational ages, the risk was as high as 2.8 (1 in 36)%.

When we look at the overall risk of an infant death during a trial of labor after cesarean, the NIH reported the rate of 0.13%, which works out to be one infant death per 769 trials of labor.

The source of the confusion

The problem with this statistic is that some people have misinterpreted it to mean that only 6% of ruptures are true, complete uterine ruptures. In other words, if we take the 0.4% (1 in 240) uterine rupture rate (Landon, 2004), they believe that only 6% of those ruptures or 0.024% (1 in 4166) are true, complete ruptures. This is false. The 0.4% uterine rupture statistic measured true, complete, uterine ruptures in spontaneous labors after one prior low, transverse (“bikini cut”) cesarean.

So how many dehiscences did Landon (2004) detect? Landon reported a 0.7% uterine rupture rate and a 0.7% dehiscence rate. (Note that these statistics include a variety of scar types as well spontaneous, augmented, and induced labors.) So Landon found that dehiscence occurs at the same rate as uterine rupture.

I think the best way to avoid confusion is to use very clear language: 6.2% (1 in 16) of uterine ruptures result in an infant death. Put another way, for every 16 uterine ruptures, there will be one baby that dies.

Elapsed time and infant death

What determines if a baby dies or has brain damage? Some research on infant cord blood gases has suggested that if the baby isn’t delivered (almost always by CS) within 16 – 17 minutes of a uterine rupture, there can be serious brain damage or death to baby. You can watch a presentation from the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference entitled “The Immediately Available Physician Standard” by Howard Minkoff, M.D. for more information or read his presentation abstract.

Now you know the difference between uterine rupture, uterine dehiscence and the meaning of the 6% statistic. It’s helpful to understand the terminology used in relation to uterine rupture otherwise it can be very confusing as you wade your way through the statistics! It’s also very important for people to use specific words whose definitions are clear instead of words such as “catastrophic” that could mean multiple things.

Afterward – The big picture

The following are excerpts from the Evidence Report (Guise 2010) , the 400 page evidence report assembled for the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference. The limitation of Guise (2010) is that these stats are for all VBACs – all scar types, multiple prior cesareans, induced/augmented labors, etc. It would have been helpful if they had broke out the data in these ways.

While rare for both TOL [trial of labor] and ERCD [elective repeat cesarean delivery], maternal mortality was significantly increased for ERCD at 13.4 per 100,000 versus 3.8 per 100,000 for TOL. The rates of maternal hysterectomy, hemorrhage, and transfusions did not differ significantly between TOL and ERCD. The rate of uterine rupture for all women with prior cesarean is 3 per 1,000 and the risk was significantly increased with TOL (4.7 1,000 versus 0.3 1,000 ERCD). Six percent of uterine ruptures were associated with perinatal death.” Perinatal death due to UR from term studies was 2.8%. “Perinatal mortality was significantly increased for TOL at 1.3 per 1,000 versus 0.5 per 1,000 for ERCD… VBAC is a reasonable and safe choice for the majority of women with prior cesarean. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of serious harms relating to multiple cesareans… The occurrence of maternal and infant mortality for women with prior cesarean is not significantly elevated when compared with national rates overall of mortality in childbirth. The majority of women who have TOL 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 ERCD. While TOL rates have decreased over the last decade, VBAC rates and adverse outcomes have not changed suggesting that the reduction is not reflecting improved patient selection.

A systematic review strives to be patient-centered and to provide both patients and clinicians with meaningful numbers or estimates so they can make informed decisions. Often, however, the data do not allow a direct estimate to calculate the numbers that people desire such as the number of cesareans needed to avoid one uterine rupture related death. The assumptions that are required to make such estimates from the available data introduce additional uncertainty that cannot be quantified. If we make a simplistic assumption that 6 percent of all uterine ruptures result in perinatal death (as found from the summary estimate), the range of estimated numbers of cesareans needed to be performed to prevent one uterine rupture related perinatal death would be 2,400 from the largest study,204 and 3,900-6,100 from the other three studies of uterine rupture for TOL and ERCD.10, 97, 205 Taken in aggregate, the evidence suggests that the approximate risks and benefits that would be expected for a hypothetical group of 100,000 women at term gestational age (GA) who plan VBAC rather than ERCD include: 10 fewer maternal deaths, 650 additional uterine ruptures, and 50 additional neonatal deaths. Additionally, it is important to consider the morbidity in future pregnancies that would be averted from multiple cesareans particularly in association with placental abnormalities.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Jen Kamel

Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at hospitals, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is a board member for the California Association of Midwives.

Learn more >

Free Report Reveals...

Parents pregnant after a cesarean face so much misinformation about VBAC. As a result, many who are good VBAC candidates are coerced into repeat cesareans. This free report provides quick clarity on 5 uterine rupture myths so you can tell fact from fiction and avoid the bait & switch.

VBAC Facts does not provide any medical advice and the information provided should not be so construed or used. Nothing provided by VBAC Facts is intended to replace the services of a qualified physician or midwife or to be a substitute for medical advice of a qualified physician or midwife. You should not rely on anything provided by VBAC Facts and you should consult a qualified health care professional in all matters relating to your health.

Just kicking the can of risk down the road

Just kicking the can of risk down the road

This is why cesareans should not be casual or performed for the convenience of anyone.  They should be reserved for real medical reasons so that the benefits of having the cesarean outweigh the risks.  And there are real risks to cesareans, but since the ones list below are future risks, they may seem less real.  Per a November 2011 study published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine:

If primary and secondary cesarean rates continue to rise as they have in recent years, by 2020 the cesarean delivery rate will be 56.2%, and there will be an additional 6236 placenta previas, 4504 placenta accretas, and 130 maternal deaths annually. The rise in these complications will lag behind the rise in cesareans by approximately 6 years.

Placenta previa and accreta are nothing to mess around with.  Accreta in particular has a very high maternal mortality rate and many mothers end up having cesarean hysterectomies.   I write more about accreta here.

Many women do not think these complications are applicable to them as they don’t plan on more children after their two cesareans.  But I know many women, and I’m sure you do too, who were not planning on more children, but got pregnant nonetheless.  Unless you or your partner get sterilized or practice abstinence (what fun!), the chance of you getting pregnant is there.

By performing routine scheduled repeat cesareans, we do reduce the risk of uterine rupture in the current pregnancy, but we are also increasing the risks of accreta, previa, maternal death as well as uterine rupture in future pregnancies.  In addition, another large study found

[t]he risks of placenta accreta, cystotomy [surgical incision of the urinary bladder], bowel injury, ureteral [ureters are muscular ducts that propel urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder] injury, and ileus [disruption of the normal propulsive gastrointestinal motor activity], the need for postoperative ventilation, intensive care unit admission, hysterectomy, and blood transfusion requiring 4 or more units, and the duration of operative time and hospital stay significantly increased with increasing number of cesarean deliveries.

And this is especially relevant in rural hospitals which institute VBAC bans because they don’t offer 24/7 anesthesia.  Even though the “immediately available” clause was removed in the latest (2010) ACOG VBAC Practice Bulletin, many of these bans still stand.

However, in order to rapidly respond to the potentially sudden diagnosis of accreta, previa, or abruption, the hospital will have to enact many of the same ideas provided at the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference on how a hospital without 24/7 anesthesia can safely offer VBAC and respond to uterine rupture.  So why not just institute those ideas from the get-go and offer VBAC to those who want it?  (I know, I know: medico-legal reasons, which the NIH also addressed, but that is another post.)  From VBAC Ban Rationale is Irrational:

 As David J. Birnbach, M.D., M.P.H (2010), who presented on the impact of anesthesiologists on the incidence of VBAC [at the 2010 NIH VBAC Conference] asserted:

Lack of immediate available of anesthesia may not always be a key factor in outcome [during a uterine rupture], especially in cases where the obstetrician is not present. Many cases of uterine rupture can be stabilized while the anesthesiologists becomes available, and examples have been suggested of ways to reduce the risk associated with such a crisis. These include antepartum [prenatal] consultation of VBAC patients with the anesthesia departments, development of cesarean delivery under local anesthesia protocols, finding methods of improving communication on labor and delivery suites, practice “fire-drills,” and development of protocols matching resources to risk.

I urge you to watch Dr. Birnbach’s presentation along with all the presentations from the 2010 NIH VBAC conference.

Read more about the how the risk of serious complications increase with each cesarean surgery.

Below is Silver’s (2006) study abstract:

J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2011 Nov;24(11):1341-6. Epub 2011 Mar 7.

The effect of cesarean delivery rates on the future incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality.

Solheim KN, Esakoff TF, Little SE, Cheng YW, Sparks TN, Caughey AB. Source Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA. Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The overall annual incidence rate of caesarean delivery in the United States has been steadily rising since 1996, reaching 32.9% in 2009. Primary cesareans often lead to repeat cesareans, which may lead to placenta previa and placenta accreta. This study’s goal was to forecast the effect of rising primary and secondary cesarean rates on annual incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality.

METHODS: A decision-analytic model was built using TreeAge Pro software to estimate the future annual incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality using data on national birthing order trends and cesarean and vaginal birth after cesarean rates. Baseline assumptions were derived from the literature, including the likelihood of previa and accreta among women with multiple previous cesarean deliveries.

RESULTS: If primary and secondary cesarean rates continue to rise as they have in recent years, by 2020 the cesarean delivery rate will be 56.2%, and there will be an additional 6236 placenta previas, 4504 placenta accretas, and 130 maternal deaths annually. The rise in these complications will lag behind the rise in cesareans by approximately 6 years.

CONCLUSIONS: If cesarean rates continue to increase, the annual incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal death will also rise substantially.

Resources Cited

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21381881

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Jen Kamel

Jen Kamel is the founder of VBAC Facts, an educational, training and consulting firm. As a nationally recognized VBAC strategist and consumer advocate, she has been invited to present Grand Rounds at hospitals, served as an expert witness in a legal proceeding, and has traveled the country educating hundreds of professionals and highly motivated parents. She speaks at national conferences and has worked as a legislative consultant in various states focusing on midwifery legislation and regulations. She has testified multiple times in front of the California Medical Board and legislative committees on the importance of VBAC access and is a board member for the California Association of Midwives.

Learn more >

Free Report Reveals...

Parents pregnant after a cesarean face so much misinformation about VBAC. As a result, many who are good VBAC candidates are coerced into repeat cesareans. This free report provides quick clarity on 5 uterine rupture myths so you can tell fact from fiction and avoid the bait & switch.

VBAC Facts does not provide any medical advice and the information provided should not be so construed or used. Nothing provided by VBAC Facts is intended to replace the services of a qualified physician or midwife or to be a substitute for medical advice of a qualified physician or midwife. You should not rely on anything provided by VBAC Facts and you should consult a qualified health care professional in all matters relating to your health.