Nurses Play A Significant Role in Supporting VBAC Mothers

11 May

May 6-12, 2017 is National Nurses Week, a time to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate the important work that nurses do. In particular, maternity care nurses play a significant role in helping mothers who want to labor for a VBAC.

Women laboring for a VBAC may have some anxiety about their prior cesarean and may need additional support. They are grateful for the encouragement, validation, and labor progress suggestions that nurses can provide. Many times mothers have said, “My nurse was wonderful. Just when I wanted to quit and ask for another cesarean, she told me things were going just as they should be. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Nurses, midwives, childbirth educators, and doulas who have  experience working with mothers who want a VBAC have learned that a mother with a prior cesarean may need additional support, time, and encouragement to have a rewarding and satisfying birth.  She needs to feel self-confident and strong. Here are some valuable suggestions that they have shared:

  • When meeting a mother for the first time, try to find out how she experienced her cesarean? Can you suggest how she can do things differently this time? Ask her how she wants to labor. What is important to her? Help her to create the birth environment she prefers so she can feel safe and supported.
  • Ask her partner or family how they feel about a VBAC? What concerns do they have?
  • Remind parents that 3 out of 4 women who labor for a VBAC have a safe birth.
  • Some mothers may have anxious moments and flashbacks of their prior birth. Disturbing memories of fetal distress or of laboring “for ever” and not getting anywhere. Help mothers to overcome these difficult moments and remind them that this is a different labor for a different baby and that they are strong enough to move through it.
  • Mothers who may have experienced a prior birth as traumatic  will especially need understanding, encouragement, and the freedom to give birth as she wishes.
  • Some mothers know when they have  gone as far as they can and that they will probably need to adjust to the idea of having a cesarean birth. Give a mother time, if circumstances allow it, to think about what she would like for this cesarean birth. Does she want her doula to be at her birth? Does she want her baby skin-to-skin after birth? Does she want her family to visit her in recovery? Does your hospital support a “gentle cesarean?” Let her know that your team wants her to have a good experience and will do their best to welcome her baby.

For additional information on how maternity care professionals can support mothers who want to labor for a VBACs see VBAC for Educators: A Teaching Guide. 

Maternity care professionals who are interested in establishing “skin-to-skin after a cesarean” clinical guidelines or developing mother-centered VBAC education guides can freely use the hospital-developed forms included in Hospital Policies that Support VBAC, Family-Centered Cesarean, and Informed Choice, both are part of the VBAC Education Project.

A nurse’s support, guidance, compassion, and respect for a mother’s individual birth preferences will give both, mother and baby their best start together.





Maternity Care Professionals Agree on How Best to Care for Women in Labor

5 Apr

Failure to progress, abnormal fetal heart rate, malposition, and “big” baby are the four main reasons for the first cesarean. These complications can often be avoided by the kind of care that women receive prenatally and during labor and birth.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) agree, “Many common obstetric practices are of limited or uncertain benefit for low-risk women in spontaneous labor…Rather than label a woman as low-risk or high-risk, the goal is…to ensure that the obstetrician-gynecologist or other obstetric care provider carefully selects and tailors labor interventions to the requirements and the preferences of the woman in labor.”                                            

The following evidence-based, recommendations from Approaches to Limit Interventions During Labor and Birth ACOG’s Committee Opinion (Number 687, February 2017) will help to facilitate physiologic birth (normal progress of labor), avoid unnecessary interventions that can complicate labor, and respect women’s own preferences for how they want to give birth.

  • During pregnancy, learn all you can about labor and birth and write down your preferences for how you would like to be cared for in labor and birth.
  • Consider having one-to-one labor support such as a doula.
  • Consider taking a childbirth class where you can learn about how to spend you time at home in early labor, different comfort measures, and positions to make you more comfortable for active labor birth.
  • Stay home until you are in active labor (about 6cm dilation).
  • Ask about being monitored intermittently with a hand-held device such as a doppler instead of an electronic fetal monitor.
  • Drink clear liquids to keep up your energy rather than using an IV.
  • Consider using non-drug methods of pain relief. There are many options for you.
  • Stay upright and use different positions for labor such as walking, kneeling on hands and knees, lying on your side, and resting on a birth ball.
  • Avoid an amniotomy (artificially breaking the bag of waters).
  • When you reach full dilation (10 cm) you many not feel the urge to push. Your baby will move down as you are resting, so wait for the urge to bear down.
  • Push using an upright position or on your hands and knees, whatever makes you comfortable at the time.
  • Ask to have your baby skin-to-skin after birth it will help you to begin breastfeeding, and ask your caregivers about delaying the cutting of your baby’s umbilical cord.
  • Let your caregivers know what you need and how they can help you to have a safe and satisfying birth.

Although these midwifery-led recommendations have been known to many caregivers and women prefer them to routine interventions, it will now be much easier to get the support you need form all maternity care providers.


To find out more about these recommendations and why they are important for a safe birth link to Childbirth Connection’s Fact Sheet on limiting interventions in labor and birth.

To find out more about avoiding labor complications that can lead to a cesarean,  non-drug options for pain relief, and different positions for labor and birth download Modules 4, 5, and 6 of the VBAC Education Project.




VBAC Rights

26 Jan

The evidence for the safety of VBAC is clear. Guidelines exist for physicians and hospitals to provide care for women who choose to labor for a VBAC. About 70% of women who labor for a VBAC give birth safely. Yet, there seems to be a lack of will to change current practice and support women’s choice for VBAC. Many hospitals  in the U.S. choose not to provide care for women who want to labor for a VBAC. In 2014 only 12% of U.S. women had a VBAC.

The downstream effects of repeat cesareans put mothers and babies at increased risk for complications. Support for VBAC minimizes these harms. 

Women have a right to receive high-quality, evidence-based, respectful care in their childbearing year.

Women have a right to complete and accurate information to help them make an informed decision about how they want to give birth.

Women have a right to give birth without major surgery.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at risk for uterine rupture.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at increased risk for postpartum infection.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at increased risk for placental complications: placenta previa,  placenta accreta, increta, and percreta.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at higher risk for hemorrhage and blood transfusion.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at increased risk for a hysterectomy.ž

Women have a right to give birth without being put at increased risk for needing admission to an intensive care unit.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at risk for bowel obstruction.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at risk for a blood clot in the legs or lungs that can be life-threatening.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at risk for surgical injuries to internal organs and adhesions (internal scar tissue that forms between tissues and organs).

Women have a right to give birth without being put at increased risk for cesarean scar ectopic pregnancy, fetal malformations, miscarriage, low-birth-weight, premature birth, and still birth in a future pregnancy.

Women have a right to give birth without being put at increased risk for psychological stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Women have a right to give birth without putting their baby at increased risk for surgical injury, respiratory complications, and the need for admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Women have a right to give birth so that their babies experience labor and are primed to receive beneficial microorganisms from their mothers which play a key role in the development of their immune system.

Women have a right to benefit from a healthy birth and the innate birth hormones which prepare mother and baby for skin-to-skin after birth, mother-infant attachment, and successful breastfeeding.

Women have a right to give birth without the added financial burden of a 30% increase for the cost of a cesarean.

Women have a right to give birth without medical malpractice companies pressuring hospitals and administrators to close their VBAC services.

Women have a right to give birth without liability insurers imposing a surcharge on physicians who want to support VBAC.

Women have a right to labor for a VBAC and to reduce their own and their infant’s exposure to short- and long-term complications associated with routine repeat cesareans.


For sample VBAC-friendly hospital policies, birth options, and informed-decision documents with permission to reprint download Hospital Policies that Support VBAC, Family-Centered Cesarean, and Informed Choice

How Caregivers Can Support Mothers Who Want A VBAC

16 Jan

For a mother who has had a prior cesarean birth, understanding the medical pros and cons of laboring for a VBAC is essential, but not enough. She is also likely to need psychological support, guidance for maximizing her chances for a vaginal birth, and access to community resources. It’s important to take the time to discuss her options and to find out what her needs are during prenatal visits.

Refer her to evidence-based educational resources for additional information and VBAC classes in her community.

Provide her with hospital informed consent/refusal forms for each procedure  that you would require her to sign-off on during her prenatal visits to give her the time to discuss them with her partner and make a thoughtful decision. This will also give her time to consider them and to give her the feeling of safety and sense of control she may not have had with her cesarean birth. Some caregivers have developed a check-list to complete during pregnancy.

Provide her with a list of birth doulas.  Having a doula at her birth will increase her odds for a vaginal birth.

Respect the mother’s birth plan. Women who have had a negative cesarean birth and plan to labor for a VBAC will usually seek ways to make sure that this birth will take place in an emotionally safe environment. They will need to re-establish trust in their caregivers and place of birth. Reviewing her birth plan during a prenatal visit will increase her confidence in her ability to have a vaginal birth.

Involve her in making all the decisions about her care. Mothers  look for caregivers who are sympathetic and supportive of their needs. Often, caregivers misinterpret this need for psychological safety as being a woman’s irrational need to be “in control”. Or a mother may be seen as having a “demanding birth plan.” Mothers who are involved in their own care have a more satisfying birth.

If a request is not possible to comply with, it may help to ask the mother more about it. Why it’s important to her and if she would consider other options that you can offer her.

Some mothers suffer from post-traumatic stress as a result of an unexpected cesarean. Because a newborn demands so much care and attention mothers often do not have the time to process these feelings and they can linger for a long time. Sometimes these feeling surface only when a woman becomes pregnant again and begins to think about the coming birth. Provide mothers with a list of psychotherapists who focus on birth-related trauma issues.

Some mothers feel isolated and may be haunted by the “crazy” thoughts they have about their cesarean. Some feel they are “bad” mothers for having negative feelings and for not loving their baby as much as they think they should. A support group would give them a safe place to discuss their feelings without being judged. Contact the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) to find out about chapters in your community or to learn how to begin one.

Many caregivers and hospitals who provide care for VBAC have found a way to develop policies which provide safe care for VBAC and also honor a woman’s right to choose how she wants to give birth. You can find samples of these in Deciding If a VBAC Is Right for You: Hospital Policies that Support VBAC, Family-Centered Cesarean, and Informed Choice.