Tag Archives: increasing vbac

In Honor of Cesarean Awareness Month: Introducing The VBAC Education Project

10 Apr

VBAC was deemed a reasonable and safe option to a routine repeat cesarean by the National Institutes of Health decades ago (1981). But, in recent years, misinformation about its safety and lack of clear national practice guidelines have succeeded in virtually eliminating VBACs in many hospitals. Intro.keyThousands of women are being denied medical care for VBAC and given no choice but to “consent” to a repeat operation they do not need or want. Mothers have the legal right to make their own health care decisions, but that right, more often than not, is not upheld. The  upcoming, evidence-based VBAC Education Project, endorsed by the International Childbirth Education Association and the International Cesarean Awareness Network was developed to answer the many questions parents have about VBAC and provide educators and maternity care professionals with the resources they need to support women who want to labor after a prior cesarean. This volunteer collaborative project will be available for download at no cost.

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New Jersey Poised to Increase Access to VBAC

6 Jan

New Jersey has one of the highest cesarean rates in the country. According to U.S. Preliminary data for 2012 New Jersey has the third highest cesarean rate in the nation,  38.7% preceded by Florida (38.1%) and Louisiana (40.2%). In the last two decades repeat cesarean births without labor more than doubled in New Jersey, from 40% to 85%. According to the New Jersey Department of Health currently one in four cesareans are routine repeat operations without serious risk indications. The New Jersey VBAC Task Force wants to change that.

Task Force members agree that VBAC should be available to all low-risk women who choose to labor after a prior cesarean and increasing access to VBAC would improve obstetric care. New Jersey hospital VBAC rates vary widely, from 31.0% at Monmouth Medical Center to 0% for Memorial Hospital and Southern Ocean Medical Center in 2011. The Task Force suggested establishing a network of regional VBAC referral centers who can meet safety requirements for VBAC. The Task Force is a multidisciplinary collaborative group which includes the New Jersey Hospital Association, health insurance payers and malpractice insurers.  20111225_Jess_6619_2000

Hospitals often deny VBAC care by referring to the costly and realistically unattainable ACOG guidelines which recommend a surgical team and anesthesia be “immediately available” when women labor for a VBAC. Having had a prior cesarean adds a level of risk to the subsequent laboring process, however, the risks of laboring for a VBAC are the same as for women giving birth for the first time, yet women giving birth for the first time are not denied medical care, nor are they told that they are at risk because the hospital cannot guarantee that a surgical team and anesthesia will be “immediately” available in case they would need a cesarean section.

The New Jersey VBAC Task Force concluded that ACOG’s definition of “immediate access” has never been defined by ACOG or any other authority and the legal liability of this ambiguous recommendation is “not conducive to frank discussion with patients, resulting in obscure and often misleading counseling.”

Providing safe medical care for women in New Jersey who want to plan a VBAC is not an impossible task. After more than one year of deliberations, the Task Force concluded that many of New Jersey’s hospitals already have the resources that can meet the safety standards recommended to support mothers who want to plan a VBAC. The Hospital Capacity and Regional Accessibility Subcommittee reasoned that being able to provide advanced neonatal care was just as critical for responding to complications that may develop during labor for a VBAC.

New Jersey licenses 20 hospitals as intensive perinatal centers or intermediate/regional perinatal centers. These hospitals are required to have full-time on-site coverage by neonatal and pediatric specialists and consulting arrangements with anesthesiology. Responding to a Task Force survey, 14 of 20  intensive care perinatal centers  reported having 24-hour in-house obstetric coverage for cesarean, availability of anesthesia and operating room teams, and 60% of the intermediate and basic perinatal centers reported 24-hour on-site coverage and the rest the availability of an off-site obstetrician within 30 minutes once the need for a cesarean was established.

Also in response to the Task Force survey, 7 of the intensive perinatal care centers and 6 of the intermediate care centers were in favor of becoming a regional VBAC referral center.

To successfully increase access to VBAC the Task Force made several recommendations:

  • Re-evaluate the risks of laboring for a VBAC by comparing low-risk women with a prior cesarean with New Jersey’s benchmark population, low-risk multiparous women without a previous cesarean for a more realistic evaluation of potential maternal and neonatal complications.
  • Develop a VBAC education program to educate expectant parents about the benefits and risks of laboring after a prior cesarean.
  • Educate providers and hospitals about the benefits and risks of VBAC, adequate staffing and resources, labor progress patterns for VBAC , guidelines for augmentation of labor, signs and symptoms of uterine rupture or dehiscence and practice drills for appropriate response for a uterine rupture.
  • Educate in-hospital staff about VBAC including, risk management, nursing, anesthesiology, neonatology, lab and blood banks to have a more coordinated response in case of complications.
  • Providers should try to shift the focus of their conversation with their patients from “defensive communication and liability strategies toward true shared decision making.”

Tom Westover, MD of Cooper University Hospital in New Jersey and a member of the New Jersey VBAC Task Force will address health professionals and birth advocates about increasing access to VBAC on March 26 at the New Jersey BirthNetwork Symposium at Rutgers University Inn & Conference Center, Supporting NJ’s Birth Plan: Taking the Next Step and Implementing Evidence-Based, Mother-Friendly Maternity Practices in New Jersey.

 Resources

Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network,  VBAC Project

Childbirth Connection, Maternity Care and Liability: Pressing Problems, Substantive Solutions

TRIAL OF LABOR, A New Film About Four Mothers and Their Determination To Give Birth Naturally After A Prior Cesarean

22 Jul

Two fathers, Robert Humphreys, an independent, award winning film maker and Dr. Elliot Berlin, a Chiropractor specializing in alternative prenatal care, set out to make a documentary film about the VBAC Ban in U.S. hospitals and its impact on the physical and psychological health of women who want to birth naturally after a prior cesarean. TRIAL OF LABOR, a documentary initially conceived as an educational film about the medicalization of birth in the U.S. and the pros and cons of VBAC and repeat cesarean, evolved into a powerful and inspiring personal journey of four mothers who had a prior cesarean and who were determined to find caregivers who would support their choice for a VBAC. The children of both Humphreys and Berlin were born at home. As men and fathers, they witnessed how powerful and validating birth can be.

With a healthy pregnancy, and a low horizontal scar on the uterus, women who go into labor on their own at term have about a 70% to 75% chance that they will have a safe VBAC. Avoiding a routine repeat cesarean protects women from complications of major abdominal surgery as well as potential complications in a subsequent pregnancy.

However, current controversial ACOG guidelines (Practice Bulletin #115) requiring that trial of labor (TOLAC) should take place in hospitals where resources for emergency cesarean are “immediately available” make it very difficult for expectant mothers to find VBAC supportive careproviders.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that this “immediately available” recommendation was based on consensus and expert opinion rather than strong support from high-quality evidence.  The NIH also found that this recommendation had influenced about one-third of hospitals and one-half of physicians to no longer provide care for women who want a VBAC.

Told from the mothers’ own point of view, TRIAL OF LABOR is a sensitive and insightful look at four strong and courageous mothers who challenge an irrational and un-affirming medical care system to escape from a routine repeat operation-initially, the only option they thought they had.

Their journey to VBAC forces them to look back at their unexpected and unwanted cesarean birth. Face conflicting emotions about their ability to give birth and examine carefully the benefits and downside of both a natural birth and another operation.

“It was the most surreal Kafkaesk experience,” said one mother about her cesarean. “When I reflect about it,” says another, “I get visibly angry. That I didn’t inform myself enough.”

The mothers’ decision to give birth vaginally, where and with whom , did not come easy. “It’s very difficult to step away from the medical establishment,” expressed one expectant mother and yet,  chose to have a VBAC at home, her last resort, despite the lack of published evidence about its safety. Each mother decided for herself how she can best give birth this time.

The U.S. saw an increase in VBACs from the 1980s through the mid 1990s, but the VBAC rates have consistently declined since. One in four women had a VBAC in 1996 compared to 1 in 100 today.

Filmmaker, Robert Humphreys said, “Women have the power and wisdom to give birth. They have been doing it for thousands of years. We men need to step back and respect their strength and ability to give birth on their own.“

The producers of TRIAL OF LABOR have received an encouraging response to their request for  funding to complete the film and meet their post-production costs. They also plan to produce DVDs of the film. Humphreys and Berlin have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds and are asking the birthing community and the public at large to view the trailer and spread the news about this important and much needed film.

To view the trailer and find out more about the film visit, TRIAL OF LABOR.

California Reseachers Call For Fewer Cesareans and More VBACs

30 Jan

In a recently published White Paper by the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative researchers in California confirmed that the high number of cesarean sections performed in the United States and in California put mothers and babies at increased risks and add significantly to healthcare costs with little evidence of health benefits.

The report also confirmed that there are psychological costs that are often overlooked. Postpartum anxiety, depression,  and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cesareans affect maternal-infant attachment and breastfeeding as well.  The cesarean rate in California and the United States increased by 50 percent between 1998 and 2008. It rose from 22 percent to 33 percent in ten years. Researchers found no data to document any population-level benefit to mothers or newborns associated with the  increased rate of cesareans.

The authors state, “Today providers seem to see no ‘downside’ to a high cesarean rate; and women seem increasingly accepting of the prospect of a cesarean.”

California healthcare payers pay hospital charges of $24,700 for a cesarean compared to $14,500 for a vaginal birth. The authors state physicians, healthcare payers, employers who pay for childbirth costs, and public health officials are not aware of the “disconnect” between the amount of dollars spent and the health outcomes in U.S. maternity care.

The authors of  Cesarean Deliveries, Outcomes, and Opportunity for Change in California: Towards a Public Agenda for Maternity Care Safety and Quality found that the increasing cesarean rates can be attributed to two main reasons: cesareans performed on mothers having their first baby and the dramatic decline in VBACs.

The number of cesarean performed during labor vary widely and reflect individual physician discretion rather than clear medical indications.  In fact researchers found that 90 percent of the variation in cesarean rates during labor is due to only two indications: failure to progress and non-reassuring fetal heart tones (fetal distress).  The number of cesareans performed for these two indications vary widely and depend on the physicians’ individual response to these two conditions.  Attitudes of physicians and nurses on the labor and delivery unit also play a part.

The White Paper showed that overall, hospital cesarean rates in California varied from 18 percent to over 50 percent of all births. Hospital cesarean rates for low-risk mothers giving birth for the first time varied from 9 percent to 51 percent. More recent data showed that in 2009 hospital cesarean rates in California varied from 16 percent at Sutter Davis Hospital in Davis to 68 percent at Los Angeles Community Hospital.

The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 19,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, states, “Hospitals with CS rates at 15-20% have infant outcomes that are just as good and better maternal outcomes. There are no data that higher rates improve any outcomes, yet the CS rates continue to rise.” 

The argument has often been made that hospitals with high cesarean rates have a higher proportion of high-risk births and that rising cesarean rates are due to “maternal request.” This report clearly shows that there is no foundation to these arguments.

With regard to the decline of  VBACs, researchers say it will take persistent pressure from childbearing women and advocates for evidence-based practice in childbirth, public reporting of  hospitals who support VBAC and increased awareness by childbearing women about the safety and benefits of VBAC. Citing a national survey  of women’s experience of childbirth, the authors found that reality-based television shows on childbirth and many websites send an incorrect message that cesareans are easy, pain-free, and risk-free. Most women have very little knowledge of  common hospital procedures and their impact on the normal progress of labor.

Based on interviews of California careproviders, the report found that VBAC is also “not popular” with physicians due to the longer time commitment needed for a vaginal birth and their perception of increased liability.

“Whatever the motivation for today’s more ‘defensive’ approach to delivery,” the authors state, ” it is not resulting in better outcomes for babies or their mothers.”

The White Paper is an extensive and insightful study of the rising cesarean rate in California, the health risks of surgical birth, the medical factors driving the trend, and the socio-cultural factors that keep cesarean rates high. It also dispells several myths about cesarean section.

The report includes a valuable, multi-faceted response to reducing cesareans. Strategies include, quality improvement measures, examining hospital practices that lead to cesareans, public reporting of hospital cesarean and VBAC rates, payment reform, and an education campaign to increase awareness about the short- and long-term health risks of cesareans for mothers and babies.

The authors make a  strong recommendation to use several facility-appropriate approaches at the same time since many of  “these interventions interact positively with and reinforce each other, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

The White Paper is a collaborative report by researchers from the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, the Pacific Business Group on Health, and the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative.

 

Resources

To find out more about reducing the odds for “failure to progress,” during labor, see

Six Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices

To see how Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in California made changes to support women who want to plan a VBAC, see the video

The Birth After Cesarean Improvement Project

To find out more about what some hospitals are doing to reduce cesareans, see

Michigan Health & Hospital Association Keystone Center- Obstetrics

Sutter Health, California,

West Virginia Perinatal Partnership- First Baby Clinical Initiative

For a list of support groups for mothers who experience psychological stress after a cesarean see,

Support Groups 

To find out more about hospital intervention rates and what mothers think of their careproviders, see

The Birth Survey