WASHINGTON – Most women who’ve had a C-section, and many who’ve had two, should be allowed to try labor with their next baby, say new guidelines – a step toward reversing the “once a cesarean, always a cesarean” policies taking root in many hospitals.
Wednesday’s announcement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists eases restrictions on who might avoid a repeat C-section, rewriting an old policy that critics have said is partly to blame for many pregnant women being denied the chance.
Fifteen years ago, nearly 3 in 10 women who’d had a prior C-section gave birth vaginally the next time. Today, fewer than 1 in 10 do.
Last spring, a National Institutes of Health panel strongly urged steps to reverse that trend, saying a third of hospitals and half of doctors ban women from attempting what’s called VBAC, for “vaginal birth after cesarean.”
The new guidelines declare VBAC a safe and appropriate option for most women – now including those carrying twins or who’ve had two C-sections – and urge that they be given an unbiased look at the pros and cons so they can decide whether to try.
Women’s choice is “what we want to come through loud and clear,” said Dr. William Grobman of Northwestern University, co-author of the guidelines. “There are few times where there is an absolute wrong or an absolute right, but there is the importance of shared decision-making.”
Overall, nearly a third of U.S. births are by cesarean, an all-time high. Cesareans can be lifesaving but they come with certain risks – and the more C-sections a woman has, the greater the risk in a next pregnancy of life-threatening problems, such as placenta abnormalities or hemorrhage.
The main debate with VBAC: That the rigors of labor could cause the scar from the earlier surgery to rupture. There’s less than a 1 percent chance of that happening, the ACOG guidelines say. Also, with most recently performed C-sections, that scar is located on a lower part of the uterus that’s less stressed by contractions.