Objective: Some women wish to avoid a repeat cesarean delivery and believe that a midwife-supported vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in a nonhospital setting represents their best chance to do so; there is a small, persistent demand for out-of-hospital VBACs. We conducted a study to obtain the data necessary to formulate an evidence-based policy on this practice.
Methods: We prospectively collected data on pregnancy outcomes of 1,913 women intending to attempt VBACs in 41 participating birth centers between 1990 and 2000.
Results: A total of 1,453 of the 1,913 women presented to the birth center in labor. Twenty-four percent of them were transferred to hospitals during labor; 87% of these had vaginal births. There were 6 uterine ruptures (0.4%), 1 hysterectomy (0.1%), 15 infants with 5-minute Apgar scores less than 7 (1.0%), and 7 fetal/neonatal deaths (0.5%). Most fetal deaths (5/7) occurred in women who did not have uterine ruptures. Half of uterine ruptures and 57% of perinatal deaths involved the 10% of women with more than 1 previous cesarean delivery or who had reached a gestational age of 42 weeks. Rates of uterine rupture and fetal/neonatal death were 0.2% each in women with neither of these risks.
Conclusion: Despite a high rate of vaginal births and few uterine ruptures among women attempting VBACs in birth centers, a cesarean-scarred uterus was associated with increases in complications that require hospital management. Therefore, birth centers should refer women who have undergone previous cesarean deliveries to hospitals for delivery. Hospitals should increase access to in-hospital care provided by midwife/obstetrician teams during VBACs.
Level of evidence: III.