Does a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) increase the baby's risk for cerebral palsy?

Yes, a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) delivery can increase the baby’s risk of developing cerebral palsy and other birth injuries. During a VBAC, women are more likely to experience uterine rupture; this is an obstetrical emergency in which the uterus tears. When uterine rupture occurs, babies may experience severe oxygen deprivation, which can, in turn, cause hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and resultant cerebral palsy.

Uterine Rupture and Vaginal Birth After C-Section (VBAC)

A uterine rupture is most commonly caused by a trial of labor after having previously undergone a C-section operation. When the uterus (womb) ruptures, the baby can be deprived of oxygen-rich blood in two ways:

  • Maternal hemorrhaging: When uterine rupture occurs, excessive maternal bleeding (hemorrhaging) may limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the baby.
  • Interference with circulation: The uterus can tear at or near the placenta, thereby cutting the baby off from the mother’s circulation either completely or partially.

If the uterine tear causes the umbilical cord (which connects to the placenta) to be cut off from circulation, the baby will not have an oxygen supply. An immediate C-section is required in these situations to minimize damage to the baby’s brain.

A uterine rupture can cause the baby to spill out of the protective womb and into the mother’s abdomen during delivery. Expulsion of the baby into the abdomen can cause fetal trauma and fetal distress. When uterine rupture occurs, the physician should prepare for an urgent C-section delivery, because rupture almost always causes fetal heart rate patterns to become non-reassuring, which indicates fetal distress). Uterine rupture is often accompanied by hemodynamic instability (blood pressure drops, circulation decreases) in the mother, which is dangerous to the mother and causes distress in the baby. Fetal distress is almost always a sign that the baby is not getting enough oxygen.  When babies are deprived of oxygen or sustain traumatic injuries to the head, they are at risk for cerebral palsy.

VBAC and Delivery Assistance Drugs (Pitocin and Cytotec)

Due to the risky nature of a VBAC delivery, most physicians will not use Pitocin or Cytotec to either induce or augment the labor of a patient who has had a previous C-section. In fact, due to the serious risk of uterine rupture with a VBAC, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) only recommends VBAC in very low-risk cases where patients are carefully chosen and have given informed consent.

Legal Help for Cerebral Palsy, Birth Injury, and VBAC Victims

It is imperative that close and continuous monitoring of a mother and baby occur during delivery if a mother is having a VBAC. It is essential that physicians pay close attention to the fetal heart rate and be prepared for an urgent delivery–usually by C-section. Failure to properly monitor the mother and baby and to notice signs of a ruptured uterus is negligence. Failure to follow standards of care and to quickly and properly deliver the baby also constitutes negligence. If this negligence leads to cerebral palsy in the baby, it is medical malpractice.

The award-winning attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers have been helping United States families with cerebral palsy and VBAC cases for decades. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts that attest to our success, and we will fight to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve. We will evaluate your case to determine if your newborn suffered injuries due to the negligence of the physician or medical staff, and you never pay any money until we win your case.

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Related Reading: Vaginal Birth After C-Section (VBAC)