9 Tips for a Successful VBAC (from a mom who’s had four)
Inside: Want to know how to prepare for a successful VBAC from a mom who’s been there? Get realistic tips from a mom who’s had four.
When I found out I was pregnant for the third time (my second pregnancy ended in a missed miscarriage), I knew right away that I wanted to attempt a VBAC (Vaginal Birth after C-Section).
I absolutely did not want a doctor telling me how many babies I could or couldn’t have.
As confident as I was in my decision, attempting a VBAC was scary and unfamiliar territory for me, and I didn’t want the medical-sounding, “hospital-approved” facts and advice from doctors who had never experienced a VBAC.
What I wanted most at that moment was successful VBAC tips and stories from fellow moms, personal experience and advice from someone who’s been there.
That’s what I offer you.
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. IF YOU LIKE LEGAL JARGON, YOU CAN READ OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY HERE).
Note: If you are debating whether or not to attempt a VBAC in the first place, I wrote this guest post addressing several factors to consider before making a decision.
Hope for a Successful VBAC
My first VBAC, while technically successful, was an extremely difficult and traumatic labor, delivery, and recovery. We came very close to deciding not to have any more children after my second child was born.
But time heals even the worst memories. Thank goodness! How many of us wouldn’t be here today if time hadn’t worked it’s magic on our moms?
I went on to have two more successful VBACs, both of which were easy labors and deliveries (probably made so by my first baby via VBAC, who was 10 lbs. at birth!).
I won’t sugar coat it: VBACs can be extremely difficult. They can actually make you regret attempting a VBAC in the first place.
A successful VBAC can pave the way for more successful VBACs, which makes any challenges from the first VBAC completely worth it.
I am going to share with you my best tips to help you prepare for a successful VBAC. Some of these are what worked for me. Others are tips I wish I’d had before attempting my own VBAC.
These tips will not guarantee success: no one can do that.
Please keep in mind (as I will stress later on), these are tips are advice based on my personal experience, research, and the stories of other women I’ve read or heard personally. I am not a physician. You need to make this decision yourself, and there is no guarantee of success.
As you surely know from your c-section, things don’t always work out the way we plan. Sometimes your body or the baby just don’t cooperate.
Don’t focus on the outcome you cannot control (though the lack of control is SO SO hard). Instead, focus on what you can control – on preparing for your future VBAC as much as possible.
There are things you can do that will increase your chances of a successful VBAC, which is why I’m sharing these tips with you.
Still wondering if a VBAC is the right choice for you? Read this post first.
9 Tips for a Successful VBAC
First, let’s talk tips for the actual VBAC – labor and delivery.
1. Choose a VBAC supportive hospital.
If you pay attention to nothing else in this post, please, please, PLEASE pay attention to this one.
Here’s the thing about hospitals and OB/GYNs: they are NOT all supportive of VBACs, especially the OB/GYNs. You probably also know from your last labor and delivery experience that you are not guaranteed to have your midwife or OB/GYN assigned to you during labor and delivery.
That’s why it’s ESSENTIAL that you choose a hospital that as a whole supports VBAC deliveries. Ask for their marketing materials, ask for testimonials from women who have had successful VBACs at that hospital.
Confirm their stance by talking to the hospital staff and to your own OB/GYN or midwife. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about his/her colleagues, and their stances on VBACs.
If she seems hesitant at all or vague about their support of VBACs, FIND ANOTHER HOSPITAL.
Note: If you are in the Boston area, Mt. Auburn hospital is well-known for their high VBAC success rate. All of my successful VBACs happened there, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with their support and care!
2. Choose a midwife (and a hospital that staffs their labor and delivery ward with midwives at all times).
Please keep in mind that this is based on my personal experience, and advice gathered from my own experience and other birth stories I’ve read and heard personally.
Midwives are more holistic and supportive in their care for pregnant women. They are much more likely to be able to help you optimize your labor for a successful VBAC.
Remember: one major difference between a midwife and an OB/GYN is surgical training. OB/GYNs can cut you open and repair major vaginal tears, which is great if you truly need either of those services.
If you don’t need these services but are still receiving care from an OB/GYN, they are far more likely to choose a c-section, to give up on a labor, and to move delivery to a surgical outcome.
Midwives are more likely to support a successful VBAC.
Keep in mind, however, that your midwife will also need to be connected to a VBAC-supportive hospital and OB/GYN, just in case you do end up needing a repeat c-section.
3. Do NOT avoid going to the hospital as long as possible.
While I was researching this post, I came across another similar article recommending that moms attempting VBACs labor at home as long as possible.
Please don’t do that.
Yes, you don’t want to go to the hospital and twiddle your thumbs for ten hours. I get that. But you also attempting a VBAC, which does have risks for you and your baby.
You NEED the fetal and personal monitoring a hospital will provide.
If you followed the advice in step one and chose a VBAC supportive hospital, you do not need to worry about them pushing you toward another c-section unless it’s medically necessary.
For each of my VBACs, I waited to go in until contractions were steady and somewhat painful. I still labored at the hospital at least twelve hours each time. I still had successful VBACs.
VBACs are amazing, but they do not always end happily.
Follow your midwife’s advice, and be safe.
4. Choose a hospital with bathtubs in the labor rooms, if possible.
Baths were one of the only things that helped me manage labor pains, up until I got an epidural. If you didn’t try using a bath during your first labor, you absolutely need to try it. It will help your body to relax, and ideally, help your labor progress faster.
Normally, I don’t wear a bikini (four kids later, you wouldn’t want to wear one either – kudos to you if you still feel confident enough to wear one!), but you are gonna want to bring one or two to the hospital with you to take advantage of the baths.
These bikini swimsuit shorts look comfortable and should give you a little bit of coverage (plus, they’re cheap!).
If you cannot find a hospital with baths, or your insurance won’t cover one that does have them, try the next tip.
5. Use a birthing ball.
Funny story: when I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I participated in a the hospital tour. One of the women in our group really wanted a birthing ball, I mean really.
She questioned the nurse giving the tour with dogged persistence:
- How many birthing balls are on the labor and delivery floor?
- How many pregnant women are on the floor at a time?
- What if you run out of birthing balls? What happens, then?
The nurse’s answers left this woman unsatisfied apparently. She stated loudly to the rest of us that she would absolutely be buying and bringing her own birthing ball, just in case.
I don’t know what she read that made her cling to the birthing ball like it was her life line, but whatever: to each her own, right?
Well, it wasn’t until I was attempting my first VBAC that I finally acknowledge that crazy birthing ball lady was absolutely right about one thing:
The birthing ball is AMAZING.
There is something about sitting on that ball that helps open up your pelvis. It was just the right height to rest my arms and head on the bed in front of me, and for my husband to give me a back massage.
That lady knew what’s up.
Trust me: buy a birthing ball (this one has great reviews and is super affordable!), or make sure your hospital has one available.
6. Adopt a first-time labor mindset.
Having a VBAC after a c-section is basically like going through your first labor all over again. That sucks, I know.
Statistics show that when you labor during your first VBAC, your labor will likely be as long as a first-time mom’s labor. If you go in with those expectations, anything shorter will be unexpectedly awesome.
7. Be open to an epidural.
All of my labors started in the evening. I got next to no sleep with all of them. This just didn’t work for my body and labor. I tensed up and stopped progressing after a certain point (usually around 5-6 cm).
Having an epidural gave me a break. It allowed me to rest, and then my body naturally progressed to a full 10 cm each and every time.
This was just my experience, but I think it’s important to consider with all the information floating around about epidurals stalling labor. Epidurals sped up my labors, and I believe helped me fight any potential post-partum depression I might have had.
With my first child, I tried for a natural labor and delivery. I held off on getting an epidural and went without sleep for almost two days straight. Looking back, I know now that I had mild undiagnosed PPD, which I’m pretty sure was caused by my lack of sleep.
I sometimes wonder how my first labor would have been different had I gotten an epidural at the same time as the rest of my labors.
8. Find ways to manage pre-VBAC anxiety.
Anxiety about your upcoming VBAC is completely normal. You never experienced a regular delievery, remember? You will have as much anxiety as a first-time mom, and probably more.
When your first attempt at a regular labor and delivery fails, you are afraid it will happen again. You are afraid of trying and failing – again.
Three things helped me say “no” to fear of failure:
- My ability or inability to push a baby out of my vagina does not define me.
- Healthy baby, healthy mom: that’s the goal.
- VBACs are not the only option with risks.
“Repeat cesareans, too, come with serious risks, particularly for someone planning a larger family and thus requiring more cesareans. There’s a higher chance of placental abnormalities…blood loss, infection, and a higher risk of maternal mortality and morbidity” (source).
Here are some ways to manage your anxiety leading up to a VBAC:
- Read books like this one to help you prepare even more
- Counseling, especially to process any feelings of failure and disappointment about your c-section
- Lavender Essential Oil (I haven’t jumped on the essential oils bandwagon yet, but a trusted friend swears by them!)
- Read other women’s VBAC success stories
What not to do? Google “negative VBAC outcomes.”
If you have questions about negative outcomes, ask an OB/GYN.
9. Buy a quality nursing bra to wear during labor.
When you have a VBAC, most hospitals require you to wear a baby monitor constantly. It’s extremely annoying, but necessary to keep tabs on how the baby is handling labor.
The band can get really irritating. It’s also super tempermental (my nurse came constantly to adjust it because slight movements caused it to lose the baby’s heartbeat).
One way to keep that monitor happy is to wear a nursing bra during labor. T-shirts are more likely to brush against it.
And can we just stop for a minute and ask, “Why on earth is it so freaking hard to design a comfortable nursing bra, and for that matter, one that doesn’t get deformed every time you need to unlatch it to actually, you know, nurse (the whole point of a NURSING BRA)?!” Are men designing these bras? Women who have never given birth or nursed?
Now that I got that rant out of the way, this bra looks like the most comfortable nursing bra ever. This mom of four raves about it!
I’ve worn this bra throughout pregnancy and now have used it for nursing for 9 months and I love it! It is so comfortable. For me underwires and the structural support wires in the sides of bras become extremely uncomfortable during pregnancy and while nursing. I have gone through many nursing bras with 4 children and this is hands down my FAVORITE!”
When I got cold during labor, I put on a thin robe – one I bought specifically for labor with my first pregnancy (I ended up using that same robe during all my labor and hospital stays, and not much else).
The bikini I mentioned earlier would have been the best thing for baths. I ended up wearing a wet and sticky bra and underwear instead. (I really wish I’d had the bikini, instead.)
3 Things You’ll Need After a Successful VBAC
If this is your first VBAC, recovery will look pretty different from your c-section(s).
Trust me: you’re gonna need these.
1. Numbing Spray
Oh, if only I knew about this spray after my first VBAC. I didn’t really need it after babies number three and four, but I really, really needed it after baby number two. With an almost fourth degree tear, it hurt down there like nothing on my body has ever hurt before.
This numbing spray would have made things like sitting down, and pretty much everything else, easier.
2. Sitz Bath Supplies
You will also need epsom salts. The hospital will probably provide you with a peri bottle and sitz bath seat.
3. KY, for…you know.
I’m going to be very vulnerable and real with you right now. After my VBAC, sex hurt so much I cried. Sobbed, actually.
Sex didn’t stop hurting for several more months after that.
My midwife also advised me to work on regularly rubbing my scar tissue to try to break it down, with the hope of sex eventually being less painful.
What You Need to Remember about VBACs
I know you’re hoping and praying for a successful VBAC. That’s why you read this far.
What you need to remember most is that whatever happens, you and your baby being healthy is the most important thing.
Sometimes, you do everything you can and still don’t end up with the outcome you want.
Some women won’t have successful VBACs. They just won’t.
That’s so hard to accept, I know, but all you can do is try.
Use these tips to help you prepare the best you can, and then, go for it! Whatever your reasons for attempting a VBAC, I hope you have a successful outcome (or several) like I did.
Disclaimer: I am not a physician. This is advice given from my own personal experience. Please do your own research carefully, and consult your midwife/OB/GYN to make the best medical decisions for you and your baby.