Birth Issues in Perinatal Care: Barriers to labor after cesarean: A survey of United States midwives



Despite calls for increased vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), <14% of candidates have VBAC. Requirements for documentation of scar type, and prohibitions on induction or augmentation of labor are not supported by evidence but may be widespread. The purpose of this study was to document midwives’ perceptions of barriers to labor after cesarean (LAC) and their effects on midwives’ ability to accommodate patient desires for LAC.


Midwives certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) were surveyed in 2019. Multiple option and open-ended text responses were analyzed using quantitative statistics and thematic content analysis. Select barriers to LAC, ability to accommodate LAC, and supportiveness of collaborators among midwives offering LAC were explored.


Responses from 1398 midwives were analyzed. Eighty-four percent felt able to accommodate LAC “most of the time,” and 39% reported one or more barriers to LAC. Barriers decreased ability to accommodate LAC by as much as 80%. Analysis of text responses revealed specific themes.


Thirty-nine percent of midwives reported their practice was limited by one or more barriers that were inconsistent with professional guidelines. Imposition of barriers was driven primarily by collaborating physicians, and superceded supportive practices of midwives, nurses, and system administrators. Affected midwives were significantly less able to accommodate patient requests for LAC than those not affected. Midwives also reported pride in providing VBAC care, restrictions specific to midwifery scope of practice, and variation in physician support for LAC within practices affecting their ability to provide care.

An IRB exemption was granted by the University of Illinois, Chicago, October 11, 2018 Protocol #2018-1172.

Funding information:

This grant was supported in part (McFarlin) by the National Institutes of Health (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) through grants UL1TR002003 and 1R01HD089935. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health

First published: 22 April 2022