Trial of Labor after Cesarean (TOLAC)

In 2016, the US cesarean delivery rate was 31.9%. With ever increasing volumes of cesarean delivery, TOLAC has become a popular option for patients desiring vaginal delivery. On today’s episode, we examine TOLAC and share some counseling pointers in thinking about your patient. ACOG PB 205 is the requisite reading for the topic.

While there are no RCTs comparing TOLAC to planned cesarean, the relative benefits are easy to see: there is less recovery time, the patient avoids major surgery, and the potential sequelae of complications from major surgery — worsened bleeding, more opportunity for infection, more risk of complications requiring additional procedures. However, TOLAC is not without risk. We primarily counsel with respect to uterine rupture. Evaluations of “rupture” though have varied in the literature; it’s important to keep a discerning eye, as what is classified as rupture in some series is very different than what is in others. ACOG suggests the rate of uterine rupture in a patient with one low transverse cesarean delivery is around 0.5 - 0.9 %. Otherwise, maternal risks are fairly equal. Neonatal risks are also considered fairly equal, though with some increased risk associated with TOLAC.



We can think about patients who should be counseled against TOLAC:

  • Those at high risk of uterine rupture: ie. those with classic uterine incision, T-incision, prior uterine rupture, or extensive prior uterine fundal surgery like a myomectomy.

  • Women who are not otherwise candidates to have vaginal deliveries: ie. previa.

  • Women who desire homebirth: While ACOG does not definitely say that you cannot TOLAC in this instance, if you don’t access to emergency cesarean delivery, it is recommended that these patients have a discussion regarding the hospitals resources and possibly referral to a hospital that does have access to emergency cesarean delivery.

We can also consider patients for whom there may be a question of whether TOLAC is appropriate:

  • Low vertical incision? 

    1. Few studies, but those that have looked at them have shown similar rates of vaginal deliveries as low transverse. Can consider TOLAC!

  • Twins? 

    1. Studies show similar rates of successful VBAC in twins as in singleton gestations 

  • Obesity 

    1. Unfortunately, higher BMI seems to have an inverse relationship with success of VBAC. 85% of normal weight women achieve VBAC while only 65% of morbidly obese women do. However, morbidly obese women also can have more complications with an elective repeat cesarean, so counseling should be individualized

  • Induction and augmentation of labor 

    1. Mechanical dilation can be used - ie. cervical foley 

    2. Misoprostol has been shown to have increased risk of uterine rupture, so should not be used in term patients who have had c/s or other major uterine surgery for induction 

    3. However, in women undergoing second trimester labor inductions (ie. for missed abortion, induction of labor for stillbirths), use of prostaglandins have shown similar results in women who have had scars on their uterus and those without; so these women can still have prostaglandins, especially because no fetal considerations 

  • What if they’ve had a uterine rupture? 

    • If the site of rupture or dehiscence is in the lower part of the uterus, their risk of uterine rupture in labor is 6%. If it is in the upper segment of the uterus, the rate of dehiscence in labor is up to 32%. While there is no high quality data to guide this, recommendations are generally for subsequent pregnancies to be delivered by cesarean between 36-37 weeks.

Counseling should be individualized, and the MFMU has excellent calculators to help guide you and your patients to a decision about TOLAC:

(not in labor)

(at admission)