Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Road to a VBAC

This post is about my pregnancy and birth of my second son, so a bit off topic from my normal posts. But it is truly one of my delights.

I’ve had several people ask me about some of the things I did to prepare for the birth of our second child. I had an unplanned c-section after 37 hours of labor with my first and wanted to do everything possible to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) this time around. One of the best things that helped me achieve this was finding the WISDOM Midwifery Practice at George Washington University hospital, with Whitney Pinger, Laura Emmons, Nora Fisher, and Marsha Stalcup. They supported me throughout my pregnancy both mentally and physically and told me the whole time that I should trust my body since it knows what to do. Some specific recommendations they gave me to maintain optimal health throughout my pregnancy and prepare for labor and delivery include the following:

  1. I was on a very strict diet to achieve optimal nutrition and as Whitney says, “to grow an appropriately sized baby.” My first son was 8 lbs 4 oz when he was born, and usually second children are bigger than the first. Though not everything was in my control, the goal was to have a baby in the 7-7.5 lb range. My second son was 7 lbs 1 oz. Here are the WISDOM dietary guidelines. The hardest part for me was converting to all whole grains (no white bread, white flour, or white rice) and eliminating all refined sugars. I loved being able to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I felt great during this pregnancy compared to my first (essentially no heartburn, no cravings, and wasn’t feeling ravenous all the time), and I give a lot of credit to the diet.
    Whitney also kept emphasizing to drink lots and lots of water, and eat red grapes, the pith of oranges, and the membrane from the inside of hard boiled eggs (I didn’t eat eggs because of my oldest son’s allergies). If I remember correctly, these last recommendations help build a strong umbilical cord which should help decrease chances of heart rate decelerations during labor and contractions (I experienced decelerations a lot with my first labor).
  2. I was told to exercise in fresh air for 30-60 minutes every day. This meant getting my heart rate up and breathing hard, not just strolling around the neighborhood. In addition to keeping me healthy, exercising was preparing me for labor.
  3. I was told to rest when I was tired. This was sometimes hard to achieve, especially in the first trimester when I was tired all the time and was chasing after my then 18 month old. I made napping a priority and started tried to sleep most days when my son went down. Luckily, he’s a good napper and would usually sleep 3 hours a day, giving me a chance to also rest.
  4. I was told to drink two glasses a day of red raspberry leaf tea from the beginning of my pregnancy to help tone my uterus and make the contractions more effective when they began and I think they mentioned it helps the uterus return to its original size more quickly postpartum (and prevent hemorrhaging). This is also something that’s recommended by other practices later in pregnancy as a natural induction method, so it could be contributing in that respect, as well. I bought organic red raspberry leaves off Amazon in bulk and had plenty for my entire pregnancy (and more still to go!). I was told to boil water and let the tea steep for 6 hours.
  5. From my 36th week on, I was told to take 2 evening primrose oil pills 3 times each day to help soften the cervix. This is another frequently recommended method for helping induce labor naturally.
  6. It was recommended that I take a childbirth class and have a doula for the birth. I had taken a Bradley Childbirth class with my first pregnancy, so I used that knowledge again for this pregnancy and birth. And we loved our doula, Mary Beth Harris, from the first birth, and luckily she was available for us to use again.

Beyond those things, I was told to trust that labor would begin, expect it to begin after my due date (meaning not to get anxious when I saw my due date pass), and trust that my body would do what it was intended to do. My first son was born at 41 weeks and 1 day. My second son was born at 38 weeks and 4 days. After being induced the first time, I had such a hard time believing that my body would go into labor, so much so that as we were driving to the hospital, I told my husband I couldn’t believe I was actually in labor (and my son was born less than 3 hours later).

I am thankful that Whitney Pinger began her practice at GWU hospital when she did and that she was accepting VBACs by the time I was pregnant. Without her, I believe it would have been an uphill battle to have a VBAC, but instead it was an amazing experience where I felt supported the entire 9 months of pregnancy, through and after the moment when Nora placed my son on my chest. After my delivery, when I saw or spoke to each of the midwives, they all congratulated me on the VBAC, and I could tell from their faces and voices that they were genuinely thrilled that I was able to achieve it.


  1. Excellent, Jessica! Excellent!