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BACKGROUND: The global rise in cesarean sections has led to increasing numbers of pregnant women with a history of previous cesarean section. Policy in many high-income settings supports offering these women a choice between planned elective repeat cesarean section (ERCS) or planned vaginal birth after previous cesarean (VBAC), in the absence of contraindications to VBAC. Despite the potential for this choice to affect women's subsequent risk of experiencing pelvic floor disorders, evidence on the associated effects to fully counsel women is lacking. This study investigated the association between planned mode of birth after previous cesarean section and the woman's subsequent risk of undergoing pelvic floor surgery. METHODS AND FINDINGS: A population-based cohort study of 47,414 singleton term births in Scotland between 1983 to 1996 to women with 1 or more previous cesarean sections was conducted using linked Scottish national routine datasets. Cox regression was used to investigate the association between planned as well as actual mode of birth and women's subsequent risk of having any pelvic floor surgery and specific types of pelvic floor surgery adjusted for sociodemographic, maternal medical, and obstetric-related factors. Over a median of 22.1 years of follow-up, 1,159 (2.44%) of the study population had pelvic floor surgery. The crude incidence rate of any pelvic floor surgery per 1,000 person-years was 1.35, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.27 to 1.43 in the overall study population, 1.75, 95% CI 1.64 to 1.86 in the planned VBAC group and 0.66, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.75 in the ERCS group. Planned VBAC compared to ERCS was associated with a greater than 2-fold increased risk of the woman undergoing any pelvic floor surgery (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 2.38, 95% CI 2.03 to 2.80, p < 0.001) and a 2- to 3-fold increased risk of the woman having surgery for pelvic organ prolapse or urinary incontinence (aHR 3.17, 95% CI 2.47 to 4.09, p < 0.001 and aHR 2.26, 95% CI 1.79 to 2.84, p < 0.001, respectively). Analysis by actual mode of birth showed these increased risks were only apparent in the women who actually had a VBAC, with the women who needed an in-labor non-elective repeat cesarean section having a comparable risk of pelvic floor surgery to those who had an ERCS. The main limitation of this study is the potential for misclassification bias. CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that among women with previous cesarean section giving birth to a singleton at term, planned VBAC compared to ERCS is associated with an increased risk of the woman subsequently undergoing pelvic floor surgery including surgery for pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. However, these risks appear to be only apparent in women who actually give birth vaginally as planned, highlighting the role of vaginal birth rather than labor in pelvic floor dysfunction requiring surgery. The findings provide useful additional information to counsel women with previous cesarean section about the risks and benefits associated with their future birth choices.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS Med

Publication Date





Female, Pregnancy, Humans, Pelvic Floor, Cesarean Section, Cohort Studies, Pelvic Organ Prolapse, Urinary Incontinence