This week I am in Amsterdam, attending the First Amsterdam Breech Conference, Teach the Breech! I’ve been tweeting along, with #teachthebreech. If you aren’t on Twitter, you can catch up below. Also check out Rixa Freeze’s blog, Stand and Deliver, for more detailed summaries of the conference activities.
So pleased to receive news via Twitter that physiological breech birth skills are being taught in Bangladesh! Tanya (@midwifeinbd) is doing a wonderful job collaborating with obstetric colleagues to change the way breech is taught and enable active breech birth.
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 1, 2016
Integrated training in Bangladesh: a midwifery teacher, a doctor & the Labour Room manager/nurse. pic.twitter.com/QbHsji1Ki6
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 1, 2016
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 1, 2016
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 1, 2016
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 1, 2016
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 2, 2016
— Tanya (@midwifeinBD) June 10, 2016
Videos used in the training described above include The mechanisms, simplified, The Birth of Leliana and Shoulder Press and Gluteal Lift. You can read about ‘prayer hands‘ in this blog about assisting the birth of the arms.
Thank you once again to the mothers, midwives and doctors who have shared videos and birth images to enable health care practitioners all over the world learn these important skills.
Jessica’s baby remained persistently breech at term, and she was unable to find a provider in South Carolina to facilitate a vaginal breech birth. When she attempted to decline a CS and negotiate a vaginal birth, she was informed that if she came into the hospital in labour, she would be given general anaesthesia and her CS would be ‘a lot rougher.’ (Folks, the ACOG published something just for you: Committee Opinion No. 664: Refusal of Medically Recommended Treatment During Pregnancy.)
This was Jessica’s first baby, in a frank breech position (extended legs), with no additional complexities. Her sister, Family Practice Doctor Jacqueline Sequoia MD, heard about Dr David Hayes and Harvest Moon Women’s Health because they were hosting my physiological breech birth training. Jacqueline includes obstetrics as part of her practice and booked to attend the workshop with some colleagues. Jessica and her husband Brian met with Dr Hayes to consider their options, and once Jessica made her decision, found a rental apartment in Asheville on Craigslist.
Let’s contemplate that for a moment. In order to have support for a physiological birth, rather than the threat of a coerced CS, women are having to relocate to another state and rent temporary accommodation, because the baby is presenting breech.
When Dr Hayes and I arrived at Jessica and Brian’s apartment, Jessica’s labour appeared to be progressing well. As people entered her space, Jessica gradually moved into the tiny bathroom at the back of the apartment, reminding me of Tricia Anderson’s metaphor of cats in labour. I turned off the light. This labour had a journey, as all labours have. Throughout her journey, Jessica was surrounded by people who love her. At the end of it, Jessica beautifully and instinctively birthed her little girl, Leliana, who weighed 7lbs 8oz.
This video contains graphic images of a vaginal breech birth.
Being attuned to the general lack of training in physiological breech birth among health professionals, and the consequences for women and babies, Jessica and Brian were keen to share this video of Leliana’s birth to help others learn. If you would like to read more about the minimally invasive manoeuvres used at the end of this birth, you can read our blog on Shoulder Press and Gluteal Lift.
Thank you, Jessica, Brian, Leliana, Dr Sequoia and Dr Hayes for sharing this video. The link to this blog post can be shared, but the video cannot be downloaded or reproduced without permission.
— JacquelineSequoia MD (@jsequoia) May 28, 2016
Following Sunday’s workshop in Asheville, Dad and I drove to Atlanta, Georgia. I kept him content by taking him out to dinner and buying him a pint of Shock Top. This strategy was successful, and the next morning we arrived at DeKalb Medical, home of the truly wonderful and amazing SeeBaby team. An opportunity to meet one of my obstetric heroes, Dr Brad Bootstaylor!
Dr Bootstaylor set the tone of this half-day study day by describing the facilitation of breech birth as a “healing force that goes beyond that mother and that birth.” This philosophy, or as Dr Bootstaylor describes it, “a certain headspace,” clearly permeates the See Baby team. SeeBaby Midwifery is dedicated to providing options and support to women and families in this birth community. Patients travel near and far, for birth options such as Water Birth, VBAC, Vaginal Twin Birth and of course, Vaginal Breech Birth (singleton & twin pregnancies).
We were also joined by Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) Charlotte Sanchez, another breech-experienced midwife in this community, who shared valuable reflections on some of the births she has attended. Charlotte also teaches other health professionals about the safe facilitation of breech births. Hopefully we will cross paths again soon. Thank you for coming along, Charlotte!
My presentations included the mechanisms of breech birth — the key to understanding when intervention is needed in physiological breech birth — and active strategies for resolving complicated breech births, as well as ‘Save the Baby’ simulations, where participants resolve complications in real time with birth videos.
Following this, the See Baby midwifery team and Dr Bootstaylor led a panel discussion on ways forward for breech in Atlanta and surrounding areas. CNM Anjli Hinman identified one barrier as insurance company’s requirement that providers sign a statement saying that they are ‘experienced’ at vaginal breech birth in order to offer this service. However, ‘experienced’ remains undefined. This is a persistent problem. Our international consensus research suggest competence to facilitate breech births autonomously probably occurs at around 10-13 breech births attended, although this varies according to individual providers, the circumstances in which they work and the complications they encounter during this period.
Following the workshop, participants took a tour of the SeeBaby facilities at DeKalb. I would have liked to have joined them, but I had a message from Dr David Hayes in Asheville. Jessica’s waters had broken, and her breech baby was on the way. Because he is the best dad in the world*, my old man turned the car around and drove me 3 and a half hours back to Asheville. (* Don’t tell him I said this. He’s already big- and bald-headed enough.)
Tomorrow: We return to Asheville for the birth of Leliana …
Thank you to Tomecas Gibson Thomas for use of some of the photos she took during the workshop!
Taking breech training into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina …
We had to make a pit stop at a Motel 6 around 11 pm, but my Dad and I arrived in Asheville in time to have grits for breakfast. Asheville is an amazing town with a real ‘alternative’ feel about it, so I was anticipating a very receptive crowd. Already, what was supposed to be one study day on Sunday turned into two, as more doctors wanted to attend but it was already fully booked.
So at Harvest Moon Woman’s Health we had a 4-hour condensed training on Saturday, attended by one board-certified obstetrician, one resident at a local hospital, two family practice doctors from South Carolina, and a handful of midwives. This was followed by the full-day training on Sunday with midwives who came from as far as Tennessee and Virginia. With 39% of the respondents (across all of the six training days) indicating they had NEVER had any training in vaginal breech birth, the need and demand for such training was very strong.
We again discussed the subtle difference between these two ways of performing the manoeuvre often referred to as Frank’s Nudge:
- Sub-clavicular pressure and bringing the shoulders forward to flex an extended head
- Pressure in the sub-clavicular space, triggering the head to flex
- (Walker et al 2016)
The first of these involves rotating the shoulders forward, as described by Louwen and Evans (Evans 2012), minimally lifting the baby, and initiating flexion in the thoracic and cervical spine. This action is often performed with a rocking motion, nudging the aftercoming head around the pubic bone, mimicking the way a head is normally born, in reverse. Mary Cronk used a ‘stuck drawer’ metaphor to describe why rocking rather than steady pressure is sometimes more effective. Participants felt that the description ‘shoulder press‘ is effective for communicating the simpler manoeuvre (#2), where the head has stopped at the outlet of the pelvis. South Carolina Midwife Gayling Fox then suggested the term rock’n’roll manoeuvre for the other skill (#1), more useful where the dystocia has occurred at higher levels of the pelvis. Only in Asheville! I have to admit, the phrase is both fun and functional …
The law of ‘attracting breeches’ was in full swing in the mountains, as OB-GYN Dr David Hayes reported having received multiple enquiries from women seeking support for a vaginal breech birth, just from having hosted this training. In addition to being a sensitive and woman-centred obstetrician, David is an experienced breech catcher, having worked in both high-risk Western settings and abroad with Medecins Sans Frontiers. While he was open to physiological breech methods due to his familiarity with physiological birth in general, he had never attended a breech where the woman birthed in an upright position.
One of the women who contacted him was full-term with her first baby in a frank breech position (both legs extended). David asked if I would attend to support the birth in a teaching capacity, if available. Although we still had a couple more stops on the road trip, I tend to believe what will be, will be … if the stars align in just the right way … I said, Yes!
Tomorrow: Last stop: Atlanta. Or so we thought …
Evans J. Understanding physiological breech birth. Essentially MIDIRS. 2012;3(2):17–21. (Frank’s Nudge)
Walker S (2015) Turning breech upside down: upright breech birth. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, 25(3), p325-330. (shoulder press)
Walker S, Scamell M, Parker P (2016) Standards for maternity care professionals attending planned upright breech births. Midwifery. Vol 34, p1-7. (using subclavicular pressure to flex the aftercoming head)
— JacquelineSequoia MD (@jsequoia) May 28, 2016
Onto the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love …
The original plan was to provide one Philadelphia-based study day while I was in town for the 20-year reunion of the Kelly Writers House, and the showing of our film on ‘Upright breech birth’ at the ACOG Annual Meeting. If being-with-breech teaches you anything, it is to go with the flow, as things rarely unfold as expected. The two main events conflicted, and the original study day was fully booked within a week or two of the listing. The demand for breech training spread quickly north and south, from Montreal to Atlanta. Clearly, many in North America are keen to develop skills and change the current breech culture.
Finally, the obstetricians join us! (They are always invited.) I was so pleased that three board-certified obstetricians attended this training. This is a big deal in Philly, one of the largest cities in America, where the midwives were unable to identify a single hospital-based practice where they can refer women who want to explore a vaginal breech birth. Big journeys begin with small steps.
Although I have been reassured that every evaluation of this training indicates those attending increase their confidence in supine/lithotomy breech delivery as well as upright techniques, I sometimes worry that our physiological birth-based approach might alienate doctors who work in settings where 90% of women have epidurals in labour. But I guess midwives who work in out-of-hospital settings have felt the same way for years, as their training has been determined by obstetricians whose challenges and location-specific resources are very different. We had great discussions, and there feels a real potential for future collaborative working in this area. (And of course I am wondering if the law of ‘attracting breeches‘ will take effect … ) 😉
The Philadelphia training was hosted by Lifecycle WomanCare, and organised by their Clinical Director, CNM Julie Cristol, who also has a passion for helping others to develop their physiological birth skills for normal birth. Thank you, Julie! Their practice is located in a beautiful building, right next to the original Bryn Mawr Birth Centre. I was so pleased to be able to have a brief tour of their home.
In Philly, we had a 3-hour half-day event because that is what fit everyone’s schedules this time around. Unfortunately, my old friend Christy Santoro was unable to attend because she was at a birth! See you next time, Christy. I enjoyed making new acquaintances and hope to see the Lifecycle crowd again. Didn’t get time to take many pictures because we spent our limited time together talking breech and research, then Dad and I departed for our 9-hour drive to Asheville! Epic …
Tomorrow: We arrive in Asheville to teach breech in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina …
From Montreal, it was on to Tillsonburg, Ontario, ‘near Toronto’ — because in Canadian terms, within 3 hours is ‘near.’ The places around Tillsonburg are confusingly called things like London, Norwich, and Cambridge. The lovely Norfolk Roots Midwifery team gave me one of their bags to remember my visit. Can’t wait to take it back to Norfolk, England with me!
Again, the training was attended by midwives who came from various places throughout Canada and the US, including Alberta, British Columbia and Michigan, south of the border. I was privileged to meet Stacia Proefrock, a breech-experienced midwife from south-central Michigan. In addition to attending breech births, Stacia has experience teaching others about physiological breech birth and is the current president of the Michigan Midwives Association – a great person to be in touch with if you would like to organise a study day of your own in this area.
While in Ontario, I picked up a Deverra birth stool for use in teaching and births. The stool is visible in the photo to the right. I love their design, which features a wooden seat and 360º visibility. The Deverra birth stool is also completely portable; the legs unscrew and it comes in its own carry bag. When professionals are making the transition to active breech birth but can’t quite wrap their heads around facilitating a breech birth from behind the woman, I often recommend a birth stool as a good compromise — the woman remains mobile and upright, while the baby emerges facing a direction familiar to the attendant. While other birth stools are available, I am quite happy with this one, another reminder of my trip to Ontario!
At the end of each study day, we spend some time discussing how professionals acquire breech experience when breech births are not very common, including the concept of ‘attracting breeches,’ emerging in my current research. I know several of those attending this study day have sharpened their skills, reflected on the experiences they have already had, and are open to attracting breeches, so I look forward to seeing what happens among this group. Of course, in Ontario, activists have a great model in the Ottawa-based Coalition for Breech Birth and Midwife Dr Betty-Anne Daviss, who have worked together to enable midwife-facilitated breech births in hospitals in that area. Join forces with each other and work together for change!
The training was held in the house of author, speaker and birth activist Sheila Stubbs, who holds regular Birth Nerd gatherings in her home. The warmth and sisterhood in this community was very strong, and Sheila reminded me of Norwich’s beloved doula mother, Rachel Graveling. Thankfully, Sheila gave me a signed copy of her book for the Norwich Birth Group lending library.
Thanks also to Christine McGillis, who organised this training in Tillsonburg. ❤️
Tomorrow: On to Philadelphia, and the start of my Father-Daughter road trip!
Earlier this month (May 2016), I completed a road trip from Montreal to Atlanta to share the results of our international consensus research (Walker et al 2016), explain how it can be used to guide practice and education, and deliver physiological breech birth training based on that research to approximately 130 health professionals and other birth workers.
The goal was to enable these professionals to learn new skills, equip them to continue learning using an on-line Virtual Community of Practice, and empower them to disseminate the knowledge to others in their local communities. I met so many wonderful people, and feel confident they will work to extend the availability of skilled support for planned vaginal birth. I am going to tell the story of this amazing road trip in a blog mini-series. I hope you will join us … there is a special surprise at the end! 😉
The first workshop was attended by Certified Midwives from Quebec, Ontario, Maine, and Massachusetts, as well as doulas and CPMs from these communities. In Quebec, midwives work mostly in community settings and are not legally able to attend breech births except in emergencies (undiagnosed). However, some of the midwives have begun to work with obstetricians who will accept planned breech births, and they are working towards woman-centred, physiological care for these women. They also want to ensure emergency skills training is up-to-date, including physiologically-based strategies appropriate to midwifery-led settings.
As physiological breech birth gradually becomes the standard of practice, especially for midwives, breech skills will increasingly be taught by trainers who may or may not have much breech clinical experience themselves, much like they are now. It is therefore important that trainers be able to become ‘qualified’ to teach physiological breech methods, in the same way they teach supine-based emergency delivery techniques, and that they are teaching methods underpinned by research and consensus. Several skills trainers from throughout Quebec attended the workshop, and by using the resources made available, hope to disseminate the training to others in their local communities. I especially enjoyed meeting Sinclair Harris, the grandmother of this midwifery community, who has nurtured so many young midwives and is still actively teaching. Sinclair completed her RN training at St Mary’s in London. ❤️
Anyone in Quebec interested in receiving training
in the facilitation of physiological breech births —
contact Andrea Houle, the RSFQ Agente de Formation.
(contact form below)
The midwives told me that use of ‘prayer hands’ in rotational manoeuvres to release the arms struck a chord with them. The shoulder press manoeuvre also made sense, but some midwives felt that the two disctint versions of this manoeuvre needed independent descriptive terms, to capture subtly different techniques which are applicable in various circumstances. This cluster of manoeuvres have been taught as “Frank’s Nudge,” in honour of Frankfurt obstetrician Professor Frank Louwen. But because research indicates eponyms (named after people rather than descriptive terms) can lead to confusion and inadequate documentation, we try to use a description which ‘does what it says on the tin’ in the Breech Birth Network training, and we continually listen to feedback about what works to help novices learn breech better. More on the distinction between these manoeuvres coming up in a future blog …
Following the workshop, midwife Bronwen Agnew was kind enough to take me on a tour of the Maison de naissance, Côte-des-Neiges. This local birth centre is housed in a wonderful old rectory building, complete with wooden floors. It reminded me of my grandmother’s house, warm and simple. A beautiful place to give birth! Thank you, Bronwen.
The Montreal workshop was organised by Montreal doula and CPM, Rivka Cymbalist, and held at Studio L’équilibre en mouvement, ave Van Horne, a wonderful venue. We also enjoyed lunch at Rivka’s cafe, Caffe della Pace. Thank you, Rivka and family for your hospitality! If you are ever in Montreal, I also recommend relaxing at La Société Textile, a crafts shop / café where you pay by the hour to hang out, work on your knitting/sewing project, and drink unlimited tea from the kitchen. What more could a midwife ask for?
The current plan is to provide a 2-day breech train-the-trainers course in Toronto in late July / early August 2017, involving myself and some of the midwives who have taken the training this year and will be disseminating the skills in their communities. This is due to abundant feedback from the participants that they would like the training to be longer to allow for more discussion, reflection, fellowship and hands-on practice — of course we support all of the above! Follow this blog or the Breech Birth Network Facebook page to keep updated on our plans.
Tomorrow: Join us as we travel to Tillsonburg, Ontario!
Busy packing … leaving London for the US on Friday. Originally, I planned to attend the celebration of 20 Years of the Kelly Writers House and my college reunion at Penn, as well as the annual ACOG meeting where our film on upright breech birth is being shown, followed by a family wedding. But it turns out the first two conflicted, so instead I will be spending half of my holiday teaching breech in collaboration with other health professionals along the east coast of the US and Canada. With ‘renewed interest’ in vaginal breech birth from the ACOG, and Canadian SOGC guidelines fully supporting planned breech birth since 2009, the will to revive breech skills is in full swing in North America!
Some of the health professionals and birth activists collaborating to provide breech training in their communities include:
- Atlanta, Georgia – See Baby Midwifery is dedicated to providing options and support to women and families in the birth community. Patients travel near and far, for birth options such as Water Birth, VBAC, Vaginal Twin Birth and of course, Vaginal Breech Birth (singleton & twin pregnancies). The SeeBaby Team will lead a panel discussion on ways forward in the support of vaginal breech birth, and Dr Brad Bootstaylor is collaborating on the analysis of the evaluation data from this series of training days. (Places available.)
- Asheville, North Carolina – This is a community which values co-operation, and the study days here have been organised collaboratively by obstetricians, CNMs, CPMs and doulas. Dr David Hayes of Harvest Moon Women’s Health is also contributing to the analysis of the evaluation data. Thanks especially to Kathleen Davies and Jennifer White.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Thank you to Julie Cristol, CNM, of Lifecycle WomanCare for enabling this workshop.
- Tillsonburg, Ontario – Thank you to Christine McGillis and Sheila Stubbs for making this workshop happen in Ontario.
- Montreal, Quebec – Thank you to Rivka Cymbalist for organising this workshop and raising awareness of the need to increase vaginal breech birth options in this community. (Places available.)
This is a brief welcome message for those attending the Physiological Breech workshops.
The training provided by Breech Birth Network is different from obstetric emergencies training because it is based on physiological birth principles, including the importance of maternal movement in facilitating the birth process. Decisions on when or whether to intervene in a breech birth are determined by careful observation of the unfolding mechanisms, recognition of deviations from the norm and strategies to restore the mechanism. These strategies include maternal movements, as well as hands-on help from birth professionals. In Breech Birth Network training, which follows recommendations outlined in primary research with experienced professionals, birth videos are central resources, enabling both experienced and inexperienced professionals to develop and expand their pattern recognition skills, even in communities where actual breech births remain a rarity. Therefore, the training is supplemented by secure access to the resources and videos, which cannot be downloaded, but can be used to refresh training by those who attend the hands-on workshops when preparing for a birth within their local teams — the Virtual Community of Practice (VCOP).
Thank you to the women, midwives and obstetricians who have made this possible in order to increase the safety of breech birth for others.
Training programmes are often evaluated according to Kirkpatrick’s hierarchy, which has 4 levels:
Thorough evaluations of breech birth training packages are lacking. Evaluating impact of training on maternal/neonatal outcomes is a longer-term project, easier to achieve when considering the effect of training within one site, rather than professionals working in many different contexts; we have plans to begin such a project later in the year. However, for this series of study days in North America, we are collecting data on how many breech births those participating have attended in the year before and after training (change in behaviour), as well as changes in confidence levels before and after training (change in learning).
Those attending these training days include obstetricians, CNMs, CPMs, students, and birth activists keen to support cultural change in their communities. The results of the evaluation will help us to determine whether providing breech birth training based on conceptual understanding of physiological principles, within a community of practice/network learning model, will increase women’s access to the option of vaginal breech birth by increasing provider confidence and skills to provide this service.
The evaluation data will also contribute to answering two fundamental questions, which will require on-going research in the future:
- How can vaginal breech birth skills be revived within communities which have few or no experienced providers?
- How does training based on physiological principles impact the safety of breech birth for mothers and neonates?
Thank you to all the health professionals participating in this training and evaluation. I am looking forward to meeting you and learning from your communities!
P.S. Of course, we aren’t the only source of physiological breech birth training. Others include:
- Maggie Banks’ Breech Birth On-line Workshop
- Midwifery Today Conferences almost always include a full-day breech skills day facilitated by highly breech-experienced midwives
We advocate that all professionals including breech within their sphere of practice access breech training from multiple providers, consider the underlying principles and how they fit with your own understanding and experiences of birth, and maintain an open mind.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is consulting the public on the proposed new breech guideline, until 2 May, which is Monday. Read the guideline: Here. They accept one peer review per organisation, so I will collate any comments sent to me personally or posted here on Monday afternoon, and submit them for Breech Birth Network. – Shawn
It’s not every day you get to watch a sea otter pup come into the world! But when a pregnant wild otter took shelter in our Great Tide Pool Saturday, we had a unique opportunity to see it happen. Sea otters can give birth in water or on land. You’ll notice that mom starts grooming her pup right away to help it stay warm and buoyant—a well-groomed sea otter pup is so buoyant it’s practically unsinkable! For more video of the birth (spoiler alert: the miracle of life is graphic!) check out our YouTube channel: http://mbayaq.co/1R0v6oD . Besides keeping the pup afloat, grooming also helps get the blood flowing and other internal systems revved up for a career of chomping on invertebrates and keeping nearshore ecosystems, like the kelp forests in Monterey Bay, and the eel grass at Elkhorn Slough, healthy.Our sea otter researchers have been watching wild otters for years and have never seen a birth close up like this. We’re amazed and awed to have had a chance to witness this Monterey Bay conservation success story first hand in our own backyard. Welcome to the world, little otter!
Posted by Monterey Bay Aquarium on Sunday, 6 March 2016
This Tuesday, 1 March 2016, Breech Birth Network travelled to Portsmouth again. The guest speaker was lovely doctor Ms Arti Matah, who spoke about an obstetrician’s view of vaginal breech birth, and led a lively discussion around whether the breech team / care pathway model might work for Portsmouth. Watch this space! I am incredibly impressed with the commitment Portsmouth midwives have shown to developing sound breech skills to support women who choose to birth their breech babies actively.
The skill which captured the group’s imagination most was how to resolve a situation where the head is extended and impacted at the inlet of the pelvis. My research suggests that identification of optimal mechanisms is a core skill for practitioners attending breech births. Therefore our approach to teaching this skill is:
- Identification of optimal mechanism — The aftercoming fetal head normally rotates to the oblique/transverse diameter as it enters the pelvic brim, just like the cephalic-presentation head does when engaging.
- Identification of deviation from optimal mechanism — In this complication, the fetal head is pinned in the anterior-posterior diameter, with occiput anterior, over the maternal symphysis publis, and chin or brow on the sacral promontory. The bottom of the fetal chin is felt like a ‘bird beak,’ pointing towards the sacrum. The maxilla bones are difficult/impossible to reach, so flexing the head using the usual techniques will be a challenge.
- Restore the mechanism — See below.
The RCOG guideline suggests delayed engagement in the pelvis of the aftercoming head should be managed using one or both of the following techniques:
Suprapubic pressure by an assistant should be used to assist flexion of the head. Given our understanding of the head as impacted at the pelvic brim and our goal of restoring the mechanism by rotating the head to assist engagement, we suggest that the goal of suprapubic pressure should initially be to encourage this rotation. This mirrors the understanding we have of suprapubic pressure to resolve a shoulder dystocia by rotating the impacted shoulder off the symphysis pubis. Forcible pressure on an impacted fetal head is unlikely to be beneficial for the baby.
The Mauriceau-Smellie-Veit manoeuvre should be considered, if necessary, displacing the head upwards and rotating to the oblique to facilitate engagement. We use a doll and pelvis to explore why this elevation and rotation prior to re-attempting flexion is necessary. Watch the video below to see this demonstrated.
When a woman is birthing her breech baby actively, we facilitate the head to enter the pelvis using the same principles. Watch the video below, where Midwife Olivia Armshaw is teaching how to intervene in the case of an extended head at the inlet, when the woman is birthing on hands/knees. In this video, the midwives are discussing how maternal movement – in this case, the woman shuffling her bottom back towards the midwife slightly – helps to elevate the head off the pelvic inlet to facilitate engagement, a technique we learned from the midwives of Sheffield. The principles – elevate, rotate & flex the head – are the same.
Thank you to the Practice Development Team at Portsmouth for organising the day. And thanks to the following midwives for assisting with the day:
- Claire Reading, midwife in Somerset, who shared her breech experience gained working abroad, and facilitated one of the hands-on stations
- Olivia Armshaw, midwife from Gloucester, who facilitated one of the learning station and presented on the process of developing a breech team in her local area
- Tess McLeish, midwife from Lewisham who helped the day run smoothly
Our one sadness on this study day was that we were not joined by any of Portsmouth’s obstetric staff, aside from Ms Arti Matah, who needed to leave early because she was good enough to present at the study day following a night on-call. Across the UK, midwives are trying to engage their obstetric colleagues in a discussion about how to improve things for breech babies and their mothers, and we really need more doctors to come to the table for that discussion to result in a service which is as safe as possible.
BONUS was meeting and relaxing with Midwife Jenny Hall in Portsmouth after the study day!
Feedback from the Study Day:
“the group work was excellent Overall I thought the day was was a good balance of theory to practical”
“very interactive. realistic rather than textbook. real life experiences.”
“perfect study day. Interesting and kept my attention all day!!!”
“visual with the film clips and hands on with the doll and pelvis. Was very good to see normal and abnormal films and great discussion with colleagues to share experiences and what to do in that situation.”
“I also thought Shawn’s attitude to breech was very refreshing. I half expected it to be a bit like “you can have a vaginal breech no matter what”. this was not the case. She had a very safe and sensible approach.”
“Unless you are a breech baby, you are not born lucky, but you become so if you invest your resources in nourishing the forces that support the world.”
from the abstract to Melania Calestani’s ethnographic study on how folk from El Alto acquire a sense of well-being, ‘SUERTE’ (Luck): Spirituality and Well-Being in El Alto, Bolivia
In her study, people were helped to achieve well-being by Yatiri, meaning ‘the one who knows.’ These wise women or men were usually elected to the position of yatiri by supernatural events, one of which is being born breech.
This post builds on my primary research, Standards for maternity care professionals attending planned upright breech births: A Delphi study. The research reports an experienced panel’s consensus on the skills required for midwives and obstetricians supporting physiological breech births. The practical content of the article is my personal application of one of the findings to clinical teaching.
“Health professionals attending upright breech births should be competent [to assist] rotation of the fetal back to anterior (when the mechanism has deviated from normal)” (p 5). 77% of the panel agreed that this is an important skill. This standard of competence combines two skills: 1) recognising deviation from normal mechanisms; and 2) assisting by restoring the mechanism to normal.
- Recognising deviation from normal mechanisms
Within the past two weeks, two people have discussed with me concerns about an incorrect understanding of the correct position for the fetal back when a woman is in a hands/knees position. First, a Practice Development Midwife (PDM) says she advocates teaching breech in ‘only one way’ (eg. lithotomy) because people get confused. A midwife attending training advocated for hands/knees positioning, but when questioned about where the fetal back should be, replied, “The fetal back remains uppermost.” Similarly, a student I am mentoring in practice attended sessions on breech at university. Her lecturer suggested hands/knees may be a more advantageous positioning, but later she is told, even in hands/knees, “The fetal back remains uppermost.” The student had worked out that this couldn’t be correct and sought more information. Excellent critical thinking, Charlotte!
These are signs of a practice in transition, and the PDM and Charlotte are right to be concerned. Rotating the fetal back uppermost in a hand/knees position is a dangerous but not uncommon mistake. Even in textbooks, such as this German textbook for midwives (Geburtshilfliche Notfälle: vermeiden – erkennen – behandlen, Göbel & Hildebrandt, 2007), the woman’s position is changed, but the professional is still following the rule of, “The fetal back remains uppermost.” (Just to reassure you, once the arms are born, they advocate rotating the fetal body 180° so that the head is born occiput-anterior.)
A physiology-based understanding of the normal mechanisms comes from closely observing spontaneous births which are not interrupted. In a spontaneous breech birth, the most common and most optimal (a.k.a. ‘normal’) rotation of the fetal back is to anterior after the sacrum is born, regardless of the position of the mother.
The simplest way for teaching this aspect of the mechanisms I learned from midwife Jenny Davidson. The baby should rotate “tum to bum.” In other words, the baby’s tummy (stomach/front torso) should be facing the mother’s bum (bottom/posterior), no matter what position the mother is in. If those teaching breech can adopt this language to describe mechanisms and positioning, fewer dangerous misunderstandings, and more flexible thinking mayoccur. Teaching breech as a set of rote manoeuvres leads to automatic behaviours, which are sometimes counter-productive. In my research, I am observing that the path to acquiring breech competence and expertise involves learning to problem-solve in complex, unique clinical situations, often un-learning ‘rules’ that one was taught in skills/drills — because the rules don’t always work (eg. ‘the fetal back remains uppermost’ does not apply in every situation). Experienced professionals replace inflexible rules with more flexible understandings and principles, over a period of time, and through much reflection with peers and mentors. Perhaps teaching should be about patterns and principles, rather than prescriptions?
2. Assisting rotation of the fetal back to anterior — restoring the mechanisms to normal
You should rarely have to do this, but if you do, this principle may be helpful: “Rotation, not traction.” You can assist rotation with your fingers on the bony prominences of the baby’s pelvic girdle, as for any breech manoeuvre. Consider as you do what is happening at the inlet of the pelvis – have the shoulders already engaged, or are they just beginning to enter the pelvic brim?
Safe facilitation of physiological breech births depends on the ability to determine when intervention will be beneficial, and when it is unnecessary and potentially harmful. A breech baby will normally rotate spontaneously, with the back to the anterior (“tum to bum”), as the shoulders engage in the transverse diameter of the pelvic inlet. Pulling or manipulating prior to this spontaneous rotation could cause problems. But if the rotation is to the posterior, it may be beneficial for attendants to intervene at this point rather than rotate an occiput-posterior head mid-pelvis. Or at least 77% of an experienced panel think so …
Gibes E & Hildebrandt S (2007) Geburtshilfliche Notfälle: vermeiden – erkennen – behandlen, Thieme
Questions for reflection:
- Watch the videos in this collection. Identify the normal mechanisms, beginning with descent of the sacrum transverse (to the mother’s side). As you are watching, identify which way you will expect the rotation to occur, anticipating the normal rotation. Did the baby rotate as you expected?
- Imagine you are attending one of the births in the videos and quietly communicating with a colleague who has no previous breech experience, about what you are expecting to see, and what to document during the birth. What do you whisper to your colleague? Do this simultaneously with your colleague/fellow student as you both watch the video
Watch this obstetrician (Diego Alarcon) facilitate a complete breech birth. He is touching more than is advocated by physiological breech-experienced providers – the mechanism has not yet deviated from normal – but his hands tell you what he is thinking. The baby’s right foot is behind the left, indicating that rotation is tending in this direction – sacral anterior, good. However, he is closely guarding this. Watch when he puts the forefinger of his right hand on the baby’s right hip bone to ensure that the rotation will occur in a counter-clockwise direction when the contraction begins. His actions are gentle, not forceful, and they work with the mother’s expulsive efforts.
In this birth, as the sacrum is born, it is mostly transverse (normal), but somewhat posterior, to the mother’s left. The baby does not rotate to sacrum anterior, as we would expect as the arms enter the pelvis to be born. The obstetrician (Michel Odent) recognises that the mechanism has deviated from normal and immediately intervenes to restore the mechanism by sweeping down the anterior arm under the symphysis pubis, across the baby’s face.
This video is much more hands-on than a physiological approach, but it provides a good example of a normal mechanism of sacral rotation following rumping when the mother is in a supine position — and how to assist, because the midwife’s (Renata Hillman) hands are positioned to assist rotation using the bony prominences of the fetal pelvis.
Thinking through the practicalities of breech advocacy.
Midwives and obstetricians who would like give women with breech presenting babies more support to plan a vaginal breech birth (VBB) need to think through the wider picture of how this happens in order to become effective advocates. In my experience of doing breech advocacy throughout the post-Term Breech Trial era, women often get in touch after 38 or 39 weeks to try to organise support for a VBB. Achieving this requires quite a bit of discussion and negotiation in quite a short period of time.
This post makes visible some ‘common experiences’ in women’s vaginal breech birth journeys. Services differ in every area, so it won’t be every woman’s experience. And increasingly, forward-thinking NHS Trusts are working with advocacy organisations (such as the Coalition for Breech Birth, Breech Birth UK and BBANZ) to develop woman-centred care pathways which meet women’s needs rather than restrict their choices, like this team in Sheffield.
|Common experience||Other possibilities|
|33 weeks||Antenatal clinic visit. Midwife or woman suspects breech. Woman told not to worry, most babies will turn.||Informed about / referred for moxibustion treatment. Not associated with risk of harm. Shown to reduce breech and CS when used with acupuncture. Shown to reduce use of syntocinon before and during labour regardless of presentation. (Coyle et al, Cochrane Review, 2012)|
|36 weeks||Palpation in antenatal clinic. Midwife suspects breech and refers for USS. Woman receives counselling re: ECV, to return at a later date. Is told discussion re: mode of birth will occur after unsuccessful ECV.||One-stop shop breech clinic. Scan, counselling and ECV performed by a midwife or doctor with specialist training. If unsuccessful/declined, mode of birth preference documented. To return for further counselling.|
|37 weeks||Counselling repeated by a different professional, who may have different personal preferences. External cephalic version attempted. If unsuccessful, asked to return for counselling re: mode of birth in consultant clinic.||Returns to breech clinic for second attempt at ECV. Sees same practitioner, who is also part of the breech birth team. After unsuccessful/declined second attempt, confirms choice of mode of birth. Wider team made aware of planned VBB.|
|38 weeks||Returns to antenatal clinic and sees another consultant or registrar. Majority of UK hospitals reluctant to support planned VBB. Advised to have CS. In some cases, a managed breech delivery in lithotomy is offered.||Woman and her birth partner prepare for the up-coming birth.|
|39 weeks +||After a return visit to antenatal clinic to attempt to negotiate support for an active VBB, meeting yet another consultant, and lots of research on the internet, woman seeks out external sources of support for VBB. Advocate (Supervisor of Midwives, doula, independent midwife) attempts to liaise with hospital staff, who ask, “Why do they all leave it to the last minute? There’s no time to put a plan in place now!”||Returns to breech clinic at 41 weeks to revisit choice of mode of birth, taking factors such as fetal growth and length of pregnancy into consideration. Talks to the same or another experienced member of the breech team.|
Questions for reflection:
- Consider your current work setting. If a woman tells you she would like to consider a VBB but is not receiving support to plan one, what can you do?
- Who needs to be involved in her plan?
- Who will support you to support her? To what extent are you comfortable being involved?
- How can you build a local breech team, who can be ready to meet this need when it arises?
- Consider working with your team to develop an informational resource for women, like this leaflet from King’s College Hospital.
Please share your positive experiences and good examples of breech teams in the comments.
Beuckens, A., Rijnders, M., Verburgt-Doeleman, G., Rijninks-van Driel, G., Thorpe, J., Hutton, E., 2016. An observational study of the success and complications of 2546 external cephalic versions in low-risk pregnant women performed by trained midwives. BJOG An Int. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 123, 415–423. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.13234
Catling, C., Petrovska, K., Watts, N.P., Bisits, A., Homer, C.S.E., 2015. Care during the decision-making phase for women who want a vaginal breech birth: Experiences from the field. Midwifery. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2015.12.008
Coyle ME Peat B, S.C.A., 2012. Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation (Review). Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003928.pub3
Walker, S., Perilakalathil, P., Moore, J., Gibbs, C.L., Reavell, K., Crozier, K., 2015. Standards for midwife practitioners of external cephalic version: A Delphi study. Midwifery 31, e79–e86. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2015.01.004
I’m pleased to share with you that the first paper resulting from my PhD research has been published on-line in Midwifery. This is the accepted manuscript version only: http://www.midwiferyjournal.com/article/S0266-6138(16)00025-5/abstract
When the final PDF version is available, I’ll write a fuller post, including a link for a free download, for those who do not have institutional access. – Shawn
P.S. I will be on the east coast of the US from 17-30 May this year, after presenting a video on upright breech birth at the ACOG conference with Dr Annette Fineberg & Brigid Maher of Mama Sherpas. If anyone would like to host a study day, I’d love to share this research with you so that more professionals can learn from the wisdom of the experienced panellists who contributed.
Tonight, I met with some students from the local midwifery school who are preparing for their final OSCE. How exciting! They wanted to review mechanisms and manoeuvres so that they feel confident performing for their exams.
The students will be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of supine/lithotomy skills, so we created a new video to help them remember what we practised.
For those wanting to review the mechanisms when a woman is in a supine position, this video, filmed with midwifery students at the University of Salford last year, may also be helpful.
The next study group, for professionals, students or women in and around Norwich, will be on Monday, the 8th of February, from 10am – 1pm. For more resources to prepare for OSCE’s, click on the OSCE tag.
You may also find this video helpful, made by Joy James, a midwifery lecturer at the University of Glamorgan:
And from Maternity Training International:
Thank you for your interest in my work.
I would be grateful if you would share this link to an Expression of Interest form with your professional networks, so that I can reach as many breech-experienced professionals as possible.
My research has progressed to the next stage, and I am currently recruiting doctors and midwives who have attended between 3-20 upright breech births, who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences. All interview data will be anonymised, and I am particularly keen to interview obstetricians, although still need to interview more midwives as well.
This round of interviews follows on from an initial set of interviews I did with 5 midwives and 4 obstetricians, concerning how they developed experience with upright breech birth. I analysed the data from the initial interviews using grounded theory methods and developed a theoretical framework. These next interviews will serve to probe and explore the categories in this framework to build up a credible theory about how practitioners gain and develop breech skills.
This week, the NHS Trust where I work is honouring the great work of our Maternity Services with a day-long celebration. This includes a bake-off. I have never participated in a bake-off in my life. I don’t really bake much at all. But Victoria Cochrane and I were inspired.
In addition to our wonderful colleagues, we also had celebrations of our own. To begin with, amazing Matron Victoria recently managed to secure funding to purchase mobile ultrasound scanners — for use by the same Community Group Practices which have just been shortlisted for an RCM Better Births award! These scanners in the community will make it easier for women to find out if their baby is breech without having to journey to the hospital, and help minimise the number of women who find out their baby is breech in labour. This will mean more women have the opportunity to consider an external cephalic version (ECV), and/or have a choice of mode of delivery for their breech baby.
Victoria and I have also co-authored an article in The Practising Midwife this month, where we advocate that midwives adopt a ‘plan or scan’ policy to reduce the potentially negative impact of unexpected breech in labour. By this we mean, either inform women antenatally that there is a risk (approximately 1:100-1:150) of an unexpected breech in labour, and encourage them to think about what they would do in that situation, or consider adopting a policy of third trimester presentations scans for low-risk women. We also advocate identifying a group of obstetricians and midwives willing to be called upon to attend a breech birth — a breech team. No need for a 24-hour rota; just identifying a team and involving one of them wherever possible will begin to make a difference. We could do with more research on women’s experiences of unexpected breech in labour as well.
So, the cake:
Maybe it will make it into the hospital newsletter!
Congratulations also to the Sheffield Breech Birth Service, which has also been shortlisted for an RCM Award for Excellence in Maternity Care. The team have been providing continuity and a realist option for women wishing to plan a vaginal breech birth for years, and are a model of what can be achieved when midwives and obstetricians work together to deliver a high quality, safe and respectful service.
Breech advocacy work is a long-term commitment. Things don’t change overnight. Sometimes, we just continue to keep breech on the agenda, reminding ourselves and others that breech does not equal an automatic CS. Midwives and obstetricians continue to stand up for the right of women to choose their mode of birth after balanced counselling and a realistic offer of support for all options.
Thinking about doing a PhD in London? Need an academic to evaluate your programme? Then come to the Centre for Maternal and Child Health Annual Research Partnership Event, on Wednesday 11 November, at City University London. I’ll be speaking about my PhD research, to give a flavour of what it’s like to do a PhD at City. Follow @City_CMCHR. Hope to see you there. — Shawn