Category Archives: Activism

Stand up for those who stand up for you

Dr Bootstaylor demonstrating breech skills

Dr Bootstaylor demonstrating breech skills

Update, 24 August 2016: Following protests from the local and international communities, Dekalb Medical has reinstated the ability of Dr Bootstaylor and the See Baby Midwifery team to support planned vaginal breech births. Thank you to all who stood by the team and helped achieve this important result. More information.

21 August 2016: Within the past two weeks, restrictions have been imposed on two highly experienced breech birth providers, suddenly, and without apparent cause. They are currently not allowed to attend breech births in hospitals where they have done so successfully for many years. These restrictions have been imposed by others who hold power within the institutions. The providers who have stood by women now need women, families and other professionals to stand by them.

On 7 September, a protest will be held in Los Angeles, California, at Glendale Adventist Medical Centre, which recently issued an outright ban on vaginal breech birth – The Rally Against Vaginal Breech Birth Ban. Glendale’s Dr Wu is a highly experienced breech birth attendant who supports not only women but other providers to gain skills.

If you attend the rally, or write a letter of support, and you tweet, use #bringbreechback – I will link to these tweets within this post.

Other related blogs:


The See Baby team of Atlanta, Georgia, have also been restricted. Their ban includes water birth and VBAC, as well as breech birth. Read more about their situation on the See Baby Blog. To support the See Baby team, I have written the letter below, sent to the Director of WI Services at Dekalb Medical. Please add your voice to protest this backward decision, addressed to the Director and copied to Julia Modest of the See Baby team, so that they are aware of the support of the international community.

On July 21, 2016, John Shelton issued a press release congratulating 83 of Dekalb’s physicians for being named as “Top Doctors” in Atlanta magazine — including Dr Brad Bootstaylor.

PLEASE WRITE TO ADD YOUR VOICE

20 August 2016

To: [The Powers that Be, names and addresses removed now that resolution has been achieved]

 

I am writing to express my concern and disappointment at the recent, sudden decision of Dekalb Medical to issue a blanket ban on water births, breech births and vaginal births after caesarean section (VBAC), facilitated by the internationally regarded See Baby team. Such a decision directly contradicts the recent, positive movement to recognise birthing women’s agency and autonomy, as summarised in this recent statement from the ACOG Committee on Ethics:

“Forced compliance – the alternative to respecting a patient’s refusal of treatment – raises profoundly important issues about patient rights, respect for autonomy, violations of bodily integrity, power differentials, and gender equality.” 1

The ban on water births and VBACs contradicts practices throughout the developed world, in which the tide is flowing very much in the opposite direction. My area of specialist knowledge is breech practice, where the tide is also turning, as reflected in the recent ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 161: External Cephalic Version, which also acknowledges the renewed interest in vaginal breech delivery as part of the movement to reduce the primary caesarean section rate.2 The change around breech birth is much more dependent on the skills of people like Dr Bootstaylor to light the way, due to many obstetricians having abandoned the art of obstetrics over the past several decades in favour of surgical deliveries.

The most recent ACOG Committee Opinion concerning “Mode of term singleton breech delivery,” written in 2006 and reaffirmed in 2016 makes clear, “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that the decision regarding mode of delivery should depend on the experience of the health care provider.”3 This is also reflected in the FAQ information ACOG provides publicly to women.4 Dr Bootstaylor is one of the most experienced breech delivery providers in the country, and satisfies every criteria associated with a lower risk of adverse outcomes for vaginally born breech babies 5,6. I was privileged to teach breech skills alongside Dr Bootstaylor at a seminar hosted by Dekalb Medical in May of this year, which was attended by obstetricians and midwives from several surrounding states. This sudden decision will undoubtedly have local ramifications for the women whose birth plans revolved around Dr Bootstaylor and his very competent team of midwives. The restrictions will also have historic ramifications. Dekalb’s actions remove the option of vaginal birth from women pregnant with a breech fetus, and they also remove the option of health professionals to learn breech skills in a responsible and sustainable way, in a hospital setting with a highly experienced mentor.

Many women in the population served by Dekalb Medical go on to have one or more further children. The increased maternal and fetal risks associated with multiple caesarean sections are well-documented7, and removing the ability of this population to make an informed decision to avoid a first or subsequent caesarean section could be considered reckless. The high caesarean section rate is a contributing factor to the fact that the US is the only country in the developed world where maternal death rates increased between 1990 and 2013.8 While the decision to ban water birth, breech birth and VBAC was no doubt based on apparent increased short-term risks, the absolute risks of all of these choices are lower than they have ever been. I would ask Dekalb Medical to consider the increased recognition courts are giving to women’s right to autonomy, informed choice and respectful care9,10. In other settings, coroners and experts have specifically implicated lack of access to hospital-based care in the deaths of breech babies born at home 11,12. Dr Bootstaylor is one of the few obstetricians who truly work in harmony with other practitioners to make sure the door is always open.

Giving birth is a physiological process, not a treatment provided by a medical professional. In no other area of medicine are institutions or professionals ethically able to require patients to undergo surgery in order to access care at a time when their health is at risk. The choice of surgical intervention must always remain informed and freely made, or else it is coercion. As summarised in ACOG Committee Opinion No. 439, Informed Consent: “Consenting freely is incompatible with being coerced or unwillingly pressured by forces beyond oneself. It involves the ability to choose among options and select a course other than what may be recommended.”13

It is reasonable for Dekalb Medical to take a position and issue a recommendation to women regarding these options, if your experts feel they represent a higher risk of which women should be informed. That is the professional course of action. But disabling informed refusal of caesarean section is a clear case of medical coercion. Forbidding water birth is a disregard of the preference and comfort of hundreds of women, which will cause them emotional distress, with no evidence that such action will improve physical health outcomes for them or their babies.

Dr Bootstaylor and his See Baby Midwifery team are shining lights in safe, compassionate, woman-centred care. As Dekalb Medical were issuing this ban, I was writing about this team by invitation for an edited volume on sustainable maternity care. They are an exemplar of safe, sustainable breech care, a model for others to replicate. In my opinion, they still are exemplary and will still be featured. Although now the enduring lesson will be of how politics, power and money can undermine even the best practice and principles in medicine and midwifery.

Please may I ask that you forward this letter to the powers that be involved in the decision-making process to suspend these vital and exemplary services? I look forward to hearing that this dangerous and unethical action has been reconsidered.

Kind regards,

Shawn Walker, RM

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Refusal of medically recommended treatment during pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 664. Obs Gynecol 2016;127:e175–82.
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice Bulletin No. 161: External Cephalic Version. Obstet Gynecol 2016;127(2):e54–61.
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Mode of term singleton breech delivery. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 340. Obs Gynecol 2006;108(1):235–7.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If Your Baby Is Breech, FAQ079 [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2016 Aug 20];Available from: http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/If-Your-Baby-Is-Breech
  5. Su M, McLeod L, Ross S, et al. Factors associated with adverse perinatal outcome in the Term Breech Trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2003;189(3):740–5.

Summary: The presence of an experienced clinical at delivery reduced the risk of adverse perinatal outcome (OR: 0.30 [95% CI: 0.13-0.68], P=.004).

  1. Walker S, Scamell M, Parker P. Standards for maternity care professionals attending planned upright breech births: A Delphi study. Midwifery 2016;34:7–14.

Summary: An expert panel consensus opinion that attendance at approximately 10-13 vaginal breech births is advisable for achieving basic competence, and 3-6 per year with mantaining competence.

  1. Caughey AB, Cahill AG, Guise J-M, Rouse DJ. Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2014;210(3):179–93.

Summary: The risk of maternal death from cesarean delivery compared to vaginal delivery is 2.7% vs 0.9%. Placental abnormalities (such as abnormal adherence, with consequent bleeding and possible hysterectomy) are increased with prior cesarean vs vaginal delivery, and risk continues to increase with each subsequent cesarean delivery.

  1. Schumaker E. Maternal Death Rates Are Decreasing Everywhere But The U.S. [Internet]. Huffingt. Post. 2015 [cited 2016 Aug 20];Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/28/maternal-death-rate-in-the-us_n_7460822.html
  1. Birthrights. UK Supreme Court upholds women’s autonomy in childbirth: Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board [Internet]. Blog: Protecting Human rights childbirth. 2015 [cited 2016 Aug 20]; Available from: http://www.birthrights.org.uk/2015/03/uk-supreme-court-upholds-womens-autonomy-in-childbirth-montgomery-v-lanarkshire-health-board/

Summary: Women have a right to information about ‘any material risk’ in order to make autonomous decisions about how to give birth.

  1. Pascussi C. Mom Sues for Bait & Switch in Maternity Care [Internet]. Blog: BirthMonopoly. 2016 [cited 2016 Aug 20]; Available from: http://birthmonopoly.com/caroline/

Summary: A jury in Alabama unanimously returned a verdict in favour of a couple who experienced mistreatment and a lack of options in their hospital-based care, with an award including punitive damages of $16 million.

  1. Kotaska A. Commentary: routine cesarean section for breech: the unmeasured cost. Birth 2011;38(2):162-4.
  2. Powell R, Walker S, Barrett A. Informed consent to breech birth in New Zealand. N Z Med J 2015;128(1418):85–92.
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Informed consent. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 439. Obs Gynecol 2009;114:401–8.

Final Stop: Atlanta

See Baby panel discussion

See Baby panel discussion

From Asheville to Atlanta, home of the SeeBaby team!

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 demonstrating breech skills

Dr Bootstaylor demonstrating breech skills

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.

groupFollowing 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 …

Shawn

Thank you to Tomecas Gibson Thomas for use of some of the photos she took during the workshop!

Stop 4: Asheville

Brunch with the Masterchief at Tupelo Honey Cafe

Brunch with the Masterchief at Tupelo Honey Cafe

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.

A few of the participants in the Saturday workshop

A few of the participants in the Saturday workshop

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 Sunday crowd

The Sunday crowd

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 …

Shawn

References:

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)

 

Stop 3: Philadelphia

ACOGfilmOnto 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.

bcflags2Although 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 … ) 😉

Lifecycle WomanCare

Lifecycle WomanCare

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 …

Shawn

Second stop: Tillsonburg, Ontario

Celebrating Norfolk Roots Midwifery!

Celebrating Norfolk Roots Midwifery!

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!

 

Midwife Joanna Nemrava came from British Columbia to share breech skills!

Midwife Joanna Nemrava came from British Columbia to share breech skills!

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.

 

Teaching in Tillsonburg; photo: Sheila Stubbs

Teaching in Tillsonburg; photo: Sheila Stubbs

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!

practising

practising breech manoeuvres

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!

Shawn

a walk around beautiful Tillsonburg

a walk around beautiful Tillsonburg

First stop: Montreal

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.

Wall mural depicting the Maison de naissance, Côte-des-Neiges

Wall mural depicting the Maison de naissance, Côte-des-Neiges

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.

Certified Midwives Sinclair Harris, Mounia Amine, Sylvie Carignan, and Sylvie Saunier

Certified Midwives Sinclair Harris, Mounia Amine, Sylvie Carignan, and Sylvie Saunier

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)

Certified Midwife Bronwen Agnew

Certified Midwife Bronwen Agnew

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 …

CPM and doula Rivka Cymbalist with the world's youngest breech catcher

CPM and doula Rivka Cymbalist with the world’s youngest breech catcher

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!

Shawn

Evaluating breech training in North America

ShawnPortsmouthBusy 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:

Kirkpatrick model

Image from : http://www.kirkpatrickpartners.com

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).

networklearningThose 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:

  1. How can vaginal breech birth skills be revived within communities which have few or no experienced providers?
  2. 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!

Shawn

P.S. Of course, we aren’t the only source of physiological breech birth training. Others include:

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.

“No time to put a plan in place”

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 experienceOther possibilities
33 weeksAntenatal 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 weeksPalpation 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 weeksCounselling 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 weeksReturns 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.

Shawn

References:

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

Piece of cake …

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:

cake

Black cherry jam …

 

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.

How did it take me so many years to discover marzipan sculpture?

How did it take me so many years to discover marzipan sculpture?

Shawn

Who decides what is right?

Like many, I’ve been dismayed by the on-line report of the RCM’s recent legal birth conference.

And I’ve been so thankful for the very clear-headed response of Birthrights.

As a midwife I regularly work with women who decide that continuous monitoring (CTG) is not the ‘right’ choice for them, despite our guidelines and recommendations that it is advisable for breech-presenting babies in labour. Of course I have the skills and competency to care for them without it, and of course I would strongly recommend they reconsider if the clinical situation were unclear without it. I felt completely deflated that a leading barrister was quoted as saying something which suggested that if I offer women the choice to do what they, rather than the professionals, feel is ‘right,’ I could be putting my registration at risk.

In offering women real choices and standing by them when they make unpopular ones, I might now be accused of promoting an ‘ideology of normality.’ Did those words really come out of the mouth of someone who sits on the NMC panel, at an RCM conference? Someone wake me up.

How could anyone who talks to student midwives today get the idea that they are only exposed to normality? While universities are doing their best to ensure they get some exposure, the students I meet across the UK are usually gagging to see more ‘normal’ births. If they are graduating with no understanding of how to read a CTG, it is definitely not because they haven’t seen them used. It is likely because their mentors are overstretched and have not had the time to mentor them fully during placements. If they cannot cope with a PPH, it is probably because they have been sent running after the ever-increasing paperwork while the PPH’s are happening, rather than being facilitated to gain experience and understanding in the moment.

I originally trained in the US, mostly in out-of-hospital settings, freestanding midwifery led units and home births. Exclusively ‘normal’ settings where almost all women chose physiological third stages. My experience of managing the not infrequent PPH’s in these environments, and having the time to debrief, reflect and consolidate those skills with continuity from my mentors over time, gave me great confidence in my own midwifery fundamentals. My experience of managing shoulder dystocias without an emergency buzzer arm’s reach away did the same.

To speak of an ideology of normality is almost sinister next to the claims that the NHS is not obligated to provide a home birth service, and that women should be told they may not have this choice. The Birthplace in England study demonstrated clearly that home births for low-risk women are significantly more cost effective than births in a consultant unit, for all women they significantly decrease levels of intervention (improving outcomes for women), and for women who have previously had a baby the outcomes for baby are just as good as in hospital.

So why is it that home birth services across England are frequently unreliable or unavailable to women, when at the same time non-evidenced-based, expensive uses of technology or other interventions are being used? For example, routine third trimester scans. They do not improve outcomes, and they increase unnecessary interventions (more cost). Yet they are still being used in some Trusts, requiring resources to schedule, administer, interpret and counsel. There are many other examples, reflecting a pervasive ideology and resource allocation agenda very divergent from what most midwives understand as ‘normality.’

So don’t be surprised if midwives, frustrated by unfair and non-evidence-based resource allocations and increasing cut-backs, start doing weird things like attending home births on days off because they cannot bear to keep letting women down. A friend of mine is fond of quoting Ina May Gaskin in times like this: “People are often punished for doing the right thing.”

Reminder: This is my personal view, and not that of the Trust that I work for (which incidentally is not one of the many Trusts which currently offer routine third trimester scans).

Update: 19/7/13 Turns out the RCM doesn’t endorse the comments made by the speakers they invited to their Legal Birth Conference who were quoted without challenge in the only report published about the conference on the RCM website. Somewhat confusing, but Cathy Warwick clarifies. Good to have the salient points clarified, but when the home birth service is unreliable about 50% of time (as reported in an MSLC meeting) in your local area (not my workplace), it’s hard to share the view that resource shortages which jeopardise the HB service are an ‘extreme situation’ with which women should have patience.

Further clarification: I still love the RCM and I’m still a member, still hanging in there, hoping for better for midwives, midwifery and women.

A letter to birth workers who want to help

Antenatal teachers, group leaders, doulas, complementary therapists:

If you and women you work with aren’t happy with the support in your area … If you don’t feel you can tell women breech birth is an option because you don’t know if there is anyone who is able to help them … find out!

If you have a Consultant Midwife, start there. Otherwise, phone the Labour Ward Manager and/or speak with a Supervisor of Midwives (you can be put in touch with one by anyone who answers the phone). Liaise with your Maternity Services Liaison Committee. Ask questions. Find out what is done, and what could be done, for a woman interested in the option of vaginal breech birth.

There are many, many midwives out there despondent that they cannot use or develop skills to support normal breech birth. And many women who do not know how to get in contact with midwives who would be willing to support them if they asked.

One of the biggest challenges facing maternity care today is lack of continuity. Inspirational independent midwives like Mary Cronk and Jane Evans were able to develop relationships with women. Women were able to find them, trust them, and birth safely with them.

Today, most of us work in a culture which has normalised anonymous, short-lived and superficial relationships in most areas — being “nice” is not the same as being “known.” How are women to find the midwives who want it to be different? We need birth workers who are willing to help us build bridges, help link together professionals and women with common purpose. Who are the midwives (and doctors) in your area that women will find most helpful in this situation? The more experience professionals get, the more confident they will feel to inspire change within the system.

Be the change. Keep asking questions. Know that although the culture makes professionals seem distant, midwives need and want connection as much as women do, and birth workers can often do a lot to help make these connections.