Category Archives: Risk Management

Consultation: Rapid resolution and redress scheme for severe birth injury

The government are currently consulting on a potential shift to a rapid resolution and redress scheme for severe avoidable birth injury. Such an initiative was recommended by the recent National Maternity Review (Better Births, 2016), based on feedback from families and health care professionals.

Here’s why I think it’s a good idea:

  • The current system often requires lengthy and adversarial court proceedings in order for families to receive compensation. Litigation is the last thing parents need when their child has been injured.
  • Families have to prove negligence in order to get the financial support they need to care for their child. This is often directed at an individual, when we know that most problems are systemic in nature.
  • Local investigations mean learning is only disseminated at Trust-level. The nation-wide scheme would include a national database to identify learning which can be disseminated.

Globally, we need systems based upon relationship and response, care and mutual responsibility — and not just in maternity. A shift from adversarial litigation to collective responsibility in a rapid resolution and redress scheme is a step in the right direction.

Consultation is open until May 26, 2017.

Shawn

New RCOG guideline published today!

The new RCOG Management of Breech Presentation guideline has been published today. This guideline substantially revises recommendations in the previous version, published in 2006. If followed, it will undoubtedly improve women’s access to and experience of breech care. Below I will highlight two of the new guideline’s game-changing recommendations, and then raise two key questions concerning areas of on-going exploration.

Reference: Impey LWM, Murphy DJ, Griffiths M, Penna LK on behalf of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Management of Breech Presentation. BJOG 2017; DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.14465.

Victoria and Kirin Owal celebrate the healthy birth of their twins (#2 breech) with their NHS Team.

Counselling (Section 4.1)

The guideline offers specific recommendations around counselling, following the summary presented by lead author Mr Lawrence Impey at the RCOG Breech Conference in 2014. When discussing perinatal mortality, rather than focusing on the dichotomy between elective caesarean section at 39 weeks (0.5/1000) and planned breech birth (2.0/1000), the guidelines also recommend women consider these figures in light of those for planned cephalic birth (1.0/1000).

This is important. If we follow the logic that has dominated breech care for the last 17 years – elective CS for all because it reduces perinatal mortality – we would need to apply this to planned cephalic births as well. The truth is always somewhere in between. All childbirth options carry benefits as well as risks, and women should be supported to apply their own values to decision-making, rather than feel obligated to adopt uniform recommendations arising from contemporary risk-focused discourse. This new guideline is much clearer about the obligation of health care professionals to present women with genuine breech childbirth options.

Dr Brad Bootstaylor of SeeBaby, Atlanta Georgia, demonstrating upright breech skills

Maternal birth position (Section 6.7)

The guideline has changed from recommending lithotomy birth position to the following: “Either a semi-recumbent or an all-fours position may be adopted for delivery and should depend on maternal preference and the experience of the attendant.” This will be joyously welcomed by midwives and obstetricians who have been gradually incorporating upright breech methods into clinical skills training for some time, and the women who have been insisting on the freedom to choose their own birthing position.

But as the explanatory notes indicate, “The principle difficulty with an all-fours position is when manoeuvres are required. Most obstetricians are more familiar with performing these in a difficult breech birth with the woman in the dorsal position.” This begs the question of how we will overcome the difficulty resulting from lack of obstetric familiarity with performing manoeuvres when women are in upright, particularly kneeling positions. Our recently published evaluation of the Breech Birth Network Physiological Breech Birth training days reported that one of the greatest concerns expressed by participants in the workshops was lack of involvement and collaboration from obstetric colleagues, whom they had difficulty convincing to attend the training in order to learn effective manoeuvres. Hopefully changes in our national guideline will prompt more interest.

Tanya Burchill practising manoeuvres with Emma Spillane during a break in Physiological Breech Birth Training

Question #1: What does it mean to be ‘skilled’ in breech birth birth?

The word ‘skilled’ recurs 15 times in the new RCOG breech guideline. Variations include: ‘skilled intrapartum care,’ ‘skilled birth attendant(s),’ ‘skilled supervision,’ ‘skilled attendant(s),’ ‘operator skilled in vaginal breech delivery,’ ‘skilled support,’ ‘skilled personnel.’ Each reference suggests skill is a key ingredient of safe vaginal birth.

What does it mean to be ‘skilled’ in vaginal breech birth? Is it a quality possessed by individuals, or institutions, or both? How is skill assessed? How is it maintained?

The danger with lack of definition regarding breech skill is that by default it will be judged in retrospect. A good outcome occurs = the attendants were skilled. A bad outcome occurs = the attendants lacked skill and were overconfident in assessment of their own competence. A health professional attends four spontaneous breech births which do not require intervention = they are now perceived as ‘skilled.’

The guideline points to evidence from the PREMODA study, in which good outcomes were achieved in a study with senior obstetrician presence in 92.3% of cases. Association is not causation, but we need to take seriously the value the PREMODA researchers placed on this as a key to their success. In a UK context, or elsewhere, does that mean we can (or should?) reasonably expect all senior obstetricians to be ‘skilled’ at vaginal breech birth? What if the senior obstetrician does not feel ‘skilled’ her/himself? What if a midwife is the most experience person available to attend a breech birth?

Claire Reading sharing her skills

The new RCOG guideline further recommends: “Units with limited access to skilled personnel should inform women that vaginal breech birth is likely to be associated with greater risk and offer antenatal referral to a unit where skill levels and experience are greater.” And: “All maternity units must be able to provide skilled supervision for vaginal breech births where a woman is admitted in advanced labour and protocols for this eventuality should be developed.” How will all maternity units be able to provide skilled supervision for undiagnosed breech births, if some of them will also need to be up front about their lack of skill to support planned breech births?

The new guideline recommends that “simulation equipment should be used to rehearse the skills that are needed during vaginal breech birth by all doctors and midwives.” The extent to which such simulation training will result in skill development in settings where skills have become depleted over the last 20-30 years is unclear. Our recent systematic review highlights the lack of evidence regarding the ability of standard training programmes to improve outcomes, and suggests that teaching vaginal breech birth as part of an obstetric emergencies course may actually reduce the chances that providers will actually attend breech births (Walker, Breslin, Scamell and Parker, 2017).

The development of professional competence to facilitate breech births is a complex matter to which institutions may like to pay closer attention as they develop the ‘routine vaginal breech delivery service’ envisioned by the new guideline. Some of this complexity is explored in these two papers involving research with experienced practitioners: Standards for maternity care professionals attending planned upright breech births and Principles of physiological breech birth practice.

Question #2: What is a footling presentation?

Despite the acknowledged paucity of evidence regarding factors that increase the risks of vaginal breech birth, ‘footling presentation’ remains a clinical indication for advising women that the risks associated with vaginal breech birth are likely to be independently increased. Unfortunately, neither the guideline nor generally available breech literature provides a clear definition of what this means, nor is it likely that a similar definition has been used among disparate studies looking at outcomes associated with variations of breech presentation.

The danger with this lack of definition is that in many complete and incomplete breech presentations, where one or both legs are flexed, one or more feet will be palpable on vaginal examination. This is especially the case at advanced dilatation, when legs will often slip further down due to the increased space in the sacral cavity, into which the breech has also descended. And of course in advanced labour, the dangers of performing a caesarean section for a dubious indication are increased. It has never made sense to me to perform a caesarean section at advanced dilatation because one might need to perform a caesarean section! Where skill levels are minimal and practitioners are not taught to locate the sacrum as the denominator, many complete and/or incomplete breech presentations will be labelled ‘footling.’

Dr Susanne Albrechtsen teaching breech skills

In my practice, I follow the nomenclature suggested by Susanne Albrechtsen (unfortunately only available in Norwegian): a footling breech is one in which both feet present first, and the fetal pelvis is disengaged, above the pelvic brim. A fetus whose pelvis is engaged with one or more feet palpable alongside is a flexed breech (complete/incomplete).

We will await more professional debate and actual evidence concerning the definition of ‘footling breech’ and its association with fetal outcomes. Perhaps now that the new RCOG is more supportive of vaginal breech birth, more professionals will feel experienced enough to engage in discussions which will move our knowledge base forward and further increase the safety of breech birth.

Shawn

Record keeping

IMG_6268 - Version 2

When attending any birth, record keeping is extremely important, both during the birth itself (to facilitate communication) and afterward.

Early this month, I attended a study day organised by IMUK (an organisation of independent midwives in the UK). The day was entitled, “Health Care Records on Trial,” and the purpose was to ensure we are all aware of best practice when it comes to record keeping, as well as some of the pitfalls to avoid ending up in court should all not go to plan. Our host and instructor, Andrew Andrews MBE, was Bond Salon‘s Director of Health & Social Care. And he was fierce! Mr Andrews inspired due diligence through his penetrating glare alone. But the day was far from dreary and fear-mongering, instead offering really clear guidance, based on illustrated examples from Andrews extensive legal experience in health care.

Mr Andrews presentation referred frequently to the NMC’s Principles of good records (2009). While I strive to ensure my records are of the highest possible quality, I am aware I have not always met the highest standard – now even moreso! – but there is always room for improvement. In addition to being a legal duty, maintaining accurate and fit for purpose records helps to ensure safety by facilitating communication between the team.

We were all keen to develop greater understanding about how to document care which falls outside of mainstream guidelines, or when women decline the care on offer. Many women engage an independent midwife when the NHS does not provide the care they have decided is best for them. We discussed in detail the criteria for offering treatment on the NHS (therapeutic effect & reasonable prospect of success) vs private treatment (welfare, well-being & reasonable prospect of success). These subtle differences can make a big difference.

poolside notesMr. Andrews is a big fan of keeping the notes with the woman and documentation by the bedside (or poolside, as I am doing in the picture to the right). The Francis Report indicated that patients should have access to their notes in real time. This ensures that those caring for a woman have immediate access to all relevant information, and she or her loved ones can highlight any errors. Poor record keeping contributes to a discontinuity in care, and this in turn puts patients at risk of harm. Collaborative, bedside record keeping also helps all members of staff to follow the core principles of:

  • Patient’s [sic] autonomy
  • Patient’s right to self-determination
  • Working in partnership with the patient as decision-maker

Care records should be chronological, but not necessarily sequential. In the margin is the time you put pen to paper, in the text is the time you did it. Events should be recorded as close to real time as possible, but must be captured within 24 hours. After 24 hours records are no longer considered ‘contemporaneous.’ No need to use ‘written in retrospect’ at all, and the expression only refers to events recorded after the 24 hour window.

We had a debate about the records also being ‘the woman’s story.’ I have mixed feelings about this. As an independent midwife, I used to give women a copy of their notes and really felt how important this story was to them. However, working in the NHS, where I frequently care for women whose clinical histories I do not already know thoroughly, I often find it tricky to wade through thick narrative notes in order to extract essential information. In my self-designed notes, I used to have three columns: the time I was recording, the clinical highlights, the story. This is my preferred system, combining the best of both purposes. In an NHS context, I may begin to use a continuation sheet for the story, to separate it from clinical information my colleagues may need to know quickly.

Mr Andrews reminded us that the purpose of documentation is to ensure patient safety and continuity of care. They are a reminder of the plan and context of care, and a means of communicating with colleagues. Failure in communication is almost always identified in serious case reviews. Therefore, he recommended records should be:

  • Bullet points
  • Captured in the context of care
  • Written with your colleagues in mind

I am inclined to agree!

You too have an opportunity to be inspired by Mr Andrew’s penetrating glare and brilliant knowledge of health and social care cases, as he will be appearing, along with Sir Robert Francis, QC, at The RCM Legal Birth Conference on Tuesday, 7 July 2015.

– Shawn

The breech and the perineum

In an active breech birth, we aim to support and encourage the physiological process as long as it appears to be safely unfolding. When practising in this way, we have to understand why some variations occur, when they may threaten the safety of mother or baby, and how clinicians might intervene to safely assist the birth when necessary. 

Breech deliveries are not associated with an increased incidence of severe perineal damage (Jones 2000), and compare favourably to instrumental cephalic deliveries and persistent posterior positions. However, in a lithotomy (supine, legs in stirrups) breech delivery, episiotomies are commonly used to assist with manoeuvres. Manual assistance at some stage is almost always necessary when women are in this position, and an early episiotomy is considered by many to be beneficial. So much so that ‘inappropriate avoidance of episiotomy’ has been identified as a common mistake in breech simulation exercises (Maslovitz et al 2007). However, current RCOG guidelines indicate that episiotomies should not be performed as a matter of course, but according to clinical indication. So what are these indications?

In contrast, active breech births (where women assume upright positions) are associated with lower rates of perineal damage than cephalic births. In a recent study (Bogner et al 2014) comparing a small series of all fours breech births with lithotomy deliveries, serious perineal lacerations occurred only 14.6% of the time when women were in all fours, compared to 58.5% of the time with lithotomy deliveries. A majority in the latter category were due to episiotomies, rather than the mechanical process of birth.

The breech stretches a perineum differently from a head. A well-flexed, round head will displace the fanning perineum more or less evenly, spreading the tissue during the crowning process. In contrast, a bottom is softer and flatter. And other limbs provide irregular pressure.

When might intervention be helpful?

I became interested in this question due to differing information from several experienced clinicians. Mary Cronk MBE, with whom I had the great privilege to teach a few years ago, explained in her inimitable way that she was a bit more ‘scissor-happy’ with breech babies, so there must be good reason. However, other experienced clinicians feel that an intact perineum is important to maintain fetal flexion for as long as possible, and needing to cut an episiotomy should be a very rare occurrence. (See a previous discussion.)

One of Mary’s classic slides includes a birth where she cut an episiotomy because the perineum had become overstretched and was tearing in a button-hole pattern. Especially when nulliparous women give birth to frank breech babies, this overstretching may occur because the perineum does not spread and recede over the comparatively flat bottom in the same way as it does a head.

If the perineum has become abnormally distended and is causing significant delay, consider a 'perineal sweep.' If not successful, an episiotomy is indicated.

If the perineum has become abnormally distended and is causing delay, consider a ‘perineal sweep.’ If not successful, an episiotomy is indicated.

The illustration to the right depicts an abnormally distended and overstretched perineum. The baby’s bitrochanteric diameter (the distance between the outer points of the hips) has already descended past the ischial spines, and we have passed the ‘point of no return’ – the baby will be born vaginally.

The potential risks with an abnormally distended perineum are:

  • Delaying the birth at a point when the umbilicus has already descended into the pelvis and may be compressed. The fetal heart may no longer be reliably auscultated due to descent into the pelvic brim. If this is the case, assistance is warranted.
  • A button-hole tear in the mother’s perineum.

Are there alternatives to episiotomy?

When we recently met up at the RCOG and Oxford Breech Conferences this October, I asked Anke Reitter what she would do if she felt that a tight perineum was holding up a birth at a crucial point. She described to me what might be called a ‘perineal sweep.’ Similar to a cervical sweep, (with consent) the clinician inserts one finger between the breech and the tightly applied perineum, and sweeps around the perimeter, encouraging the border of the perineum to recede over the presenting part and allow the birth to proceed. She explained that this often causes progress to resume without the need to perform an episiotomy.

I found this really helpful to consider as part of my breech midwifery toolkit. As we re-develop our professional cultural knowledge about breech, it is important we continue to talk about what we do and how we do it, even those skills we feel will be rarely needed. While we strive to create the conditions for those 85% of women to give birth to their breech babies over intact perineums without assistance, we also have to be able to recognise the perineum/bottom combination which may occasionally present a problem, and how we might address this for the best possible outcome.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Shawn

Update, October 2016: This would be a good topic for a systematic review. Bogner’s study demonstrated that breech deliveries (supine & upright) had the lowest rate of perineal trauma AND highest rate of episiotomy in the local population (eg. compared to cephalic births). I have seen Bogner’s statistics (eg. simultaneous lowest rate of perineal trauma AND highest rate of episiotomy in the population) replicated in an audit from Sydney, and now again in this study out of Pakistan. Please be in touch if you are looking for a systematic review topic and would like to collaborate.

Jason S, Khan Jadoon S, Shah R. Maternal and neonatal complications in term breech delivered vaginally. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons–Pakistan : JCPSP. 2008 vol: 18 (9) pp: 555-8

Breech birth team work

Introducing more support for planned breech birth in your hospital setting? This post is for you.

The management of breech presentation is undergoing an important transition. In the past twenty years, we’ve gone from:

  1. Management according to the preferences of individual consultants and/or units, tending increasingly toward caesarean section
  2. Blanket caesarean section policy following the publication of the Term Breech Trial
  3. A recognition in more recent guidelines that vaginal breech birth should remain an option for women
  4. Increasing demand from women for more choice and involvement in decision-making around how they birth their breech babies

As a result, health care providers are needing to re-skill in the facilitation of breech birth, and in a way which matches women’s expectations. This requires introducing entirely new skills to manage breech births when the mother is upright and active, as women who choose to birth vaginally usually expect to be.

But transitions can be de-stabilising. Doing things ‘as they are always done’ provides some protection because team members are familiar with their roles. Each professional knows her/his place on the team. They are familiar with the range of events that might happen in this scenario, and they know by repetitive practice exactly how they will need to communicate and respond. The emergency caesarean section for the undiagnosed breech discovered at 9 cm – the team has been here before many times, and swings comfortably into action.

In contrast, a planned breech birth is novel territory. This is even more the case if the woman has planned to be upright and active, as many teams will have rehearsed emergency breech drills with the mannequin in a lithotomy position (legs in stirrups). Therefore, teams supporting this choice will need to employ different strategies to ensure effective teamwork around the time of birth.

Identify your breech birth dream team

(These suggestions apply to a planned breech birth which occurs in a hospital setting, particularly one where a planned breech service is being introduced.)Breech Dream Team

Ideally, the entire second stage and the birth of this breech baby will be primarily supported by three people. These three should be familiar with and aligned with the woman’s birth plan and each other, as any task or relational conflict will compromise decision-making ability (de Wit et al 2013, Puck & Pregernig 2014). They should each have a clear understanding of what their role in the team will be, and they should have rehearsed together the management of some common emergencies. They should have clear eye contact with each other throughout the birth, in order to confirm in an unobtrusive way the on-going evaluation that the birth is going well, or to prepare each other for the possibility that it might not be.

Each team member has a different primary responsibility:

1)   Management – This person is primarily responsible for facilitating the birth, and may be an experienced midwife or an obstetrician. Ideally, this person will be known to the woman and have experience with breech birth in general (and the type of birth the woman has requested). The birth facilitator will be intimately familiar with the woman and her wishes, as well as the mechanics of breech birth, how to anticipate possible problems, and how to assist when required. They are responsible for co-ordinating care and preparing the rest of the team to assist when required.

2)   Support – This person, usually a senior midwife, is responsible for taking over monitoring of the woman’s and baby’s well-being throughout the second stage, frequently relaying this information to the rest of the team and reassuring the woman. Positioned beside the woman, they are an important communication bridge, especially when the woman is in a kneeling position, facing away from the person managing the birth. In this position, the support professional is also placed to assist with applying suprapubic pressure and/or change of maternal position.

3)   Perspective – This person is responsible for documenting the birth and providing a second evaluation of progress. This role requires breech experience because in order to document appropriately and accurately, the person needs to understand what they are seeing. Similarly, in order to assist with the evaluation of progress, this person needs to be familiar with normal progress in a breech birth. Because of their perspective, this person is also an important communication bridge with the rest of the team outside the door (eg calling for further help, alerting paediatricians to possible complications, etc.), and may alert the managing professional to potential problems. Therefore, this role is often taken by the most experienced person in the room, such as the obstetrician or the experienced midwife who is supporting another midwife to develop her skills.

The triangle: nature’s most powerful structure

Most normal births are attended by two midwives, and this is more than adequate. But a breech birth is not an everyday occurrence. Documentation will need to be of a gold star standard. Yet in most hospitals, each person in the room will still be developing their skills with breech and will therefore need to concentrate on the task at hand, making attendance to paperwork tricky. It is also easy to become enthralled with the beauty of an unfolding breech birth.Team Triangle

Therefore, supporting breech births with a primary team of three strengthens a situation made vulnerable by its novelty. A triangle is one of nature’s strongest structures; this mini-team is strengthened, given a base by the addition of perspective. Given the importance of documentation in any higher-risk birth, triangulation of data (eg strengthening the accuracy by using different sources) also makes practical sense. The triangulated team increases everyone’s safety in a novel situation.

Interestingly, many women instinctively form their own triangles, involving two supporters. The third person in this triangle also provides additional support, strength and perspective for both her and her partner.

Continuity: the way forward

Continuity of carer – ensuring a woman knows the professional who will be facilitating her birth, and ideally the entire team – has known, evidenced benefits. Fewer interventions, greater satisfaction. Knowing who else will be in the room, and what their role will be, will also help the woman to feel more relaxed and reassured about the upcoming birth.

Continuity has benefits for providers as well, especially when it comes to facilitating non-standard care. A number of sources have suggested on-call teams for breech births as the way forward (Kotaska 2009Daviss et al 2010) and on-call midwives are a middle ground. Especially when experience is minimal, preparation is key. Where an on-call team is not available, the entire team who will be attending the birth should be identified when the woman is admitted to hospital, and again at handover if appropriate. This team should have a thorough discussion about roles and responsibilities, and a run-through of the ‘fire drill’ if things do not go as planned, well before second stage requires the additional team members to attend.

The team should meet afterwards to review the birth and identify if any group work issues have been identified that can be improved for future births. This review should involve the obstetric labour lead, a midwifery manager and/or risk management midwife if the breech service is new to the maternity team. A reflective approach in the early stages will pay off in increased safety and a more confident, united team in the long run.

Further information and inspiration for your dream team

Teamwork is crucial to the safety of breech births. Michael West has written extensively about the characteristics of ‘real teams,’ as opposed to ‘pseudo teams.’ Real teams have clear, shared team objectives; role interdependence and role clarity; and they meet regularly to review and improve performance (West, 2014). If we are to successfully change the culture of breech birth, and support women as safely as possible as we develop our skills and experience, we must function as real teams.

West, M.A., & Lyubovnikova, J. (2013). Illusions of Team Working in Health Care. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 27(1), 134-142. (more from West)

You may also be interested in this article: Plested M, Walker S. Building confident ways of working around higher risk birth choices. Essentially MIDIRS 5(9)13-16.

How have you prepared your teams to support planned breech births?

Shawn

Dolichocephaly – understanding ‘breech head’ molding

This post is about dolichocephaly, a form of positional molding which affects some breech babies – how it happens, why it may be important, and how to recognise it.

Everyone is concerned about entrapment of the after coming head in a breech birth. And it seems so unpredictable. Many breech babies, even large ones, seem to just fall out. And then others, not so large, get stuck. RCOG guidelines suggest an estimated fetal weight above 3800 g is ‘unfavourable’ for vaginal breech birth, but goes on to say, “If the baby’s trunk and thighs pass easily through the pelvis simultaneously, cephalopelvic disproportion is unlikely.” (Easily is undefined, but in light of the evidence against augmenting breech labours, I interpret it as occurring spontaneously within about an hour of active pushing.)

Can we predict which babies’ heads are more likely to have difficulty passing through the pelvis? I don’t know, but I feel one phenomenon in particular deserves more attention – dolichocephaly.

Dolichocephaly developing due to positional pressures

Dolichocephaly developing due to positional pressures

Technically, dolichocephaly is a mild cranial deformity in which the head has become disproportionately long and narrow, due to mechanical forces associated with breech positioning in utero (Kasby & Poll 1982, Bronfin 2001Lubusky et al 2007). This change in shape is more commonly associated with primiparity (first babies), larger babies, oligohydramnios, and posterior placentas, all of which result in greater forces applied to the fetal head.

(Note: Like all positional molding which occurs in utero, dolichocephaly does not in itself cause nor indicate abnormal brain development. The head shape is highly likely to return to completely normal in the days and weeks following birth, especially if baby receives lots of holding and cuddles to permit free movement of the head.)

Clinical Importance

Following the birth of the arms in a breech birth, the head will be in the anterior-posterior diameter of the pelvis. When the head shape has become abnormally elongated, the longest diameter of the fetal head will meet the shortest diameter of the maternal pelvis at the inlet. Unless the baby is still on the small side and the pelvic inlet very round, the chin may get stuck on the sacral promontory, preventing head flexion. A very experienced breech provider will have encountered this situation before, and should be able to assist, but it is quite a tricky place to be. The head may need to be rotated into the transverse diameter to safely enter the pelvis. A very elongated head can have difficulty passing through the lower pelvis as well, and can cause damage to the maternal pelvic floor, unless appropriate techniques are used to assist the head to flex.

Effects of abnormal head molding in some breech-positioned babies

Abnormal head molding in some breech babies

Estimation of fetal weight by ultrasound is notoriously inaccurate. However, a lack of proportionality between the head circumference and the biparietal diameter is more obvious to spot (e.g. HC=90th percentile, BPD=60th percentile; or a difference in correlating dates of two weeks or more), and may be a more relevant indication that this baby is too big for this particular woman. Dolichocephaly can be discerned on palpation as well, as the occiput is prominently felt above the fetal back, the head is not ballotable, and may feel unusually wide. I would suggest caution where estimated fetal weight is above 3500 g and a difference in HC and BPD, or careful palpation, indicates abnormal cranial molding has occurred, especially for women who are having their first baby, have a low amniotic fluid index, and/or a high posterior placenta; and in situations where imaging pelvimetry is not used to confirm an ample pelvic inlet.

Counselling Women

Women instinctively do not like weight limits used as ‘selection criteria.’ One woman (Ann, multip, 6’1”) looks at another (Carol, primip, 5’0”) and they both think – We can’t possibly be expected to have similar-sized babies. While Ann may carry a 4000 g baby with no abnormal head molding, and expect a straightforward birth, Carol’s baby may begin to show signs of dolichocephaly at 3300 g, especially if she has low levels of amniotic fluid and a posterior placenta. Carol may still have a successful birth, but it will more likely depend on the skill and experience of her attendant in assisting the aftercoming head to flex, rotate and negotiate the pelvic diameters, and the pelvic diameters themselves.

A 'normal' breech baby - well-flexed, with lots of room to move

A ‘normal’ breech baby – well-flexed, with lots of room to move

We need to move away from the concept of ‘selection criteria,’ which are used by professionals to make decisions for women, and towards an understanding of what is ‘normal for breech.’ We need to understand more about which babies are more likely to experience those beautiful, often-easier-than-cephalic, dancing-into-the-world births, and which babies are truly being put at additional risk by their in utero conditions.

Then we will be able to explain to women the benefits of a caesarean section for pregnancies which have become ‘abnormal.’ Women will be able to approach this intervention with an open heart when they observe professionals are truly supporting ‘normal’ breech births and providing individualised care and screening to those which are not.

I would love to know what others think about this.

Shawn