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:
- Dr Emiliano Chavira’s compelling letter about the state of maternity care – ImprovingBirth.com
- Support women’s autonomy and win a sling! – Dr Rixa Freeze
- The new face of America’s breech experts – Gail Tully
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.
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.
Shawn Walker, RM
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Refusal of medically recommended treatment during pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 664. Obs Gynecol 2016;127:e175–82.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice Bulletin No. 161: External Cephalic Version. Obstet Gynecol 2016;127(2):e54–61.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Mode of term singleton breech delivery. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 340. Obs Gynecol 2006;108(1):235–7.
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Kotaska A. Commentary: routine cesarean section for breech: the unmeasured cost. Birth 2011;38(2):162-4.
- Powell R, Walker S, Barrett A. Informed consent to breech birth in New Zealand. N Z Med J 2015;128(1418):85–92.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Informed consent. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 439. Obs Gynecol 2009;114:401–8.