Yesterday, approximately 50 midwives and obstetricians shared some love for breech babies in Preston by hosting a Physiological Breech Study day!
The day was organised by inspirational Consultant Midwife Tracey Cooper, with the help of midwives Emma Ashton and Emma Gornall, and we felt so welcome! Collaborating with their obstetric colleagues, these midwives have led changes in Preston, where guidelines now advise midwives to use hands and knees maternal positioning for all undiagnosed breech births occurring outside the obstetric unit, including the MLBU and home births. In these settings, obstetric beds are not usually available. Adverse outcomes have occurred across the UK because midwives who have only been trained in lithotomy manoeuvres, following guidelines mandating the lithotomy position, have instructed women to lie on the floor, either to perform a hasty and unnecessary vaginal examination, or to ‘manage’ the birth in the way that feels most familiar. As a result, women have then abandoned the most physiologically advantageous forward kneeling position in order to accommodate health professionals. When a woman is supine on a flat surface, the baby’s body cannot hang the way it does in true lithotomy position, and this may cause difficulties with the birth and/or delivery of the head.
I have been encouraging midwifery leaders to address this problem for some time, after becoming aware of such troubling events occurring not infrequently. In addition, I performed an audit covering a 20-month period in my previous practice setting, and the results indicated that 80% of the breech presentations diagnosed for the first time in labour occurred among otherwise low-risk women under midwifery-led care. This population does not routinely receive a third trimester scan in the UK, and the research does not necessarily indicate that doing routine scans would improve outcomes. However, it does suggest that each midwifery-led setting should have a plan in place to ensure all midwives have setting-appropriate training for managing unanticipated breech births, and that women have access to skilled and supportive counselling and care when this occurs. As more births are occurring in midwifery-led settings following the recommendations of the 2014 NICE Intrapartum Care guidelines, this forward planning will be more and more important, to promote safe physical and psychological outcomes for women and babies.
We were privileged to be joined by Dr Gerhard Bogner of Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria. Bogner shared his experience of trailblazing for breech in Austria by introducing the practice of all fours (im Vierfüßer) breech births, which he has been studying in singletons and twins, with good outcomes. We look forward to the publication of Bogner’s twin data, later in the year. (Read more about Bogner’s work on ResearchGate or Pubmed.)
These international gatherings always prompt discussions about differences in practices. Some audience members were surprised to find that midwives in Austria perform a vaginal examination every hour! Therefore, the evaluation of ‘second stage’ is determined by dilatation. In contrast, visitors from Sheffield – Midwife Helen Dresner-Barnes and Consultant Obstetrician Julia Bodle – explained how in Sheffield, vaginal examinations are not routinely performed during breech labours. Progress is evaluated by observing the woman’s spontaneous expulsive effort, and if she is bearing down for some time without any noticeable descent, this would be considered an arrest in the second stage of labour necessitating a caesarean section. Such differences raise interesting discussions around why we do what we do – for safety? for measurement? for documentation? for protection in case of litigation? And what effects such seemingly neutral interventions may have – interfering with physiology? lowering the threshold for CS with or without benefit? reassuring or undermining the woman and her health professionals? We may not have all the answers, but at least we are beginning to ask the questions.
Thanks also to Lisa Walton of Blackpool and Oli Armshaw of the University of Western England for helping make the day a success.