Two weeks, two inspirational obstetric colleagues, two very welcoming UK cities. So much commitment to improve the system for breech babies and their mothers.
On the 20th of March, Dr Elie Azria of the Hôpital Paris Saint Joseph and Descartes University, joined me in Dundee, Scotland, to teach through the eclipse! The French and Belgians have continued to support breech births in the last 15 years, responding to the Term Breech Trial (TBT) with a prospective observational study (PREMODA, 2006) which involved over twice the number of planned breech births (VBB) than the TBT, and demonstrated no statistically significant difference in outcomes between those who planned a VBB and those who planned a caesarean section (CS). Azria was the lead author on a follow-up analysis of the data examining factors associated with adverse perinatal outcomes in the PREMODA data.
In our Breech Birth Network study day, Azria presented new research concerning whether breech presentation is an independent risk factor in preterm breech birth, with interesting results which we hope to see published soon. He also gave an inspiring presentation on the “Traps of Evidence Based Medicine,” using the example of term breech delivery, building on his work to reconcile the need for maternal autonomy and medical responsibility in shared decision-making about mode of childbirth.
I always enjoy teaching with experienced practitioners who come from a different practice culture. Practice constantly improves and evolves from sharing these different ways, if we are open to learning from each other. Azria pointed out that, sadly, even within a culture where support for VBB has remained standard, the use of CS is on the rise. As he described, “Breech delivery is a craftsman’s job,” an art as well as a science. Learning breech skills requires commitment, dedication and practice, which not everyone is willing to offer. Nor are many people keen to take the risk of learning in the current risk-averse climate of maternity care.
Read more about How singleton breech babies are born in France, from the AUDIPOG network (Lansac et al 2015).
On the 27th March, I was joined by Miss Nicola Lack, Consultant Obstetrician from University College London Hospital NHS Trust. Lack gave a fantastic presentation on the research base for counselling about mode of childbirth with a breech presenting baby. One of the problems with a decimated skills base is that, while we may have a strict set of inclusion criteria for what constitutes ‘normal’ for a VBB, it may be quite difficult to find someone who can actually assess those criteria at a moment’s notice on labour ward, eg. a hyperextended neck on ultrasound. Breech skills are not just the manoeuvres which may be used around the time of birth. Skilled practice also involves the ability to provide detailed individualised counselling and make relevant antenatal assessments, as well as on-going interpretation throughout pregnancy and labour.
Lack’s presentation drew extensively from her own experience of working in the UK and Africa, as well as her understanding of medico-legal issues and constraints caused by a litigious practice culture. She explained how, when counselling, we really need to talk about the potential benefits of VBB as well as the risks. For example, she reflected on how, when she first qualified as an obstetrician in 1999, placenta percreta was relatively rare. Now, she and her colleagues encounter it approximately once a week or fortnight, due to the increase in CS rate. That’s very concerning. Lack also facilitates a postnatal birth reflections clinic, where she has had the opportunity to learn how women feel about breech childbirth experiences, both CS and VBB, after the event.
My one sadness on both days was that, despite the best efforts of the organisers and the high calibre of the obstetric speakers at the events, so few obstetric colleagues attended the study days. This is a real problem. Midwives are increasingly advocating for women to have the realistic option of a well-supported VBB if that is their informed choice, but this needs to be a collaborative effort. I urge our obstetric colleagues to come to the table to learn and work with us, so that the women and babies we care for, and we as professionals, can benefit from the best possible support of the wider multi-disciplinary team.
Thank you to Consultant Midwife Phyllis Winters of the Montrose Maternity Unit and Julie Woodman of the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth for organising the study days.