Category Archives: Breech Skills

Nuchal cord and the breech

Two questions:

  1. Should we screen for nuchal cord using ultrasound when a woman is planning a vaginal breech birth? and
  2. What should we do with the information if we do identify a nuchal cord on ultrasound?

‘Nuchal cord’ means that one or more loops of umbilical cord are wrapped around the baby’s neck, during pregnancy or birth. Checking for nuchal cord prior to external cephalic version (ECV) or during risk assessment prior to a vaginal breech birth (VBB) is both common and controversial.

cord-leg entanglement, image: Dr Pricilla Ribeiro-Huguet

What is known:

  1. Nuchal cords are common, especially for breech presentation. For example, in this study (Wong & Ludmir, 2006), where someone specifically looked for a nuchal cord prior to an attempt at ECV, 34/75 (45.3%) babies were spotted wearing their cord as a necklace. They attempted the ECVs without this information. More babies with nuchal cords had transient (temporary) heart rate abnormalities, and their ECVs were less likely to be successful. But none of them had an emergency caesarean birth because of the way their heart rate was affected by attempting ECV.
  2. This really good summary of Nuchal Cord and Its Implications (Peesay 2007) indicates that at birth, as many as 30% of all babies could have a nuchal cord.
  3. It may cause problems in some pregnancies and/or births, but visual assessment by ultrasound does NOT help us to predict which ones. (… in general. Unless, as in this paper by Hinkson et al 2019, there are 6 loops of nuchal cord visible. Wow!)
the baby's head is being born with two loops of nuchal cord around the neck
double nuchal cord, image: Shawn Walker

What is not known: Does a nuchal cord increase the risk associated with an ECV or vaginal breech birth? We just don’t know if, or by how much, presence of a nuchal cord increases the risk. This is one reason neither of the RCOG guidelines (ECV, Management of Breech) indicate nuchal cord should be identified, or used as an exclusion criteria, for either of these. In fact, they don’t mention ‘nuchal cord’ or ‘cord around the neck’ at all.

When there is clinical uncertainty, we just say … there is clinical uncertainty. We can’t guarantee it won’t be a problem, but we have no clear evidence that it is likely to cause a problem.

Other guidelines often do say something like, “exclude nuchal cord.” This means, “Look for it with ultrasound to make sure it isn’t there.” But it’s not clear what one is supposed to do if you identify it IS there. And if a clinician has not looked for it, or has not spotted it, and it ends up being there and causing a problem during birth, have they been negligent? It’s a slippery slope.

cord-leg entanglement, image: Dr Anke Reitter

In my own clinical experience, breech babies born vaginally quite often have one or sometimes two loops of nuchal cord around their neck at birth. My gut feeling is that these babies more often needed help to flex the head, for example with a shoulder press, but that this was not more difficult than when the cord is not there.

I also checked our video study (Reitter, Halliday & Walker 2020) database of 42 breech births with ‘good’ outcomes. Among these, 8/42 (19%) had a cord wrapped at least once around the neck. Among these 8, 5/8 had help with the arms, and 6/8 had help to flex the head. This was slightly higher than the overall averages in the whole dataset. In the dataset, there were also 2 cases of leg entanglement, 1 case of arm entanglement, and 1 cord prolapse, where the cord comes out first.

It seems plausible that cord entanglement, whether around the neck or another body part, could interfere with the normal mechanisms of a vaginal breech birth. These babies may then require more assistance to be born safely, which is not itself a problem, as long as that assistance is provided in a timely fashion. It also seems plausible that in some case, a tight or short cord entanglement could cause problems that would put the baby at risk. But the kind of potential problems Peesay describes are all very likely to be picked up with the kind of close monitoring (growth scans, fetal heart rate monitoring, etc.) that every known breech baby received antenatally and/or in labour.

I’ve also added a ‘cord’ tag to several videos in our video library. If you’ve taken our Physiological Breech Birth course, you can search the library to watch several videos where cord entanglements feature and are resolved.

In summary, these are my recommendations:

  1. Don’t routinely go looking for a nuchal cord in otherwise uncomplicated pregnancies.
  2. If you do spot a nuchal cord, explain the clinical uncertainty with regard to its implications.
  3. Offer and attempt ECV if the person chooses this.
  4. Offer and support a VBB if the person chooses this.
  5. When attending a VBB with a known/suspected nuchal cord in labour:

  1. interpret fetal heart monitoring in light of this;
    • interpret descent in light of this;
    • anticipate the cord could interfere with the mechanisms, which may require your assistance; and
    • review all of your tools for assisting the head to flex.

I’d love to know others’ thoughts and experiences?

Shawn

New training videos from the Hospital of Southern Denmark

The team at Sygehus S√łnderjylland, the University Hospital of Southern Denmark, has created a wonderful new series of training videos for upright breech birth. We are thrilled to be able to share them with you!

The creation of the videos was led by obstetrician Kamilla Gerhard-Nielsen, who also led the implementation of the upright breech concept in the hospital and its introduction in Denmark.

They also host a FaceBook page. Image: Obstetricians Katrin Loeser and Kamilla Gerhard-Nielsen

Model of a breech baby sitting over the pelvis

Touch Surgery / Medtronic breech birth simulation app

Physiological breech birth training is now available via the Touch Surgery app. This QR code will take you to a page where you can download the app.

FREE to use and distribute. The training is based on research about physiological breech birth and the methods we teach in our one-day course.

Thank you to the artists and technicians at Touch Surgery, who developed this resource to help improve the safety of vaginal breech birth.

Video analysis and Algorithm paper published!

Practical insight into upright breech birth from birth videos: a structured analysis” is now available on-line! (Reitter, Halliday and Walker, 2020, Birth –¬†https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12480) This paper represents a few years of hard work by Anke Reitter, me and our Research Assistant, Alexandra Halliday. It contains insights into birth timings and the mechanisms as observed in upright breech birth videos. The Physiological Breech Birth Algorithm is also included.

Download Algorithm

We look forward to much debate and discussion! Please share with anyone concerned about safe vaginal breech birth.

Love,

Shawn

Traduit par: Isabelle Brabant et Caroline Daelmans

Vancouver physiological breech workshop

Next month, I will be a Visiting Scholar at the University of British Columbia. This will include a workshop on my research and physiological breech birth practice, delivered alongside Andrew Kotaska, lead author of the Canadian breech guideline, and a highly respected obstetric and midwifery faculty.

Please share this information with any Canadian OBs and Residents who want to extend their skills to facilitate safe vaginal breech births. The course is accredited for MOC 3. Bookings can be made on-line.

International Maternity Expo Award Nominees

The Breech Birth Network are delighted to announce both Shawn and Emma have been shortlisted for awards at the International Maternity Expo Awards. We are both very honoured to have been shortlisted in the following categories:

Dr Shawn Walker – shortlisted for the Research Innovation Award and the Improving Safety Award

 

Dr Shawn Walker has been shortlisted for both the Research Innovation Award and the Improving Safety Award for her work in improving the knowledge, skills and training around Physiological Breech Birth. Shawn has published a number of research articles highlighting the importance of effective training, the development of experienced breech teams and pracical insights into upright breech birth. Shawn is currenty writing proposals for further essential research into Physiological Breech Birth to further improve safety and choice for mothers and their babies as well as practiotioners facilitating such births.

 

Emma Spillane – shortlisted for the Practice Innovation Award

Emma has been shortlisted for the Practice Innovation Award for her work in setting up a breech birth service in the large London teaching hospital she works in. The service supports mothers in their choices regarding mode of birth for breech presentation at term. Emma is also completing her Masters research in Breech Childbirth Preferences of Parents to further support service provision and support for parents choices.

We would both like to thank those who nominated us. It is a privilege and an honour to have been recognised for the work we are both doing.

Shawn and Emma

Rotational manoeuvre to release breech nuchal arms

flat hands

In June, I spent a week in the Netherlands working with a committed group of lecturers. The midwifery universities of the Netherlands share a common curriculum, and following our meeting last year, they agreed to incorporate physiological breech birth into their training programme. My visit was to support the midwifery lecturers to implement the new skills into standard midwifery training.

While in Amsterdam, I collaborated with Midwifery Lecturer Bahar Goodharzi of Academie Verloskunde Amsterdam Gr√∂ningen (AVAG) to create a short series of films demonstrating the rotational arm manoeuvre we teach in Breech Birth Network study days. We agreed that this is a tricky manoeuvre to learn and teach, but it is incredibly effective in practice so worth the effort of learning. I’ve collected our short demonstrations in the film below, along with information about how to recognise that this manoeuvre is required.

Note: If you have difficulty rotating the baby initially, you may have to elevate the baby slightly to a higher station, so that the shoulder girdle rises above the pelvic inlet. It can then rotate to engage in the transverse diameter.

Thank you to Emma Spillane of St George’s Hospital in London, who has helped to refine the way we teach this manoeuvre following her own experiences of successfully using it in practice.

For a poetic description of what it is like to encounter this complication for the first time as a midwife or doctor, read Nicole Morales’ blog, The prose of no rotation and no descent: rotating to free the arms.

You can download the Physiological Breech Birth Algorithm here.

Midwifery Lecturers of the Netherlands, June 2018

— Shawn

I’m honored to be asked to be the guest writer this week on breech.¬† Shawn Walker is an international inspiration to those doing breech work around the world in various settings providing tools for breech birth to be safer and more accessible.

breech glassMy journey to breech started with the breech homebirth of my daughter, Nilaya, who is now 12 years old.  I was a student midwife just starting to catch babies here in the U.S. and had my first two head down babies steeped in a culture of home birth where twins and breech were normal. The choice to birth my third baby breech at home was not difficult.  I did not have to fight for it.  I just did it.   It was through this birth that I became invested in understanding and preserving this part of the craft of midwifery.  


Getting experience and quality training in breech has been a challenge.  I’ve had to seek out workshops and conferences from across the United States, take online international courses, and work to understand the mechanics of knowing normal vaginal breech birth.    Even though I am an instructor at our local midwifery school and have developed the curriculum here for breech birth, I still have limited hands-on experience that is slowly growing through the years.  As a Spinning Babies Approved Trainer, I get many referrals for breech parents and help them to navigate breech late in pregnancy through counseling, bodywork, and midwifery skills.  It is amazing what skills one picks up with their hands from seeing so many families and palpating so many breech presentations. Being able to have breech immersion of any sort can help keep the knowledge and skills alive.  

We are at a crossroads here in the U.S. for breech where in state after state, midwives are being limited by laws for attending breech and have not had a bar set for what breech birth competency looks like.¬† We might have a small list of skills, but with breech complications, we know that the refined skills can make a difference in outcomes.¬† If we have the ability to show experience, understanding, and investment in training, we might set a different course for breech, and midwives might actually set the bar for competency and have influence on other professions.¬† I am interested in how we can provide a more thorough understanding of what Shawn Walker deems ‚ÄúRespecting the Mechanisms‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúRestoring the Mechanisms‚ÄĚ of breech.¬† In this way, I also believe that we can shift the paradigm of ‚ÄúNo normal breech‚ÄĚ to ‚ÄúKnow normal breech.‚Ä̬† The international breech community, in how it is detailing the mechanisms of breech birth, can actually be a model to those doing vertex deliveries!¬† One of the reasons for a higher cesarean rate here in the U.S. is fear of a shoulder dystocia¬† In understanding the mechanisms of normal and restoring these mechanisms at all levels of the pelvis could reduce interventions and improve outcomes.¬† There is value for all births in utilizing gravity and mobility to increase diameters of the pelvis or to safely reduce fetal diameters when presented WITH complications. ¬† Respecting that the reflexes of a baby being born are also part of the mechanisms of normal birth may not be seen with a vertex baby, but we know that babies help themselves to be born.¬† ¬† ¬†

As the international breech community discusses developing breech birth centers and (re)teaching breech, I‚Äôve worked on how I can document my own road to competency and compiled these ideas in the format of the student paperwork for the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM).¬† I naively thought I would just submit them for review, but the interest of a larger community has to also be there.¬† There must be more conversations in the community over how such documentation can be useful and how to avoid potential pitfalls of its use.¬† I have called it ‚ÄúBreech Competency Documentation‚ÄĚ so that it provides a way for birth workers to document skill acquisition as well as experience.¬† One could choose to keep the documentation on file for themselves or even to be part of a larger program. ¬†

I am sharing below three out of four documents I created that are works in progress and open for suggestions.  I want to create a community conversation and am posting these publicly as birth workers in various countries have asked me for such information which I find valuable.  As we gain more knowledge about breech, these skills checklists can be updated to reflect the current knowledge.  

The first document, which is modeled after the NARM skills list, is a compilation of the current skills being developed in the international breech community.  I acknowledge that some Qualified Breech Preceptors may practice differently, but these skills are about developing  a baseline for understanding upright normal breech and upright breech complications.  

The second document, which is modeled after the NARM requirements for becoming a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM), outlines experience for assisting and being a primary student under observation of a Qualified Breech Preceptor.  I originally considered requiring higher numbers of birth / experiences / skills on these lists, but I then realized that it as going to be quite difficult to acquire those numbers of breech deliveries because of the overall low percentage of babies who are breech at term.   I decided that we must focus on quality of skills and of each birth attended and included the ability to use retrospective births that can be debriefed and reviewed with the preceptor.

The second document, which is modeled after the NARM skills list, is a compilation of the current skills being developed in the international breech community.  I broke down the skill categories starting with breech pregnancy, normal vaginal breech birth, complications at the different levels of the pelvis, and small section of postpartum care.   

The third document is for the student / midwife to list retrospective births they may have had and document the process of review with a Qualified Breech Preceptor.  This allows previous births to be able to be integrated and reframed within this format.

The fourth document I have started but not posted and it is pivotal in the overall conversation of Breech Competency Documentation regarding who would or would not qualify as a Qualified Breech Preceptor.  Through this documentation I believe we must point to the Delphi Study and its baseline as being above 20 breech births.  However, attending a certain number of births without any complication may not lead to more competence than someone who has had fewer births but had to resolve complications.  As I was creating this paperwork as a student of breech birth, I questioned whether it should be a document developed in more detail between preceptors and experts.  

http://breechbirthsd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/3-9-2018-Breech-Certification-Checklist_rev.pdf

http://breechbirthsd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/3-9-2018-Breech-Competency-Documentation-Application.pdf

http://breechbirthsd.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/3-9-2018-Breech-Competency-Certification_Form-777-778.pdf

I want to thank all of the people who helped me review the skills list for Breech Competency Documentation including Gail Tully, Diane Goslin, Shawn Walker, and Vickii Gervais.  I also want to thank Rindi Cullen-Martin for helping me with formatting and making the changes.  Both of us as breech mothers have an investment in continuing this work.  This work has also been influenced by the international breech community including Jane Evans, Mary Cronk, Anke Reitter, Frank Louwen, Maggie Banks, Anne Frye, Betty-Anne Daviss, Mary Cooper, Peter J. O’Neill, Andrew Bisits, Stuart Fischebein, and many others.

  Nicole Morales, LM CPM is a midwife with a home birth practice in San Diego, California.  She is a Spinning Babies Approved Trainer, an instructor at Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery and a Certified Birthing From Within Mentor.  She and other breech mothers have worked on the website breechbirthsd.com to compile information for families and providers navigating breech pregnancy and birth. 

What is the evidence for shoulder press / Frank’s Nudge?

Learning shoulder press in Montreal with Isabelle Brabant

As physiological breech practice gains acceptance, guidelines are changing to reflect this change in practice. One of the questions those updating guidelines often ask is: What is the evidence? For example, what is the evidence for the shoulder press manoeuvre we teach in Physiological Breech Birth study days?

To answer this question, we have to consider what level of evidence underpins breech practice in general. To my knowledge, no breech manoeuvres have been tested in randomised controlled trials. A recent Cochrane Review looked at ‘Quick versus standard delivery’ for breech babies and found no reliable studies to inform practice.

Image from Louwen et al 2017, Does breech delivery in an upright position instead of on the back improve outcomes and avoid caesareans? Open Access, click on image for full report. Artwork by Chloe Aubert

Observational studies that contain clear descriptions of the methods of management used in that setting reported alongside perinatal outcomes contain one form of evidence. A problem with¬†observational studies is¬†that even when ‘classical methods’ are reported, the meaning of that expression varies between settings. So studies from Canada, for example, are not necessarily generalizable to settings in the UK because standard practice varies between the two continents. A notable exception is the study of outcomes associated with upright breech birth reported by the Frankfurt team (Louwen et al 2017), in which a very clear description of the ‘Frank’s Nudge’ manoeuvre is provided, alongside excellent perinatal outcomes associated with upright maternal positions.

Another type of evidence is the support of a ‘responsible body of similar professionals.’ This is related to the Bolam test for clinical negligence in English tort law (Bolam v. Friern Hospital Management Committee), which holds that, “there is no breach of standard of care if a responsible body of similar professionals support the practice that caused the injury, even if the practice was not the standard of care.” In¬†our research with 13 obstetricians and 13 midwives who had attended a self-reported¬†average of 135 breech births each (Walker et al 2016), 73% of those participating agreed or strongly agreed that health professionals attending upright breech births should be competent to assist by:

  • sub-clavicular pressure and bringing the shoulders forward to flex an extended head; and
  • pressure in the sub-clavicular space, triggering the head to flex.

Additionally, 86% agreed or strongly agreed that an essential skill was:

  • moving infant’s body to mum’s body, so that infant’s body follows the curve of the woman’s sacrum

This research avoided the use of names such as ‘shoulder press’ and ‘Frank’s Nudge’ in favour of descriptions because not everyone uses the same terms, or refers to the same actions even if they do.

Evidence for manoeuvres also comes from evaluations of training programmes, both breech-specific and obstetrics emergencies courses. In our review of the effectiveness of vaginal breech birth training strategies (Walker et al 2017a), we found no published studies demonstrating an association between any training strategy and improvement in perinatal outcomes.¬†The evidence base for the PROMPT training programme, widely used in the UK, comes from a study that did demonstrate an association with training and a subsequent reduction in low 5-minute Apgar scores and HIE (Draycott et al 2006). But that study questionably excluded outcomes for breech births, and because of this the breech methods in PROMPT cannot be said to be evidence-based, although the programme’s overall approach of multi-disciplinary working and clear communication remains important.

Most obstetrics emergencies training programmes have been evaluated at the level of change in confidence and/or knowledge. Our Physiological Breech Birth training programme, which includes shoulder press, has also been evaluated at this level in published research and demonstrated good results (Walker et al 2017b).

Finally we have the most recent RCOG guideline¬†(Impey et al 2017), which states: “The choice of manoeuvres used, if required to assist with delivery of the breech, should depend on the individual experience/preference of the attending doctor or midwife.”

— Shawn