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.
My 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 “Respecting the Mechanisms” and “Restoring the Mechanisms” of breech. In this way, I also believe that we can shift the paradigm of “No normal breech” to “Know normal breech.” 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’ve 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 “Breech Competency Documentation” 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.
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.