Category Archives: Breech Skills

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 “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.  

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

Breech holiday, Frankfurt – from Olvindablog

Justifying to a seven-year-old Anubis why I’m going to Germany for my week off – and missing mothers’ day, helped crystallise objectives and motivation for this busman’s holiday* (*a form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work). “I’m going to see some babies be born bottom-first.” “Don’t you see that […]

via Breech holiday, Frankfurt — Olvindablog

Running start

frank breech

In Physiological Breech Birth training, we teach breech practice according to the consensus statements developed with experienced professionals in Principles of Physiological Breech Birth Practice (Walker, Scamell & Parker, 2016), including:

Care providers should not disturb women’s spontaneous movements in an otherwise normally progressing breech birth.

Mother-led positioning offers the greatest physiological advantages.

Sometimes maternal-led positioning is most conducive; sometimes judicious guidance is appropriate, especially to help resolve delay.

When facilitating a physiological breech birth, care providers proactively use maternal position (or change in position) to promote normal descent.

The pictures below demonstrate asymmetrical maternal movement in a normal breech birth, in which the mother assumes an upright, kneeling position, with freedom to move her torso up and down as she feels the need. Study of effective, spontaneous maternal movements during successful breech births teaches professionals about all normal birth. Instinctive maternal movement can be read as purposeful and meaningful, in light of radiological evidence of changes in pelvic diameters (Reitter et al, 2014) — rather than counter-productive and needing professional interruption or guidance.

In this picture series, the mother spontaneously lifts one of her legs into an asymmetrical, ‘running start’ position. Often a change in maternal position, or rhythmic maternal movement (“give it a wiggle”) will prompt spontaneous descent to resume.

If a professional detects a slight delay in descent, it may be appropriate to suggest a change of position by raising one leg or the other, as a first-line intervention, a ‘maternal manoeuvre,’ before hands-on intervention. If you are using a ‘Running Start’ position, assist the mother to lift the leg on the side the baby faces, e.g. the same side as the legs & umbilicus. This will open the pelvis on that side, creating space for the pubic arm to descend past the ischial spine, and encouraging rotation in a sacrum-anterior direction. If you intervene by lifting the leg on the side of the baby’s back, this will encourage rotation in a sacro-posterior direction.

Thank you to the staff at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Services in Belfast for giving us the language, “Lift the leg on the side the baby faces.”

This mother is raising and lowering her torso with the aid of her partner’s thighs.

Dropping her torso, arching her back and tucking her hips under.

Moving her hips back towards her heels.

Squatting back onto her heels. This creates maximum space in the pelvic outlet as the breech passes through the ischial spines. The mother will not ‘sit’ on her baby, preventing the birth, but will instead raise her hips again when she instinctively feels the urge to do so.

Rising up again, arching her back. Creating space in the pelvic inlet as the shoulders and head enter.

Squatting back down. Spontaneous movements constantly change pelvic diameters as the baby rotates through.

Torso and hips rise up as baby rumps. Thrusting hips forward has a protective effect on the perineum and opens the inlet to assist engagement of shoulders/head. ‘Fetal ejection reflex.’

Pressure as baby descends. The mother drops her torso down again.

Moving into Running Start. The baby has not completely rotated to sacrum-anterior. The mother spontaneously lifts the leg on the side of the fetal legs, creating further space to assist rotation of the torso and descent of the pubic arm.

Significant descent occurs with the next contraction.

Running start continues to make space for gravity to do it work.

Almost there.

Straight to his mother’s arms.

The physiological process of welcome continues without interruption.

Thank you to the mother, who gave permission for her birth photos to be used for educational purposes; and to her family and midwives. One of these images appeared in the article, Unexpected Breech: What can midwives do?  in The Practising Midwife. Click here to download – PDF.

Training in Norwich: 14 January 2017

Simulations in Christchurch, NZ, October 2017

Simulations in Christchurch, NZ, October 2017 – photo by Tina Hewitt

To kick off the new year, Breech Birth Network are providing a study day in Norwich on 14 January 2017. If you’ve been wanting to encourage your obstetric colleagues or trainees to attend training, this will hit the spot. Our teaching team includes Dr Anke Reitter, FRCOG, Shawn Walker, RM, Victoria Cochrane, RM, and Mr Eamonn Breslin, MRCOG. Send your colleagues the link to our Eventbrite booking page, with a personal invitation! Or download a poster for your work environment.

Eventbrite - Physiological breech birth study day - Norwich

This study day for obstetricians, midwives, paramedics and students will provide an engaging and interactive update on professional skills to facilitate physiological breech births, planned or unexpected. The study day would be especially useful for clinical skills teachers who want to include physiological breech methods in professional skills updates or student lessons, due to access to resources after the workshop. The focus is on collaborative, multi-professional working to improve the safety of vaginal breech birth using the skills of all maternity care professionals.

Training will include:

* A research update given by leading researchers in the field, including Dr Anke Reitter, FRCOG, IBCLC of Frankfurt

* Thorough theoretical and hands-on explanations of how breech babies journey through the maternal pelvis in a completely spontaneous birth (the breech mechanisms), enabling you to distinguish between normal progress and dystocia

* Hands-on simulation of complicated breech births and resolutions, using narratives and videos of real breech complications, to enable you to practice problem-solving in real time

* Models of breech care that work within modern maternity services

* An accompanying booklet containing handout versions of all of the slides and resources used in the training

* One year’s access to the on-line learning space following the training, to continue viewing and reflecting on birth videos (one per month) in a secure forum, and resources for sharing teaching with professionals in your practice community

* Lunch and refreshments

Registration begins at 8:30 for a 9:00 start

Hosted by the University of East Anglia University Midwifery Society. Profits from the study day will benefit the UEA Midwifery Society annual charity, the Orchid ProjectSee here for directions to Norwich from further afield.


Feedback from study days in Christchurch & Auckland, October 2016:

My main concern was lack of training of staff leading them to believe that breech birth is an emergency. Our RMOs and MWs loved the day and I think feel more empowered. — SMO (Consultant Obstetrician, Senior Medical Officer)

Thank you so much, this has been the best study day ever! — Midwife

Information was clear and concise and well presented. Myths dispelled and physiological VBB and when to intervene very clearly explained. Methods to resolve when there are issues during delivery explained and demonstrated. Clear examples given with supporting video and photographs. Extremely valuable. — RMO (Registered Medical Officer)

Honest, real explanations. How to intervene in a timely manner as opposed to be hands off the breech. — Midwife

Thank you for a brilliant day of teaching and training. You covered a lot of material not taught as part of our training and it has been valuable. — RMO

Learning about manoeuvres to use in upright position, eg. shoulder press; visual components have been amazing, the broken down physiology of a breech birth. — Midwife


Facilitators:

  • Dr Anke Reitter, FRCOG
  • Shawn Walker, RM, MA
  • Victoria Cochrane, RM, MSc
  • Mr Eamonn Breslin, MRCOG

Dr Anke Reitter, FRCOG, IBCLC, is the lead Consultant Obstetrician and Fetal-Maternal Medicine Specialist at Krankenhaus Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt am Main. Although originally from Germany, she worked in India and the United States during her medical studies, and in England (including Liverpool) for 4 years during her obstetric training. After returning to Germany, she specialised in perinatal medicine. Prior to her move to Krankenhaus Sachsenhausen, where she initiated a new breech care pathway in a unit which had not supported breech births for years, Reitter practiced in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department at the University Hospital Frankfurt. A large observational study of the hands/knees breech births in Frankfurt is due to be published soon in the FIGO journal. Her special interests lie in breech, multiple pregnancies, high risk pregnancies and prenatal ultrasound. She is an internationally known speaker, teacher and researcher in several areas, but especially breech birth.

Shawn Walker, RM, MA is a UK midwife and PhD candidate researcher who studies how professionals learn skills to safely facilitate breech births. Clinically, she has worked in all midwifery settings – labour wards, freestanding and alongside birth centres, and home births. She led the development of a breech clinic pathway at the James Paget University Hospital (2012-2014), where she worked as a Breech Specialist Midwife. Her research focus on breech birth is part of a wider interest in complex normality – working with obstetric colleagues to enable women at moderate and high risk to birth and bond physiologically where possible. She currently works as a bank midwife at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, in addition to periodic teaching, consultancy and breech support across the UK and internationally.

Victoria Cochrane, RM, MSc is the Consultant Midwife for Normality at the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust. RM, MSc, Supervisor of Midwives. The majority of her clinical career has been working in and developing caseload and continuity models for women and their families in the community.  She is deeply passionate about working with colleagues to support women making pregnancy and birth choices that sit outside of routine guidance.  In her current role she works to support normality for women in all aspects of pregnancy and birth. Breech presentation became a special interest in 2009 when her daughter spent a few weeks in that position at the end of pregnancy; it’s amazing what one can learn in a short space of time when faced with challenging choices.  This led to carrying out a cross-site service evaluation of the management of undiagnosed breech for her MSc dissertation.


References

Reitter, A., Daviss, B.-A., Bisits, A., Schollenberger, A., Vogl, T., Herrmann, E., Louwen, F., Zangos, S., 2014. Does pregnancy and/or shifting positions create more room in a woman’s pelvis?Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 211, 662.e1-662.e9.

Walker, S., Scamell, M., Parker, P., 2016. Standards for maternity care professionals attending planned upright breech births: A Delphi study. Midwifery 34, 7–14.

Walker, S., Scamell, M., Parker, P., 2016. Principles of physiological breech birth practice: a Delphi study. Midwifery 43, 1-6. FREE DOWNLOAD until 13 December.

Walker S, Cochrane V (2015) Unexpected breech: what can midwives do? The Practising Midwife, 18(10): 26-29 Click here to downloadPDF.

Compassionate breech birth in Bangladesh

Learning physiological breech skills in Bangladesh

So pleased to receive news via Twitter that physiological breech birth skills are being taught in Bangladesh! Tanya (@midwifeinbd) is doing a wonderful job collaborating with obstetric colleagues to change the way breech is taught and enable active breech birth.

Videos used in the training described above include The mechanisms, simplified, The Birth of Leliana and Shoulder Press and Gluteal Lift. You can read about ‘prayer hands‘ in this blog about assisting the birth of the arms.

Thank you once again to the mothers, midwives and doctors who have shared videos and birth images to enable health care practitioners all over the world learn these important skills.

Shawn

The midwives of Portsmouth and the aftercoming fetal head

Claire Reading sharing her skills

Claire Reading sharing her skills

This Tuesday, 1 March 2016, Breech Birth Network travelled to Portsmouth again. The guest speaker was lovely doctor Ms Arti Matah, who spoke about an obstetrician’s view of vaginal breech birth, and led a lively discussion around whether the breech team / care pathway model might work for Portsmouth. Watch this space! I am incredibly impressed with the commitment Portsmouth midwives have shown to developing sound breech skills to support women who choose to birth their breech babies actively.

The skill which captured the group’s imagination most was how to resolve a situation where the head is extended and impacted at the inlet of the pelvis. My research suggests that identification of optimal mechanisms is a core skill for practitioners attending breech births. Therefore our approach to teaching this skill is:

  1. Identification of optimal mechanism — The aftercoming fetal head normally rotates to the oblique/transverse diameter as it enters the pelvic brim, just like the cephalic-presentation head does when engaging.
  2. Identification of deviation from optimal mechanism — In this complication, the fetal head is pinned in the anterior-posterior diameter, with occiput anterior, over the maternal symphysis publis, and chin or brow on the sacral promontory. The bottom of the fetal chin is felt like a ‘bird beak,’ pointing towards the sacrum. The maxilla bones are difficult/impossible to reach, so flexing the head using the usual techniques will be a challenge.
  3. Restore the mechanism — See below.

ShawnPortsmouthThe RCOG guideline suggests delayed engagement in the pelvis of the aftercoming head should be managed using one or both of the following techniques:

Suprapubic pressure by an assistant should be used to assist flexion of the head. Given our understanding of the head as impacted at the pelvic brim and our goal of restoring the mechanism by rotating the head to assist engagement, we suggest that the goal of suprapubic pressure should initially be to encourage this rotation. This mirrors the understanding we have of suprapubic pressure to resolve a shoulder dystocia by rotating the impacted shoulder off the symphysis pubis. Forcible pressure on an impacted fetal head is unlikely to be beneficial for the baby.

The Mauriceau-Smellie-Veit manoeuvre should be considered, if necessary, displacing the head upwards and rotating to the oblique to facilitate engagement. We use a doll and pelvis to explore why this elevation and rotation prior to re-attempting flexion is necessary. Watch the video below to see this demonstrated.


When a woman is birthing her breech baby actively, we facilitate the head to enter the pelvis using the same principles. Watch the video below, where Midwife Olivia Armshaw is teaching how  to intervene in the case of an extended head at the inlet, when the woman is birthing on hands/knees. In this video, the midwives are discussing how maternal movement – in this case, the woman shuffling her bottom back towards the midwife slightly – helps to elevate the head off the pelvic inlet to facilitate engagement, a technique we learned from the midwives of Sheffield. The principles – elevate, rotate & flex the head – are the same.


Thank you to the Practice Development Team at Portsmouth for organising the day. And thanks to the following midwives for assisting with the day:

  • Claire Reading, midwife in Somerset, who shared her breech experience gained working abroad, and facilitated one of the hands-on stations
  • Olivia Armshaw, midwife from Gloucester, who facilitated one of the learning station and presented on the process of developing a breech team in her local area
  • Tess McLeish, midwife from Lewisham who helped the day run smoothly

Our one sadness on this study day was that we were not joined by any of Portsmouth’s obstetric staff, aside from Ms Arti Matah, who needed to leave early because she was good enough to present at the study day following a night on-call. Across the UK, midwives are trying to engage their obstetric colleagues in a discussion about how to improve things for breech babies and their mothers, and we really need more doctors to come to the table for that discussion to result in a service which is as safe as possible.

Shawn Walker, Olivia Armshaw & Jenny Hall

Shawn Walker, Olivia Armshaw & Jenny Hall

BONUS was meeting and relaxing with Midwife Jenny Hall in Portsmouth after the study day!

— Shawn

Further Study Days can be found  here when they become available. View our Training page for more information.

Feedback from the Study Day:

“the group work was excellent Overall I thought the day was was a good balance of theory to practical”

“very interactive. realistic rather than textbook. real life experiences.”

“perfect study day. Interesting and kept my attention all day!!!”

“visual with the film clips and hands on with the doll and pelvis. Was very good to see normal and abnormal films and great discussion with colleagues to share experiences and what to do in that situation.”

“I also thought Shawn’s attitude to breech was very refreshing. I half expected it to be a bit like “you can have a vaginal breech no matter what”. this was not the case. She had a very safe and sensible approach.”

Assisting rotation of the fetal back to anterior in a breech birth

This post builds on my primary research, Standards for maternity care professionals attending planned upright breech births: A Delphi study. The research reports an experienced panel’s consensus on the skills required for midwives and obstetricians supporting physiological breech births. The practical content of the article is my personal application of one of the findings to clinical teaching.

“Health professionals attending upright breech births should be competent [to assist] rotation of the fetal back to anterior (when the mechanism has deviated from normal)” (p 5). 77% of the panel agreed that this is an important skill. This standard of competence combines two skills: 1) recognising deviation from normal mechanisms; and 2) assisting by restoring the mechanism to normal.

  1. Recognising deviation from normal mechanisms

Within the past two weeks, two people have discussed with me concerns about an incorrect understanding of the correct position for the fetal back when a woman is in a hands/knees position. First, a Practice Development Midwife (PDM) says she advocates teaching breech in ‘only one way’ (eg. lithotomy) because people get confused. A midwife attending training advocated for hands/knees positioning, but when questioned about where the fetal back should be, replied, “The fetal back remains uppermost.” Similarly, a student I am mentoring in practice attended sessions on breech at university. Her lecturer suggested hands/knees may be a more advantageous positioning, but later she is told, even in hands/knees, “The fetal back remains uppermost.” The student had worked out that this couldn’t be correct and sought more information. Excellent critical thinking, Charlotte!

Geburtshilfliche Notfälle, Göbel & Hildebrandt, 2007

Geburtshilfliche Notfälle, Göbel & Hildebrandt, 2007

These are signs of a practice in transition, and the PDM and Charlotte are right to be concerned. Rotating the fetal back uppermost in a hand/knees position is a dangerous but not uncommon mistake. Even in textbooks, such as this German textbook for midwives (Geburtshilfliche Notfälle: vermeiden – erkennen – behandlen, Göbel & Hildebrandt, 2007), the woman’s position is changed, but the professional is still following the rule of, “The fetal back remains uppermost.” (Just to reassure you, once the arms are born, they advocate rotating the fetal body 180° so that the head is born occiput-anterior.)

A physiology-based understanding of the normal mechanisms comes from closely observing spontaneous births which are not interrupted. In a spontaneous breech birth, the most common and most optimal (a.k.a. ‘normal’) rotation of the fetal back is to anterior after the sacrum is born, regardless of the position of the mother.

The simplest way for teaching this aspect of the mechanisms I learned from midwife Jenny Davidson. The baby should rotate “tum to bum.” In other words, the baby’s tummy (stomach/front torso) should be facing the mother’s bum (bottom/posterior), no matter what position the mother is in. If those teaching breech can adopt this language to describe mechanisms and positioning, fewer dangerous misunderstandings, and more flexible thinking mayoccur. Teaching breech as a set of rote manoeuvres leads to automatic behaviours, which are sometimes counter-productive. In my research, I am observing that the path to acquiring breech competence and expertise involves learning to problem-solve in complex, unique clinical situations, often un-learning ‘rules’ that one was taught in skills/drills — because the rules don’t always work (eg. ‘the fetal back remains uppermost’ does not apply in every situation). Experienced professionals replace inflexible rules with more flexible understandings and principles, over a period of time, and through much reflection with peers and mentors. Perhaps teaching should be about patterns and principles, rather than prescriptions?

2. Assisting rotation of the fetal back to anterior — restoring the mechanisms to normal

tum2bumYou should rarely have to do this, but if you do, this principle may be helpful: “Rotation, not traction.” You can assist rotation with your fingers on the bony prominences of the baby’s pelvic girdle, as for any breech manoeuvre. Consider as you do what is happening at the inlet of the pelvis – have the shoulders already engaged, or are they just beginning to enter the pelvic brim?

Safe facilitation of physiological breech births depends on the ability to determine when intervention will be beneficial, and when it is unnecessary and potentially harmful. A breech baby will normally rotate spontaneously, with the back to the anterior (“tum to bum”), as the shoulders engage in the transverse diameter of the pelvic inlet. Pulling or manipulating prior to this spontaneous rotation could cause problems. But if the rotation is to the posterior, it may be beneficial for attendants to intervene at this point rather than rotate an occiput-posterior head mid-pelvis. Or at least 77% of an experienced panel think so …

Shawn

References:

Gibes E & Hildebrandt S (2007) Geburtshilfliche Notfälle: vermeiden – erkennen – behandlen, Thieme

Questions for reflection:

  • Watch the videos in this collection. Identify the normal mechanisms, beginning with descent of the sacrum transverse (to the mother’s side). As you are watching, identify which way you will expect the rotation to occur, anticipating the normal rotation. Did the baby rotate as you expected?
  • Imagine you are attending one of the births in the videos and quietly communicating with a colleague who has no previous breech experience, about what you are expecting to see, and what to document during the birth. What do you whisper to your colleague? Do this simultaneously with your colleague/fellow student as you both watch the video

OSCE preparation – supine

Tonight, I met with some students from the local midwifery school who are preparing for their final OSCE. How exciting! They wanted to review mechanisms and manoeuvres so that they feel confident performing for their exams.

The students will be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of supine/lithotomy skills, so we created a new video to help them remember what we practised.

 

For those wanting to review the mechanisms when a woman is in a supine position, this video, filmed with midwifery students at the University of Salford last year, may also be helpful.

The next study group, for professionals, students or women in and around Norwich, will be on Monday, the 8th of February, from 10am – 1pm. For more resources to prepare for OSCE’s, click on the OSCE tag.

— Shawn

Arms: Identifying the need to intervene

This blog will discuss how to recognise the need to intervene to deliver the arms in a vaginal breech birth which has been physiological up until that point. Descriptions are provided as if the woman is in an upright kneeling position, facing away from the attendant midwife or obstetrician. I have been somewhat prescriptive about how delay and dystocia can be evaluated. Experienced practitioners will have their own comfort levels. My intention is to stimulate discussion among modestly experienced practitioners, to help distinguish patterns calling for intervention from those which do not. Once the umbilicus is born, depending on the condition of the baby, unnecessary delay in identifying dystocia could be dangerous.

Recognising what is normal …

birth of the extended fetal legs

birth of the extended fetal legs

Midwives and obstetricians attending vaginal breech births need to learn to ‘read’ what is visible (eg. outside the vagina), as it provides clues about what might be happening at higher levels in the pelvis. In the normal breech mechanisms, the breech descends sacrum transverse, with the fetal back to one side or the other. A rotation occurs as the shoulders engage in the pelvis in the transverse diameter, just as they do in a cephalic birth. The fetal torso fully rotates, finishing fully facing the attendant — “tum to bum.” When this rotation is observed externally, it provides reassurance that the birth is progressing internally. Once the umbilicus is born, there will be a short pause (usually less than 30 seconds) before gravity will begin to pull the unimpeded fetal body down further in the pelvis.

birth of the umbilicus - fetal torso fully rotated, "tum to bum"

birth of the umbilicus – fetal torso fully rotated, “tum to bum”

When the shoulders reach the pelvic floor, restitution will occur, just as it does in a cephalic birth. Simultaneously, internally, the aftercoming head is rotating to enter the pelvis in the transverse/oblique diameter, just as it does in a cephalic birth. Externally, this may be observed as a slight rotation, in which the pubic fetal arm is released under the pubic arch. If an observable external rotation has occured, almost immediately (usually less than 30 seconds), another rotation occurs in the opposite direction, and the posterior arm is released under the perineum. This coincides with the final internal rotation of the head, as it realigns to an occipito-anterior position ready to be born, just as it does in a cephalic birth.

A thorough understanding of what is ‘normal’ in a vaginal breech births helps attendants to be aware of when deviations from expected patterns may indicate a threat to fetal well-being. The video below repeats the above information, so that you can recreate it with a doll and pelvis in order to thoroughly understand why this mechanism unfolds in the way that it does.

… and what is not normal.

the anterior arm is caught up on the symphysis pubis - rotation is incomplete

the anterior arm is caught up on the symphysis pubis

A deviation from the mechanism described above may indicate a problem, if it is accompanied by a delay. In some cases, when women give birth in upright positions, the combination of a roomy pelvis and the effects of gravity creates a situation in which the fetus can tumble through almost all at once, and the mechanism remains unobserved or seemingly irrelevant to this baby and this mother. If the birth is proceeding rapidly, and the baby is in good condition, there is no need to intervene unless progress stops. Just prepare to break the baby’s fall.

The signal to intervene is an observed variation in the mechanisms, accompanied by a delay (> 30 seconds), unresponsive to spontaneous maternal movement — or any occasion in which the fetus appears compromised. In other words, you observe that descent has stopped and encourage the mother to wiggle, lift a leg, shift her torso, or some other gentle method of shifting the limb which is stuck – but it remains stuck. Some variations suggesting intervention may be necessary include:

Incomplete rotation

prayer hands

prayer hands

The baby has been born to the umbilicus. However, the torso has not completely rotated to face the attendant; the shoulders appear to be in the oblique or A-P diameter of the pelvis. You may need to restore the mechanism. Remember: the shoulders engage in the pelvic inlet in the transverse diameter, visible externally as a complete rotation to face the attendant. If the rotation is not complete, and progress does not resume with spontaneous maternal movement, assume one or both arms are caught up on the pelvic inlet. You can encourage rotation with your hands on the bony prominences of the pelvis (much like Løvset’s), but if this is not easily effective, do not risk twisting the fetal spine. Instead, use ‘flat hands‘ or ‘prayer hands,’ with your fingertips against the bony prominences of the shoulder girdle, palms flat to avoid fetal organ damage. Elevate slightly to disimpact, and rotate the fetal torso so that the shoulders are in the transverse diameter. Descent should resume following this rotation. Once you have started to intervene, continue to assist the head to be born by manually flexing the head and controlling the delivery, or using shoulder press.

I have heard several midwives use the term ‘prayer hands,’ including Helen Dresner-Barnes and Gail Tully.

Posterior arm born first

This is not always a problem, but it often happens because the anterior arm is nuchal, eg. raised beside the head. Again, not always a problem. Sometimes an arm in front of the face helps to keep the head flexed, and they can be born simultaneously. If descent and rotation continues, and the baby appears to be in good condition, watch and wait. However, if the posterior arm (closest to the attendant) is born first and there is a delay (> 30 seconds) before the birth of the anterior arm (nearest the symphysis pubis), intervention is likely required. Suspect a nuchal arm, raised alongside the head. Insert your hand behind the fetal back on the side of the arm which needs to be released. Sweep down, in front of the fetal face, and out. This will restore the mechanism and enable the head to descend to the pelvic outlet. If the arm is positioned behind the head and cannot be swept down, rotational manoeuvres may be required, using prayer hands.

One arm born with shoulders in the anterior-posterior (A-P) diameter

fingertips help to maintain alignment of the fetal head during the rotational manoeuvre

fingertips help to maintain alignment of the fetal head during the rotational manoeuvre

Sometimes, the posterior arm is born and the fetus has not rotated at all; the shoulders appear to be in the A-P diameter, with the posterior shoulder visible under the perineum. This is because the anterior arm is nuchal, stretched alongside the fetal head, and prohibiting further descent. It has become wedged tightly against the symphysis pubis, and it is not possible to sweep down in front of the fetal face. This situation will not respond to subtle maternal movements and requires immediate and assertive intervention, in the form of elevation and rotation. In my own experience of using rotational manoeuvres in this situation, I have used ‘prayer hands’ to rotate the fetus into an occipito-posterior position, where it becomes possible to sweep the nuchal arm down in front of the face and out under the pubic arch. The head should be kept in alignment and rotated back to an occipito-anterior position, where shoulder press or manual flexion can be used to deliver the head without delay.

A pause after the birth of the anterior arm, lasting >30 seconds

if a delay occurs, the second arm may need to be swept down in front of the fetal face

if a delay occurs, the second arm may need to be swept down in front of the fetal face

After the birth of the anterior arm, most of the baby is out. Gravity will usually do its magic, continuing to bring about steady but gradual descent. As the head is rotating into A-P alignment internally, ready to be born, the second arm will release under the perineum. If this process does not resume soon (< 30 seconds) after the birth of the anterior arm, and progress promptly, it suggests two possible problems. Either the posterior arm is blocking the head from descending and rotating, in which case sweeping the second arm down in front of the fetal face should result in both the delivery of the arm and alignment of the head. Or the head has not completely descended into the pelvis. In which case, delivery of the second arm will enable you to get on with assisting the head to be born.

Mechanisms appear normal, complete rotation, umbilicus born, with no further descent for >30 seconds, and especially after the onset of the next contraction

This is when apparent problems with the arms are not actually problems with the arms. The arms are under the sacrum, ready to be born, but they have not been born yet because the head has not entered the pelvis. Although it is possible to sweep them down, this will not solve the underlying problem that the head is extended at the inlet and impacted in the A-P diameter. As described above, the head needs to rotate into the oblique/transverse diameter to enter the pelvis. Begin by lifting the fetal torso to elevate the head off the pelvic inlet slightly. Then rotate to release the arms and enable the head to engage. As you have started to intervene, continue to assist the head to be born, flexing the head manually or using shoulder press once the head has entered the pelvis.

— Shawn

Thank you to Joy Horner, for sharing the photo on which the sketch above is based. And to Mary Cronk, who shared her slides and experience of managing a nuchal arm with me before I encountered it myself, enabling me to resolve it successfully. I am very grateful for the sharing of midwifery knowledge, so I am doing my own sharing in the hope that it will be helpful to another midwife or doctor in a tricky birth.