Category Archives: Breech Skills

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.

Videos: Essential Birth Prep

videosOver and over again, in my research and in personal conversations, I hear how important videos are to health professionals who are self-educating themselves about breech birth. I am still exploring the role of video as a learning tool, but they seem to assist professionals to develop pattern recognition abilities, and enable discussions about clinical decision-making. By watching and talking through what happens in birth videos, these skills can be practiced before they are required in a real-life context.

Here is a list of publicly available on-line videos for health professionals to watch when preparing to attend a breech birth, or to periodically update. Some of them may be close to your idea of ‘ideal,’ and some of them may present a different perspective, or an opportunity for discussion. All of them offer learning opportunity.

Suggested activities:

  • Identify key movements and rotations in the mechanism of breech birth
  • Consider and discuss what prompted intervention, if the video includes intervention
  • What would you do?

You can link to the original posting of the YouTube videos by clicking “View on YouTube” in the bottom right hand corner of the viewer.

Nascimento Mariana – with Dr Priscila Ribeiro Huguet

Frank Breech Home Birth – Spinning Babies Blog, with Gail Tully

The Breech Home Birth of Annaka Faith

Thank you to the very brave and generous mothers, fathers, midwives and doctors who have shared these videos so that others can learn about breech birth.

If you have posted a video of your breech birth, and would like to share that with others, please do include a link in the comments below.

– Shawn

The breech and the perineum

In an active breech birth, we aim to support and encourage the physiological process as long as it appears to be safely unfolding. When practising in this way, we have to understand why some variations occur, when they may threaten the safety of mother or baby, and how clinicians might intervene to safely assist the birth when necessary. 

Breech deliveries are not associated with an increased incidence of severe perineal damage (Jones 2000), and compare favourably to instrumental cephalic deliveries and persistent posterior positions. However, in a lithotomy (supine, legs in stirrups) breech delivery, episiotomies are commonly used to assist with manoeuvres. Manual assistance at some stage is almost always necessary when women are in this position, and an early episiotomy is considered by many to be beneficial. So much so that ‘inappropriate avoidance of episiotomy’ has been identified as a common mistake in breech simulation exercises (Maslovitz et al 2007). However, current RCOG guidelines indicate that episiotomies should not be performed as a matter of course, but according to clinical indication. So what are these indications?

In contrast, active breech births (where women assume upright positions) are associated with lower rates of perineal damage than cephalic births. In a recent study (Bogner et al 2014) comparing a small series of all fours breech births with lithotomy deliveries, serious perineal lacerations occurred only 14.6% of the time when women were in all fours, compared to 58.5% of the time with lithotomy deliveries. A majority in the latter category were due to episiotomies, rather than the mechanical process of birth.

The breech stretches a perineum differently from a head. A well-flexed, round head will displace the fanning perineum more or less evenly, spreading the tissue during the crowning process. In contrast, a bottom is softer and flatter. And other limbs provide irregular pressure.

When might intervention be helpful?

I became interested in this question due to differing information from several experienced clinicians. Mary Cronk MBE, with whom I had the great privilege to teach a few years ago, explained in her inimitable way that she was a bit more ‘scissor-happy’ with breech babies, so there must be good reason. However, other experienced clinicians feel that an intact perineum is important to maintain fetal flexion for as long as possible, and needing to cut an episiotomy should be a very rare occurrence. (See a previous discussion.)

One of Mary’s classic slides includes a birth where she cut an episiotomy because the perineum had become overstretched and was tearing in a button-hole pattern. Especially when nulliparous women give birth to frank breech babies, this overstretching may occur because the perineum does not spread and recede over the comparatively flat bottom in the same way as it does a head.

If the perineum has become abnormally distended and is causing significant delay, consider a 'perineal sweep.' If not successful, an episiotomy is indicated.

If the perineum has become abnormally distended and is causing delay, consider a ‘perineal sweep.’ If not successful, an episiotomy is indicated.

The illustration to the right depicts an abnormally distended and overstretched perineum. The baby’s bitrochanteric diameter (the distance between the outer points of the hips) has already descended past the ischial spines, and we have passed the ‘point of no return’ – the baby will be born vaginally.

The potential risks with an abnormally distended perineum are:

  • Delaying the birth at a point when the umbilicus has already descended into the pelvis and may be compressed. The fetal heart may no longer be reliably auscultated due to descent into the pelvic brim. If this is the case, assistance is warranted.
  • A button-hole tear in the mother’s perineum.

Are there alternatives to episiotomy?

When we recently met up at the RCOG and Oxford Breech Conferences this October, I asked Anke Reitter what she would do if she felt that a tight perineum was holding up a birth at a crucial point. She described to me what might be called a ‘perineal sweep.’ Similar to a cervical sweep, (with consent) the clinician inserts one finger between the breech and the tightly applied perineum, and sweeps around the perimeter, encouraging the border of the perineum to recede over the presenting part and allow the birth to proceed. She explained that this often causes progress to resume without the need to perform an episiotomy.

I found this really helpful to consider as part of my breech midwifery toolkit. As we re-develop our professional cultural knowledge about breech, it is important we continue to talk about what we do and how we do it, even those skills we feel will be rarely needed. While we strive to create the conditions for those 85% of women to give birth to their breech babies over intact perineums without assistance, we also have to be able to recognise the perineum/bottom combination which may occasionally present a problem, and how we might address this for the best possible outcome.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Shawn