Induction of labour and … everyone

This week, I ventured into a Twitter discussion around routine induction of labour for everyone at 39 weeks, initiated by obstetrician Ed Prosser-Snelling with this tweet, if you want to check out the thread:

Because this is the place I collect my controversial thoughts, and because this obviously affects the extremely narrow window of possibility for vaginal breech birth, here are my thoughts:

I actually think it’s not a bad idea to enable women who want it to have access to elective IOL from 39 weeks, regardless of their risk level (or indeed fetal presentation). The research is pretty clear that it does not increase CS rates. It appears to reduce perinatal mortality but increase neonatal admissions (Stocks et al 2012). My main, deep and passionate commitment is for women to be in control of their mode of birth and birth experiences as much as possible.

My biggest concern about committing services to making more medical options more easily accessible is that, at the moment, accessing the most evidence-based care for optimal physiological birth is not easy. Providing more medical interventions will divert resources and attention from achieving this. Not every woman has continuity of midwifery care, an intervention backed up by multiple systematic reviews, which also reduces preterm birth, total fetal loss and neonatal death (see Sands statement on Continuity of Carer). Midwifery CoC is a government-backed, national priority (see Better Births) and is requiring major reorganisation of services everywhere. Sometimes, to do things properly, concentrating on one big change at a time does help. It also helps when trying to determine which intervention is responsible for any observed changes.

Similarly, women who would like to plan a vaginal breech birth are not provided with care that the evidence base says will give them the best chance of a good outcome — an experienced attendant — effectively making this choice unavailable in most locations. And women who would like to await spontaneous labour past the locally decided date for routine IOL face judgement and resistance — not from all health care professionals, but from many.

I spend a good deal of my professional life supporting women who are actively seeking help to plan a birth that clearly involves more risk than awaiting spontaneous labour after 39 weeks. I know plenty of women are prepared to accept some element of increased neonatal risk in their holistic assessment of what is right for them, but that they are easily shamed into changing their minds. (If anyone is asking themselves why they don’t meet them, bear in mind most of them will stop talking about what they really want when they pick up on judgmental attitudes about their choices. Then they will seek support elsewhere, or just accept what’s on offer. It is emotionally exhausting for them and for those midwives and obstetricians who try to help them pick up the pieces.)

Midwives everywhere will also be worrying about the ever-narrowing window of normality during childbirth. What exactly will be a midwife’s sphere of practice in a world of routine induction at 39 weeks? Most guidelines indicate we’re not supposed to perform a cervical sweep on a nullip until after 40 weeks and a multip after 41? Who will give birth in midwife-led units? Home birth? Will it be reasonable to plan anything other than an OU birth? Midwives will also be concerned about hidden costs they can’t quite put into words (or a cost-utility analysis), things like the time spent scheduling and rescheduling IOL, time spent counselling women who are upset about ‘having to be induced,’ time spent scheduling additional appointments with consultant midwives or consultant obstetricians for women who have declined induction, time spent debriefing women who feel traumatised by an IOL process that felt out of control, etc.

Expanding the offer of IOL to 39 weeks requires careful, multi-professional collaboration because it has massive implications for women, the service, and the role of the midwife. What women need to have a satisfying induction (Coates et al 2019) is not something that can be provided for all women currently undergoing induction now — how will we provide it for more? The history of obstetrics is replete with well-meaning people implementing plausibly beneficent interventions ASAP, but also many instances in which unanticipated harms are discovered as consequences late in the day. I want world in which birthing families have more options, not less. But I would like to take things slowly, carefully so that we:

  1. Research the effects of implementing this policy thoroughly. Let’s do thorough PPI work to ensure all of the outcomes that all stakeholders are worried about are eventually accounted for. Let’s ensure midwives are part of the team that designs rather than just delivers the research, so they can take an equal part in confidently implementing & disseminating it. Ten years later, let’s look back and be able to confidently say, “Look what we’ve done!” with one tone of voice or another …
  2. Co-design an information and consent process with women who have had positive and negative experiences of IOL. Women would be informed at 37 weeks that the risk of stillbirth increases from 39 weeks with clear, consistent information, including infographics. They would be offered a scheduled induction, and if they decline, neither them nor their midwife (if otherwise low-risk) would be required to justify this decision.
  3. Co-design services which give women maximum control over the timing of their induction. Have some ‘scheduled’ slots for women who prefer that and some for arising medical indications. And tell everyone else that they can put themselves on the waiting list for medical induction whenever they want to after 39 weeks, to be seen on a first-come-first-serve basis. If we have capacity to do this many IOL, we ought to have capacity to offer greater flexibility. One of the things women regret losing with scheduled IOL is the ability to trust their instincts as they are becoming parents. Ensure at each visit women know how to access IOL if they want it, but don’t hound women who choose not to join this queue.
  4. See this as a ‘choice’ issue and not a stillbirth reduction ‘target.’ Targets which require everyone accept the intervention in order to achieve the target outcome will reduce, rather than expand, choice.

Finally, I feel that midwives need to lead on research that contributes to our knowledge about IOL, rather than seeing it as ‘the realm of the abnormal,’ and thus obstetric territory. If we are offering IOL closer and closer to 39 weeks, this is more ‘normal’ than ‘abnormal,’ especially as we know outcomes for live babies are best after 39 weeks. For example, we have Cochrane Reviews on cervical sweeps and nipple stimulation (see Evidence-Based Birth blogs on membrane sweeps and breast stimulation to stimulate labour).

Many women would like the ability to request a sweep earlier than 40 weeks, and they certainly will want this if induction at 39 weeks is routine. Might this help, or harm, or are there trade-offs? Might pumping breast milk after 38 weeks improve spontaneous birth and breastfeeding rates? Might these traditional midwifery approaches have potential to help women retain more control over initiation of their labour and consequently their choice of birth setting? Researching and changing midwifery practice related to cervical ripening for women at term who wish this would, in my opinion, be a more manageable and likely more widely acceptable first step than scheduling more hospital-based inductions. It would also dovetail nicely if a policy of offering induction at 39 or 40 weeks does become routine.

Shawn

Breech Team Lanyard Pins!

We are thrilled at the interest these pins are receiving. We have created them to make it easy to identify people who have attended our Physiological Breech Birth study day and are either on a breech team or working with Breech Birth Network to create a breech team in their work setting. More information below, with the form to request pins at the bottom of this post. We are going to maintain this criteria strictly so that it is meaningful, but we will consider additional designs in the future.

In a few weeks, we will receive our new breech team pins from @madebycooper, based on our Breech Birth Network training booklet cover image by Merlin Strangeway (Drawn to Medicine).

We have created these pins because my research (Walker et al 2018open access version) indicates that the three elements which develop and sustain expertise in breech birth are:

  • affinity
  • visibility
  • relationship

Expertise is generative — it generates comparatively good outcomes, and confidence and competence among colleagues. The role of a breech team is to develop expertise in order to support the entire team to support vaginal breech births safely.

Breech teams enable the development of expertise within organisation because team members  work flexibly to attend breech births when they occur, enabling them to acquire clinical experience. Once new team members develop their own skill and experience, they continue to attend births as an extra layer of support for the wider maternity care team, maintaining their own expertise while promoting confidence and safety.

Walker S, Parker P, Scamell M, 2018. Expertise in physiological breech birth: A mixed-methods study. Birth 45, 202–209. https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12326

Some Trusts have a specific on-call system. But most find that making their breech team visible is enough to introduce cultural change supporting the development of expertise. One simple way to do this is to designate a breech team (including obstetricians and midwives) and post a list of people and how to contact them in a prominent position on the labour ward. Make it an expectation, backed up by the Trust guideline where possible, that someone from this team is involved in any episode of breech care wherever possible. Sometimes it is not possible. But most of the time it is, even without a rigid on-call system.

A team member should be involved from the moment a term breech is diagnosed, whether antenatally or in labour. Individuals who have developed generative expertise counsel very differently from those who are still developing their skills or are not keen on breech birth. “Facilitating an informed consent discussion that demonstrates respect for maternal intelligence and autonomy, while being realistic about the inability to guarantee a perfect outcome” is also a skill that develops with practice (Walker et al 2016, p11 — open access version).

Walker S, Parker P, Scamell M, 2018. Expertise in physiological breech birth: A mixed-methods study. Birth 45, 202–209. https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12326

These pins will increase the visibility of breech teams by reminding women that physiological breech births are supported, countering negative portrayals in the media and social discourses of risk, and remind maternity staff that involvement of the breech team is available and expected.

Breech team lanyard pins will be available for FREE from the Breech Birth Network, CIC. To wear the pins:

  • Each member of your team who wears a pin must have attended one of our Physiological Breech Birth study days. If this hasn’t happened yet, you can easily book a study day at your hospital.
  • Your team must contain at least one person who has taught breech skills with us on our Physiological Breech Birth study days (more information on how to do this is on the page). The network pays your expenses to do this, but we need to confirm we are on the same page with the skills and content. Teaching is also one of the mechanisms through which breech expertise develops.

To order pins for your team, contact us using the form below.

Love,

Shawn

 

 

Breech Training in Quebec

After training with the Breech Birth Network, Isabelle Brabant gave us her feedback from her first training session teaching midwives in the far North of Canada:

Teaching Breech in Inukjuak

 “I have to tell you a bit about Maternity up North. There are seven villages on the Hudson Bay Coast (just about 1200km long!). There’s a maternity service in three of the biggest villages: Salluit, Puvirnituq and Inukjuak. There is no road to get there, you can only go by plane or by cargo – if you have a couple of weeks to spare for the trip. The Inukjuak maternity services have around 40 births per year, and if a baby remains breech in the pregnancy they would offer an external cephalic version, but if unsuccessful the woman would be sent to services further south (to Montreal!) to have her baby – alongside the other approximately 15% of women who are referred for medical reasons. If ever a woman needs to be transferred in labour it takes no less than 8 hours as there is no plane in the village itself – yes 8 hours! In an undiagnosed breech situation the decision would be made to transfer, but the chances are that the baby would be born before transfer. This explains the interest and need for Breech Birth training with the midwives being very interested in the training – of course they have a small volume of births, but the possibility remains of having an undiagnosed breech birth at any time.

Teaching Breech in Inukjuak

The training was given to a small group of enthusiastic midwives in Inukjuak, where we started the day with what is normal for Breech which the midwives enjoyed alongside teaching essential skills and manoeuvres. I will be delivering this training three times to Quebec midwives in May and June.”

 

 

 

There are three more training sessions planned in Canada throughout May and June and the details are as follows:

  • 6th May 2019: MdN de l’Estrie, Sherbrooke
  • 31st May 2019: MdN Mimosa, Lévis
  • 13th June 2019: Montréal (lieu à déterminer selon la taille du groupe)

Please visit: Regroupment les sages – femmes du Quebec

 


From Shawn:

A picture of my lovely Innukshuk, given to me by Kay Guruswami of Kensington Midwives in Ontario, as a symbol of what we are trying to do together: lead the way forward for breech. Thanks Kay  ❤️

Upcoming conferences

You and your colleagues may be interested in these two upcoming conferences, led by obstetricians. First, a two-day breech conference in Denmark featuring a number of internationally known teachers and researchers:

Denmark 2019

And in November, Breech Birth Network will be offering physiological breech training alongside the British Intrapartum Care Society Conference in Leicester.

BICS 2019

 

Seeking your thoughts on new research …

BBN

Illustration by Kate Evans

We are seeking your thoughts on two new pieces of research currently in the development stage. If you have experienced a breech pregnancy within the last 5 years in the UK, either yourself or your partner, or you work with pregnant women in a non-medical capacity (e.g. doula, antenatal teacher, breastfeeding supporter, etc.), we would love to hear from you.

Emma Spillane would like your feedback on an Information Leaflet for people pregnant with breech-presenting babies. The leaflet will be used in research to determine an approximate level of demand for vaginal breech birth, with balanced counselling and adequate support.

elevate&rotate

Talking through elevate and rotate

Shawn Walker is preparing an application for a large grant to fund a pilot randomised controlled trial. No term breech trials have been published since 2000 (Hannah et al). The team around this project would like to gather a Breech Advisory Group composed of people who have experienced a breech pregnancy within the last 5 years in the UK, either yourself or your partner, and non-medical birth workers, such as doulas and antenatal teachers. At this stage, we would like your feedback on the suggested design of the trial, to ensure that the information resulting from the research will be useful to those considering breech options. For those of you who would like to remain with the project if funding is obtained, we will send regular updates with opportunities to provide feedback at stages like final project design, advertising the trial and analysing the results.ShawnPortsmouth

If you are interested in participating in our research in this way, please complete the form below and one of us will be in touch.

Breech Birth Training in Ethiopia

Last month I spent ten days in Southern Ethiopia volunteering for a charity, Midwives@Ethiopia (M@E).  The charity provides training for Ethiopian midwives and supports rural health centres to improve their standards.  This involves providing them with much needed essential equipment to help in the quest to improve maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality.  My main role during the trip was to assist with the week training programme which was designed to teach midwives to safely manage obstetric emergencies in low resourced settings.  I was asked to teach vaginal breech birth and thought that this was the perfect place to run the Breech Birth Network’s Physiological Breech Birth study day, which teaches normal physiology and the skills to resolve complications of a breech birth (Walker et al, 2017).

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Discussing normal mechanism

In rural health centres in Ethiopia, the midwife’s hands are their tools and so what could be more perfect than to teach them a new concept to managing breech births where they could use their ‘tools’ to safely resolve complications should they arise. But also, to teach upright positioning of a breech birth which gives up to a 70% chance of the birth happening spontaneously (Louwen et al, 2017).  I was very nervous about the training, partly because this was such a new concept to the midwives, birthing in upright positions. “Women do not do that,” I was told. They informed me that women were “not cooperative” and therefore they gave birth in lithotomy positions.  I was not sure whether this was the case or if it was more to do with the well-known obstetric phenomenon of there being a bed in the centre of the room, so the person will just get on it because they think that is the right thing to do.  Or a lack of antenatal education on the importance of being mobile in labour.  This made me more nervous because upright breech birth was going to be so far from what they were used to doing and seeing, a bit radical!  The language barrier may also be an issue as well as the cultural differences, but I had nothing to lose and I really wanted to teach something which I believed would undoubtedly make a difference to mothers and their babies as well as to the midwives.

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Second stage birth room in Uddo Health Centre

I started the day talking about the midwives experiences they have had of breech births. Unsurprisingly to me all the midwives in the room had witnessed and facilitated breech births, there is no scanning available and so most breech presentations are
undiagnosed.  There is also limited access to health care for women and s ECV to turn the baby to a head down position is not usually an option.  There were thirty-seven midwives present from different health centres and some from the main hospital in Dilla.  Their experience ranged from eight weeks qualified to seven years qualified however some had very limited clinical experience in this time. Such as Getnet, the head of midwifery at Dilla University, he had six months clinical experience and has been working non-clinically for five years teaching midwives.  I was struck by their stories of how women would walk for miles in labour to access help from a health centre because their labour had been obstructed, the breech presenting baby would be half born and they needed assistance to complete the birth of the baby.  If they called an ambulance it could take hours to reach them, if it arrived at all, and they could then have a two, three, four hour or more transfer time to the nearest hospital for obstetric assistance.  It is no wonder the maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality rates are so high.  However, the Government is working hard at improving the morbidity and mortality rates with the help from the WHO and other organisations such as M@E and they have met their goal of increasing safety for mothers and babies early which is a fantastic effort and must be recognised.

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Nenko, M@E’s main contact in Ethiopia who works with WHO

Health officers such as Nenko are vital in the quest to improve maternal and child health.  They work very closely with the WHO and charities to bring training and help from other areas to improve safety for mother and child.

After finding out about their experiences I taught the normal mechanisms of a breech birth.  I emphasised how birthing in upright positions will assist with the birth, widening the pelvis by up to 1.9cm (Reitter et al, 2016). I used a flexible pelvis to demonstrate this at every opportunity and referred it to cephalic birth as well, so they could see how women birthing in upright positions can help for all births.  I had the help of two excellent midwifery lecturers, Kiddist and Shimeles.  Kiddist is a lecturer at Awassa University about three hours north of Dilla, she has many years of experience and left Ethiopia briefly to complete her Masters in Amsterdam.  Shimeles has seven years of clinical experience before becoming a lecturer at Dilla University and is now interested in moving into research.  Their English was excellent, so they were able to help with the translation, this was a very new way of teaching breech birth for them to, but they were enthralled listening intently and repeating everything I was saying in Amharic to ensure understanding.

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Kidist and Shimeles, Ethiopian Midwifery Lecturers

Something which I have always found very surprising is the lack of knowledge about the normal mechanism of a breech birth, like I found so many times when teaching in the UK, the Ethiopian Midwives were also unclear about the normal mechanisms prior to the training.  This was evident by their answers to the pre-course training questionnaire which I had asked them to complete prior to starting the training.  Twenty-two of the midwives thought that as the Frank breech passes through the ischial spines of the maternal pelvis, the fetal sacrum is normally anterior.  This is the most common thought, although the actual answer is sacrum transverse.  This is misconception is possibly due to traditional breech training focussing on telling practitioners that the back must be uppermost, however the rotation to sacrum anterior occurs after the birth of the buttocks so the rotation is visible and should be noted as a reassuring sign of progress.

After lunch it was time to teach how to quickly recognise complications and resolve them working with physiology.  During breakfast I had given two other M@E volunteers a crash course on the resolution of complications, so they would be able to assist with the teaching during the day.  When I spoke about and taught a complication I would show the manoeuvre for resolving the complication by teaching Shimeles and then ask him to show the group with me. Shimeles was then able to assist with the teaching which meant we had more time to ensure all participants were able to correctly perform the manoeuvre and had good understanding of what they were doing.  I was pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was and how well they picked up these new manoeuvres.  I started with simple shoulder press, I talked through when to use it and how to perform it and showed them videos of the manoeuvres being used.  They found this particularly useful.  They then all took it in turns to come up and perform the manoeuvre with either myself, Haf or Shimeles.  This was a simple manoeuvre for assisting with the birth of the fetal head if it is deflexed at the outlet possibly due to the cord being around the neck or to speed up the birth due to a fetal concern.  It was a manoeuvre they all felt they could use in practice which was easy to perform and very effective.  I then taught shoulder press with ‘rock and roll’ which they thought was very amusing.  Again, I taught Shimeles, he translated and performed the manoeuvre with me and then the group practiced.  Shoulder press with ‘rock and roll’ can be used for a head in the mid-pelvis which has not fully flexed or if simple shoulder press has not been successful.  Many of the midwives preferred this version of shoulder press to the simple shoulder press because they felt more secure holding the baby in this way.

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It was lovely to see such enthusiasm for learning something new and the ‘light-bulb’ moment when they understood how birthing in upright positions can reduce the need for intervention which, for them, working in such low resourced settings and with extremely long transfer times in to an obstetric facility, was so important to have skills which would surely help to successfully assist breech births and potentially reduce harm to mother and baby.  I held onto this enthusiasm as I continued through the course of the afternoon teaching how to recognise and resolve a compound arm by sweeping down the anterior arm.  How to recognise and resolve using rotational manoeuvres with ‘prayer hands’, an anterior nuchal arm or bilateral nuchal arms. This is the complication which they found the hardest to grasp, the manoeuvre requires rotation to sacrum transverse, sweeping down the anterior arm under the pubic bone before rotating back to ‘tum to bum’.  It required much more practice than the other manoeuvres but after a few attempts each they also were able to resolve this complication confidently.

After the arm complications came the head complications.  The most feared of complications by healthcare professionals in any country is an extended head at the pelvic inlet.  This was also true here in Ethiopia, where on the pre-training survey many commented about this complication:

“…delayed engagement of the after-coming head to save both fetal and maternal life.”

It was clear this complication was misunderstood as it is by so many healthcare professionals.  It is due to the lack of knowledge about the physiology of a breech birth that this complication is so feared and difficult to manage.  One of the questions on the pre-training questionnaire asks about how a practitioner would resolve delayed engagement of the aftercoming head, the answers confirmed the lack of knowledge and understanding of the complication.  If this is not taught to healthcare practitioners how are they supposed to resolve the complication?

“after deliver of arm and lower extremities then deliver the head by MSV manoeuvre/procedure”

“…with piper forceps, by doing cervical incision.”

“Apply MSV…manoeuvre to deliver the head if after this manoeuvre still the head is not deliver apply piper forceps.”

“We use MSV manoeuvre and simultaneously apply supra pubic pressure.”

I taught them how to use a manoeuvre called ‘elevate and rotate’ describing the physiology behind why the head does not engage and becomes impacted at the pelvic inlet on the sacral promontory.  Once they understood this, the manoeuvre came easily to them.  They watched it on a video and had many goes at practicing it. This manoeuvre was so important for all of them to learn but in particular those working in rural health centres.  Having heard the stories they shared throughout the day about obstructed breech births and not being able to resolve these complications, I knew that even if a woman had spent hours walking in labour for assistance, it may be too late to save the baby, but these manoeuvres could still help to save the mother.  It really struck me how their challenges were so much different to ours back in the UK, how lucky we were to have obstetric assistance at our finger tips within minutes. It puts everything into perspective and changes your views on many things within midwifery when you hear these stories and challenges which they face every day when they go to work.

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At the end of the day I was given a traditional Ethiopian applause and cheer, I knew at this moment I had taught them all something which they could use, something that would really make a difference to their practice not only with breech birth but quite possibly with cephalic births too.  I hope to return to Ethiopia next year and be able to train more midwives these invaluable skills, so they can help more mothers and babies safely enter this world whatever position they decide to present in!

— Emma Spillane