Next month, I will be a Visiting Scholar at the University of British Columbia. This will include a workshop on my research and physiological breech birth practice, delivered alongside Andrew Kotaska, lead author of the Canadian breech guideline, and a highly respected obstetric and midwifery faculty.
Please share this information with any Canadian OBs and Residents who want to extend their skills to facilitate safe vaginal breech births. The course is accredited for MOC 3. Bookings can be made on-line.
The SOGC guideline frames counselling around mode of childbirth for a breech baby within the context of human rights, especially in the ‘Key Messages:’
A woman’s choice of delivery mode should be respected.
The risk of planned vaginal breech birth is acceptable to some women with a term singleton breech fetus.
Women with a contraindication to a trial of labour should be advised to have a Caesarean section. Women choosing to labour despite this recommendation have a right to do so and should be provided with the best possible in-hospital care.
The summary of evidence related to safety is similar to that provided by the RCOG and a good reference for anyone counselling women about their breech childbirth options. A notable difference is the recommendation that,
Although data are limited, induction of labour with breech presentation does not appear to be associated with poorer outcomes than spontaneous labour.
As with the RCOG guideline, the new SOGC guideline recognises the importance of skill and experience to the safety of vaginal breech births. One of the SOGC’s summary statements is:
Vaginal breech birth requires a high degree of skill and support. To avoid the increased risk of out-of-hospital vaginal breech birth, women who choose planned vaginal breech birth should be accommodated in-hospital. To facilitate this, referral to more experienced centres, back-up on-call arrangements, and continuing medical training in vaginal breech birth skills should be promoted (very low).
(Very low refers to the quality of evidence in relation to this recommendation.) The RCOG also recommends antenatal referral to a centre with more skill and experience if necessary. Later in the SOGC text, the authors point out:
Many newly qualified obstetricians do not have the experience necessary to supervise a breech TOL [trial of labour]. Mentoring by more senior colleagues will be necessary if they are to attain these skills. As women will continue to request planned VBB and precipitous breech births occur in all settings, theoretical and hands-on breech birth training using models should remain part of basic obstetrical and midwifery training and of traingin programs such as ALARM, ALSO, andMORE ob.
In our integrative review of the Effectiveness of vaginal breech birth training strategies (2017), inclusion of breech birth as part of an obstetric emergencies training package without support in practice was negatively associated with subsequent attendance at vaginal breech births, meaning practitioners attended fewer breech births. None of the evaluations of training packages included clinical outcomes, so it was not possible to determine whether they had an effect on safety. But the evidence suggests that support and mentorship in practice is likely to be key to giving less experienced practitioners the confidence to support breech births and gain the skills in practice.
Research on Expertise in physiological breech birth and the Deliberate acquisition of competence in physiological breech birth suggest that mentorship is indeed very important, but that this does not always take the form of senior colleagues supporting newly qualified colleagues. Maintaining classical hierarchies — such as expecting senior obstetricians to have breech skills while younger colleagues, or midwives, not to — can promote a form of alienating authority, which inhibits the development of generative expertise. Among practitioners who had deliberately developed competence to support breech births, younger, highly motivated practitioners often had to leave their primary clinical setting to acquire knowledge, skills and new techniques, which they brought back with them. The fact that they needed to do this suggests that they had not been being mentored at home.
One of the things I love about working in the UK is the long history of multi-disciplinary working. Although some teams work more effectively than others, it means that a person wishing to birth their breech baby with an experienced midwife in attendance does not have to choose between a home birth and an obstetrically-managed hospital birth. The obstricians I work with recognise the skill with physiological birth that their midwifery colleagues bring into the room — and we are grateful for their skill with surgical and very complicated births. We keep each other safe.
Given that referral to experienced centres is recommended in both RCOG and SOGC guidelines, more research is needed about how this works in various settings. What happens if a woman is referred elsewhere, but that hospital cannot or will not accept her for care? What are the economic implications? What defines an ‘experienced centre?’ In some hospitals, such as in Frankfurt Germany, the vaginal breech birth rate can be as high as 6-11% of the total birth rate due to women travelling to experienced providers, compared to 0.4% of the total birth rate in the UK.
We also need to consider and study other potential solutions to skill redevelopment. For example, why expect women to travel away from their known and trusted care team — why not shift professionals instead? I am employed primarily by a university, but I have a contract with one NHS Trust and am completing a contract with another by request, so that I can support them to develop their breech services. Mobility of providers also happens when obstetric trainees rotate between training centres. Sadly, I have heard numerous stories from senior obstetric trainees who have acquired breech experience in one hospital, only to be blocked from using that experience by their senior colleagues in another, a case of hierarchical and alienating authority. Similarly, many midwives have spent time abroad and delivered dozens of breech babies, but have had to stand aside when a woman is diagnosed in labour with a breech because the woman is now considered ‘an obstetric case.’ Women are often not informed when skill and experience is available because these remain invisible and under-utilised, especially in midwives and younger obstetric colleagues.
Our breech clinic is 9 months old and we did our 50th ECV today! 27 were successful (54%) 20 women then had vaginal deliveries, 4 caesareans, 3 births pending! 24 elective caesareans. And 8 vaginal breech births. Supporting maternal choice all the way @RLHMaternity
Throughout the UK, many new breech services are being developed. Breech clinics, like the one at the Royal London, ensure women get consistent counselling by breech-experienced practitioners. They also provide an environment where trainees can learn this skill. Many hospitals are developing ‘breech teams‘ so that vaginal breech births and those attending them can be supported by confident and competent members of the team — this includes experienced midwives. Training activities to support these new teams emphasise the elements available literature suggests will be effective — repetition and reflection — especially using birth videos for team debrief and simulation training. Gradually, we are supporting each other to reintroduce breech skills and consider new ways of sustaining them in order to be able to offer the care our countries’ leading guidelines recommend.
García Adánez J et al 2013. Recuperación del parto vaginal de nalgas y versión cefálica externa. Progresos Obstet. y Ginecol. 56, 248–253.
Hickland P et al 2018. A novel and dedicated multidisciplinary service to manage breech presentation at term; 3 years of experience in a tertiary care maternity unit. J. Matern. Neonatal Med. 31, 3002–3008.
Homer C S E et al 2015. Women’s experiences of planning a vaginal breech birth in Australia. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 15, 89.
Kidd L et al 2014. Development of a dedicated breech service in a London teaching hospital. Arch. Dis. Child. – Fetal Neonatal Ed. 99, A20–A21.
Kotaska A 2017. Informed consent and refusal in obstetrics: A practical ethical guide. Birth 44, 195–199.
Kotaska A, Menticoglou S 2019. No. 384-Management of Breech Presentation at Term. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. Canada 41, 1193–1205.
Larsen J W, Pinger WA 2014. Primary cesarean delivery prevention: a collaborative model of care. Obstet. Gynecol. 123 Suppl, 152S.
Louwen F et al 2017. Does breech delivery in an upright position instead of on the back improve outcomes and avoid cesareans? Int. J. Gynecol. Obstet. 136, 151–161.
Maier B et al, 2011. Fetal outcome for infants in breech by method of delivery: experiences with a stand-by service system of senior obstetricians and women’s choices of mode of delivery. J Perinat Med 39, 385–390.
Marko K I et al 2015. Cesarean Delivery Prevention. Obstet. Gynecol. 125, 42S.
Petrovska K et al 2016. Supporting Women Planning a Vaginal Breech Birth: An International Survey. Birth 43, 353–357.
Reitter A et al 2018. Is it reasonable to establish an independent obstetric leadership in a small hospital and does it result in measurable changes in quality of maternity care? Z. Geburtshilfe Neonatol.
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.
Walker S 2017. Competence and expertise in physiological breech birth. PhD Thesis. City, University of London.
Walker, S., Breslin, E., Scamell, M., Parker, P., 2017. Effectiveness of vaginal breech birth training strategies: An integrative review of the literature. Birth 44, 101–109.
Walker S, Scamell M, Parker P 2018. Deliberate acquisition of competence in physiological breech birth: A grounded theory study. Women and Birth 31, e170–e177.
Walker S, Parker P, Scamell M 2018. Expertise in physiological breech birth: A mixed-methods study. Birth 45, 202–209.
From Montreal, it was on to Tillsonburg, Ontario, ‘near Toronto’ — because in Canadian terms, within 3 hours is ‘near.’ The places around Tillsonburg are confusingly called things like London, Norwich, and Cambridge. The lovely Norfolk Roots Midwifery team gave me one of their bags to remember my visit. Can’t wait to take it back to Norfolk, England with me!
Midwife Joanna Nemrava came from British Columbia to share breech skills!
Again, the training was attended by midwives who came from various places throughout Canada and the US, including Alberta, British Columbia and Michigan, south of the border. I was privileged to meet Stacia Proefrock, a breech-experienced midwife from south-central Michigan. In addition to attending breech births, Stacia has experience teaching others about physiological breech birth and is the current president of the Michigan Midwives Association – a great person to be in touch with if you would like to organise a study day of your own in this area.
Teaching in Tillsonburg; photo: Sheila Stubbs
While in Ontario, I picked up a Deverra birth stool for use in teaching and births. The stool is visible in the photo to the right. I love their design, which features a wooden seat and 360º visibility. The Deverra birth stool is also completely portable; the legs unscrew and it comes in its own carry bag. When professionals are making the transition to active breech birth but can’t quite wrap their heads around facilitating a breech birth from behind the woman, I often recommend a birth stool as a good compromise — the woman remains mobile and upright, while the baby emerges facing a direction familiar to the attendant. While other birth stools are available, I am quite happy with this one, another reminder of my trip to Ontario!
At the end of each study day, we spend some time discussing how professionals acquire breech experience when breech births are not very common, including the concept of ‘attracting breeches,’ emerging in my current research. I know several of those attending this study day have sharpened their skills, reflected on the experiences they have already had, and are open to attracting breeches, so I look forward to seeing what happens among this group. Of course, in Ontario, activists have a great model in the Ottawa-based Coalition for Breech Birth and Midwife Dr Betty-Anne Daviss, who have worked together to enable midwife-facilitated breech births in hospitals in that area. Join forces with each other and work together for change!
practising breech manoeuvres
The training was held in the house of author, speaker and birth activist Sheila Stubbs, who holds regular Birth Nerd gatherings in her home. The warmth and sisterhood in this community was very strong, and Sheila reminded me of Norwich’s beloved doula mother, Rachel Graveling. Thankfully, Sheila gave me a signed copy of her book for the Norwich Birth Group lending library.
Thanks also to Christine McGillis, who organised this training in Tillsonburg. ❤️
Earlier this month (May 2016), I completed a road trip from Montreal to Atlanta to share the results of our international consensus research (Walker et al 2016), explain how it can be used to guide practice and education, and deliver physiological breech birth training based on that research to approximately 130 health professionals and other birth workers.
Wall mural depicting the Maison de naissance, Côte-des-Neiges
The goal was to enable these professionals to learn new skills, equip them to continue learning using an on-line Virtual Community of Practice, and empower them to disseminate the knowledge to others in their local communities. I met so many wonderful people, and feel confident they will work to extend the availability of skilled support for planned vaginal birth. I am going to tell the story of this amazing road trip in a blog mini-series. I hope you will join us … there is a special surprise at the end! 😉
The first workshop was attended by Certified Midwives from Quebec, Ontario, Maine, and Massachusetts, as well as doulas and CPMs from these communities. In Quebec, midwives work mostly in community settings and are not legally able to attend breech births except in emergencies (undiagnosed). However, some of the midwives have begun to work with obstetricians who will accept planned breech births, and they are working towards woman-centred, physiological care for these women. They also want to ensure emergency skills training is up-to-date, including physiologically-based strategies appropriate to midwifery-led settings.
As physiological breech birth gradually becomes the standard of practice, especially for midwives, breech skills will increasingly be taught by trainers who may or may not have much breech clinical experience themselves, much like they are now. It is therefore important that trainers be able to become ‘qualified’ to teach physiological breech methods, in the same way they teach supine-based emergency delivery techniques, and that they are teaching methods underpinned by research and consensus. Several skills trainers from throughout Quebec attended the workshop, and by using the resources made available, hope to disseminate the training to others in their local communities. I especially enjoyed meeting Sinclair Harris, the grandmother of this midwifery community, who has nurtured so many young midwives and is still actively teaching. Sinclair completed her RN training at St Mary’s in London. ❤️
Anyone in Quebec interested in receiving training
in the facilitation of physiological breech births —
The midwives told me that use of ‘prayer hands’ in rotational manoeuvres to release the arms struck a chord with them. The shoulder press manoeuvre also made sense, but some midwives felt that the two disctint versions of this manoeuvre needed independent descriptive terms, to capture subtly different techniques which are applicable in various circumstances. This cluster of manoeuvres have been taught as “Frank’s Nudge,” in honour of Frankfurt obstetrician Professor Frank Louwen. But because research indicates eponyms (named after people rather than descriptive terms) can lead to confusion and inadequate documentation, we try to use a description which ‘does what it says on the tin’ in the Breech Birth Network training, and we continually listen to feedback about what works to help novices learn breech better. More on the distinction between these manoeuvres coming up in a future blog …
CPM and doula Rivka Cymbalist with the world’s youngest breech catcher
Following the workshop, midwife Bronwen Agnew was kind enough to take me on a tour of the Maison de naissance, Côte-des-Neiges. This local birth centre is housed in a wonderful old rectory building, complete with wooden floors. It reminded me of my grandmother’s house, warm and simple. A beautiful place to give birth! Thank you, Bronwen.
The Montreal workshop was organised by Montreal doula and CPM, Rivka Cymbalist, and held at Studio L’équilibre en mouvement, ave Van Horne, a wonderful venue. We also enjoyed lunch at Rivka’s cafe, Caffe della Pace. Thank you, Rivka and family for your hospitality! If you are ever in Montreal, I also recommend relaxing at La Société Textile, a crafts shop / café where you pay by the hour to hang out, work on your knitting/sewing project, and drink unlimited tea from the kitchen. What more could a midwife ask for?
The current plan is to provide a 2-day breech train-the-trainers course in Toronto in late July / early August 2017, involving myself and some of the midwives who have taken the training this year and will be disseminating the skills in their communities. This is due to abundant feedback from the participants that they would like the training to be longer to allow for more discussion, reflection, fellowship and hands-on practice — of course we support all of the above! Follow this blog or the Breech Birth Network Facebook page to keep updated on our plans.