Tag Archives: Coalition for Breech Birth

Breech Birth After Caesarean (BBAC)

Another post responding to maternity service user demand for better information and more individualised care for breech presentation, prompted by a discussion on the Coalition for Breech Birth Facebook group. First published 21/2/14. Updated 13/6/18.

In these days of growing awareness of the risks associated with doing too many caesarean sections, women planning an elective section for breech presentation are informed that they can and should be encouraged to try for a vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC, or just BAC). Yet how many are informed that she has a 1:10 chance of the breech presentation recurring in the next pregnancy (Coughlan et al 2002, Ford et al 2010)? And that if her second baby is breech there is almost a 1:3 chance that her third will be? That this likelihood is increased if she, her mother or her father were breech (Nordtveit et al 2008)?

‘Breech’ remains an issue for many women throughout their reproductive lives, so much so that some have argued it is ‘physiologically normal’ for some women (Albrechtsen et al 1998). And many women will have spent time between pregnancies considering the information which led them to choose an elective section, and arriving at a very different point of view by the end of their second pregnancy.

The 2006 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ guideline listed a ‘scarred uterus’ (which would include post-CS, as well as other uterine surgery, such as myomectomy) as a contraindication to a vaginal breech birth (VBB). The 2017 guideline no longer lists this as a contraindication. The 2006 guideline referred to the only (small) study ever done which specifically looked at success rates for BBAC’s:  Ophir et al 1989 had really good outcomes, and a higher rate of successful vaginal birth than many series report. But bigger numbers would be more reassuring, and they need to be compared to results for other VBAC’s.

(Incidentally, a previous CS is often considered a contraindication for ECV as well, but I found no studies demonstrating an increase in uterine rupture. Burgos et al 2014 looked at this and reported no uterine ruptures in 70 ECVs. Higher numbers would be more reassuring, but this is the problem with breech research – higher numbers are tricky to come by!)

The PREMODA study reported two adverse outcomes for BBACs, which accounted for 2/3 of the deaths they concluded could have been prevented had elective sections been performed at 39 weeks. One woman arrived to the hospital with contractions, but no fetal heart tones. The other woman experienced a spontaneous uterine rupture at 40 weeks, when a VBB was planned. Both complications associated with a pregnancy following a CS in general, not BBAC labours.  Oh, how unfortunate it must have felt – for the families and for the researchers – to have their beautiful breech outcome stats affected by the CS’s they were trying to prevent! Understandably, given the current climate which blames any adverse outcome on the breech, they recommended BBAC’s be avoided.

We talk a lot about risks of labour, but increasing evidence points to risks of not labouring as well. Two obstetricians, Sinha and Bewley (2010) point out in their article, ‘Myth: babies would choose prelabour caesarean section:’

Babies who do not experience labour have significantly increased respiratory and other morbidities that may have profound effects on development, determining immediate and potentially life-long disease. It is thus surprising that obstetricians do not advocate awaiting or inducing labour even in women considering CS. (from the abstract)

Ulander et al al 2004, a Finnish team, draw similar conclusions in their comparison of breech, vertex and caesarean deliveries, ‘Are health expectations of term breech infants unrealistically high?:’

As regards the long-term outcome of the children, the only statistically significant difference was in the number of visits to out-patient departments which were less frequent for breech infants born vaginally than breech infants born through CS (OR 0.70, CI 0.53–0.93) or vertex infants born vaginally (OR 0.58, CI 0.47–0.72) (Table III). The cumulative incidence of long- term morbidity was lower in breech infants born vaginally than in breech infants born by planned CS (OR 0.47, CI 0.28–0.80). (p 83)

Any future research on breech or VBAC should include these long-term outcomes as well. Ulander et al found that the risks of birth trauma were smaller for breech-born babies than for cephalic-born babies, but smallest over all for CS-born babies. Undoubtedly, labour introduces some risks – especially first labours, VBAC labours, breech labours. But like many things in life, sometimes taking those risks results in long-term benefits, which can only be perceived further along down the road. A BBAC is a reasonable choice, which should be supported.

What additional precautions might be in order? A dysfunctional labour is a risk factor for both VBAC and breech labour. Especially if the birth will occur in a unit that does not routinely recommend and promote vaginal breech birth, and thus will not be saturated with experience, inducing or augmenting a BBAC is asking for trouble.


Further Research:

  • Bourtembourg, A., Mangin, M., Ramanah, R., Maillet, R., et al. (2013) [Breech delivery and scarred uterus: A special obstetrical situation?]. J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris). 42 (4), 351–358. Conclusion: Vaginal breech delivery in case of a scarred uterus is possible, if each obstetrical situation is correctly studied to authorize a vaginal birth trial after a careful selection of patients and a strict management of labour. Vaginal birth does not seem to increase maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality in this situation.

  • Paul, B., Jennewein, L., Möllmann, C.J., Kielland-Kaisen, U., Schulze, S., Brüggmann, D., Louwen, F., 2019. Vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC) for breech singletons at term – A prospective evaluation. Eur. J. Obstet. Gynecol. Reprod. Biol. 234, e89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejogrb.2018.08.353 Conclusion: Out of 363 (60%) patients with a successful vaginal delivery, 19 (3%) women underwent a prior cesarean section. Comparing women with a prior cesarean to primiparous participants, no significant differences could be detected between both groups regarding delivery maneuvers, neonatal morbidity and mortality as well as maternal outcomes. This study provides no evidence that a repeat cesarean section might have a positive influence on maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. Hence, a prior cesarean does not necessarily need to be an exclusion criteria for a vaginal breech delivery.

  • Zhang, N., Ward, H., 2021. Safety and efficacy of external cephalic version after a previous caesarean delivery: A systematic review. Aust. New Zeal. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajo.13399  Conclusion: ECV in women with a previous caesarean delivery is a relatively successful and low-risk procedure compared to women without a previous caesarean delivery. The results from this systematic review provide useful information for professional bodies in updating clinical guidelines such that ECV may be offered to women with one previous caesarean delivery.

Breech updating

(Another post in response to discussion on the Coalition for Breech Birth Facebook Page.)

Breech births are few and far between, and there are very few ‘experts’ in the world to learn from, so staying updated is a real challenge. Especially if you do not live and work near others who are supporting breech births regularly.

Updating has two purposes: keeping up to date with current evidence and best practice; and reminding yourself how to use skills you use infrequently. Many breech babies, especially those whose mothers are active and upright (e.g. knees/elbows), can be born spontaneously. But those who cannot need calm, considered help in a timely manner. The same applies to external cephalic version – ECV. Both practices benefit from regular performance and knowledge sharing among those who are practicing.

Here are my suggestions on keeping your practice as safe and supportive as possible:

  1. Attend study days. Many individuals offer study days to develop breech skills. Breech Birth Network days concentrate on lots of practical skills, but also have an emphasis on care pathway planning in the UK, aiming to encourage more Trusts to adopt an organised, committed approach to breech.
  2. Share your work. If you are doing research or working with breech and would like to share your experiences, get in touch and present at one of the study days. I am not an expert, but an experienced and passionate believer in the idea that the more we share, the more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes. The best study days have a wide variety of speakers and reflect a wide community dedicated to developing and sharing skills.
  3. Share your experiences. If you learned something at a breech birth you attended that might help us to make our practice safer, share it! Publish it if appropriate, but if you need to share anonymously to protect your client’s and your confidentiality, I can give you space on this blog. It is wonderful and encouraging to hear stories of triumphant breech births where the baby just fell out singing. But we need to hear the stories of doubt and sadness as well, and often these are the ones you learn the most from.
  4. Create your own network. It’s been so valuable to me to have colleagues who I can phone up to debrief the breech births I’ve attended. I learn so much more by doing this. And so valuable to hear their stories, how they have approached certain complications, how they support women, their thoughts on what makes breech birth safe. Keep a record of these sessions and document them; they are part of your professional updating. Write an article about what you have learned together, so that others can respond to it. We need more voices talking about breech skills.
  5. Organise your own study day. Bring the conversation to you. Empower those local to you to share their skills by asking them to present. Inspire your local community to think more about breech.

If you don’t have anyone local to ask questions or debrief with, my number is 07947819122 (in the UK) and I’m always happy to listen. I’m sure most of us are. Good luck!

How much does breech experience matter?

Some friends of mine at the Coalition for Breech Birth (a consumer advocacy organisation) have been discussing the role of practitioner experience in reducing risk associated with vaginal breech birth. My response is a bit longer than Facebook will permit, so I’m putting it here.

The study I find most useful in this discussion is here:

Su M, McLeod L, Ross S, Willan A, Hannah WJ, Hutton E, et al. Factors associated with adverse perinatal outcome in the Term Breech Trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Sep;189(3):740-5. PubMed PMID: 14526305. Epub 2003/10/04. eng.

Overall, the team found very few factors associated with an increase or reduction of risk of adverse perinatal outcome. They did find a dose-reponse relationship between amount of labour and adverse outcome. In other words, a pre-labour CS seemed to afford the most benefit, followed by early labour CS. By the time you are in active labour (>3 cm), there is no longer a statistically significant difference between CS and vaginal birth. So I get particularly annoyed when this study is used to tell women who arrive in advanced labour with an undiagnosed breech that a CS is the safest option.

They also found, contrary to popular belief, that big babies (>3500g) fared no worse than more averaged weight babies, but small babies (<2800g) did. Makes sense to me. Generally but not always, babies who are very small at term may already be slightly compromised; labour may be an additional stress. On the other hand, if a chunky 9-pounder folded in half can fit both his abdomen and his legs through your pelvis, chances are his head is going to fit, especially if you are with someone who knows how to help it into an optimal position.

He also needs to fit without help, because the study also revealed that using augmentation to enhance a labour which is not progressing well enough on its own was associated with over twice the risk of labours which proceeded spontaneously. Similarly, longer second stages increased the risk, so our baby needs to be descending fairly easily in the second stage, without help, or a CS may be the better option.

But the only factor shown to reduce the risk associated with a vaginal breech birth (by over 2/3) is the presence of an experienced clinician at the birth. This person need not be a licensed obstetrician, and the years of experience did not make a difference either – the TBT team specifically looked at these factors. The risk reduction occurred only when ‘an experienced clinician was defined as a clinician who judged him or herself to be skilled at vaginal breech delivery, confirmed by the Head of Department.’ Midwives were among those included in this definition.

Although we do not (yet) have any research (get back to me in a decade or so) which looks at the results of spontaneous breech birth with experienced clinicians at term, this analysis of the TBT suggests that this scenario is significantly less risky than many of the births included in the trial which were responsible for adverse outcomes. Add to that the further benefits we are seeing emerge with upright breech (reduction in need for manoeuvres and the minor injuries these can sometimes cause), and vaginal breech birth is a realistic option for many women.

One further comment on the research: Many are frustrated because the results of retrospective observational studies overwhelmingly indicate similar outcomes for vaginal breech birth and planned CS. These have comparatively little influence on guidelines because they are considered ‘biased.’ However, understanding why they are biased is sometimes useful. Retrospective studies are most often done by experienced practitioners who feel their own results conflict with the lowest common denominator represented by a large multi-centre RCT like the TBT. They present these results to illustrate that a comparatively safe vaginal breech service is possible, despite the fact that breech is often grossly mismanaged in many areas. Retrospective studies do not necessarily represent the ‘norm.’ But they do suggest, along with the TBT’s own data, that if your provider feels confident supporting you to have a vaginal breech birth, you can probably feel pretty confident as well.

Update 2015: A meta-analysis of observational studies indicates significantly better short-term outcomes when CS is planned than when VBB is planned. However, the rate of complications following planned VBB is much less than reported in the Term Breech Trial and similar to the results when a cephalic birth is planned. Read Berhan et al 2015 by clicking the link.


Heads Up! International Breech Conference

Washington, DC – November 9-12, 2012

Conference report.

Driven by consumers, sponsored by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and attended by obstetricians and midwives from 15 different countries, the third International Breech Conference convened in Washington, DC, from November 9-11.

The highlight of the conference was soon-to-be-published data from observational studies in Frankfurt and Sydney, representing nearly 800 planned vaginal births, presented by obstetricians Andrew Bisits, FRANZCOG, and Anke Reitter, FRCOG, along with Frankfurt team researchers, midwife Betty-Anne Daviss and epidemiologist Ken Johnson. Fellow conference presenter Sophie Alexander (MD, PhD, and co-author of the PREMODA study )1 summarised by pointing out, “These results are consistent with all of the large studies done since the Term Breech Trial. Everyone except Hannah has observed a small increase in low Apgars and non-significant birth injuries for vaginally born breech babies, with no difference in mortality rates or long-term morbidity.”2

The current state of breech research was summarised by Prof Marek Glezerman, MD, Chairman of the team which contributed results from Israeli institutions to the Term Breech Trial, and author of the significant 2006 re-evaluation of the same study which concluded that due to serious flaws in the research and the simplications of standardising its recommendations, the results of the study should be withdrawn.3 Glezerman presented research from further studies, which demonstrate, as Dr Alexander pointed out, that where vaginal breech birth is well supported, it can be a safe option.4,5 Additionally, Glezerman pointed out that we need to be less precious in our initial evaluation of significant morbidity: “A low Apgar at 1 minute means nothing in 2 hours or 2 years; it only serves to make you alert to the baby.” Bisits also participated in the original TBT and shared Glezerman’s and others’ skepticism about whether the trial design was appropriate to measure what it intended to measure.6

Significantly, Anke Reitter, Andrew Bisits and Betty-Anne Daviss are experts in the use of upright techniques for breech delivery, along with Reitter’s Frankfurt colleague Professor Frank Louwen. A majority of the births in each location took place in upright positions, with the woman on hands/knees or a birthing stool. In both settings, they have observed an increased need for manoeuvres or forceps and an increase in birth injuries when the mothers have been in lithotomy position, and these obstetricians are now keen to share their data so that other clinicians can learn safer ways to facilitate vaginal breech births.

This stance was well-received by the many midwives in the audience, many of whom have been advocating upright delivery techniques for vaginal breech birth for some time. One of the foremost breech midwives is Jane Evans, SCM, SRN, a UK Independent Midwife, who presented her recently published descriptions of the mechanisms of a normal breech birth,7,8 the result of decades of close observation. Although one panel featured a lively debate about whether breech presentation should be viewed as an abnormality or an unusual variation of normal, all agreed that a thorough understanding of the parameters of normal specific to breech birth is a prerequisite for a safe service. Knowing the mechanisms allows a practitioner to understand when progress has deviated from normal and intervention is indicated, and when to refrain from potentially harmful manipulations when these are not required.

The varied conference contributions made two points very clear. Firstly, knowledge about breech birth is evolving far beyond what research done over a decade ago can address, with so much more to learn about how to make breech birth as safe as possible. Secondly, moving breech knowledge forward will require genuine multi-disciplinary openness and skill-sharing, exemplified by the humbleness of the expert obstetricians and midwives who acknowledged the many sources of their knowledge.

Following on from three days of intense discussion, a post-conference practical session on November 12 was dedicated to hands-on, practical learning with simulated breech births, guided by several of the experienced obstetric and midwife practitioners. This included two new manoeuvres, the Louwen Manoeuvre for assisting the birth of fetal arms in an upright delivery through rotation (a variation of Lovset’s), and Frank’s Nudge, used to promote flexion and birth of an extended fetal head. Detailed descriptions of these manoeuvres will be published alongside the Frankfurt data early next year, but they are already being taught in several UK hospitals which incorporate upright techniques into annual mandatory breech updates.

Throughout the three-day conference, we also heard from women who spoke very movingly about their experiences of breech pregnancy and attempts to secure support for their choice of a vaginal breech birth. Evident in these stories was the fear and resistance their providers felt, which prevented them from providing appropriate, woman-centred care, and the long-term effects this had on each woman’s wellbeing. A panel discussion dedicated to this topic included Benna Waites, a UK clinical psychologist whose own experience prompted her to gather the available evidence into her very thorough book, Breech Birth,9 essential reading for any breech practitioner. As Waites passionately summarised in her own story: “I was angry, not just scientifically disappointed. Providers need to know: your fear and your ignorance cannot be the reason for our lack of choice.”

The conference was designed to tackle this fear and resistance head-on with expert-led discussions of what is required to change the current situation, in which a caesarean section is either the most often only option when a baby presents breech, or is promoted as the best option due to providers’ lack of familiarity with current breech research since or lack of confidence in their own skills to safely deliver a breech baby. Glezerman argued that to reinstate breech skills, we must standardise assessments of competency with theoretical and practical tests, and while this must be combined with hands-on experience, standardisation cannot be based on numbers alone.10

This is partially because large numbers of breech births are simply not available to today’s trainee obstetricians and midwives. Recent research into the breech experience of obstetricians training in the UK show remarkably little experience, compared to what obstetric trainees would have experienced a few decades ago.11 The need to measure breech competency independent of birth numbers also results from the influence of personal skill sets on the ability of breech attendants, including confidence and motivation to develop expertise, which requires additional on-call commitments.12 Several speakers, obstetricians and midwives, spoke movingly of how breech birth attendance is an art, like many aspects of our professions, which some are simply more drawn to than others.

This viewpoint is consistent with the secondary analysis of the TBT results, which demonstrated that a clinician’s own evaluation of his/herself as “skilled and experienced,” when confirmed by their Head of Department, was more strongly associated with good outcomes than when the attendant was defined as a registered obstetrician or by number of years of experience.13 It also mirrors the Canadian recommendations that on-call specialist teams be established.14 In a move which reflects growing institutional support for practitioners who are willing to acquire the necessary experience to support breech birth safely, we heard how one hospital in Canada has recently abolished a mandatory transfer-of-care from midwives to obstetricians when women labouring with breech-presenting babies enter the hospital. It seems likely that, while universal training for doctors and midwives in emergency breech delivery remains required on safety grounds, planned breech births will increasingly be managed by breech specialists. In which case, more of us are needed.

Three days of presentations and discussions ended with a panel dedicated to exploring the legal and ethical dimensions of supporting a woman’s choice to birth her breech baby within today’s risk-adverse and minimally experienced services. As well as legal experts, the panel included obstetricians who facilitated planned breech births, as well as those who were prevented from doing so by their hospital’s policies, which made for an interesting discussion around the ethical dilemma resulting from the professional obligation to respect clients’ informed refusal (eg. of a caesarean section) amidst active obstruction from risk management policies. The discussion made clear that in order to provide the woman-centred service that clients want and many providers want to provide, there are many obstacles which need to be overcome, not all of these are apparent or clearly defined, so they remain difficult to tackle.

Although over the course of the conference we heard from a few American obstetricians who were preserving breech skills in isolated pockets (with positive outcomes, similar to their European counterparts), the medicolegal panel was the only portion of the conference attended by a representative of the ACOG (Dr Constance Bohon), despite repeated invitations. This was a great disappointment to the organisers from the Coalition for Breech Birth, who chose the Washington DC location for this international conference particularly to support the American chapters, who are struggling to open up lines of dialogue between consumers wanting more options and providers and their professional organisations. Listening closely to women’s concerns and extending an olive branch, Bohon suggested, “Perhaps it is time to set up a task force.”

While we in the UK are often not as circumscribed by actual legal constraints limiting woman-centred practice, a well-supported vaginal breech birth is still not easy to come by. The conference organisation team included a UK Coalition for Breech Birth user representative, student midwife Ruth Mace-Tessler, and was attended by several UK midwives and an obstetrician, but again no RCOG representative despite repeated invitations. Maybe the time has come for us to set up a similar task force in the UK?



1. Goffinet F, Carayol M, Foidart J-M, Alexander S, Uzan S, Subtil D & Bréart G (for the PREMODA Study Group) 2006. Is planned vaginal delivery for breech presentation at term still an option? Results of an observational prospective survey in France and Belgium. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 194: 1002-1011. 1. Daviss, B. A., Johnson, K. C. & Lalonde, A. B. 2010. Evolving evidence since the term breech trial: Canadian response, European dissent, and potential solutions. J Obstet Gynaecol Can, 32, 217-24.

2. Hannah, M. E., Hannah, W. J., Hewson, S. A., Hodnett, E. D., Saigal, S., Willan, A. R. & Term Breech Trial Collaborative, G. 2000. Planned caesarean section versus planned vaginal birth for breech presentation at term: a randomised multicentre trial. Lancet, 356, 1375-1383.

3. Glezerman M. 2006. Five years to the term breech trial: the rise and fall of a randomized controlled trial. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 194, 20-5.

4. Toivonen, E., Palomäki, O., Huhtala, H. & Uotila, J. 2012. Selective vaginal breech delivery at term – still an option. Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 91, 1177-1183.

5. Hauth, J. C. & Cunningham, F. G. 2002. Vaginal breech delivery is still justified. Obstet Gynecol, 99, 1115-6.

6. Kotaska, A. 2004. Inappropriate use of randomised trials to evaluate complex phenomena: case study of vaginal breech delivery. BMJ, 329, 1039-42.

7. Evans, J. 2012a. Understanding physiological breech birth. Essentially MIDIRS, 3, 17-21.

8. Evans, J. 2012b. The final piece of the breech birth jigsaw? Essentially MIDIRS, 3, 46-49.

9. Waites B. 2003. Breech Birth, London, Free Association Books.

10. Glezerman M. 2012. Planned Vaginal Breech Delivery: Current Status and the Need to Reconsider. Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology., 7, 159-166.

11. Dhingra, S. & Raffi, F. 2010. Obstetric trainees’ experience in VBD and ECV in the UK. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 30, 10-12.

12. Kotaska, A. 2009. Breech birth can be safe, but is it worth the effort? J Obstet Gynaecol Can, 31, 553-554.

13. Su, M., Mcleod, L., Ross, S., Willan, A., Hannah, W. J., Hutton, E., Hewson, S., Hannah, M. E. & Term Breech Trial Collaborative, G. 2003. Factors associated with adverse perinatal outcome in the Term Breech Trial. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 189, 740-745.

14. Daviss, B. A., Johnson, K. C. & Lalonde, A. B. 2010. Evolving evidence since the term breech trial: Canadian response, European dissent, and potential solutions. J Obstet Gynaecol Can, 32, 217-24.