As physiological breech practice gains acceptance, guidelines are changing to reflect this change in practice. One of the questions those updating guidelines often ask is: What is the evidence? For example, what is the evidence for the shoulder press manoeuvre we teach in Physiological Breech Birth study days?
To answer this question, we have to consider what level of evidence underpins breech practice in general. To my knowledge, no breech manoeuvres have been tested in randomised controlled trials. A recent Cochrane Review looked at ‘Quick versus standard delivery’ for breech babies and found no reliable studies to inform practice.
Observational studies that contain clear descriptions of the methods of management used in that setting reported alongside perinatal outcomes contain one form of evidence. A problem with observational studies is that even when ‘classical methods’ are reported, the meaning of that expression varies between settings. So studies from Canada, for example, are not necessarily generalizable to settings in the UK because standard practice varies between the two continents. A notable exception is the study of outcomes associated with upright breech birth reported by the Frankfurt team (Louwen et al 2017), in which a very clear description of the ‘Frank’s Nudge’ manoeuvre is provided, alongside excellent perinatal outcomes associated with upright maternal positions.
Another type of evidence is the support of a ‘responsible body of similar professionals.’ This is related to the Bolam test for clinical negligence in English tort law (Bolam v. Friern Hospital Management Committee), which holds that, “there is no breach of standard of care if a responsible body of similar professionals support the practice that caused the injury, even if the practice was not the standard of care.” In our research with 13 obstetricians and 13 midwives who had attended a self-reported average of 135 breech births each (Walker et al 2016), 73% of those participating agreed or strongly agreed that health professionals attending upright breech births should be competent to assist by:
- sub-clavicular pressure and bringing the shoulders forward to flex an extended head; and
- pressure in the sub-clavicular space, triggering the head to flex.
Additionally, 86% agreed or strongly agreed that an essential skill was:
- moving infant’s body to mum’s body, so that infant’s body follows the curve of the woman’s sacrum
This research avoided the use of names such as ‘shoulder press’ and ‘Frank’s Nudge’ in favour of descriptions because not everyone uses the same terms, or refers to the same actions even if they do.
Evidence for manoeuvres also comes from evaluations of training programmes, both breech-specific and obstetrics emergencies courses. In our review of the effectiveness of vaginal breech birth training strategies (Walker et al 2017a), we found no published studies demonstrating an association between any training strategy and improvement in perinatal outcomes. The evidence base for the PROMPT training programme, widely used in the UK, comes from a study that did demonstrate an association with training and a subsequent reduction in low 5-minute Apgar scores and HIE (Draycott et al 2006). But that study questionably excluded outcomes for breech births, and because of this the breech methods in PROMPT cannot be said to be evidence-based, although the programme’s overall approach of multi-disciplinary working and clear communication remains important.
Most obstetrics emergencies training programmes have been evaluated at the level of change in confidence and/or knowledge. Our Physiological Breech Birth training programme, which includes shoulder press, has also been evaluated at this level in published research and demonstrated good results (Walker et al 2017b).
Finally we have the most recent RCOG guideline (Impey et al 2017), which states: “The choice of manoeuvres used, if required to assist with delivery of the breech, should depend on the individual experience/preference of the attending doctor or midwife.”