Another NICE Guideline that mentions care for breech presentation has been put out for comment. This time it is Inducing Labour. Many fine colleagues are collating responses to the guideline in general, but I would like views on the specific section related to induction of labour in breech presentation.
I have prepared a response, based on previous feedback from women and birthing people. Please let us know how you feel about this, and whether you would word anything differently.
Induction of labour is controversial, and even more controversial for breech presentation. I have tried to word the response in such a way that reflects the need for more informed choice, rather than more induction per se.
p.10, line 6 “Induction of labour is not generally recommended if a woman’s baby is in the breech position. [2008, amended 2021]” Cannot locate evidence for this recommendation in evidence review. This statement is vague. Not generally recommended by who? Why? Induction of labour for breech presentation is common outside of the UK.
p.10, line 5 Suggest the section on ‘Breech Presentation’ is re-written to reflect the ethos of informed choice and discussion, in a similar manner to the section on ‘Previous caesarean birth.’ Otherwise, the service is inequitable. A guideline on IOL with breech presentation is only applicable to women who have chosen to plan a vaginal breech birth. The guideline should reflect and respect this, using neutral, non-judgemental language.
1.2.19 Advise women with a baby in the breech position, who have chosen to plan a vaginal breech birth, that:
induction of labour could lead to an increased risk of emergency caesarean birth, compared to spontaneous breech labour
induction of labour could lead to an increased risk of neonatal intensive care unit admission for the baby, compared to spontaneous breech labour
the methods used for induction of labour will be guided by the need to reduce these risks. See the recommendations on Methods for inducing labour.
1.2.20 If delivery is indicated, offer women who have a baby in the breech position a choice of:
an attempt at external cephalic version, immediately followed by induction of labour if successful
caesarean birth or
induction of labour in breech presentation
Take into account the woman’s circumstances and preferences. Advise women that they are entitled to decline the offer of treatment such as external cephalic version, induction of labour or caesarean birth, even when it MAY benefit their or their baby’s heath.
Current wording in Draft Guideline is:
1.2.19 Induction of labour is not generally recommended if a woman’s baby is in the breech position. [2008, amended 2021]
1.2.20 Consider induction of labour for babies in the breech position if:
delivery is indicated and
external cephalic version is unsuccessful, declined or contraindicated and
the woman chooses not to have an elective caesarean birth.
Discuss the possible risks associated with induction with the woman. [2008, amended 2021]
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.
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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.
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A ‘normal’ breech baby – well-flexed, with lots of room to move
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is consulting the public on the proposed new breech guideline, until 2 May, which is Monday. They accept one peer review per organisation, so I will collate any comments sent to me personally or posted here on Monday afternoon, and submit them for Breech Birth Network. – Shawn
Yesterday, approximately 50 midwives and obstetricians shared some love for breech babies in Preston by hosting a Physiological Breech Study day!
The day was organised by inspirational Consultant Midwife Tracey Cooper, with the help of midwives Emma Ashton and Emma Gornall, and we felt so welcome! Collaborating with their obstetric colleagues, these midwives have led changes in Preston, where guidelines now advise midwives to use hands and knees maternal positioning for all undiagnosed breech births occurring outside the obstetric unit, including the MLBU and home births. In these settings, obstetric beds are not usually available. Adverse outcomes have occurred across the UK because midwives who have only been trained in lithotomy manoeuvres, following guidelines mandating the lithotomy position, have instructed women to lie on the floor, either to perform a hasty and unnecessary vaginal examination, or to ‘manage’ the birth in the way that feels most familiar. As a result, women have then abandoned the most physiologically advantageous forward kneeling position in order to accommodate health professionals. When a woman is supine on a flat surface, the baby’s body cannot hang the way it does in true lithotomy position, and this may cause difficulties with the birth and/or delivery of the head.
Learning to negotiate nuchal arms when women are upright
I have been encouraging midwifery leaders to address this problem for some time, after becoming aware of such troubling events occurring not infrequently. In addition, I performed an audit covering a 20-month period in my previous practice setting, and the results indicated that 80% of the breech presentations diagnosed for the first time in labour occurred among otherwise low-risk women under midwifery-led care. This population does not routinely receive a third trimester scan in the UK, and the research does not necessarily indicate that doing routine scans would improve outcomes. However, it does suggest that each midwifery-led setting should have a plan in place to ensure all midwives have setting-appropriate training for managing unanticipated breech births, and that women have access to skilled and supportive counselling and care when this occurs. As more births are occurring in midwifery-led settings following the recommendations of the 2014 NICE Intrapartum Care guidelines, this forward planning will be more and more important, to promote safe physical and psychological outcomes for women and babies.
Emma Ashton, Gerhard Bogner, Olivia Armshaw, Tracey Cooper & Shawn Walker
We were privileged to be joined by Dr Gerhard Bogner of Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria. Bogner shared his experience of trailblazing for breech in Austria by introducing the practice of all fours (im Vierfüßer) breech births, which he has been studying in singletons and twins, with good outcomes. We look forward to the publication of Bogner’s twin data, later in the year. (Read more about Bogner’s work on ResearchGate or Pubmed.)
These international gatherings always prompt discussions about differences in practices. Some audience members were surprised to find that midwives in Austria perform a vaginal examination every hour! Therefore, the evaluation of ‘second stage’ is determined by dilatation. In contrast, visitors from Sheffield – Midwife Helen Dresner-Barnes and Consultant Obstetrician Julia Bodle – explained how in Sheffield, vaginal examinations are not routinely performed during breech labours. Progress is evaluated by observing the woman’s spontaneous expulsive effort, and if she is bearing down for some time without any noticeable descent, this would be considered an arrest in the second stage of labour necessitating a caesarean section. Such differences raise interesting discussions around why we do what we do – for safety? for measurement? for documentation? for protection in case of litigation? And what effects such seemingly neutral interventions may have – interfering with physiology? lowering the threshold for CS with or without benefit? reassuring or undermining the woman and her health professionals? We may not have all the answers, but at least we are beginning to ask the questions.
Thanks also to Lisa Walton of Blackpool and Oli Armshaw of the University of Western England for helping make the day a success.