Yesterday was International Day of the Midwife. I saw but didn’t participate in the social media celebrations. Not because I wasn’t feeling it, but because my clinical academic midwife life was full to the brim. This included:
Supporting a planned OptiBreech vaginal breech birth through the night and until the birth occurred in the morning;
Allowing my little dog to take me for a walk to support my physical and mental health;
Taking a massive nap; and
Spending a wild evening in on my sofa, knitting a jumper for my son Waldo the Stonemason and listening to a Miss Marple audio book.
If you feel exhausted just reading that list, you’re as human as me!
A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.
– Simon Sinek, shared by Céline, an attendee at my VIDM presentation
This feasibility study is undoubtedly the most challenging and most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. Being a research leader means being a change leader, and change is never easy. The OptiBreech Project is proposing a paradigm change in the way we support vaginal breech birth. This means a change from promoting caesarean section (CS) to supporting each individual women’s choice of mode of birth, in line with NICE Guidance. And it means a change from using unreliable ‘selection criteria,’ which are also inconsistent with the concept of individual choice, to relying on specialist expertise to respond to unfolding and infinitely unique circumstances.
Being a breech specialist is not easy. In addition to a lot of time spent on-call, it’s not like working in a low-risk midwifery setting, where you can anticipate 90% of women will have the normal birth that they want. Many women are heart-broken when they find out their baby is breech. We can support them to plan an elective CS, and some women are happy about this, but many are very disappointed, even when they feel this is the best option for them and their baby. For those who want to plan a vaginal birth, but only if the baby is head-down, baby turning (ECV, external cephalic version) is only successful up to 50% of the time. We are still there for women when it does not work.
For those who want to plan a vaginal breech birth, the barriers sometimes seem impossible. It’s not uncommon for women to make an informed decision to plan a physiological breech birth (PBB) and return to clinic in tears because of the way someone has spoken to them, be that another health care professional, a friend or family member, or an unkind stranger on social media with opinions about the wisdom of their choice. The criticism, judgement and stigma can feel very heavy at such a vulnerable time. Our interviews with women on the study indicate they have felt supported to change their minds and plan an elective CS in these circumstances. Of course we can and do facilitate women changing their minds, but we can’t take away the hurt women feel when they wished for more support to make a different choice.
Birthing people who stick with their choice to birth vaginally despite such ubiquitous doubt frequently want reassurance that everything will be okay. Of course, we can never guarantee a perfect outcome. We can only guarantee that we are doing our best to increase the chances we will get professionals with enhanced training and experience to their birth. We believe this will improve outcomes for these births (that is the premise of the research), but we will not know until many OptiBreech births have occurred. And we all have to be prepared for a higher need for intrapartum CS to achieve a safe outcome for breech babies, even when trying for a vaginal birth.
Those of us supporting women who choose physiological breech births face similar criticism and judgement on a regular basis. Sometimes the lack of respect and unkindness feels overwhelming, and it is tempting to succumb to despair. I find it helps to remember that behaviour like this comes from a place of fear, a belief that doing things differently could have disastrous outcomes. Nobody wants this, and nobody wants to be responsible for it. In difficult times, I lean into the support I feel from many wonderful midwifery and obstetric colleagues, who help bring me back to a place of compassionate understanding. Only by opening to understanding each other can we move towards trust and safety — physical, emotional and spiritual safety in each others’ hands.
Listening to my ‘Joy and Love’ playlist helps too. Here’s a mini playlist of my favourite Resistance Revival Chorus songs, for anyone who needs them today.
Shawn Walker, RM PhD, King’s College London and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, West Middlesex Hospital Sabrina Das, MB ChB, MRCOG, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Queen Charlottes & Chelsea Hospital Emma Spillane, RM MSc, Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust Amy Meadowcroft, RM, Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust Background In the […]
Happy new year, breech advocates! We’ve got nearly 10 hours of evidence-packed, video-rich, detail-loving breech birth training content waiting for you.
Our fully updated 2022 course is now on-line. To help you reach your new year’s resolution of developing some beautiful breech skills, the course will be available at a discounted price of £50 for the first two weeks of January. No code needed; access is for one year.
Along with a new course, our Vimeo library has a NEW PASSWORD. This is available from the “Resources for Teaching and Implementation” section of any course you are enrolled in, along with our amazing Dropbox of guidelines and training resources. Registered users have permission to use the content for non-profit teaching purposes — because learning together is the safest, most effective way to do it.
All of our online courses also come with free access to our Online Webinars. These are one-hour discussions on topics that have arisen during the course of our practice or others’, where we share learning and reflection with each other.
If you have previously completed any of our on-line courses, you are eligible to register for the Refresher course for only £10/year. This is exactly the same as the main course, but for a nominal cost to help us keep our platforms online. You can review the course, or just complete the assessment to obtain a new certificate for your portfolio.
Anyone organising or attending one of our face-to-face courses will be given free access to the on-line course for one year. Due to the on-going pandemic and need for social distancing, we rarely have external places to offer as we did pre-2020, but you can still host a study day for yourself and your colleagues.
If your site is participating in the OptiBreech Trial, your free online training package has already been updated.
What if I have attended an in-person course in the past? Access to the Refresher Course is only available to those who have purchased and completed one of our on-line courses, beginning in 2021. All of our previous courses have been advertised with one year’s access to our Vimeo Library. Content is updated regularly, so our recent courses are significantly expanded, based on current research, compared to those of previous years. If you have completed the main course, the system will automatically consider you eligible to take the Refresher. If you use our videos for teaching within your institution, we encourage you to ask your employer to reimburse your training so you can continue to maintain access.
Finally, some opportunities to become more involved in Breech Birth Network. We would really like some help with the following, and if you are willing to make a regular commitment and develop the skills necessary, we can also pay you! Emma and I developed the skills to do all this because that is what was necessary, and we know others can too.
Ideally, we would like to involve people who are supporting breech births professionally in some way, so that the learning that occurs in these roles also spills over into developing your own practice. That’s what makes it worthwhile for us. And obvs, we expect that you would have completed our training to know what you are getting into and that your approach to breech birth aligns with ours.
Online Webinatrix. We do our online webinar series ad hoc at the moment, but we’d like it to happen regularly.
Video Master. We have a large Vimeo library, but in order to make the most of it, it needs to be organised — edited, tagged, consent forms stored securely, etc.
Online education Diva. In addition to developing new content based upon new evidence or learning from practice in our communities, we have a need to develop translated versions of our courses to make them more accessible to a wider audience. We use Articulate 360 and WordPress, and although we don’t expect you to come in with those skills, we need someone who is willing to develop them to get the job done.
Accounting Guru. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a birth professional. We use Xero, and our amazing admin assistant Charlie has been doing this for us for a few years, but now needs to hand over due to other exciting things happening in her life.
If you are interested in any of these roles and prepared to make a commitment to helping our small, not-for-profit enterprise grow, please get in touch using the form below.
Breech Birth Network are pleased to announce the publication of an evaluation of our physiological breech birth training, conducted in eight NHS hospitals across England and Northern Ireland. Click on the image below to read the full evaluation.
Multi-disciplinary training, involving NHS midwives and obstetricians
Only training to have demonstrated an increase, rather than a decrease, in vaginal breech births following delivery of the training package, although this was not statistically significant
Use of upright positions at birth increased significantly
Pilot data: no adverse outcomes among births attended by someone who had completed the training, compared to a background rate of 7%
Pilot data: perineal outcomes similar to cephalic births
Congratulations to midwife Stella Mattiolo, who collected and analysed this data as part of her Masters in Research.
‘Physiological breech birth’ is an approach to care informed by evidence about the physiological processes of vaginal breech births, and an approach to clinical education based on evidence about how professionals learn to facilitate breech births.
I spend a lot of time communicating about vaginal breech birth, and equally importantly, a lot of time listening to how other people communicate about vaginal breech birth. Lately, I have become aware that many people misunderstand what ‘physiological breech birth’ is. This causes difficulties in communication and prevents current research evidence from improving the safety of vaginal breech birth as quickly as it could.
It’s my job to help clarify so that research can be used to improve safety and choice, as it is intended. Let’s start with what physiological breech birth is NOT:
Physiological breech birth is NOT ‘upright breech birth,’ ‘standing breech,’ or ‘all fours breech.’ Upright maternal birth positions are a TOOL and not a RULE of physiological breech birth. The reference standard is that, in a normally progressing birth, the woman or birthing person should give birth in the position of their preference. For many women having an unmedicated birth, particularly in midwife-led settings, this will be an upright position. Therefore, the logic goes, a ‘normal breech birth’ is one in which the woman is enabled to give birth in the position of her choice. Requiring supine positioning is an intervention.
How does this fit with the RCOG guideline (2017)? This states: “Either a semi-recumbent or an all-fours position may be adopted for delivery and should depend on maternal preference and the experience of the attendant. If the latter position is used, women should be advised that recourse to the semi-recumbent position may become necessary.”
The RCOG supports the use of upright positioning, but suggests this should be dependent on maternal preference and the experience of the attendant. Our recent analysis of video evidence (2020) showed that conversion to supine maternal position occurs within 10 seconds when use of supine manoeuvres is required. Therefore, the most recent evidence indicates that, while providers should continue to inform women that they may need them to turn over if the birth is very complicated, the experience of the attendant does not need to influence a woman’s initial choice of birthing position. Even if the attendant knows only supine manoeuvres.
Where it is possible and safe to support a woman’s liberty in her birthing process, that’s what we should be doing, right? There is no evidence to indicate that use of supine birthing position improves outcomes for mothers and/or babies compared to enabling upright positioning. There is also no evidence to support the use of some manoeuvres over others; only things, like pulling, we know are dangerous. If a local guideline stipulates that women should be asked to assume a supine position to birth, this is out of line with both current RCOG guidance and the principles of woman-centred care.
Physiological breech birth is NOT, “It’s just hands off the breech. Just breathe, wait for the next contraction.”
The penny dropped for me after hearing two different midwives in two different cities describe to two other people what ‘physiological breech birth is’ using exactly this phrase, word for word. And then participating in risk management reviews following adverse outcomes, where midwives had document that they were practising ‘hands off the breech.’ And then attending multiple births (and videos), where midwives were instructing women to ‘just breathe, wait for the next contraction,’ even when there was concern about fetal condition and the situation was becoming urgent. Because this is what they had been taught.‘Hands off the breech’ has become a dogma with unintended consequences. Instructing someone to avoid pushing when they feel the urge is an INTERVENTION. It has no evidence to back it up, nor any good theoretical basis other than preventing people from pulling when they don’t know what else to do.
It’s not surprising that some senior managers are cautious about enabling ‘physiological breech birth,’ if this is what they understand it to be, especially if they have participated in adverse outcome reviews where this sort of practice has been described.
But, due to science, we know how to do better. Our video analysis showed that in a sample of 42 births, the birth was complete within 2:46 of the birth of the pelvis in 75% of cases. Regarding birth intervals, the RCOG guideline states that breech births should be assisted if there is delay of more than 5 minutes from the buttocks to the head. We are in the same ballpark of the RCOG’s recommendation based on expert opinion. But now we know that if you wait this long to assist, you are already outside the normal reference range.
Physiological breech birth is not contradicting our already strong, evidence-based guideline. Rather, current, living, emerging evidence is refining it.
Historical use of the phrase ‘physiological breech birth’
Midwife Jane Evans used the phrase ‘physiological breech birth’ in her 2012 article, Understanding Physiological Breech Birth. In it, Evans shares her insights and descriptions of the mechanisms based upon her observations in clinical practice. Those of use who use this phrase in our research have continued in this tradition, using systematic, planned observational and other research methods. Many of her observations we have confirmed; some have been modified.
How to let the evidence help you
Let’s say you are a Practice Development Midwife. You teach the breech birth update in a 40-minute slot, using materials commonly used in other obstetric emergencies training programmes. You’d like to ensure the update is as informed by up-to-date evidence* but don’t want to blow people’s minds apart with variations from what they already know, especially now. Good idea.
These are my top 3 tips for making sure the training you deliver evolves with the current evidence base (as of January 2021):
Explain that the RCOG guideline recognises and supports women to adopt an upright position if that is their preference. Explain that the evidence indicates it takes less than 10 seconds to convert from upright to supine position. So even if providers are only experienced in supine complications, women should be supported to adopt the position of their choice. Although ‘lithotomy’ is not necessary, run through what conversion would look like in practice with your team if this helps people envision what is possible. Show them the video above if you are able.
Recommend the use of maternal movement and effort if any delay is identified. Delay is defined as no progress for 90 seconds at any point once the baby begins to emerge. Our video research indicated that maternal movement (#giveitawiggle) and effort (gentle encouragement to “push”) alone is often effective, without the risk of iatrogenic damage from hasty manoeuvres, but it is not always used. Instead, women are often instructed to breathe through a contraction and resist the urge to push. Because time is of the essence, and contractions may be 5 minutes apart in 2nd stage, this is a safety risk. Even in supine births with an epidural in situ, simply asking the woman to push will also work in this situation if there is no obstruction. At this point, the uterus is almost entirely empty; a contraction creates the urge to push, but maternal effort does the job. The use of maternal agency to facilitate the birth is a first principle of physiological breech birth – it’s not all about the position.
Teach shoulder press alongside MSV. Our video research found this simple manoeuvre was used in 57% of the upright breech births in our sample. Start by explaining the principle: elevating the occiput and flexing the fetal head, so that the smallest diameter delivers. When a woman is supine it is done like this … MSV. When a woman is upright, this works too … shoulder press. But the principle is the same. Then invite people to practice the one they are most likely to use. This flexible approach, recognising the variety of practice contexts, also reduces the risk an out-of-hospital midwife will ask a woman to lie down on the floor so she can perform MSV. This is a safety risk as it automatically deflexes the head.
Sure, the physiological breech birth evidence base covers a lot more. Our full training package (study day or on-line) goes into less common complications and their solutions, more about the research, and how to use the Algorithm to guide decision-making. A feasibility study is currently being conducted, hoping to trial a new care pathway based on physiological breech birth. But it is possible RIGHT NOW to use the available evidence to update current practice in a safer direction, without making major changes to what you are already doing.
Lastly, if one can point out a single maxim in breech deliveries, take heed of the results of the experienced country midwife and doctor. They are usually very good, and their results are obtained by a policy of non-intervention. Do not interfere unless it is necessary, but when it is necessary interfere quickly and with certainty.
Ian Donald, 1956, Practical Obstetric Problems
The careful, systematic study of vaginal breech births that has taken place in the physiological breech birth tradition reflects this maxim. Do not intervene, not by dictating a birth position, not by instructing someone not to push, not at all, unless it is necessary. Due to a lack of exposure, many health care professionals just do not know how to recognise ‘when it is necessary’ and therefore cannot act quickly and with certainty, through no fault of their own. Due to physiological breech birth research, ‘when it is necessary’ can now be defined and described much more precisely. Therefore, it can be taught. And it can be tested.
But if the available research indicates simply stopping untested but commonly applied interventions may reduce identifiable risks, do we really need to wait for an RCT?
P.S. A note on *up-to-date evidence. When preparing to write this blog, I did a brief literature search to find others (e.g. not ‘physiological breech’) who are publishing research related to the clinical practice of vaginal breech birth in the UK. The last I could find were Sloman et al 2016 and Pradhan et al 2005. Many of Sloman’s findings are consistent with those of other physiological breech researchers. I am keen to hear if anyone else in the UK is producing evidence concerning the clinical practice of vaginal breech birth at the moment — breech birth itself, not ECV or decision-making. Because it’s starting to feel surreal when people say, “We don’t teach/do physiological breech birth because it’s not evidence based …”
Jan, H., Guimicheva, B., Gosh, S., Hamid, R., Penna, L. and Sarris, I. (2014), Evaluation of healthcare professionals’ understanding of eponymous maneuvers and mnemonics in emergency obstetric care provision. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 125: 228-231. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2013.12.011 — And one of the co-authors (L Penna) is also a co-author of the RCOG guideline. This is the reason we do not use eponyms when teaching skills on physiological breech birth study days.
“Practical insight into upright breech birth from birth videos: a structured analysis” is now available on-line! (Reitter, Halliday and Walker, 2020, Birth – https://doi.org/10.1111/birt.12480) This paper represents a few years of hard work by Anke Reitter, me and our Research Assistant, Alexandra Halliday. It contains insights into birth timings and the mechanisms as observed in upright breech birth videos. The Physiological Breech Birth Algorithm is also included.
We look forward to much debate and discussion! Please share with anyone concerned about safe vaginal breech birth.
Traduit par: Isabelle Brabant et Caroline Daelmans
Dr Anke Reitter and Dr Shawn Walker of the Breech Birth Network will teach together in Barcelona on 23 April at Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. Please share with your obstetric and midwifery colleagues. Materials will be translated into Spanish for participants. Click the image below for more information on how to register.
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 Breech Birth Network are delighted to announce both Shawn and Emma have been shortlisted for awards at the International Maternity Expo Awards. We are both very honoured to have been shortlisted in the following categories:
Dr Shawn Walker – shortlisted for the Research Innovation Award and the Improving Safety Award
Dr Shawn Walker has been shortlisted for both the Research Innovation Award and the Improving Safety Award for her work in improving the knowledge, skills and training around Physiological Breech Birth. Shawn has published a number of research articles highlighting the importance of effective training, the development of experienced breech teams and pracical insights into upright breech birth. Shawn is currenty writing proposals for further essential research into Physiological Breech Birth to further improve safety and choice for mothers and their babies as well as practiotioners facilitating such births.
Emma has been shortlisted for the Practice Innovation Award for her work in setting up a breech birth service in the large London teaching hospital she works in. The service supports mothers in their choices regarding mode of birth for breech presentation at term. Emma is also completing her Masters research in Breech Childbirth Preferences of Parents to further support service provision and support for parents choices.
We would both like to thank those who nominated us. It is a privilege and an honour to have been recognised for the work we are both doing.