Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Breech Research: Heads Up! Breech Conference

Day 1:
Panel on Breech Research: 
Looking Back and Looking Forward

Dr. Andrew Bisits

Andrew Bisits presented data from term breech presentations at John Hunter Newcastle Hospital collected between October 1999 - December 2010. He also suggested some future directions for research and training, including good rigorous prospective data collection, ultrasound study of births, use of high quality simulation models, and qualitative research into women's experiences of breech.

Last, Dr. Bisits commented that the physicians during this time period (1999-2010) had to be very cautious because of the delicate political situation surrounding breech birth. They were under quite a bit of pressure to react at the slightest sign during a breech labor.  He was surprised by how happy women were to have had a chance and a choice, even if they ended up with a CS after attempting a VBB. 

Dr. Anke Reitter

Dr. Anke Reitter began by briefly reviewing the implications of the TBT in Germany. She wasn’t very shocked by the findings of the TBT, based on how it was designed. There has never been a strong breech advocacy community in Germany; she doesn’t think anything like the Coalition for Breech Birth would be possible there. She also mentioned Marek Glezerman’s 2006 critique of the TBT, Five Years to the Term Breech Trial, which she felt was extremely important in changing the course of breech birth. In Germany, the rate of VBB fell after the Hannah Trial. Multips had a small but decent chance at VBB before the TBT, while primips rarely did, even before 2000.

She told Dr. Frank Louwen’s moment of inspiration when he looked at illustrations of vaginal breech births upside-down. He realized that if we turn a woman over, we won’t have to do as many maneuvers and that the breech can deliver itself. Dr. Reitter called for new terms for this new spontaneous kind of birth on H&K.

Next, she presented the results of a research study on maternal positioning and pelvic dimensions (publication forthcoming). She briefly referred to another study using MRI for breech presentations (Van Loon et al. Randomised controlled trial of magnetic-resonance pelvimetry in breech presentation at term. Lancet 1997; 350: 1799-1804.) This study concluded that using MRI did not significantly reduce the overall cesarean rate, but it did lead to a lower emergency cesarean rate during labor.

She finished her presentation by showing illustrations of two new maneuvers for helping assist upright breech births and mentioning the Frankfurt study of upright breech positioning, which she and Betty-Anne discussed in more detail the following day.

Marek Glezerman

He still keeps talking about the TBT 12 years later because so many of his colleagues still cite that article and don’t acknowledge any of the newer studies. He spent most of his presentation outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the TBT. I highly recommend reading his 2006 article Five Years To the Term Breech Trial: The Rise and Fall of a Randomized Controlled Trial (full text PDF here).

The TBT was a perfect fit for the medico-legal climate in obsetetrics at the time. It was fast-tracked for publication in only three weeks. Almost overnight, the entire Western world stopped doing vaginal breech births. In contrast, the 2-year followup study (White et al) took 2 years to be published. This study found that planned CS is not associated with reduction of risk of death of neurodevelopmental delay in children 2 years of age, “but more parents in the PCB groups than the PVB group reported that their children had had medical problems in the past several months.” Even though this analysis found no difference in long-term outcomes, it was too late. Except for a few isolated hospitals and providers, vaginal breech birth had gone extinct.

Dr. Glezerman's 2006 critique of the TBT attracted a lot of heat. But it also was highly influential in softening ACOG, RCOG, SOGC, and Cochrane guidelines on vaginal breech birth.

Ohter articles Dr. Glezerman referenced:
Marek ended his presentation with a call for reviving vaginal breech skills. These skills are essential not just for women who actively seek VBB or who present late in labor with an undiagnosed breech. Physicians also need them during cesarean sections.

He discussed a fascinating study on difficult vertex cesarean sections when the baby's head is deeply lodged in the pelvis. Obstetricians typically use the "push/pull" maneuver (push the baby's head up out of the pelvis, and then pull the baby out of the incision head-first) to deliver the baby. However, this method is associated with 10x greater maternal trauma than a with a "reverse breech extraction"--where the obstetrician delivers the vertex baby bum-first from the fundus.

Here's more information on the study. Email me if you'd like the full text.

Citation: Chopra S et al. Disengagement of the deeply engaged fetal head during cesarean section in advanced labor: Conventional method versus reverse breech extraction. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. 88.10 (Oct 2009): 1163–1166.

Abstract: Maternal and fetal morbidity of two different methods of delivering the baby during cesarean section performed in advanced labor when the fetal head is deeply engaged was assessed retrospectively, i.e. delivering as ‘cephalic’ with or without assistance to push up the fetal head from the vagina (head first or push method) and ‘reverse breech extraction’ (feet first or pull method). Records of 182 women with a single fetus in cephalic presentation, who had undergone cesarean section at cervical dilatation at ≥7 cm, with the vertex at or below zero station, were reviewed. Extension of the uterine incision occurred in significantly more women during ‘cephalic’ delivery as compared to ‘reverse breech extraction’ (22.8% versus 2.2%; p = 0.001). Use of ‘reverse breech extraction’ is an attractive and safe alternative to the standard methods for intra-operative disengagement of a deeply impacted fetal head in order to reduce maternal and fetal morbidity.


  1. Rixa, Thank you for the great summary of the research at these 3 facilities. Keep spreading the word.

  2. These are fascinating. I hope you find the citation for that last bit. I'm curious as to the hard numbers about the trauma rates. My first daughter was a c-section just as described - vertex, deeply lodged in my pelvis, pushed up (with great difficulty, noted by my partner and in my op notes) and delivered head-first. She did not suffer any trauma, thank goodness.


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