Four Options For a Breech Birth
Every once in a while I have a student whose baby is persistently in a breech position(feet or bottom down rather than the head as is typical). This inevitably causes tons of stress for the family and the mother. What is mom to do when her baby is breech and she is planning a natural, vaginal birth?
I have also had a few students who are in my class because they are planning a natural VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) because their first birth was breech and so they had a c-section. They were given ONE option for their breech baby-
That option- a cesarean section at 39 weeks.
And that is the ONLY option they were given for their breech baby.
A lot of articles focus on how to TURN the breech baby. I even wrote one with tons of advice from different women. BUT- I don't want to talk about turning the breech baby right now. I want to talk about your OPTIONS if you have a breech baby.
Guess what- some of them WILL NOT TURN. Another thing that women are not being told, is that they have options BESIDES a cesarean section at 39 weeks.
There are actually many options for the baby that is breech at term.
1~One option (and the one that seems to be most popular right now) is to schedule a cesarean section for 39 weeks. Some advantages of this are that you get to pick the birth day of your baby and schedule help with family and the like. Avoiding any chance of going into labor also decreases the chance of a cord prolapse. The chance of cord prolapse is slightly higher in a breech delivery.
"The overall incidence of cord prolapse ranges from 0.1% to 0.6%. In the case of breech presentation, the incidence is slightly higher than 1%." (RCOG, Umbilical Cord Prolapse)One of the down sides of a scheduled cesarean is the increased morbidity in the mother (2 to 11 times). Another downside of a cesarean for a breech baby is the difficulty that many women face when trying to have a VBAC. This is no laughing matter. In many communities access to VBAC is very limited. For some women their options after a cesarean are limited to scheduled c-section or unassisted delivery at home.
2~Another option for the woman whose baby is persistently breech is to wait for labor and only then consent to a cesarean section. One advantage of this choice is that the baby is born when it triggers labor and not before. Any error in age or size of the baby need not be worried about as the baby is hopefully ready to be born.
Some studies have found that this is a safe option and lowers rates of infant mortality significantly. This 2012 study found though that at least for preterm babies,
"There is not enough evidence to evaluate the use of a policy of planned immediate caesarean delivery for preterm babies. Further studies are needed in this area, but recruitment is proving difficult."(Preterm babies are more likely to be breech at the time of birth.)
Choosing a cesarean for breech but waiting for labor to start is another option for the mother whose baby is breech at term. This option also allows for the possibility (though rare) that the baby will turn head down after 39 weeks.
3~A third option for the mother whose baby is breech at term is a planned hospital birth of a breech baby. While some studies (noted earlier) did find that breech birth was safer if a scheduled c-section was performed, some follow up studies found differently. In 2010 ACOG (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) re-affirmed a committee opinion in light of newer research on the safety of breech birth within certain parameters and when attended by a skilled physician.
" these reports detail the outcomes of specific management protocols and document the potential safety of a vaginal delivery in the properly selected patient."They did these because, when the studies were followed it turned out that the risks of vaginal delivery for breech birth were in fact overstated by the previous study.
"Another explanation is that the use of pooled mortality and morbidity data at the time of birth overstated the true long-term risks of vaginal delivery (7)."The new ACOG recommendation is this-
" The decision regarding the mode of delivery should depend on the experience of the health care provider. Cesarean delivery will be the preferred mode of delivery for most physicians because of the diminishing expertise in vaginal breech delivery. Obstetricians should offer and perform external cephalic version whenever possible. Planned vaginal delivery of a term singleton breech fetus may be reasonable under hospital-specific protocol guidelines for both eligibility and labor management. In those instances in which breech vaginal deliveries are pursued, great caution should be exercised, and detailed patient informed consent should be documented. Before embarking on a plan for a vaginal breech delivery, women should be informed that the risk of perinatal or neonatal mortality or short-term serious neonatal morbidity may be higher than if a cesarean delivery is planned."In short- vaginal breech birth is a valid option in certain circumstances AND if the practitioner is skilled in breech delivery. They do note that the skill to deliver breech safely is being quickly lost as the tendency is to deliver every breech baby via surgery.
4~A fourth option for the mother whose baby is breech at term is a planned home birth with a breech skilled caregiver (usually a midwife).
As far as I know there are no statistics on the safety of this choice. So, why do I include it you ask? Because it is still an option. Women deserve to know all of their options.
One of the first couples I ever taught was a first time mom and dad who frankly seemed pretty freaked out about the whole childbirth thing. They were what you would consider "mainstream". Their baby ended up being breech at term and they opted for a home birth with a midwife who was very experienced in breech birth. They had their 10 and a half pound baby at home, safely. This is not however the only story of a safe breech delivery at home. There are many. Home breech delivery is a valid option for some women with some care providers.
I realize that this is just a story- and not a study and not proof that breech home birth is safe. The reason I tell it though is that for this couple, in the area I live, their options were breech home birth or scheduled cesarean. There is literally not a hospital for over 100 miles that will attempt a breech birth. I sincerely understand why doctors and hospitals are skiddish about breech vaginal birth. There are studies that certainly find that it is riskier.
I also find it disappointing that women in this day and age are literally given SO FEW OPTIONS for their birth. I find it equally disappointing that obstetrics, which was once an art form that involved learning to safely handle and deliver many different types of births and babies safely is now so narrow and limiting. Surgery is a necessary skill for an OB, certainly. I don't think however that it should be their ONLY skill. It is really disappointing that young doctors are not learning how to safely deliver a breech baby.
I hope they realize something. When an OB lacks the skill or the nerve to do anything other than surgery for women whose babies are big, breech, different, overdue, slow to descend, have a wrapped cord, have a compound presentation or ANYTHING outside of what is becoming a very narrow box, they are going to LOSE CLIENTS.
Some women (not many) but some when limited by their birth choices in the hospital will simply walk away from that hospital. They will find a care provider who can serve them even if they are a VBAC or they go post-dates or they have any one of the increasing number of "risky" checks on their chart.
It seems to me that it is getting harder and harder for a woman to actually be low risk. In fact, it seems to take a lot of luck.
If your baby is breech you have MORE THAN just the c-section option.
I don't know what option is best for you or your baby. In fact, the studies don't always even know and sometimes they contradict each other. Sometimes studies change a few years down the line. But you deserve to know that you have options. I hope that we will all be aware of those options and choose carefully what is best for you. I wish that women had access to ALL of these options and skilled providers for whatever it is they decide on.
(Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com, artist, eveline, Free Photos.)