Considerations for Planned Singleton Breech Vaginal Delivery

Today’s episode dives more into the realm of expert opinion rather than hard science, and we hope some of our listeners will share their own experiences and criteria for offering planned breech labor!

ACOG CO 745, in addition to PB 161 on external cephalic version, deal with this topic, but there is much variation in the literature available. In particular, international guidelines on this topic are rather variable. The ObG Project has a great summary and links to these varying resources that is worth checking out.

There are particular risks to breech labor, and experienced provider hands are necessary, which is why almost 90% of planned term breech birth in the USA is performed by cesarean section. The 2000 Term Breech Trial, a multicenter randomized trial, noted perinatal morbidity and mortality was overall reduced with planned cesarean delivery than with planned vaginal delivery of term breech (1.6% vs 5.0%), with no differences in reported maternal morbidity or mortality. Follow up studies to the Term Breech Trial, however, have noted no differences in maternal or neonatal outcomes at 2 years.

Additional studies performed since this time have been mixed. While some prospective studies demonstrated excellent maternal and neonatal outcomes, both short- and long-term, they utilized very strict criteria and protocols for the selection of candidates offered a trial of breech labor. Cohort studies of breech birth in general populations demonstrates at least short-term risk of neonatal morbidity, including birth injury, nerve injury, and need for assisted ventilation. This risk is present with any trial of breech labor, including if intrapartum cesarean is performed, versus planned cesarean delivery.

Below is a sample protocol based on some of these studies with stricter inclusion criteria. We recognize there is likely some significant debate to be had on these criteria, and in particular clinical scenarios, so be sure to discuss with experienced obstetricians in your area as well as check your hospital’s own breech birth protocol.

(c) CREOGs over Coffee, 2019. Adapted from Hofmeyr/UpToDate, 2019.

Finally, intrapartum management should proceed according to usual obstetric practice. However with breech presentations, providers should closely consider a number of factors outlined below. Notably, these factors are largely based on expert opinion and guidelines from international societies.

  • Avoidance of early amniotomy, and preference for spontaneous rupture of membranes.

  • The progress of labor in the active phase, and progress of descent during active pushing. 

    • Cesarean delivery should be recommended with a protracted labor course, particularly in the active phase, as this may be indicative of fetopelvic disproportion. 

    • Use of oxytocin in the active phase of labor is discouraged.

    • With the achievement of full cervical dilation, the breech should reach the pelvic floor.

    • Passive descent should not be permitted for more than 90 minutes after achieving full cervical dilation.

    • With onset of active pushing, delivery by cesarean should be considered if the infant has not delivered within 30-60 minutes.