Vaginal delivery of breech presentation

J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2009 Jun;31(6):557-566. doi: 10.1016/S1701-2163(16)34221-9.
[Article in English, French]


Objectives: To review the physiology of breech birth; to discern the risks and benefits of a trial of labour versus planned Caesarean section; and to recommend to obstetricians, family physicians, midwives, obstetrical nurses, anaesthesiologists, pediatricians, and other health care providers selection criteria, intrapartum management parameters, and delivery techniques for a trial of vaginal breech birth.

Options: Trial of labour in an appropriate setting or delivery by pre-emptive Caesarean section for women with a singleton breech fetus at term.

Outcomes: Reduced perinatal mortality, short-term neonatal morbidity, long-term infant morbidity, and short- and long-term maternal morbidity and mortality.

Evidence: Medline was searched for randomized trials, prospective cohort studies, and selected retrospective cohort studies comparing planned Caesarean section with a planned trial of labour; selected epidemiological studies comparing delivery by Caesarean section with vaginal breech delivery; and studies comparing long-term outcomes in breech infants born vaginally or by Caesarean section. Additional articles were identified through bibliography tracing up to June 1, 2008.

Values: The evidence collected was reviewed by the Maternal Fetal Medicine Committee of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and quantified using the criteria and classifications of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.

Validation: This guideline was compared with the 2006 American College of Obstetrician's Committee Opinion on the mode of term singleton breech delivery and with the 2006 Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists Green Top Guideline: The Management of Breech Presentation. The document was reviewed by Canadian and International clinicians with particular expertise in breech vaginal delivery.

Sponsors: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. SUMMARY STATEMENTS: 1. Vaginal breech birth can be associated with a higher risk of perinatal mortality and short-term neonatal morbidity than elective Caesarean section. (I) 2. Careful case selection and labour management in a modern obstetrical setting may achieve a level of safety similar to elective Caesarean section. (II-1) 3. Planned vaginal delivery is reasonable in selected women with a term singleton breech fetus. (I) 4. With careful case selection and labour management, perinatal mortality occurs in approximately 2 per 1000 births and serious short-term neonatal morbidity in approximately 2% of breech infants. Many recent retrospective and prospective reports of vaginal breech delivery that follow specific protocols have noted excellent neonatal outcomes. (II-1) 5. Long-term neurological infant outcomes do not differ by planned mode of delivery even in the presence of serious short-term neonatal morbidity. (I) RECOMMENDATIONS: LABOUR SELECTION CRITERIA: 1. For a woman with suspected breech presentation, pre- or early labour ultrasound should be performed to assess type of breech presentation, fetal growth and estimated weight, and attitude of fetal head. If ultrasound is not available, Caesarean section is recommended. (II-1A) 2. Contraindications to labour include a. Cord presentation (II-3A) b. Fetal growth restriction or macrosomia (I-A) c. Any presentation other than a frank or complete breech with a flexed or neutral head attitude (III-B) d. Clinically inadequate maternal pelvis (III-B) e. Fetal anomaly incompatible with vaginal delivery (III-B) 3. Vaginal breech delivery can be offered when the estimated fetal weight is between 2500 g and 4000 g. (II-2B) LABOUR MANAGEMENT: 4. Clinical pelvic examination should be performed to rule out pathological pelvic contraction. Radiologic pelvimetry is not necessary for a safe trial of labour; good progress in labour is the best indicator of adequate fetal-pelvic proportions. (III-B) 5. Continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring is preferable in the first stage and mandatory in the second stage of labour. (I-A) When membranes rupture, immediate vaginal examination is recommended to rule out prolapsed cord. (III-B) 6. In the absence of adequate progress in labour, Caesarean section is advised. (II-1A) 7. Induction of labour is not recommended for breech presentation. (II-3B) Oxytocin augmentation is acceptable in the presence of uterine dystocia. (II-1A) 8. A passive second stage without active pushing may last up to 90 minutes, allowing the breech to descend well into the pelvis. Once active pushing commences, if delivery is not imminent after 60 minutes, Caesarean section is recommended. (I-A) 9. The active second stage of labour should take place in or near an operating room with equipment and personnel available to perform a timely Caesarean section if necessary. (III-A) 10. A health care professional skilled in neonatal resuscitation should be in attendance at the time of delivery. (III-A) DELIVERY TECHNIQUE: 11. The health care provider for a planned vaginal breech delivery needs to possess the requisite skills and experience. (II-1A) 12. An experienced obstetrician-gynaecologist comfortable in the performance of vaginal breech delivery should be present at the delivery to supervise other health care providers, including a trainee. (I-A) 13. The requirements for emergency Caesarean section, including availability of the hospital operating room team and the approximate 30-minute timeline to commence a laparotomy, must be in accordance with the recommendations of the SOGC Policy Statement, "Attendance at Labour and Delivery" (CPG No. 89; update in press, 2009). (III-A) 14. The health care provider should have rehearsed a plan of action and should be prepared to act promptly in the rare circumstance of a trapped after-coming head or irreducible nuchal arms: symphysiotomy or emergency abdominal rescue can be life saving. (III-B) 15. Total breech extraction is inappropriate for term singleton breech delivery. (II-2A) 16. Effective maternal pushing efforts are essential to safe delivery and should be encouraged. (II-1A) 17. At the time of delivery of the after-coming head, an assistant should be present to apply suprapubic pressure to favour flexion and engagement of the fetal head. (II-3B) 18. Spontaneous or assisted breech delivery is acceptable. Fetal traction should be avoided, and fetal manipulation must be applied only after spontaneous delivery to the level of the umbilicus. (III-A) 19. Nuchal arms may be reduced by the Løvset or Bickenbach manoeuvres. (III-B) 20. The fetal head may deliver spontaneously, with the assistance of suprapubic pressure, by Mauriceau-Smellie-Veit manoeuvre, or with the assistance of Piper forceps. (III-B) SETTING AND CONSENT: 21. In the absence of a contraindication to vaginal delivery, a woman with a breech presentation should be informed of the risks and benefits of a trial of labour and elective Caesarean section, and informed consent should be obtained. A woman's choice of delivery mode should be respected. (III-A) 22. The consent discussion and chosen plan should be well documented and communicated to labour-room staff. (III-B) 23. Hospitals offering a trial of labour should have a written protocol for eligibility and intrapartum management. (III-B) 24. 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 not be abandoned. They should be provided the best possible in-hospital care. (III-A) 25. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), in collaboration with the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (APOG), The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), and The Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) should revise the training requirements at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. SOGC will continue to promote training of current health care providers through the MOREOB, ALARM (Advances in Labour and Risk Management), and other courses. (III-A) 26. Theoretical and hands-on breech birth training simulation should be part of basic obstetrical skills training programs such as ALARM, ALSO (Advanced Life Support Training in Obstetrics), and MOREOB to prepare health care providers for unexpected vaginal breech births. (III-B).

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Breech Presentation*
  • Canada
  • Delivery, Obstetric*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Patient Selection
  • Pregnancy
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal