External cephalic version for breech presentation: The guideline landscape and a quest for an optimal approach

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2020 Dec:255:197-202. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2020.10.019. Epub 2020 Oct 13.


Objectives: The aim of this study was to illuminate differences in guidelines for external cephalic version (ECV) for breech presentation at or near term and assess their impact on effectiveness of the procedure in order to improve policymaking.

Study design: Guidelines from all Swedish ECV providers (hospitals with labor wards, n = 44) were retrieved in 2019 and assessed for similarities and differences. The scoring system based on the identified differences in timing, contraindications and periprocedural care was created. The hospitals were subsequently classified into either restrictive or liberal with regard to ECV. This classification was verified by comparing selection of patients for ECV attempts between the two groups. Our main outcomes were ECV success rate and effectiveness in reducing the remaining breech births and breech cesarean sections.

Results: Important differences in timing of ECV, contraindications, periprocedural care, and counselling after failed ECV attempt were found. Two thirds of the hospitals were considered liberal and one third restrictive with regard to ECV. ECV success rate was significantly higher in hospitals with a liberal attitude towards ECV compared with restrictive hospitals (54.0 % vs 50.5 %, p = 0.015). Liberal hospitals had a significantly lower proportion of remaining breech births (2.81 % vs 3.01 %, p = 0.009) and breech cesarean sections at or near term (2.49 % vs 2.72 %, p = 0.003).

Conclusion: Important differences in ECV guidelines were found. Hospitals with guidelines reflecting a liberal attitude to ECV had a higher ECV success rate, despite a less strict patient selection, and a lower proportion of breech births and breech cesarean sections, which is the aim of ECV. We recommend avoiding routine ill-founded restrictivity in ECV guidelines and support a more nuanced counselling.

Keywords: Breech presentation; External cephalic version; Guideline; Obstetric delivery; Pregnancy complications.

MeSH terms

  • Breech Presentation*
  • Cesarean Section
  • Counseling
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection
  • Pregnancy
  • Version, Fetal*