Management of term breech presentation: a protocol of external cephalic version and selective trial of labor

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1995 Jun;172(6):1916-23; discussion 1923-5. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(95)91432-3.


Objective: The results of a program of external version and selective trial of labor for term breech presentation are reviewed. This is a follow-up to our 1987 report describing management of singleton, term breech presentations and expands our 16-year experience to 1180 cases.

Study design: All term breech presentations cared for in 1985 through 1992 are reviewed and outcome contrasted with those predicted in our earlier report. During these 8 years a trial of external version was offered if a breech presentation was identified after 36 completed weeks' gestation and before active labor. The criteria for allowing a trial of labor are detailed.

Results: Four hundred sixty-four breech presentations were identified for review. Three hundred eighty-two (82%) were diagnosed before active labor. Of these, 344 (90%) underwent an attempt at external version, of which 174 (51%) were successful. The 290 breech presentations where version either was not attempted or was unsuccessful were stratified into three groups: cesarean section without labor (147), trial of labor with cesarean section (90), and trial of labor with vaginal delivery (53). The 174 cases where version was successful were stratified into two additional groups on the basis of the eventual route of delivery. Careful review of maternal and fetal variables indicates that a trial of labor in selected patients resulted in vaginal delivery in only 37% but was achieved without an increase in fetal or maternal mortality or morbidity. Surprisingly, 54 of the 174 cases where version was successful were ultimately delivered by cesarean section. This 31% rate of cesarean delivery is significantly higher than the 15% rate observed for all cases of term, singleton vertex presentation. A higher prevalence of cases complicated by failed progress in labor and failed induction contributed to the excess.

Conclusion: External version is successful in 51% of cases of term breech presentation. With careful selection, cases where version has failed can be allowed to labor and be delivered vaginally. The incidence of cesarean section (31%) for those cases where version had been successful was surprisingly high, largely because of an increase in labor abnormalities and failed labor inductions.

MeSH terms

  • Breech Presentation*
  • Cesarean Section
  • Delivery, Obstetric
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Labor, Induced
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trial of Labor*
  • Version, Fetal*