Vaginal breech birth is possible and surgical birth should not be the only choice. Your best chance for a vaginal breech birth, if you find yourself in that position, is a homebirth midwife. Do your research.
By Sharon Kirkey, Canwest News Service
In a major shift in medical practice and another assault on Canada's rising cesarean section rate, Canada's delivery doctors are being told to stop automatically scheduling C-sections for breech babies and attempt a normal delivery instead — something significant numbers of obstetricians aren't trained to do.
New guidelines issued Wednesday by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada say women carrying babies in the breech, or bottom-first, position should be given the right to choose to attempt a traditional delivery when possible.
The society says that women in Canada want the choice, and that some women with breech babies are delivering at home "because they knew if they went to hospital A, B or C it would not be offered," says Dr. Andre Lalonde, executive vice-president of the obstetricians' group and an adjunct professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University and the University of Ottawa.
Lalonde says the group is working aggressively to ensure future specialists are trained in breech vaginal deliveries and is organizing courses across Canada for practising doctors to refresh their training.
"Paramount is the safe birth of the child," he said.
Most babies are positioned in the head-down position when labour starts. With breech babies, the feet or buttocks come out first during birth.
Breech babies account for about three to four per cent of all pregnancies in Canada, or about 11,000 to 14,500 pregnancies each year.
"Breech pregnancies are almost always delivered using a cesarean section, to the point where the practice has become somewhat automatic," Dr. Robert Gagnon, a principal author of the new guidelines and chair of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada's maternal fetal medicine committee, said.
"What we've found is that, in some cases, vaginal breech birth is a safe option and obstetricians should be able to offer women the choice to attempt a traditional delivery."
An international, Canadian-led study reported in 2000 that the safest way for breech babies to enter the world was via C-section. The study of more than 2,000 women found babies of mothers in the cesarean group were three to four times less likely to die, or have serious problems in the first six weeks of life, compared to those in the vaginal birth group (1.6 per cent versus 5.0 per cent).
The study had widespread influence worldwide. Many doctors stopped doing vaginal deliveries for breech babies, and many medical schools stopped training doctors in how to do them.
But the doctor who led the study said the risks, while different, were never huge. "The risks were still quite low," says Dr. Mary Hannah, a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
More recent studies, including a study of more than 8,000 French and Belgian women carrying breech babies, found no significant differences in risks to babies whether they were born vaginally or via C-section.
Hannah says that a planned vaginal delivery of breech babies can be a safe and reasonable option. But, she said, most women she knows "will still want the option that is possibly safer, and that will be a planned cesarean section."
The main concern has always been delivery of the head — that the body will deliver, but that the baby's head will get caught.
"You can push the baby all the way back up into the uterus and do a cesarean section. But that's very traumatic," Hannah says. "And by the time that you are able to do that the baby may have suffered severe hypoxia," or lack of oxygen.
The new guidelines say that many breech deliveries will still require a C-section, and that a vaginal birth is not recommended for a "footling" breech, where the baby is positioned feet-first, with one or both feet pointing directly down toward the birthing canal.
Vaginal breech births also aren't recommended if the woman's pelvis is narrow or small, if the umbilical cord is likely to become entangled or compressed during delivery, or for babies that are too big (weighing more than 4,000 grams, or 8.8 pounds) or too small (less than 2,500 grams, or 5.5 pounds).
Breech deliveries are one of the main reason for C-sections, "and, if you do one (C-section), you increase the risk for another" in future pregnancies, Lalonde says. Repeat C-sections account for 30 to 40 per cent of all cesareans.