Breech presentation occurs in 3-4% of all term pregnancies and is the third most common reason for performing a cesarean in the U.S. More than 90% of breech babies are delivered by planned cesarean section. External Cephalic Version (ECV), a procedure that helps to turn a fetus from a breech presentation to a cephalic presentation has been shown to decrease the incidence of breech presentation at term for women without a cesarean scar thereby reducing the need for a cesarean section. However, a study published in the January 2014 issue of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology suggests it is safe for women with a prior cesarean to have an external cephalic version (ECV) in a medical center. This allows women to labor for a VBAC and reduce exposure to complications from a repeat cesarean.
The researchers in Spain compared a group of 70 low risk women with a prior cesarean with 387 low risk women with a prior vaginal birth who had an external version at or after 37 weeks of gestation. All women were expecting one baby. Physicians were successful in turning a breech in 67.1% of women with a cesarean scar and 66.1% of women with a prior vaginal birth. There were no complications in the group of women with a prior cesarean. Of the women with a prior cesarean 52.8% had a vaginal birth (VBAC). More than half of the women avoided a repeat cesarean section. Of the group of women without a prior cesarean 79.4% had a vaginal birth.
The authors of the study concluded that in addition to the 270 documented cases of uncomplicated ECVs for women with a prior cesarean, their data on 70 additional women that underwent the procedure without a uterine rupture or fetal mortality indicates that ECV is a safe option for women with a prior cesarean who want to labor for a VBAC.
Concern from the medical community for the complications of cesarean section and its impact on mothers and babies is mounting. Recently the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society For Maternal-Fetal Medicine issued Obstetric Care Consensus Statement: Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery which called for physician restraint in performing cesarean sections. The guidelines offered safe directives for preventing the first cesarean including offering a breech version to women to reduce the odds for a cesarean section.
This study on the safety of external cephalic version for women with a prior cesarean adds to the existing evidence and may encourage clinicians to also offer the procedure to women with a prior cesarean who may want to labor for a VBAC.
Resources for Mothers
American Academy of Family Physicians
What Can I Do If My Baby is Breech?
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, U.K.,
Turning A Breech Baby In The Womb
Updated April 25, 2015