Clinical Edge Journal Scan

Commentary: Shoulder dystocia and vaginal breech deliveries, December 2022

Dr. Rigby scans the journals, so you don't have to!


Fidelma Rigby, MD

This month's selection of obstetric emergencies research includes interesting insights into the risks of in vitro fertilization pregnancies , prophylactic measures for preeclampsia , a novel risk factor for preeclampsia , and treatment for postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). However, I would like to draw your particular attention to the articles examining the safety of vaginal breech deliveries and the risks associated with shoulder dystocia (SD).

The safety of vaginal breech delivery has been controversial since the Term Breech Trial in 2000 suggested increased neonatal mortality and short-term morbidity associated with vaginal breech delivery. The stance against breech delivery has softened since that time. Fruscalzo and colleagues provide yet more evidence supporting the safety of vaginal breech deliveries with their single-center, retrospective study, which included 804 singleton pregnant women who underwent vaginal breech vs emergency cesarean section vs elective cesarean section in Coesfeld, Germany. They found no significant differences between the vaginal breech–delivery group vs the other two groups in regard to umbilical artery pH < 7, low Apgar scores, or neonatal intensive care unit admissions. The only significant difference noted was umbilical artery pH < 7.1. This suggests that in experienced hands (each of the candidates was referred to a senior obstetrician for consultation), vaginal breech delivery can be safe, including for nulliparous women (67% were nulliparous), showing that even the short-term morbidity associated with vaginal breech delivery approaches that of planned cesarean section.

Two other articles raise caution regarding SD and increased risk for fetal death and PPH. Linde and colleagues used data from The Medical Birth Registry of Norway and Statistics Norway to examine recurrence risk for PPH associated with various causes. PPH associated with SD led the way: The recurrence risk adjusted odds ratio (aOR) was 6.8 for SD vs 5.9 for retained products of conception, 4.0 for uterine atony, 3.9 for obstetric trauma, and 2.2 for PPH of undefined cause. This study suggests that the risks for SD recurrence should be focused not just on SD, but also on PPH. Another concern regarding shoulder dystocia is raised by Davidesko and colleagues in their analysis of risk factors for intrapartum fetal death. U sing a generalized estimation equation model to help identify independent risk factors for intrapartum fetal death, they examined 344,536 deliveries from 1991 to 2016 at Soroka University Medical Center in Israel and noted that SD again led the way: aOR was 23.8 for SD vs 19.0 for uterine rupture, 11.9 for preterm birth, 6.2 for placental abruption, and 3.6 for fetal malpresentation. This high risk for intrapartum fetal death associated with SD suggests a need for even more robust SD drills to help deal with this dreaded and often unpredictable obstetric emergency.

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