People whose babies are breech and have a history of a prior cesarean are often told that External Cephalic Version (ECV), manually encouraging the baby to turn head-down, is simply not a choice for them. The fear is that manipulation done during an ECV might make the uterus rupture along the scar from the prior cesarean.
We have discussed ECV after a Prior Cesarean extensively before. The results of all the studies so far suggest that ECV after prior CS is not unduly risky and can avoid many unnecessary repeat cesareans. ECV should be offered to women at term with a breech presentation, regardless of prior cesarean status. Unfortunately, ECV is woefully underutilized. One study from New Zealand estimated that only 26% of eligible patients with breech presentations were referred for ECV.
Recently, a new study (Impey 2018) was published that looks again at the question of ECV after prior cesarean (CS). Its results were both encouraging and disappointing.
In this new U.K. study, researchers looked back retrospectively over a 16 year period and found 100 cases where babies of women with a prior cesarean presented breech at term, were offered, and consented to a ECV.
Basically, the study found about a 50% rate of success in turning the baby head-down. Those who had head-down babies afterwards had a trial of labor after cesarean (TOLAC), and 68% had a VBAC.
The authors did a literature search on ECV after prior CS and found no increased rate of uterine rupture after ECV. That agrees with the literature search we did.
However, the authors chose to dilute this good news by pointing out that while ECV avoided some cesareans, only 30 women out of the 100 original group had a VBAC. In other words, while they found the practice safe, the way they word the abstract made it sound like instituting a practice of ECV after prior cesarean is not worth pursuing because it is only marginally successful.
This flies in the face of previous research. The big question is why their ECV success rate was so low. Only 50% of their ECV tries worked to turn the baby head-down. That reduced their candidates for TOLAC by half, and then only about 2/3 of these women had a VBAC. That's why the final numbers were low.
If you look at comparable studies, Weill 2016 had a 74% ECV success rate, while Burgos 2014 had a 67% ECV success rate. Why were their results so much better? That's what the UK study authors should be asking themselves. Seems like they need training on how to do ECV more successfully.
The good news from the study is that External Cephalic Version after a prior cesarean is safe. There are potential risks inherent to the procedure, of course, but these risks do not appear to be any greater in women with prior cesarean than in those without a prior cesarean. And of course, the alternative of an automatic repeat cesarean with a breech carries its own potential risks that also must be considered. The choice should be up to the mother.
The bad news from the study is how few women with prior cesareans are being offered ECV and how low the ECV success rate was. It took 16 years in the study to find a data pool of 100 women who had a prior cesarean and a breech presentation at term who were offered an external version and who accepted it. ECV is tremendously underused, especially in those with a prior cesarean. And a ECV success rate of only 50% is pitiful. Better training is obviously needed.
External Cephalic Version at term can avoid many unnecessary cesareans, yet it is woefully underused in many institutions. It is a reasonable choice that needs to be expanded, especially in women with prior cesareans. Furthermore, training to achieve greater ECV success rates in more places needs to occur.
Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2018 Dec;231:210-213. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2018.10.036. Epub 2018 Oct 22. External cephalic version after previous cesarean section: A cohort study of 100 consecutive attempts. Impey ORE, Greenwood CEL, Impey LWM. PMID: 30412904
OBJECTIVE: External cephalic version is commonly not performed in women with a previous cesarean section. Fear of uterine rupture and cesarean section in labor are prominent. The risks, however, of these are unclear. This study aims to document the safety and efficacy of external cephalic version in women with a prior cesarean section in a series of 100 consecutive attempts, and to perform a literature of the existing literature. STUDY DESIGN: This is a retrospective cohort study of prospectively collected data of external cephalic version attempts in women at term with a previous cesarean section, and a literature review of previously published series. External cephalic version was performed by one of 3 experienced operators, with salbutamol tocolysis if appropriate, using ultrasound to visualize the fetal heart and place of fetal parts. RESULTS: 100 women with a prior cesarean section underwent external cephalic version over a 16-year period in one institution. 68% had no previous vaginal delivery. The external cephalic version success rate was 50%, and 30 (63.8%) of these subsequently delivered vaginally. There were no cases of uterine rupture or other complications. A literature review of series containing a total of 549 cases revealed no cases of uterine rupture or perinatal death. CONCLUSIONS: External cephalic version in women with a prior cesarean section is safe but enables a vaginal birth in only about a third of women.Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2016 Sep 14. doi: 10.1111/ajo.12527. [Epub ahead of print] The efficacy and safety of external cephalic version after a previous caesarean delivery. Weill Y, Pollack RN. PMID: 27624629
BACKGROUND: External cephalic version (ECV) in the presence of a uterine scar is still considered a relative contraindication despite encouraging studies of the efficacy and safety of this procedure. We present our experience with this patient population, which is the largest cohort published to date. AIMS: To evaluate the efficacy and safety of ECV in the setting of a prior caesarean delivery. MATERIALS AND METHODS: A total of 158 patients with a fetus presenting as breech, who had an unscarred uterus, had an ECV performed. Similarly, 158 patients with a fetus presenting as breech, and who had undergone a prior caesarean delivery also underwent an ECV. Outcomes were compared. RESULTS: ECV was successfully performed in 136/158 (86.1%) patients in the control group. Of these patients, 6/136 (4.4%) delivered by caesarean delivery. In the study group, 117/158 (74.1%) patients had a successful ECV performed. Of these patients, 12/117 (10.3%) delivered by caesarean delivery. There were no significant complications in either of the groups. CONCLUSIONS: ECV may be successfully performed in patients with a previous caesarean delivery. It is associated with a high success rate, and is not associated with an increase in complications.BJOG. 2014 Jan;121(2):230-5; discussion 235. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.12487. Epub 2013 Nov 19. Is external cephalic version at term contraindicated in previous caesarean section? A prospective comparative cohort study. Burgos J, Cobos P, Rodríguez L, Osuna C, Centeno MM, Martínez-Astorquiza T, Fernández-Llebrez L. PMID: 24245964
OBJECTIVE: To determine if external cephalic version (ECV) can be performed with safety and efficacy in women with previous caesarean section. DESIGN: Prospective comparative cohort study. SETTING: Cruces University Hospital (Spain). POPULATION: Single pregnancy with breech presentation at term. METHODS: We compared 70 ECV performed in women with previous caesarean section with 387 ECV performed in multiparous women (March 2002 to June 2012). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Success rate, complications of the ECV and caesarean section rate. RESULTS: The success rate of ECV in women after previous caesarean section was 67.1% versus 66.1% in multiparous women (P = 0.87). The logistic regression analysis confirmed this result (odds ratio 0.93, 95% CI 0.52-1.68; P = 0.82) adjusted by the variables associated with success of ECV. There were no complications in the previous caesarean section cohort. The vaginal delivery rate in the previous caesarean section cohort was 52.8% versus 74.9% in the multiparous cohort (P < 0.01). There were no cases of uterine rupture. CONCLUSION: Based on our data, we conclude that complications are uncommon with ECV in women with previous caesarean section, with a success rate comparable to that of multiparous women. Uterine scar should not be considered a contraindication and ECV should be offered to women with previous caesarean section with breech presentation at term.Click here for older references on ECV after CS.