A Doula’s Experience with Breech

After a birth, it helps to get a perspective on what could have/ should have/ might have been different in order to learn and grow. Every birth story is different. Gloria

The family had a super healthy (first) pregnancy, with opportunities
galore; access to acupuncture, chiropractics, yoga, watsu, massage,
walking, biking, good rest and healthy food (they are both vegan and
eat really well). They chose not to have any ultra sounds and had
her first internal exam at 40 weeks, at her request. She was quite
anxious about having internal exams, learned that it is possible to go
through pregnancy and birth without any fingers up her vagina and
decided that would be best for her. She asked for the exam at 40 weeks
because she felt it would be better to have a ‘practice’ exam in a non
labour situation to see what it would be like just in case she wanted
to have one in labour.

Throughout her pregnancy her various health care professionals
palpated her belly and were sure the head was down. I don’t touch
bellies, I just pay attention to how women are carrying and moving and
what they are saying, and it seemed like a vertex presentation to me
as well. At 39 weeks, her chiropractor and her midwives noticed a
difference, but figured maybe the head was engaged. On her due date
she had an appointment with one of her midwives, who is quite new to
midwifery and she basically freaked out from feeling what she thought
were hands presenting and told the family they must go for an ultra
sound the following morning at 8am. The family was left quite worried.
I asked what she felt about the baby’s position. She said she had been
feeling flutters down below, and figured it was simply mild
contractions. I also asked if she was feeling pressure up in her ribs,
or if she was pushing down on her belly in discomfort, and she said
she had been feeling that way all week. I told her not to worry and
offered to join her for the ultra sound in the am.

Later that night I received a call that labour had started, she had
been contracting since her midwife appointment, but thought it was due
to the internal exam. The contractions were building, so she called
the midwives and they told her to go straight to the hospital for an
ultra sound and one of the midwives would meet them there. The ultra
sound indicated baby was breech and the OB on call was one of the only
in the city who was open to vaginal breech births, although he clearly
stated he was not interested in any marathons and she would have 6
hours to labour (no pressure!) The midwife assured them he was good at
what he does, but he was known to have no bedside manner. That was
pretty clear, but they didn’t care.

At this point their midwife said they could go home to grab their
stuff and take a pause. She was well aware that this was a total game
change from their water birth at home plan, so taking a moment at home
seemed an important part of their birth experience. They called to
let me know the baby was in fact in a breech presentation and that
they were heading home to get their stuff. I was pleasantly surprised
they were encouraged to go home, and told them to keep me posted and
take their time. I said I would meet them back at the hospital when
they returned.

We met at the hospital at 9:45. The midwife did a very gentle and slow
internal exam and found her cervix was 4 cm and stretchy. They had her
on the monitors after that. I asked if she could be on hands and
knees, but they couldn’t get the heart rate as clear, so that was
ruled out. She was laying on her side and after 10 minutes on the
monitor we heard major dips in the heart rate over and over, tried
getting her on her other side and baby was still dipping quite a bit.
The midwife was concerned of a cord prolapse, so the nurse came in and
did a very different internal exam, got right in there fast and
vigorously and felt bulging membranes and what she thought was a cord.
Suddenly two nurses had their hands inside of her, it was terrible.
They said they were trying to push the baby up off of the cord.
breech presentations

You can imagine how intense this was for the mother to be. The room
filled with nurses and it was announced that she would have an
emergency cesarean birth. They wouldn’t let her partner go with her,
this was also terrible. The midwife wouldn’t take no for an answer and
got her scrubs on to accompany her. I stayed with her partner. He was
a mess. We found the only nurse on the floor and asked if she could
keep us updated and I asked if there was any way her partner could go
in. They were waiting for the doctor to come (this whole time with the
nurses hands inside of her…) the doctor would do one more check to
make sure the cesarean was necessary. The nurse grabbed scrubs for the father
and he got changed, but just as he was going to go in the doctor

I later found out instead of determining whether a cesarean was
necessary, he yelled at the midwife for having let them go home. One
of the nurses spoke up and suggested they instead focus on the task
at hand and he determined the cord was not presenting, but a foot was,
and her cervix was 8cm dilated. They went ahead and gave her general
and she heard the OB yelling at her midwife as she went under. Her
partner and I waited in the hallway, he made a comment that being the
dad waiting in the hallway while his baby was born felt like we time
warped to the 1950’s.

Baby was born at 10:45pm and dad held him for the first time in the
hallway at 11:10 pm. Apgars 8 & 9, and he was 5lbs 11 oz.

Mom and baby were moved to the recovery room and dad right away took
off his shirt and gave baby skin to skin cuddles until mom was ready.
At 12:45am the nurse said baby’s sugar was low and suggested formula
or glucose water. I asked mom if she was ready to try breastfeeding or
if she wanted me to get on the phone and call her friend who had
offered expressed breast milk if they needed. The nurses were outraged at this
suggestion, said they couldn’t allow it and so she did her best to
try breastfeeding. An hour later they did the sugar test again and it
was way up. The midwife and nurse were both in disbelief (the sugar
level raised from 1.9 to 3.7 in one hour!) The midwife commented how
interesting it was that they had no trouble believing the low number.
I told them it must have been the skin to skin contact with mom and
some colostrum that did the trick. Once they were settled and resting, I
drove home with their placenta and made them some quick prints and a
smoothie. They were happy to have had some of their birth wishes

Today the family is doing quite well. They are breastfeeding, resting,
eating well, have lots of support and are processing their unexpected birth
experience a little bit each day.

– Could we have avoided those low decels if she could have been up on
her hands and knees?
– What happened when that nurse felt bulging membranes? Did she cause the membranes to release?
Or is it possible to feel a prolapsed cord through the bag?
– Could a baby with apgars 8 & 9 have been in such distress moments
before? (or was it that they were worried baby couldn’t handle two
more centimeters as well as pushing?)
– Was this the only way it could have happened? In general it felt to
me like everything happened as it had to, except those few questions
above that leave me feeling a bit curious.

I have never attended a cesarean birth (I have been a doula for four years).

Any way in which we can learn together from this story would be great.
Comments and feedback are very welcome.


Gloria’s thoughts

    Dear Ruby, It’s getting to be hopeless to have a primip give birth vaginally to a breech.
    You must be traumatized/grieving about all this. Thank goodness you were able to give them some measure of getting their wishes met.:

    When the adrenalin gets going at a breech birth, they basically find reasons to head to the surgical setting. The cord wasn’t causing problems so, in hindsight, the heart tones were fine.

    Don’t know what the nurse doing the exam was intending but I would hope she was being careful NOT to rupture that membrane with a breech. Did she break the water bag? You would have seen amniotic fluid with clear poop coming out of the woman’s vulva after that exam if the membranes released.FOOTLING BREECH

    As far as diagnosing a prolapsed cord through the membranes with a footling breech, it might be possible because the bag is thin but it’s highly unlikely and, we know in this case (again, good hindsight), it wasn’t there.

    Apgars of 8 and 9 indicate a healthy, well grown term baby (again, golden hindsight). We do know that monitoring increases the risk of cesareans without any evidence that it is helpful in improving health.

    From what that dr with no bedside manner said, the woman wasn’t going to be given much of a chance to give birth vaginally. Since she hadn’t had previous uterine surgery, it would have been nice if someone with the skill to do a cephalic version had been there when she was first at the hospital. The baby presenting by the feet is the easiest to turn, especially if the baby is small and it’s early in the birth process. To be fair, a first birth with feet presenting is not a good vaginal birth risk to take. Luckily it is a rare situation to have so the numbers should be very low.

    If the caregiver is palpating bellies and listening with a fetoscope (instead of doppler) in the prenatal period, the caregiver should be picking up when it’s breech at 36 weeks gestation (if in doubt, the woman can have a one-swipe quickie ultrasound to double-check). At that point, if it’s discovered, there’s time/space to get baby turned to head down. As I said, a footling breech is easiest to get turned. Frank breech is a more optimal position for safe vaginal birth of breech but not for turning baby to cephalic. Querying rib pain, listening in the 4 quadrants with a regular fetoscope (and finding the true fetal heartbeat low in the pregnant belly) and observing the shape of the pregnant belly are your best tools for early diagnosis.
    Thanks for being there for this family. Gloria

3 thoughts on “A Doula’s Experience with Breech

  1. I wish breech birth was taught to be just another variation of normal birth. It’s unfortunate that this mama wasn’t given the chance to turn her baby.

    Thank you for your insight, Gloria. I would love to see some articles/journals on breech birth and the information you presented on footling vs frank breech. Perhaps a link or two? It would be wonderful to share that information on my page as well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *