Management of breech presentation is controversial, particularly in regard to manipulation of the position of the fetus by external cephalic version (ECV). ECV may reduce the number of breech presentations and caesarean sections, but there also have been reports of complications with the procedure.
The objective of this review was to assess the effects of ECV at or near term on measures of pregnancy outcome. Methods of facilitating ECV, and ECV before term are reviewed separately.
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Trials Register (September 2010), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (2010, Issue 3) and PubMed (1966 to September 2010).
Randomised trials of ECV at or near term (with or without tocolysis) compared with no attempt at ECV in women with breech presentation.
Data collection and analysis
Two reviewers assessed eligibility and trial quality, and extracted the data.
We included seven studies. The pooled data from these studies show a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in non-cephalic birth (seven trials, 1245 women; risk ratio (RR) 0.46, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.31 to 0.66; and caesarean section (seven trials, 1245 women; RR 0.63, 95% CI 0.44 to 0.90) when ECV was attempted. There were no significant differences in the incidence of Apgar score ratings below seven at one minute (two trials, 108 women; RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.89) or five minutes (four trials, 368 women; RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.32 to 1.77), low umbilical artery pH levels (one trial, 52 women; RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.17 to 2.44), neonatal admission (one trial, 52 women; RR 0.36, 95% CI 0.04 to 3.24), perinatal death (six trials, 1053 women; RR 0.34, 95% CI 0.05 to 2.12), nor time from enrolment to delivery (2 trials, 256 women; weighted mean difference -0.25 days, 95% CI -2.81 to 2.31).
Attempting cephalic version at term reduces the chance of non-cephalic births and caesarean section. There is not enough evidence from randomised trials to assess complications of external cephalic version at term. Large observational studies suggest that complications are rare.