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 (28 February 2015) and reference lists of retrieved studies.
Randomised trials of ECV at or near term (with or without tocolysis) compared with no attempt at ECV in women with breech presentation.
Two review authors assessed eligibility and trial quality, and extracted the data.
We included eight studies, with a total of 1308 women randomised. The pooled data from these studies show a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in non-cephalic presentation at birth (average risk ratio (RR) 0.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.29 to 0.61, eight trials, 1305 women); vaginal cephalic birth not achieved (average RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.33 to 0.62, seven trials, 1253 women, evidence graded very low); and caesarean section (average RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.82, eight trials, 1305 women, evidence graded very low) when ECV was attempted in comparison to no ECV attempted. There were no significant differences in the incidence of Apgar score ratings below seven at one minute (average RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.32 to 1.37, three trials, 168 infants) or five minutes (RR 0.63, 95% CI 0.29 to 1.36, five trials, 428 infants, evidence graded very low), low umbilical vein pH levels (RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.17 to 2.44, one trial, 52 infants, evidence graded very low), neonatal admission (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.48 to 1.34, four trials, 368 infants, evidence graded very low), perinatal death (RR 0.39, 95% CI 0.09 to 1.64, eight trials, 1305 infants, evidence graded low), nor time from enrolment to delivery (mean difference -0.25 days, 95% CI -2.81 to 2.31, two trials, 256 women).All of the trials included in this review had design limitations, and the level of evidence was graded low or very low. No studies attempted to blind the intervention, and the process of random allocation was suboptimal in several studies. Three of the eight trials had serious design limitations, however excluding these studies in a sensitivity analysis for outcomes with substantial heterogeneity did not alter the results.
Attempting cephalic version at term reduces the chance of non-cephalic presentation at birth, vaginal cephalic birth not achieved and caesarean section. There is not enough evidence from randomised trials to assess complications of ECV at term. Large observational studies suggest that complications are rare.