Open Access Research article

A qualitative interview study exploring pregnant women’s and health professionals’ attitudes to external cephalic version

Rebecca Say1*, Richard Thomson1, Stephen Robson2 and Catherine Exley1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Society, Baddiley - Clark Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE2 4AX, UK

2 Institute of Cellular Medicine, 4th Floor, William Leech Building, Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle University, NE2 4HH, UK

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13:4  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-4

Published: 16 January 2013



Women who have a breech presentation at term have to decide whether to attempt external cephalic version (ECV) and how they want to give birth if the baby remains breech, either by planned caesarean section (CS) or vaginal breech birth. The aim of this study was to explore the attitudes of women with a breech presentation and health professionals who manage breech presentation to ECV.


We carried out semi-structured interviews with pregnant women with a breech presentation (n=11) and health professionals who manage breech presentation (n=11) recruited from two hospitals in North East England. We used purposive sampling to include women who chose ECV and women who chose planned CS. We analysed data using thematic analysis, comparing between individuals and seeking out disconfirming cases.


Four main themes emerged from the data collected during interviews with pregnant women with a breech presentation: ECV as a means of enabling natural birth; concerns about ECV; lay and professional accounts of ECV; and breech presentation as a means of choosing planned CS. Some women’s attitudes to ECV were affected by their preferences for how to give birth. Other women chose CS because ECV was not acceptable to them. Two main themes emerged from the interview data about health professionals’ attitudes towards ECV: directive counselling and attitudes towards lay beliefs about ECV and breech presentation.


Women had a range of attitudes to ECV informed by their preferences for how to give birth; the acceptability of ECV to them; and lay accounts of ECV, which were frequently negative. Most professionals described having a preference for ECV and reported directively counselling women to choose it. Some professionals were dismissive of lay beliefs about ECV. Some key challenges for shared decision making about breech presentation were identified: health professionals counselling women directively about ECV and the differences between evidence-based information about ECV and lay beliefs. To address these challenges a number of approaches will be required.

Pregnancy; Breech presentation; External cephalic version; Mode of delivery; Attitudes; Shared decision making