A Comprehensive Review of the Research Literature on External Cephalic Version (ECV)

Eileen K. Hutton, PhD, RM Angela H. Reitsma, BSc, BHSc, RM

External cephalic version (ECV) is an approach to turning a fetus from the breech presentation by external maneuvering of the fetus through the maternal abdominal wall into a cephalic presentation. We conducted a systematic search of the current literature on ECV to provide a comprehensive overview of the procedure and associated success rates, risks, and alternatives to ECV. Tocolytics can improve ECV success, but none of the tocolytics shown to be effective for ECV are currently available in Canada. The factors that can best predict ECV success are low uterine tone (associated with parity or tocolytics), easy palpation of the fetal head, and an unengaged breech. The most common side effect of ECV is transient fetal bradycardia with an incidence of one to six percent of all ECV procedures. The risk of requiring an emergency caesarean section because of ECV appears to be around 0.5% or one in 200 ECV procedures performed. Our review suggested no significant risk of fetal/neonatal mortality or serious morbidity associated with ECV. Few alternative approaches to turning a fetus in the breech presentation have been adequately studied. ECV should be considered for all women with a fetus in the breech presentation at term in the absence of any contraindications to the procedure.

external cephalic version, breech presentation, midwifery

This article has been peer-reviewed.


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