Performing routine third-trimester ultrasound scans on pregnant women could help identify breech pregnancies, giving women the opportunity to consider alternative birth options. UK researchers in PLOS Medicine said the impact was found with both conventional and POCUS ultrasound scanners.
While the incidence of breech presentation at full term is only 3-4%, when breech births do occur they can result in higher morbidity and mortality for both babies and mothers.
In the UK, third-trimester ultrasound scans aren’t routinely performed for low-risk women, missing a chance to give them other options like Cesarean birth.
- Therefore, researchers investigated the effectiveness and impact of these scans at two hospitals, one that used conventional ultrasound scanners and the other employing POCUS units (GE HealthCare’s Vscan Air).
- At the POCUS facility, scans were typically performed by trained midwives. Women were scanned between 2016 to 2021 at both hospitals.
Performing routine ultrasound scans at 36 weeks reduced the incidence of undiagnosed breech presentation by 71% at the hospital using conventional ultrasound and 69% at the POCUS hospital.
- The rate of undiagnosed breech presentation dropped from 14.2% to 2.8% with conventional ultrasound and from 16.2% to 3.5% with POCUS.
- The scans also had an impact on babies’ health. Infants born at either facility had less likelihood of a lower Apgar score (<7) five minutes after birth, and babies were less likely to be sent to the neonatal care unit.
The researchers believe their findings suggest a revision of the UK’s clinical guidelines, which don’t currently call for routine third-trimester ultrasound scans for low-risk women. With respect to POCUS, they said their research was the first to investigate the technology for diagnosing fetal presentation, and their findings support wider use of POCUS in areas where conventional ultrasound isn’t available.
What’s really exciting about this study are the findings about POCUS. Maternal-fetal complications are a huge problem in developing countries and places with less access to imaging technology. POCUS scanners could be used by trained personnel like midwives – perhaps with AI assistance – to identify problems before birth.