Sharing the Skills: The Pinard

I have two expectations when a student comes to spend some time with me:

1. That they have read Ina May
2. That they are prepared to learn how to use a Pinard (if they are not already practised)

When we think of all the technological advancements that have been made in pregnancy and childbirth, it is often assumed that the beautiful Pinard Trumpet is better placed way back in the ‘olden times’, but this little piece of midwifery equipment is (and should be) a staple part of midwifery practise – where-ever that is taking place.

Firstly, lets look at what National Guidance says about the Pinard: intermittent auscultation is the national recommendation for the ‘low-risk’ (that’s another blog in itself) woman in labour.  In these guidelines it recommends the use of a Pinard or a doppler (sonic-aid).  It also states that when there is a concern with a low base-rate foetal heart on continuous monitoring, it is important to ascertain that it is not the maternal heart that is being recorded.  The Pinard isessential in that clinical scenario is you can not pick-up the maternal hear beat when using one.  So, the expectation is that a midwife should know how to use a Pinard.

Secondly, let us think about the routine use of a doppler (sonic-aid) to auscultate the baby’s heart rate.  The little sonic-aid is a wondrous invention; it enables midwives to hear that rhythmical heart rate, reassuring that all is well, and enables parents to hear their baby’s heart from very early in pregnancy.  I always find it completely heart-melting the first time parents hear that sound and they are full of bare emotion.  BUT, when we use a doppler, we send a high-wave frequency through the uterus that resonates with the baby (again, that’s another blog post).  Although National Guidance no longer recommends routine auscultation at an antenatal appointment, many mothers find this a reassuring and exciting element of their care.

Around 2 years ago, as I reflected on my birth statistics, I realised that I had a relatively high number of ‘compound presentation’ births (this is where the baby is born with it’s hands’ up by its head).  Whilst this is not usually a problem, it can sometimes make birth a little longer or potentially cause more perineal trauma for mum.  I pondered on this for a while, and recalled a very wise, older midwife once saying that she felt we had more compound presentations since the introduction of routine sonic-aid use, and perhaps the baby’s were “‘covering their ears from the high frequency sound”.  So I started my own little trial and I no longer use the sonic-aid in the last trimester or pregnancy: instead I show the women my little Pinard (they love it!) and use a foetoscope (see picture) so that they too can listen to their baby.  And yes, in that time I have had NO babies with hands up by their heads.  Maybe a coincidence?  But one I am not tempted to test!

How to use a Pinard
You can only really use a Pinard or fetoscope successfully from around 28 weeks of pregnancy – before this the baby is just too small and you have to place the Pinard directly over the baby’s heart or shoulder, so you need to be able to palpate where the baby is lying.  Antenatally, its relatively easy to use once you’ve become skilled at palpation and ‘listening’, so as a student midwife this is the best time to hone your skills!  It is usually easier to start with a plastic Pinard and progress to a wooden one.  The ARM sell beautiful beech Pinards.

Using a pinard in labour can however be a little trickier -especially if the woman is planning to use water in labour. The expectation will be for the woman to lift her bump in and out of the water which can be very disruptive to the flow of her labour!  A water-proof sonic aid is a God-send as you can easily monitor her baby’s well-being and work around her by reaching down into the pool and under her bump as unobtrusively as possible.

Sara Wickham has written a lovely explanation on how to use a Pinard (saves me re-writing it!) and Kay Hardie, from Kent Independent Midwives has made an excellent you-tube video on how to use a Pinard.  Read and watch to learn – and then practice, practice practice until you are confident and able to use one!

The Pinard Trumpet may be an ‘old fashioned’ peice of equipment, but its place is just as relevant in 21st century midwifery as it ever was.  What do you think?