What is a breech baby position? It’s when your baby’s bottom is pointing towards the exit during birth. This is in contrast to the ideal “vertex presentation” or headfirst route.
So, your little peanut is about to make their grand entrance. But wait. Why are they not upside down? Here we explain everything you need to know about the breech position, from causes, types, and diagnosis to potential issues during and post-birth.
What does “breech position” mean?
Throughout the early stages of your pregnancy, your baby will have plenty of space to explore. Somersaults, kicks, and jabs are the norm. But as you edge closer to the big day, they soon run out of room. Between week 32 and week 38, the majority of babies will turn head-down and stay that way until birth.
However, not all babies get the headfirst memo. Around 3 to 4 percent of babies make it to full term with their head up, away from the birth canal, and their feet and/or bottom poised to exit the vagina first.
If this happens to you, you’ve got a breech baby (sometimes misspelled as “breach baby”) on your hands.
How will I know if my baby is breech?
Your baby won’t be considered breech until at least week 35, and just because your baby is bottom-down in the weeks leading up to your due date, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way. Some sneaky babies turn head-down and then flip to breech again before delivery!
So, how is a breech baby diagnosed? Initially, it’s spotted via a hands-on examination. Your doctor will gently but firmly feel for your baby’s position through your stomach. They’ll probably confirm the diagnosis using ultrasound before delivery.
Are there different baby breech positions?
Yes. Depending on how your baby is positioned in your uterus, they may be considered frank, complete, or footling breech. Here’s how they differ:
- Frank breech is the most common type. Your baby’s bottom is down, their legs pointed upward, and their feet near the head.
- Complete breech means their head is up, their bottom is down, and their legs are crossed in front of their belly.
- Footling breech means the baby’s head-up with one foot or both feet straight down.
What causes a baby to be in breech position?
Doctors don’t know for sure why breech pregnancies happen, but there are more than a few theories. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the following could cause your baby to attempt an unconventional exit:
- Being pregnant with multiples: If you’re pregnant with more than one baby, one or more of the babies might not have the room they need to get into the ideal position for birth.
- Premature birth: The earlier your baby is born, the less time they have to snuggle in head-down. While only 3-4% of full-term babies are born breech, this rises to 25% if born at 28 weeks.
- An abnormally-shaped uterus: The uterus usually resembles an upside-down pear, but for some women, it can be a different shape (heart-shaped, for example). This can limit your baby’s space to maneuver into the head-down position.
- An awkward placenta location: Depending on where your placenta has embedded, it could affect the room your little one has to flip around.
- Amount of amniotic fluid: Too much or too little amniotic fluid can result in a breech pregnancy. Too much means there’s more opportunity for your baby to swim around and get into a feet-first position. Meanwhile, too little makes it difficult to paddle into the more common head-down position.
- History of breech: If you’ve had a breech baby before, you have a higher chance of having another one. Likewise, if you or your partner were breech, this could also increase the chances.
Can a breech baby be turned?
If your baby is breech at week 36, your doctor will usually suggest something called an external cephalic version (ECV). As with many pregnancy-related procedures, it’s a bit of a mouthful for something relatively simple.
In ECV, your doctor attempts to turn your baby towards the preferred head-down position by applying firm pressure to your abdomen. It’s perfectly safe, though it can be uncomfortable. You may be offered medicine to relax your uterus, but don’t worry, it won’t affect your baby.
Around 50% of breech babies are turned using ECV, allowing for a vertex presentation (headfirst delivery).
Is there anything I can do to help turn my baby?
Yes! These at-home remedies aren’t backed by science like an ECV, but they’re safe and worth a try:
- Sit upright on an exercise ball to help open up the pelvic area.
- Gently rock back and forth on your knees with your hands on the floor and your bottom higher than your head.
- Play a favorite tune down near the bottom of your belly to try and coax your little acrobat into the right position. Your partner’s voice might also do the trick.
Why is it bad for a baby to be breech?
First things first: it’s not necessarily “bad” for your baby to be in the breech position.
It’s just not ideal, and complications can arise during delivery. For instance, the baby can become stuck in the birth canal or, more worryingly, their oxygen supply from the umbilical cord can get cut-off.
Because of these complications, you’ll most likely be offered a cesarean if your baby is breech. But if your water has broken and your baby is in the frank breech position, you may have to (literally) push ahead and attempt a vaginal delivery.
Just remember that it’s only an attempt and you’re in good hands. If a vaginal delivery isn’t working out, the doctor can perform a c-section.
Do breech babies have problems?
Most babies in breech position are born perfectly healthy. There is nothing about a properly handled breech birth that will cause problems in your baby. As we said above, there is a slight risk that a birth defect caused your baby to be head-down, but that is very rare. So, if you’re worried about your breech baby having issues, there’s no reason to fret!