There’s not much room for baby in the womb, so the fetal position is their go-to pose.
Curled up, chin down, arms and legs tucked in.
When you consider how much a fetus moves around in your uterus, it’s hard to imagine there’s just one fetal position.
All those kicks, punches, and twists must mean they’ve got lots of baby positions to choose from, right?
But generally speaking, there is one position your baby will be most comfortable in both in utero and once they’re born.
And that’s what’s called the fetal position (or the “foetal position”, for our British mamas-to-be).
Keep reading for the lowdown on your little one’s favorite pose.
In this article: 📝
- What is the fetal position?
- What is the most common fetal position?
- Why is fetal position important?
- What is a normal fetal position?
- What does the fetal position mean in adults?
What is the fetal position?
So, what is the fetal position?
Well, with the fetal position, baby’s doing their best impression of a beach ball.
Baby’s spine is curved, with their chin tucked to their chest, arms curled to their torso, and legs bent up to their abdomen.
You might see your baby curled up in the fetal position during an ultrasound scan, and they’ll probably love going back to the fetal position to sleep while they’re a newborn.
What’s the difference between fetal position and presentation?
Well, in obstetrics, fetal position is which way baby is facing ‒ forward (almost as though they’re looking out of mom’s baby bump) or backward (like they’re facing her spine).
Fetal presentation is more to do with the experience of birth ‒ which body part of baby’s comes out first.
So fetal presentation and position are technically not the same, although they are used interchangeably in the pregnancy community.
What are the types of fetal presentation?
There are a few different types of fetal presentation, depending on what position they’re in when it’s time for them to make their appearance.
- Occiput anterior presentation: Baby is head-down by your pelvis, with the top of their head fitting in the snug of your pelvis, close to the birth canal. This is also known as a vertex fetal position, which means facing down, or a cephalic fetal position, which means ‘head down’.
- Face-first presentation: Baby’s neck is craned up, with their face in the snug of your pelvis ‒ this is an ‘abnormal’ fetal presentation, but most babies will usually correct themselves before birth.
- Brow-first presentation: Baby’s neck is slightly craned upward, so their brow is nestled into the pelvis region ‒ again, baby will usually correct themselves into a normal fetal presentation before birth.
- Breech presentation: You might be familiar with this one ‒ with a breech fetal presentation, baby is butt-first into the pelvis. They may or may not correct themselves before birth, and may need outside help.
- Transverse presentation: Baby is lying horizontally, shoulder-first into the pelvis. Unless baby corrects themself for birth, a c-section may be recommended.
What is the most common fetal position?
Well, the most common fetal position for babies in the womb is… the fetal position!
Baby’s comfiest fetal position in utero will likely be curled up like a little football.
Your physician will feel your baby bump to try to identify your baby’s head, back, and butt, to tell which way baby is lying.
If you frequently feel very strong kicks in one area of your abdomen, it’s likely that’s where your baby’s feet like to hang out.
So, if the upside-down fetal position is the most common position before birth, what other position might your baby be in?
There are a few other baby fetal positions your little one might be in. They include:
Frank breech fetal position
In the frank breech fetal position, baby is bottom-down with their legs straight up and their feet near their face.
Complete breech fetal position
In the complete breech fetal position, baby is bottom-down with their legs bent at the knees (kind of like the fetal position but the other way up).
Footling breech fetal position
In a footling breech fetal position, baby’s feet are the first part into the birth canal.
Transverse fetal position
In a transverse fetal position, baby is lying horizontally across your abdomen.
If your baby doesn’t appear to be in the fetal position with their head down towards the end of your pregnancy, your doctor might talk to you about trying to turn the baby manually.
This is a procedure called an external cephalic version (ECV).
Using massage and firm pressure, your doctor will try to help your baby maneuver into the ideal fetal position for a vaginal birth.
Why is fetal position important?
Fetal position is fundamental to know as you get closer to your due date.
If baby’s in a ‘normal’ (occiput anterior) fetal position, that will significantly lower the risk of complications during birth.
If baby’s in an abnormal fetal position, try not to worry ‒ your doctor will know what the next best steps are.
What is a normal fetal position?
The fetal position is considered the optimal position for birthing your baby vaginally, and most babies will settle into this position with their head down sometime after 32 weeks of pregnancy.
This upside-down fetal position is called cephalic fetal presentation.
In this fetal position, there can be some variation in which way the baby is facing.
Ideally, your baby will be facing towards your back with their spine at the front of your bump.
This is thought to position them for a smoother birth.
Their chin is tucked down, the back of their head is facing the pelvis, and movement through the birth canal is more straightforward than if they were facing forward.
Even if your baby is facing forward, they may turn themselves around during the first phases of labor.
What does the fetal position mean in adults?
It’s not just babies who love the fetal position!
Yes, even in adults, the fetal position can provide some comfort, particularly in times of stress or while you’re sleeping.
But instead of floating in amniotic fluid in the womb, adults tend to lie on their side, curled up, with arms and legs drawn in and the head tucked towards the chest.
Why is the fetal position so comforting?
It’s not entirely known why the fetal position is so comforting long after babyhood.
Some sleep experts say that we subconsciously adopt the fetal position to mimic how we’re feeling internally ‒ if we’re “closed off or sad”, our bodies “mimic this feeling by sleeping in a fetal position”.
Others suggest it’s a form of psychological regression, taking us back to a time of absolute comfort and relaxation, when we were in the womb.
Is fetal position normal?
Yes, if your baby, toddler, child, teenager, or even you are sleeping in the fetal position, it’s totally normal.
In fact, according to this study, people spend 54.1% of their time in bed in the fetal position (or a side position).
What does it mean if you sleep in the fetal position?
Ever wondered why do I sleep in the fetal position?
Fetal position sleeping is common and is a position often sought for comfort, protection, and warmth, even in adulthood!
Is it good to sleep in the fetal position?
So just how healthy is fetal position sleeping?
Well, sleeping in a loose fetal position, with your limbs not tucked in too tight, can be a healthy way to sleep.
It can help reduce snoring and back pain, and is great during pregnancy when it’s best to avoid sleeping on your back while pregnant.
However, sleeping for long periods of time in the fetal position may cause a curvature of your spine and restrict your breathing ‒ it’s better to sleep as flexed out as possible, so your body has room to breathe.
There you have it!
All there is to know about the fetal position.
And if you’re well into the third trimester and your baby is tucked up in the fetal position, head-down, get ready ‒ they might just be getting ready to meet you!
You’ve got this, mama.