About 3-4 percent of all pregnancies will result in the baby being breech. A breech pregnancy occurs when the baby (or babies!) is positioned head-up in the woman’s uterus, so the feet are pointed toward the birth canal.
How will I know whether my baby is in the breech position or not?
Most babies settle into a head-down position, ready for birth, by about the last month of pregnancy. Health professionals call this a ‘vertex’ or ‘cephalic’ position.
It is fairly common for a baby to be in a breech position before 35-36 weeks gestation, but most gradually turn to the cephalic position before the last month.
Your doctor will feel your abdomen whenever you have your pregnancy check-ups in second and third trimesters – this is called an ‘abdominal palpation’. When they feel your abdomen at 35-36 weeks, they will assess whether the baby has settled into a head-down position in preparation for birth. If they suspect your baby might be in a breech position, they can confirm this with an ultrasound scan.
There are 3 main types of breech position. All of them involve the baby being in a bottom-down, head up, position. The variations of breech include:
- frank breech – the baby’s legs are straight up in front of its body in a V shape, so its feet are up near its face
- complete breech – the baby is in a sitting position with its legs crossed in front of its body and its feet near its bottom
- footling breech – one or both of the baby’s feet are hanging below its bottom, so the foot or feet are coming first.
There are three different types of breech pregnancies: frank, complete, and footling breech, depending on how the baby is positioned in the uterus. With all types of breech pregnancies, the baby is positioned with its bottom toward the birth canal instead of the head.
Doctors can’t say exactly why breech pregnancies occur, but according to the American Pregnancy Association, there are many different reasons why a baby might position itself the “wrong” way in the womb, including:
- if a woman has had several pregnancies
- in pregnancies with multiples
- if a woman has had a premature birth in the past
- if the uterus has too much or too little amniotic fluid, meaning the baby has extra room to move around in or not enough fluid to move around in
- if the woman has an abnormally shaped uterus or has other complications, such as fibroids in the uterus
- if a woman has placenta previa
What does it mean for my baby?
While your baby is still in the womb, it is just as safe for them to be in a breech position as it is for them to be head-down. There are no long-term effects upon children who were in a breech position during pregnancy. The birth process, however, is often more challenging when babies are still breech at the start of labour.
Can my baby still turn after 36 weeks?
Some breech babies turn themselves naturally in the last month of pregnancy. If this is your first baby and they are breech at 36 weeks, the chance of the baby turning itself naturally before you go into labour is about 1 in 8. If you’ve already had a baby and this one is breech at 36 weeks, the chance of them turning naturally is about 1 in 3.
If your baby is in a breech position at 36 weeks, your doctor or midwife might suggest you think about an ECV, or external cephalic version, after 37 weeks. This will increase your chances of your baby turning to a head-down position.
External version (EV)
An EV is a procedure in which your doctor will try to manually turn your baby into the correct position by manipulating the baby with their hands through your stomach.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, most doctors will suggest an EV between 36 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure is usually performed in the hospital. It requires two people to perform and the baby will be monitored the entire time for any complications that might require delivering the baby. The ACOG notes that EVs are successful only about half of the time.
Some mothers claim to have had success using an essential oil, like peppermint, on their stomachs to stimulate the baby to turn on its own. As always, however, check with your doctor before using essential oils, as some are not safe for pregnant women.
Another popular method for women with breech babies is inverting their bodies to encourage the baby to flip. Women use different methods, like standing on their hands in a swimming pool, propping up their hips with pillows, or even using the stairs to help elevate their pelvis.