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During most of pregnancy, there is enough room in the uterus for the baby (fetus) to change position. By 36 weeks of pregnancy, most babies turn into a head-down position. This is the normal and safest fetal position for birth.
But in about 4 out of 100 births, the baby doesn't naturally turn head-down. Instead, the baby is in a breech position.footnote 1 Babies in breech position usually must be delivered by C-section.
There are three main breech positions:
Most of the time, there is no clear reason why the baby did not turn head-down.
In some cases, breech position may be linked to early labor, twins or more, problems with the uterus, or problems with the baby.footnote 2
You probably won't be able to feel whether your baby is breech. But if you are 36 or more weeks pregnant and think you feel the baby's head pressing high up in your belly or you feel kicking in your lower belly, see your doctor for an exam.
During a routine exam late in your pregnancy, your doctor will feel your upper and lower belly and may do a fetal ultrasound to find out if your baby is breech. Your doctor may also learn that your baby is breech when he or she checks your cervix.
Sometimes a doctor can turn a baby from a breech position to a head-down position by using a procedure called an external cephalic version. (If you are using a midwife and your baby is in breech position, your midwife will refer you to a doctor for this procedure.) If the baby can be turned head-down before labor starts, you may be able to have a vaginal birth.
You also can ask your doctor if you can try certain positions at home that may help turn your baby. This is called postural management. There is no research to prove that this works, but it's not harmful. It may work for you.
It's normal to feel disappointed and worried about a breech pregnancy, especially if the doctor has tried to turn the baby without success. But most breech babies are healthy and don't have problems after birth. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about your baby's health.
In most cases, a planned cesarean delivery (C-section) is safest for the baby. If your fetus is still in a breech position near your due date, your doctor will likely schedule a cesarean. If you are using a midwife, your midwife will refer you to a doctor for a scheduled C-section.
In rare cases, a cesarean breech birth may not be recommended or even possible. For instance, if a breech labor progresses too quickly, a vaginal birth may be the only option. During a twin birth in which the first twin is head-down and the second twin is breech, both babies may best be delivered vaginally.footnote 3
No matter what position a baby is in, every labor and delivery is unique. Even though you and your doctor have a birth plan for labor and delivery, plans can change. If something unexpected happens, your doctor may need to make some quick decisions to keep you and your baby safe.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2000, reaffirmed 2012). External cephalic version. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 13. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 95(2): 1-7.
Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Breech presentation and delivery. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 527-543. New York: McGraw-Hill.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2006, reaffirmed 2012). Mode of term singleton breech delivery. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 340. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 108: 235-237.
Other Works Consulted
Kish K (2013). Malpresentation and cord prolapse. In AH DeCherney et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment Obstetrics and Gynecology, 11th ed., pp. 317-333. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Klatt TE, Cruikshank DP (2008). Breech, other malpresentations, and umbilical cord complications. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 400-416. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah A. Marshall, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerWilliam M. Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
Current as ofNovember 21, 2017
Current as of:
November 21, 2017
Sarah A. Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
& Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & William M. Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
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