Susan L. Madden, MS
Most babies move into a head-down position in the uterus before labor begins. If a baby’s buttocks or feet are in position to come out first, the baby is in a breech position. There are three types of breech presentations:
More complications can occur in a breech delivery. Almost all breech babies are delivered by
cesarean section. If your baby is in a breech position as you near the end of your pregnancy, talk to your doctor about trying to change the position of the baby, or a cesarean section delivery.
Certain factors can make it difficult for the baby to move but the exact cause is not fully understood.
Factors that may increase the chance of breech presentations include:
There are no symptoms that indicate a baby is breech. Some women feel kicking low in the abdomen when a baby is in a breech position. Others feel hiccups above the belly button. Babies change positions often. It can be hard to tell which way your baby is lying.
A few weeks before your due date, your doctor will try to determine your baby’s position. This is usually done through a physical exam. Your doctor will feel the baby’s position through the wall of your abdomen. Placing his hands in different places, the doctor will try to determine the position of the baby’s head, back, and buttocks.
The doctor may listen for the position of your baby’s heartbeat. An
may also be used to determine your baby’s position.
If your baby is still in the breech position in the last weeks of pregnancy, talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
External version is a nonsurgical procedure. The doctor will try to move the baby's head into a downward position by gently pushing on the mother’s abdomen. External version is usually performed 3-4 weeks before the due date. The procedure is successful more than 50% of the time. But, sometimes a baby will turn back to the breech position before delivery.
There are some rare, but serious complications that may occur after an external version, such as preterm labor.
Two nonmedical exercises done during the last eight weeks of pregnancy may be tried to help encourage a baby to turn head-downward. These exercises are usually done two or three times a day for 10-15 minutes each.
Moxibustion is a Chinese remedy that involves burning an herb, Moxa, close to the skin. When attempting to turn a breech baby, Moxa is burned close to the acupuncture point at the tip of the fifth toe. Some studies have found moxibustion to be effective in stimulating breech babies to turn. This treatment is still being studied. Because it may help you avoid a surgical delivery, you may consider talking to your doctor about it.
Surgical delivery of the baby is the most common way of delivering a breech baby.
There is no way to prevent a baby from moving into a breech position at the end of a pregnancy.
American Academy of Family Physicians
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Canadian Women's Health Network
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Breech babies: what can I do if my baby is breech? American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/pregnancy-newborns/labor-childbirth/breech-babies-what-can-i-do-if-my-baby-is-breech.html. Updated August 2010. Accessed June 5, 2013.
Breech births. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at:
http://www.americanpregnancy.org/labornbirth/breechpresentation.html. Updated May 2007. Accessed June 5, 2013.
Breech delivery. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 1, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2013.
If your baby is breech. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq079.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121218T1009018242. Accessed June 5, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Andrea Chisholm; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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