What should I know if my baby is in a breech position?

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We bet you're excited to meet your little one. But wait. What if he's poised to come out feet or buttocks first? Find out all about breech pregnancy--causes, remedies, treatments, and when to call a doctor--to ensure your baby's safe passage to the world.

Head’s up! And that is exactly what a breech pregnancy is–when your baby is positioned head up that his buttocks, feet, or knees are poised to come out first, instead of his head, at the time of delivery.

In the early stages of pregnancy, breech position is quite common.

But as the third trimester progresses and the due date approaches, nearly 97 percent of babies turn naturally to the head-first position. However, about three to four percent of babies may still remain in a breech position.

Types of Breech Pregnancy Positions

A breech baby may be lying in one of the following positions:

  • Frank breech. This is the most common breech position where the baby’s bottom is near the birth canal, with the thighs against the chest, legs pointing upward, and feet up by the ears.
  • Complete breech. In this position, the baby’s hips and knees are flexed. The legs are folded with feet beside the bottom.
  • Footling breech. The baby is positioned with his head up, while one or both feet are positioned downwards. The baby would come feet first in this position, if delivered vaginally.
  • Kneeling breech. In this breech pregnancy position both knees are set to come first, and the feet are folded up behind the baby’s thighs.

Causes and Risk Factors

It’s not always possible to know the reason for babies to wind up in a breech pregnancy position. Sometimes it’s just a matter of chance that a he doesn’t turn by his due date.

Sometimes, as in the case of premature delivery, the baby simply didn’t have enough time to turn head down.

However, there are certain factors that may lead to a baby remaining in the breech position. These include:

  • Abnormally-shaped uterus. This could be present either from the mother’s birth or may develop later due to any surgery including a C-section, a severe uterine infection, or a uterus with abnormal growths such as fibroids (benign tumours of muscular and fibrous tissues that develop in the wall of the womb).
  • Low-lying placenta (placenta previa). This condition may prevent the baby from having enough space to position himself correctly.
  • Fluid imbalance. A small amount of amniotic fluid allows the baby to flip around too much; a large amount of amniotic fluid, on the other hand, makes it difficult for the baby to “swim” around.
  • Down Syndrome or any other disability. In some rare cases, about one in 10 babies may have a physical disability with the muscular or central nervous system that can cause a breech pregnancy.
  • Pregnancies of multiples. When there is less space to move around, one or more babies may not be able to turn into head-down position.
  • Short umbilical cord. This can get wrapped around the baby thus limiting his movement.
  • History of premature delivery. This may cause a preterm birth which doesn’t give the baby enough time to come into the head-down position.

Studies have also found that some first-time mothers who have a tight abdomen or strong core are more likely to experience a breech pregnancy.

Similarly, mothers who have birthed about five or more times are more likely to have a loose womb and may have breech birth subsequently.

When to Worry

Normally, by around 34 weeks of pregnancy, most babies will flip into the correct position. But if the baby remains in the breech position and is set for birth, don’t fret; it is most likely he will be born healthy.

However, if have any of the risk factors mentioned above, it’s likely you will experience a breech pregnancy. This will put your baby at a slightly elevated risk for certain birth defects.

In fact, it could be due to a birth defect that your baby failed to move into a head-down position prior to delivery. Your doctor should diagnose any defects, in most cases, prior to your delivery.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

If your baby doesn’t naturally turn by week 37, you may attempt to coax him into a head-first position. Try some of these natural techniques–but seek your doctor’s approval first:

  • Pelvic tilts to strengthen your abdominal muscles. On the floor, lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Raise your pelvis about 10-12 inches off the floor, and hold it up for 10-15 seconds. You can support your hips using a pillow if necessary to avoid any stress on your body.
  • Yoga position, such as bending down on your knees in a dog position. Place your forearms on the floor in front of you and buttocks higher than your head. Rock back and forth.
  • Playing music, taped recordings or even having your partner speak near the bottom of your belly may stimulate your baby to move towards the sound.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and maintaining good posture (sitting upright on an exercise ball helps), opens up the pelvic area. This makes it easier for your baby to move around.
  • Cold press near the top of the stomach, as suggested by some mothers, can make the baby uncomfortable. The sensation may send the baby downwards.
  • Moxibustion, an ancient Chinese technique, involves burning herbs to stimulate key acupressure points.
  • Hypnosis involves inducing a state of deep relaxation during a mother’s 37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy. This relaxes the uterus and coaxes a baby to turn down.

Note that these haven’t been proven effective, but some mums swear by it.

Continue reading to learn more about treatments and drugs used in a breech pregnancy

Labour & Delivery