When should your baby's head engage during pregnancy?

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Your baby's head is supposed to engage towards the end of your third trimester -- but what exactly does that mean and what should you do if that doesn't happen?

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When your baby’s head moves down to your pelvis, this is when it is “engaged”

If you are currently in the last trimester of your pregnancy, you are probably counting down the days until your precious baby arrives and watching out for any signs that the time is near.

But around 34 weeks to 36 weeks, you might find that suddenly you are able to breathe easier and can even eat a bit more than usual without feeling full so quickly.

This is most likely because your baby’s head has engaged, which means that your baby has now settled down low in your pelvis, preparing to make her grand debut into the world.

If your baby’s head is partially engaged, you might feel long and strong contractions, until she moves all the way down into the pelvis region. 

What exactly happens?

One of the many ligaments that surround and support your uterus is called the broad ligament, which will slightly soften and loosen towards the end of pregnancy to allow your baby to drop down lower.

There will also be some new space created by that loosening of the broad ligament for your baby’s head to drop in.

If your baby’s head is engaged completely, your uterus may be resting for a while after pushing your bub down to the pelvis, so be prepared for a bit of waiting around.

Labour will soon pick up again and will be more productive as your baby’s head is pushing down and providing pressure.

Other signs that labour is near

Going into labour will be an exciting time for both you and your husband, but it may also be a little nerve-racking because it can happen just about anywhere and at any time!

So what other signs, besides your baby’s head engaging, should you know about as an indication that your little one is well on her way?

Frequent urination

Since your baby’s head is low now, it will be pressing on your bladder which makes you want to pee more often.

You might also feel some pelvic and rectal pressure.

Lower backache

As your bub gets heavier and moves down lower, you will feel some aches and pains in your lower back and pelvis.

This is due to your uterine and pelvic ligaments getting stretched even more.

Nesting

This interesting instinct causes an overwhelming urge in pregnant women to clean, tidy up and organise their home during the third trimester of their pregnancy.

You might suddenly feel the need to clean up, throw out old stuff and stock up on new baby things.

Braxton Hicks contractions

These mild contractions can be taken as your “warm-up” to real labour contractions and can be quite uncomfortable or feel like menstrual cramps.

Although it won’t be as strong as labour contractions, this can continue to go on for about a week or two before starting to get even stronger just before you go into labour.

Diarrhea

The same hormones that can make you feel nauseated will also give you signs that labour is drawing near by causing abdominal cramps and even mild diarrhea.

This less than glamarous sign is just your body’s way of emptying out your intestines to make more room for your little one’s journey out.

Increased vaginal discharge

You may notice some vaginal discharge that is similar to egg white or might be pink-tinged.

But if there is a heavy bloody discharge, you should seek medical advice immediately, as this may be a sign of a problem.

Bloody show

Following the increase in vaginal discharge, you may also notice small amounts of pink or a brownish-red bloody mucous, also known as the “bloody show”.

This happens when the mucus plug loosens up as your cervix starts to open up and you may even notice a one-time passing of the actual mucus plug.

Water bag breaking

In most of the tv shows and movies you’ve watched, you’ll probably recall the dramatic scenes of when a pregnant character’s water breaks and she will frantically make her way to the delivery room.

The “water bag” is a protective sac of amniotic fluid which protects the baby, and when it ruptures, you might experience either a slow trickle or a big gush of liquid!

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There are a few factors which may prevent your baby’s head from engaging

Special circumstances

Everyone’s bodies are different and no two pregnancies are alike — some babies only engage once labour begins, so don’t worry if your baby’s head hasn’t engaged by the time labour starts.

Usually, this is not a cause for concern and your contractions should help push your bub down in no time.

There are a few factors which may affect when your baby’s head engages:

  • Your baby is lying with her back to your back (posterior position)
  • There’s a lot of amniotic fluid, or you have had another baby before so this baby now has more room to move around
  • The size or shape of your pelvis makes it difficult for your baby’s head to fit inside
  • A harmless growth (fibroid) is getting in the way
  • Your baby is considered big for her gestational age
  • You are expecting twins or multiples
  • Your baby’s head is too big for the pelvis
  • Your baby is not due yet
  • You have given birth before and so this baby will probably engage during labour itself
  • The placenta is blocking your baby’s way
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Don’t worry so much if your baby’s head does not engage

What happens if your baby’s head does not engage?

You might go into labour before your baby’s head engages and sometimes labour could also be delayed because your baby isn’t able to enter the pelvis for some reason.

Should you go into labour first, your contractions will be strong but your cervix might not be dilated enough and your little one will still remain high up in your pelvis.

If your baby’s head still has not engaged after labour contractions have started, your doctor will probably recommend for you to have a caesarean section, although this may not be the case for all women.

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There are some special techniques you can try to get your baby’s head to engage

Helpful techniques

If you are concerned that your bub hasn’t engaged yet, here are a few steps you can take to encourage her to move down:

Walk more

As much as you’d rather lay in your nice comfortable bed and have your feet rubbed by your loving husband, by walking several times a day you can helps in put your baby’s weight over the cervix which helps it to dilate. 

Once the cervix has expanded enough during labour, the contractions will help to to push your baby into position towards the pelvic outlet.

Use a birthing ball

A birthing ball is a large exercise ball typically used during the end of the last trimester to help your baby settle into the pelvis. 

There are many different ways to use a birthing ball which not only helps your baby to engage but also helps you achieve the favorable posture for delivery.

Avoid sitting cross-legged

When you sit, try spreading your knees in a wide position and bend forward to let your belly comfortably dangle down.

This will encourage dilation to occur as your baby’s weight is pressing down on the cervix.

Try squatting

Squats will help widen the opening of your pelvis, strengthen your legs and open your hips.

But do it at a slow pace, especially if you have not exercised at all throughout your pregnancy and use a wall for some support and to help balance yourself.

However, always remember to consult with your doctor before attempting any of these techniques to help get your baby to engage as each pregnancy is unique and depending on your circumstances, some methods may not be suitable for you and your baby.

Have you tried any of the techniques to help get your baby’s head engaged? Did they work for you? Tell us by leaving a comment below.