Breech Baby: Meaning, Positions, Signs, Causes, And Turning

My Baby Is Breech — What Does That Mean, And Can I Do Anything About It?

November 3, 2020 Updated June 10, 2021

pregnant-woman-with-doctor-2 (1)
RicardoImagen/Getty Images

As you might have gathered from your baby’s acrobatic moving, there’s plenty of wiggle room (or should we say wiggle womb?) in the uterus for your little one to turn — and flip, and bounce on your bladder (hello, frequent urination!). It’s a veritable funhouse in there. But as baby gets bigger and space gets tighter, turning gets trickier. At some point, it ceases to even be an option. Fortunately, most babies turn into a head-down position by around 36 weeks pregnant so they’re in a safe position for their big exit. But… what does it mean if you have a breech baby?

First of all, don’t panic. Just because your baby is breech right this minute doesn’t mean you won’t be able to have a vaginal birth. Before you slip into a full-blown panic, let’s go over what this position means and what you may be able to do about it.

What does it mean if your baby is breech?

Per the American Pregnancy Association, a breech baby is one whose buttocks and/or feet are positioned to be delivered first. This occurs in approximately three out of 25 full-term births (or only around three to four percent of all pregnancies).

What are the breech baby positions?

There are three main types of breech positions:

Complete Breech

Here, baby’s cute little tush is pointing down toward the birth canal. Their legs are folded at the knees, putting their feet near their bottom. Sort of like criss-cross applesauce.

Frank Breech

If your obstetrician says your baby is in frank breech, it means their butt is pointing downward as it would with complete breech. The difference? Here, baby’s legs stick up straight in front of his or her body with their feet by their head.

Footling Breech

Does the name give it away? With this breech position, one or both of baby’s feet point downward. If they remained in this position, their feet would be delivered first.

In addition to these three main types of breech, baby might wind up in one of the following variations:

Incomplete Breech

Unlike complete, where both of baby’s legs are tucked beneath their bottom, here only one hip or knee is flexed.

Transverse Lie

Also known as shoulder presentation, this form of breech sees your baby positioned horizontally in the uterus. It’s rare that a baby would be delivered this way, though.

What causes a baby to be in breech position?

It’s unknown why some babies get into proper positioning and others remain breech before birth. Some factors that are suspected to contribute may be:

  • You’ve been pregnant before.
  • You’re carrying multiples.
  • You have placenta previa, which covers all or part of the uterus opening.
  • The uterus is abnormally shaped and/or has fibroids or other growths.
  • The uterus has more or less amniotic fluid than usual.
  • Your baby is preterm.

How does a breech baby feel?

You may be able to tell your baby is breech simply by feeling your abdomen through belly mapping. You may also notice that baby seems to be landing direct kicks to your bladder. Other than that, though, you’ll probably need your health care provider to confirm whether your baby is pointing in the correct head-down position. If they believe your little one might not be, your practitioner may order an ultrasound to find out for sure.

How do you turn a breech baby?

If you still have time before delivery and your pregnancy isn’t high risk, there are several ways you may be able to turn your little one. A medical option could be an external cephalic version (ECV). ECV refers to the process by which the doctor applies pressure to your stomach to turn the baby from the outside. It’s typically done in the hospital and only after baby has been confirmed breech via ultrasound.

There are also myriad natural turning methods many women swear by:

  • Pelvic tilt
  • Inversion
  • Increased temperature
  • Acupuncture
  • Stimulating music

Can you use sleeping positions to turn a breech baby?

Yep, turning your breeched baby may be as easy as taking a nap! You should get rest anyway, but you can put in a little extra work while you sleep if you slumber on your side. When you sleep on your side and switch every nap, this makes your pelvis more flexible, which makes it easier for your baby to turn. This is the best way to go if you’re looking for a natural and less invasive process. So, to recap, spend more time sleeping on your side to increase blood flow. Also, if you’re one of those moms who loves a nice soft pillow between their legs, keep one there with your legs bent.

Does a breech presentation mean something is wrong?

Breathe in, breathe out. Feel better? Good, because breech isn’t typically something to freak out about as long as you’re in close touch with your health care provider throughout your pregnancy. Yes, your risk for certain problems may be slightly elevated. However, your doctor will advise you of the safest course of action for you and baby if breech does become an issue.

What are the signs of a breech baby?

For the most accurate assessment, visit your doctor. But if you’re worried, here are a few ways to check. 

  • If you feel a bulge in your rib cage, it could be your baby’s bottom.
  • If you don’t feel signs of lightning, which is when your baby’s head moves into your pelvis, your baby may still be upright and chilling by your ribs. You’ll know lightening has happened when you feel less heartburn and stress on your breathing. If your baby is breech, you may not feel that pressure in your pelvis. Still, it’s important to remember that there are many reasons your baby may not drop. Some babies don’t engage until labor.
  • If you’re feeling a kick in your side, your baby might be feet first. Kicks are usually more intense than a punch, but if your baby is head first, you won’t feel kicking toward the front upper abdomen.

What labor options do you have?

For the most part, medical care providers don’t recommend a vaginal delivery with a breech baby. Rather, the most commonly suggested labor option here would be a cesarean delivery.

What is a cesarean section procedure like?

Breeched babies aren’t the only reason women have cesarean sections. Sometimes it’s because you’re having triplets or your baby is in distress. The point is, C-sections are common, so it’s important to get familiar with this procedure in case you need to get one. To deliver your baby this way, a doctor makes a deep incision in the abdomen and a second incision to the uterus. Then the baby is removed.