As anyone who has ever been pregnant before will tell you, babies move a lot. In the early stages of pregnancy, your baby’s movement might feel like gentle fluttering, but, by the third trimester, you will be able to feel your baby kicking and somersaulting, trying to get comfortable in the increasingly-smaller quarters inside your womb. Your baby’s movement is a sign of a normal and healthy pregnancy. In fact, your unborn child has to move around to prepare for birth. Approximately two weeks before birth, your baby will flip upside down and drop head-first down into your pelvis. This is colloquially called “dropping” (via What to Expect), but doctors describe your baby’s downward descent as “engagement” (via Healthline).
When babies don’t drop downward into the headfirst position, this can result in a breech birth. This means that your baby is positioned to come out feet or bum first instead of having his or her head aimed at the birth canal. Breech births are rare. According to data from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, babies are only breech in 3-4% of all births. But what causes a baby to be born breech? And, more importantly, what can be done to ensure a safe delivery for both mom and baby?
What causes some babies to be born breech?
Doctors still aren’t exactly sure what causes babies to be born breech. But according to the American Pregnancy Association, there are several factors that make your baby more likely to be positioned feet or buttocks first, including if you have been pregnant before; if you’re pregnant with more than one baby (twins or more); if your baby is born prematurely; if your uterus has too much or too little amniotic fluid; or if your uterus is abnormally-shaped or you have fibroids or placenta previa.
Your doctor or midwife will be able to determine whether your baby is breech by feeling your baby’s position through your stomach or by checking on your baby with an ultrasound (via Healthline). There are three types of breech positions based on which way baby is positioned. Frank breech occurs when your baby is bottom-down, folded in half with their feet near their head. According to the University of Michigan’s School of Medicine, this is the most common breech position. In complete breech, your baby’s head is up and their legs are crossed. Footling breech describes a position in which when your baby’s head is up and one or both of their feet are pointed towards the vaginal canal.
What happens if your baby is breech?
According to the BMJ Publishing Group (via the National Center for Biotechnology Information), breech births can be more dangerous for both mom and baby, so your doctor will likely want to try to help your baby move into the correct position before you give birth. This can be done a number of ways. If you’re inclined to do things yourself, many moms-to-be try to help guide their babies into the correct position with at-home, natural methods including inversion, which entails flipping upside down by doing handstands or somersaults, usually in a pool (via Better Birth Blog); moxibustion, which is an ancient Chinese medicine technique that practitioners believe encourages your baby to move around (via Parents.com); or a style of relaxation and hypnosis techniques called hypnobirthing (via Mindful Mama).
If you don’t have success with at-home remedies, your doctor might try a procedure called external cephalic version (ECV) (via University of Michigan). During ECV, your doctor will try to manually flip your baby into the correct birthing position by manipulating your baby’s position by hand. Many women find ECV uncomfortable, but the procedure is not usually painful. And it is successful nearly 60 percent of the time, according to StatPearls (via NCBI).
If you and your doctor are unable to get your baby into the head-down position safest for vaginal birth, your doctor might suggest a caesarean delivery, commonly called a C-section, for your baby’s birth. While having a C-section might be disappointing to a moms-to-be who planned for vaginal delivery, multiple studies have shown that a planned C-section is the safest option for breech babies (via Nordic Federation of Societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology). “In many situations cesarean section probably is the safer way to deliver breech babies,” Dr. Henry Lee, a neonatologist at the University of California, San Francisco told Reuters.
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