Pregnancy is one rollercoaster of a ride. Just when you think that you’ve mastered morning sickness, along can come other complications, like preeclampsia, high blood pressure, or even gestational diabetes. Or you might think everything is smooth sailing, and then your doctor tells you that your baby is breech. Even if you’ve heard of the term, you might need an explainer as to why your baby is breech and what your options are. This breech baby guide can help answer your questions.
What is a breech baby?
At some point during pregnancy, your baby will need to turn head down in preparation for delivery. But a breech baby does the absolute opposite, positioning themselves almost in a standing position inside your belly. “A baby is considered breech when its feet or bottom is presenting to the cervix,” Dr. Sarah B. Schoel, M.D., Chief of Staff at Mercy Hospital explains to Romper. “Only 3-4% of babies are breech at full term.”
When it comes time to deliver, if your baby is breech, your OB-GYN will most likely opt to do a C-section, since a vaginal breech delivery comes with its own complications, such as an increased risk of trauma and hypoxia for the infant.
There are several reasons why a baby might be breech. “A baby may be breech because of a number of factors, but it usually comes down to the physical environment,” Schoel continues. “Whether it’s the uterus, the placenta or the cord, a baby is most likely breech because of physical constraints. It’s important for moms to know that it’s not a failure on their part, or under their control if the baby is breech.”
How can I turn my breech baby naturally?
Once you’ve discovered that your baby is breech, you’ll probably want to do something (anything) to make that baby turn, turn, turn. Thing is, you should never attempt to turn your little one all on your own. “You should not try to actively turn your baby without the assistance of your healthcare provider,” Dr. Shannon Schellhammer, M.D., an OB-GYN at Winnie Palmer tells Romper. “There is an old wives’ tale that using frozen peas or another frozen vegetable on the baby’s butt or head will possibly encourage the baby to turn away from the cold.” But even if you stock up on all the frozen veggies that your freezer will fit, there’s no guarantee that your baby will turn.
Schoel adds: “There are many theories on how to turn a breech baby naturally, and several in the midwifery toolbox. However, nothing is 100% medically proven to naturally turn a breech baby, and sometimes babies can’t be turned because there is no physical way for the baby to turn.” A baby might be breech because their umbilical cord may be too short, Dr. Schoel adds, or that the uterus may be too hard or not in the correct shape for the baby to turn. “In those cases, there’s nothing you can do naturally to get that baby out of the breech position,” she says.
Can you feel when a breech baby turns?
You might imagine that if your baby does what is essentially a 180 degree flip that you’re going to feel it, but that’s not always the case. In some instances, it truly depends on the time in which your baby turns. “If it happens while you are awake, then yes, you may feel your baby turning,” says Schoel. “But if you are asleep, chances are that you won’t feel the baby turn.”
That said, chances are if your breech baby gets into a birthing position, it’s not going to be pain-free. “You might feel some cramping and then more pelvic pressure once the breech baby turns to cephalic,” says Schellhammer. “The baby's head down in the pelvis will create more pressure than a soft baby's butt!”
How can I get my baby to move head down?
In order to avoid a potential cesarean section, your doctor might want to try to do an external cephalic version (ECV), which can turn a breech baby to a head-first position. “In a controlled medical setting, doctors may try an external cephalic version to attempt to turn the baby,” Schoel says. “This is the most common approach in the United States and is more successful in moms that have had babies before because the uterus is softer.”
But if you’re thinking about trying some techniques on your own, you should probably let the professionals handle it — literally. After all, there is most likely a medical reason why your baby hasn’t turned yet. “Most babies start out in the breech position and move to head down later in the pregnancy so it depends on how far along you are in the pregnancy,” Schellhammer says. “The uterus structure itself can prevent a baby to turning head down if there are things like a large fibroid or other anatomy changes.” Also the baby itself may be the reason for not turning to head down if the baby is large or if there is a low fluid around the baby. And in some cases, a previous breech pregnancy can cause your present pregnancy to be breech as well, per a PubMed study.
Can a breech baby turn at 39 weeks?
If delivery is just days away (and baby still hasn’t turned), don’t lose hope. There is still a chance that your little one will suddenly take a turn. “A breech baby can turn at any week,” says Schellhammer. “However the bigger the baby gets, there will be less fluid around baby which makes it harder for them to turn.” But it’s not entirely impossible for a breech baby to turn at 39 weeks, especially if this isn’t your first pregnancy. Says Schoel: “It’s more likely, especially in women who’ve had babies before because the uterus is softer.”
Getting the news that your baby is breech isn’t necessarily the bummer it might appear to be. More than likely, your baby will turn in time for birth. And as for those frozen peas, well, you can keep them in the freezer for now.
Cluver, C., Hofmeyr, G., Gyte, G., Sinclair, M. (2012) Interventions for helping to turn term breech babies to head first presentation when using external cephalic version. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22258940/
Gray, C., Shanahan, M. (2021) Breech Presentation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448063/
Mukhopadhyay, S., Arulkmaran, S. “Breech delivery” 2002.
Dr. Shannon Schellhammer, M.D., an OB-GYN at Winnie Palmer
Dr. Sarah B. Schoel, M.D., Chief of Staff at Mercy Hospital