Understanding a Breech Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, MD

Breech Pregnancy

Before a child is born, it will be in various positions within the mother’s womb. A baby may have its shoulders, legs, buttocks or head closest to its mother’s vagina. A baby is breech when the child’s buttocks or feet are closest to the vagina.

During the first part of pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for babies to lie in a breech position. As pregnancy progresses though, most unborn babies will end up with their heads closest to the mother’s vagina. The safest position for a child to be in for a normal vaginal delivery is head-down. A pregnancy is considered breech when the baby is in the breech position as the mother reaches the end of her pregnancy.

Causes of breech pregnancies

For a majority of breech pregnancies, they just happen. Sometimes, though, a breech pregnancy may occur because of either a problem with the placenta, the mother’s uterus or even the baby. There may also be an issue with the amniotic fluid, which surrounds the baby.

Symptoms of breech pregnancies

Occasionally a woman may feel some discomfort as her child’s head presses under her rib cage in a breech pregnancy. If you baby is breech, you may also feel your child kicking your lower belly.

How will I know?

To find out for sure if your baby is breech, your doctor will do an exam checking your baby’s position. This includes pressing on your pregnant belly so that they can feel where your baby’s head is. During the final three months of your pregnancy, expect that your doctor will check your child’s position during every visit.

An ultrasound may also be used in checking your child’s position. This type of test uses sound waves to show pictures of your baby in your womb.

What should I do?

For most breech babies, they eventually turn themselves around before you go into labor. However, if you’re baby’s still breech when your due date gets closer, your doctor may want to intervene. Your doctor can try pressing on your belly to try to move your child. If this is successful, and your child moves to a head-down position, you will likely be able to at least try a vaginal delivery when you go into labor. If this doesn’t work, though, your doctor may want you to have what’s called a C-section, or rather surgery to deliver your child.
There are some situations where a breech baby may be delivered vaginally. This is referred to as vaginal breech delivery. However, this type of delivery is at a greater risk of problems to both the mother and her baby. For this reason, vaginal breech deliveries are more rare than other types of deliveries.

What about twins?

If you are pregnant with twins, your doctor will want to check the positioning of each baby. If the first twin is breech during the check, your doctor will probably want you to have a C-section for both babies. If the first twin is in the correct head-down position, but the other twin is breech, the delivery method will likely become a discussion between the two of you.

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