Fetal Positions for Labor and Birth

Knowing your baby's position can you help ease pain and speed up labor

In the last weeks of pregnancy, determining the position your baby is in can help you manage discomfort. Knowing your baby's position during early labor can help you manage pain and even speed up the process.

The Fetal Skull

Parts of the fetal skull

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell 

To understand how a baby maneuvers out of the pelvis, it's helpful to learn a bit about the fetal skull. The bones of a baby's skull are not fused. Instead, there are spaces between the bones. Suture lines on the skull indicate where these soft spots, called fontanelles, are located. The spaces allow the bones to overlap as the baby moves through the pelvis in late pregnancy and during labor.

Right or Left Occiput Anterior

Right occiput anterior and left occiput anterior

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell 

Looking at where the baby's head is in the birth canal helps determine the fetal position.The front of a baby's head is referred to as the anterior portion and the back is the posterior portion. There are two different positions called occiput anterior (OA) positions that may occur:

  • The left occiput anterior (LOA) position is the most common in labor. In this position, the baby's head is slightly off center in the pelvis with the back of the head toward the mother's left thigh.
  • The right occiput anterior (ROA) presentation is also common in labor. In this position, the back of the baby is slightly off center in the pelvis with the back of the head toward the mother's right thigh.

In general, OA positions do not lead to problems or additional pain during labor or birth.

Right or Left Occiput Transverse

Right Occiput transverse and left occiput transverse

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell  

When facing out toward the mother's right thigh, the baby is said to be left occiput transverse (LOT). This position is halfway between a posterior and anterior position. If the baby was previously in a posterior position (in either direction), the LOT position indicates positive movement toward an anterior position.

When the baby is facing outward toward the mother's left thigh, the baby is said to be right occiput transverse (ROT). Like the previous presentation, ROT is halfway between a posterior and anterior position. If the baby was previously in a posterior position, ROT is a sign the baby is making a positive move toward an anterior position.

When a baby is in the left occiput transverse position (LOT) or right occiput transverse (ROT) position during labor, it may lead to more pain and a slower progression.

Tips to Reduce Discomfort

There are several labor positions a mother can try to alleviate pain and encourage the baby to continue rotating toward an anterior position, including:

  • Lunging
  • Pelvic tilts
  • Standing and swaying

A doula, labor nurse, midwife, or doctor may have other suggestions for positions.

Right or Left Occiput Posterior

Right Occiput posterior and left occiput posterior

Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell  

When facing forward, the baby is in the occiput posterior position. If the baby is facing forward and slightly to the left (looking toward the mother's right thigh) it is in the left occiput posterior (LOP) position. This presentation can lead to more back pain (sometimes referred to as "back labor") and slow progression of labor.

In the right occiput posterior position (ROP), the baby is facing forward and slightly to the right (looking toward the mother's left thigh). This presentation may slow labor and cause more pain.

Tips to Reduce Discomfort

To help prevent or decrease pain during labor and encourage the baby to move into a better position for delivery, mothers can try a variety of positions, including:

  • Hands and knees
  • Lunges
  • Pelvic rocking

Mothers may try other comfort measures, including:

  • Bathtub or shower (water)
  • Cold packs
  • Counter pressure
  • Massage
  • Movement (swaying, dancing, sitting on a birth ball)
  • Rice socks (heat packs)

How a Doctor Determines Baby's Position

Leopold's maneuvers are a series of hands-on examinations your doctor or midwife will use to help determine your baby's position. During the third trimester, the assessment will be done at most of your prenatal visits. Knowing the baby's position before labor begins can help you prepare for labor and delivery.

Once labor begins, a nurse, doctor, or midwife will be able to get a more accurate sense of your baby's position by performing a vaginal exam. When your cervix is dilated enough, the practitioner will insert their fingers into the vagina and feel for the suture lines of the baby's skull as it moves down in the birth canal. It's important to ensure the baby is head down and moving in the right direction.

Labor and delivery may be more complicated if the baby is not in a head-down position, such as in the case of a breech presentation.

How You Can Determine Baby's Position

While exams by health practitioners are an important part of your care, from the prenatal period through labor and delivery, often the best person to assess a baby's position in the pelvis is you. Mothers should pay close attention to how the baby moves and where different movements are felt.

A technique called belly mapping can help mothers ask questions of themselves to assess their baby's movement and get a sense of the position they are in as labor approaches.

For example, the position of your baby's legs can be determined by asking questions about the location and strength of the kicking you feel. The spots where you feel the strongest kicks are most likely where your baby's feet are.

Other landmarks you can feel for include:

  • A large, flat plane, which is most likely your baby's back. Sometimes you can feel the baby arching his or her back.

At the top or bottom of the flat plane, you may feel either:

  • A hard, round shape (most likely your baby's head)
  • A soft curve (most likely to be your baby's bottom)
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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Gabbe S, Niebyl J, Simpson J et al. Obstetrics. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2012.