6 Ways to Turn a Breech Baby

Doctor listening to belly of pregnant patient
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Breech position is when a baby is in a head-up position in the uterus near the due date. The optimal birthing position is for the head to be down, which is called cephalic or vertex presentation. Often, a baby in breech position will flip over before childbirth, but in about 3% of pregnancies at term (37 weeks or later), the baby is still in breech position. In these cases, interventions may be used to turn the baby. If unsuccessful, a C-section delivery is usually needed.

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Overview

There are several types of breech positions, including a complete breech (the baby's bottom and feet are down in the pelvis with the knees bent and up to the chest), an incomplete breech (one leg is bent at the knee and the other is straight and extended upwards), a frank breech position (both legs are extended up toward the shoulders), and a footling breech (the legs are extended below the baby's bottom).

There are a number of techniques that can be used to turn a breech baby prior to delivery, each with varying degrees of efficacy. Some seek to gently nudge the baby into the correct position during the latter part of the pregnancy (from week 30 forward), while others are performed in a hospital setting by the doctor or midwife close to or at the time of delivery.

Note that even if a baby is successfully moved from the breech position, sometimes they will revert back to a head-up presentation. Also, while anecdotal evidence points to varying degrees of efficacy, there are limited studies on the effectiveness of many of these techniques. However, while it's hard to say how likely some of them are to work, generally, most methods are easy to do, pain-free, and very low risk.

If your baby is in a breech position, it doesn't mean they'll stay that way. Babies often move into a vertex presentation on their own in the final weeks before delivery. However, within a week or two of delivery, it becomes less likely that the baby will be able to move on their own due to space restrictions in the uterus. This is why interventions are often tried to help the baby get into a head-down orientation.

The Breech Tilt Exercise

The breech tilt exercise uses gravity to encourage the baby to turn. The simple procedure, which can be done at home, involves lifting your hips above your heart. Some women do this by stacking pillows under their hips as they lie flat on their backs on the floor or a bed. Others prop one end of an ironing board on the couch at a 30- to 40-degree angle and lie on it with the head pointed in the direction of the floor.

You can do this exercise three times a day for 10 to 15 minutes each. Note that the pose can make you dizzy. If you're feeling light-headed, stop the exercise and talk to your doctor or midwife before attempting it again.

Pelvic Tilt and Other Positions

Sometimes, all your baby needs is a bit of encouragement to flip head down. Finding positions that give your baby room can be very simple and may do the trick. Good positions to try include hands and knees, kneeling leaning forward, and lunging. Explore what feels good to your body.

A traditional one to try is the pelvic tilt position, which is done by rocking your pelvis back and forth from a hands and knees pose. Yoga practitioners may also be able to explore the supported bridge pose, which has a similar effect to the breech tilt exercise, in a third-trimester prenatal yoga class.

You can also experiment with different sleeping positions, such as lying on your side with pillows propping up your body and between your legs to provide greater space in the pelvis for the baby to flip around.

Swimming often feels really good at the end of pregnancy due to the buoyancy provided by the water, which can also help to take pressure off the body to provide more room for the baby. The breaststroke and crawl can be very beneficial in getting the baby to move.

Heat and Cold

The strategy for using heat and cold is to put cold near where the baby’s head is currently (at the top of the uterus) and warmth where you want the head to go (near the bottom of the uterus). Even in the womb, babies want to keep warm and snuggled, so any cold placed near them will cause them to react and move away. A bag of frozen peas or ice works well for this technique. For warmth, try taking a shallow bath that only covers the bottom half of your belly or use a warm pack.

Change the placement of the heat and cold as the baby starts to shift to draw them toward the pelvis. This method can be used as often as you like as long as you remove the cold and heat when/if it becomes at all uncomfortable.

Music and Light

There are certain stimuli that babies will react to even within the womb; one is music and the other is light. By playing music or shining a flashlight near the pubic bone, the baby may gravitate toward the stimuli and right themself. You can perform this technique gradually, starting at the side of the abdomen and moving toward the pelvis as the baby starts to shift. This can also be used in conjunction with the cold trick above.

If using music, you can get headphones and simply play the music loud enough so that you can hear it with the headphones near your pubic bone. This may prompt the baby to come towards the sound. You can start by playing the music to the side of your abdomen, then moving more downwards towards the pubic bone.

Moxibustion and Acupuncture

Moxibustion is a form of traditional Chinese medicine done by a trained practitioner that involves burning a dried plant bundle called the "moxa stick" over specific parts of the body to warm and invigorate the flow of qi (life force in Chinese medical doctrine) to inspire the baby to move.

Acupuncture uses super thin, disposable needles inserted just into the skin to release qi, prevent it from being blocked, or help it move. This release of energy is intended to help the baby find a better position by allowing the pregnant person's body to move freely and the baby to have the room they need to be well placed in the uterus for birth.

Many midwives and doctors recommend trying these interventions, particularly since they do not cause pain or have adverse side effects. Although not empirical, some small studies have suggested that these methods may be as effective as physically turning the baby (see more on external cephalic version below).

The Webster Technique 

The Webster Technique is a chiropractic technique in which the body is adjusted to open the pelvis, soften the ligaments, and relax any tension that may be holding the pelvis in a rigid, less unaccommodating position. By releasing the tension, the baby may be more able to maneuver themself around into a more favorable position.

The Webster technique should only be performed by a qualified chiropractor who has been trained in this specific technique for pregnant women.

External Cephalic Version

External cephalic version (ECV) is a procedure performed by a doctor or midwife. This procedure should be done in a hospital setting, because it does have risks, including placental abruption and umbilical cord prolapse.

Essentially, your doctor uses their hands by exerting pressure on the outside of your abdomen to encourage your baby to get into a vertex position. Medication is generally prescribed to help relax the uterus, while an ultrasound helps guide the practitioner. The force it takes to do so can sometimes be uncomfortable or even painful. An epidural may be prescribed if the pain is especially intense.

Studies show that this procedure has efficacy of up to around 70%.

A Word From Verywell

While it can concerning to learn that your baby is in breech position, know that very often your baby will move into a head-down position—either on their own or with a little help from one of the interventions above. If these methods do not turn the baby, know that there is still a chance, up until delivery, that they will flip around.

If a breech baby is unable to be turned, most likely, the doctor will recommend a cesarean, which generally offers a much lower risk of complications. The waiting to see if your baby moves may be worrisome, frustrating, and stressful, but know that regardless of how your baby is born, the most important part of childbirth will be the same—the baby you'll soon be holding in your arms.

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9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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