Vertex Position: What It Is, Why It's Important, and How to Get There

photo of pregnant person's stomach

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

While you are pregnant, you may hear your healthcare provider frequently refer to the position or presentation of your baby, particularly as you get closer to your due date. What they are referring to is which part of your baby is presenting first—or which part is at the lower end of your womb or the pelvic inlet.

Consequently, when they tell you that your baby's head is down, that likely means they are in the vertex position (or another cephalic position). This type of presentation is the most common presentation in the third trimester. Here is what you need to know about the vertex position including how you might get your baby into that position before you go into labor.

What Is the Vertex Position?

The vertex position is a medical term that means the fetus has its head down in the maternal pelvis and the occipital (back) portion of the fetal skull is in the lowest position or presenting, explains Jill Purdie, MD, an OB/GYN and medical director at Northside Women’s Specialists, which is part of Pediatrix Medical Group.

When a baby is in the vertex position, their head is in the down position in the pelvis in preparation for a vaginal birth, adds Shaghayegh DeNoble, MD, FACOG, a board-certified gynecologist and a fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon. "More specifically, the fetus’s chin is tucked to the chest so that the back of the head is presenting first."

Why the Vertex Position Is Important

When it comes to labor and delivery, the vertex position is the ideal position for a vaginal delivery, especially if the baby is in the occiput anterior position—where the back of the baby's head is toward the front of the pregnant person's pelvis, says Dr. DeNoble.

"[This] is the best position for vaginal birth because it is associated with fewer Cesarean sections, faster births, and less painful births," she says. "In this position, the fetus’s skull fits the birth canal best. In the occiput posterior position, the back of the fetus's head is toward the [pregnant person's] spine. This position is usually associated with longer labor and sometimes more painful birth."

Other fetal positions are sometimes less-than-ideal for labor and delivery. According to Dr. DeNoble, they can cause more prolonged labor, fetal distress, and interventions such as vacuum or forceps delivery and Cesarean delivery.

"Another important fact is that positions other than vertex present an increased risk of cord prolapse, which is when the umbilical cord falls into the vaginal canal ahead of the baby," she says. "For example, if the fetus is in the transverse position and the [pregnant person's] water breaks, there is an increased risk of the umbilical cord prolapsing through the cervix into the vaginal canal."

When it comes to your baby's positioning, obstetricians will look to see what part of the fetus is in position to present during vaginal birth. If your baby’s head is down during labor, they will look to see if the back of the head is facing your front or your back as well as whether the back of the head is presenting or rather face or brow, Dr. DeNoble explains.

"These determinations are important during labor, especially if there is consideration to the use of a vacuum or forceps," she says.

When the Vertex Position Usually Occurs

According to Dr. Purdie, healthcare providers will begin assessing the position of the baby as early as 32 to 34 weeks of pregnancy. About 75% to 80% of fetuses will be in the vertex presentation by 30 weeks and 96% to 97% by 37 weeks. Approximately 3% to 4% of fetuses will be in a non-cephalic position at term, she adds.

Typically, your provider will perform what is called Leopold maneuvers to determine the position of the baby. "Leopold maneuvers involve the doctor placing their hands on the gravid abdomen in several locations to find the fetal head and buttocks," Dr. Purdie explains.

If your baby is not in the vertex position, the next most common position would be breech, she says. This means that your baby's legs or buttocks are presenting first and the head is up toward the rib cage.

"The fetus may also be transverse," Dr. Purdie says. "The transverse position means the fetus is sideways within the uterus and no part is presenting in the maternal pelvis. In other words, the head is either on the left or right side of the uterus and the fetus goes straight across to the opposite side."

There is even a chance that your baby will be in an oblique position. This means they are at a diagonal within the uterus, Dr. Purdie says. "In this position, either the head or the buttocks can be down, but they are not in the maternal pelvis and instead off to the left or right side."

If your baby's head is not down, your provider will look to see if the buttocks are in the pelvis or one or two feet, Dr. DeNoble adds. "If the baby is laying horizontally, then the doctor needs to know if the back of the baby is facing downwards or upwards since at a Cesarean delivery it can be more difficult to deliver the baby when the back is down."

How to Get Baby Into the Vertex Position

One way you can help ensure that your baby gets into the vertex position is by staying active and walking, Dr. Purdie says. "Since the head is the heaviest part of the fetus, gravity may help move the head around to the lowest position."

If you already know that your baby is in a non-cephalic position and you are getting close to your delivery date, you also can try some techniques to encourage the baby to turn. For instance, Dr. Purdie suggests getting in the knee/chest position for 10 minutes per day. This has been shown to turn the baby around 60% to 70% of the time.

"In this technique, the mother gets on all fours, places her head down on her hands, and leaves her buttock higher than her head," she explains. "Again, we are trying to allow gravity to help us turn the fetus."

You also might consider visiting a chiropractor to try and help turn the fetus. "Most chiropractors will use the Webster technique to encourage the fetus into a cephalic presentation," Dr. Purdie adds.

There also are some home remedies, including using music, heat, ice, and incense to encourage the fetus to turn, she says. "These techniques do not have a lot of scientific data to support them, but they also are not harmful so can be tried without concern."

You also can try the pelvic tilt, where you lay on your back with your legs bent and your feet on the ground, suggests Dr. DeNoble. Then, you tilt your pelvis up into a bridge position and stay in this position for 10 minutes. She suggests doing this several times a day, ideally when your baby is most active.

"Another technique that has helped some women is to place headphones low down on the abdomen near the pubic bone to encourage the baby to turn toward the sound," Dr. DeNoble adds. "A cold bag of vegetables can be placed at the top of the uterus near the baby’s head and something warm over the lower part of the uterus to encourage the baby to turn toward the warmth. [And] acupuncture has also been used to help turn a baby into a vertex position."

Options if Baby Is Not in the Vertex Position

If you are at term and your baby is not in the vertex position (or some type of cephalic presentation), you may want to discuss the option of an external cephalic version (ECV), suggests Dr. Purdie. This is a procedure done in the hospital where your healthcare provider will attempt to manually rotate your baby into the cephalic presentation.

"There are some risks associated with this and not every pregnant person is a candidate, so the details should be discussed with your physician," she says. "If despite interventions, the fetus remains in a non-cephalic position, most physicians will recommend a C-section for delivery."

Keep in mind that there are increased risks for your baby associated with a vaginal breech delivery. Current guidelines by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend a C-section in this situation, Dr. Purdie says.

"Once a pregnant person is in labor, it would be too late for the baby to get in cephalic presentation," she adds.

A Word From Verywell

If your baby is not yet in the vertex position, try not to worry too much. The majority of babies move into either the vertex position or another cephalic presentation before they are born. Until then, focus on staying active, getting plenty of rest, and taking care of yourself.

If you are concerned, talk to your provider about different options for getting your baby to move into the vertex position. They can let you know which tips and techniques might be right for your situation.

8 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.
  1. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Obstetrics data definitions.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Vaginal delivery.

  3. Sayed Ahmed WA, Hamdy MA. Optimal management of umbilical cord prolapseInt J Womens Health. 2018;10:459-465. Published 2018 Aug 21. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S130879

  4. Hjartardóttir H, Lund SH, Benediktsdóttir S, Geirsson RT, Eggebø TM. When does fetal head rotation occur in spontaneous labor at term: results of an ultrasound-based longitudinal study in nulliparous womenAm J Obstet Gynecol. 2021;224(5):514.e1-514.e9. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2020.10.054

  5. Management of breech presentation: green-top guideline no. 20bBJOG: Int J Obstet Gy. 2017;124(7):e151-e177. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.14465

  6. Kenfack B, Ateudjieu J, Ymele FF, Tebeu PM, Dohbit JS, Mbu RE. Does the advice to assume the knee-chest position at the 36th to 37th weeks of gestation reduce the incidence of breech presentation at delivery? Clinics in Mother and Child Health. 2012;9:1-5. doi:10.4303/cmch/C120601

  7. Cohain JS. Turning breech babies after 34 weeks: the if, how, & when of turning breech babiesMidwifery Today Int Midwife. 2007;(83):18-65.

  8. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. If your baby is breech.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.