Most babies move into a head-down position in the uterus before labor. The baby is in a breech position when its buttocks or feet are in place to come out first. There are three types:
- Frank breech—the baby’s buttocks are down and the legs extend straight up in front of the body with the feet up near the head
- Complete breech—the baby’s buttocks are down with the legs bent at the knees and the feet near the buttocks
- Footling or incomplete breech—one or both of the baby’s feet are down
Almost all breech babies are delivered by cesarean section.
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It is not fully understood why a baby is breech.
Things that may raise the risk of a baby being in this position are:
There are no symptoms when a baby is breech. Some women feel kicking in the lower part of the belly. Others feel hiccups above the belly button. Babies move around often. It can be hard to tell which position a baby is in.
The baby's position will be checked a few weeks before the due date. This is done with a physical exam. The healthcare provider can feel the position through the belly wall by moving their hands in different places. This helps find the baby's head, back, and buttocks. The baby's heartbeat can also help find its position.
An ultrasound can confirm a breech position.
The baby may still be in a breech position during the last weeks of pregnancy. Options are:
External Cephalic Version (ECV)
The doctor will try to move the baby's head into a downward position by gently pushing on the belly. ECV is done about 3 to 4 weeks before the baby is due. It is not always effective.
Exercises may be given during the last 8 weeks of pregnancy to help a baby turn into the correct position. They are usually done 2 to 3 times a day for 10 to 15 minutes.
A baby cannot always be turned before birth. The most common delivery method is by cesarean section.
There is no way to keep a baby from moving into a breech position at the end of a pregnancy.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Women's Health Network
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Committee on Practice Bulletins—Obstetrics. Practice Bulletin No. 161: external cephalic version. Obstet Gynecol. 2016;127(2):e54-e61. Reaffirmed 2018.
Breech babies: What can I do if my baby is breech? Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/breech-babies-what-can-i-do-if-my-baby-is-breech. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Breech births. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: https://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/breech-presentation. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Breech delivery. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Breech presentation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/breech-presentation. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC Last Updated: 9/21/2021