Pregnancy information

Breech Birth

Babies often twist and turn during pregnancy, but most will have moved into the head-down (also known as head-first) position by the time labour begins. However, that does not always happen, and a baby may be:

  • bottom first or feet first (breech position)
  • lying sideways (transverse position)

Bottom first or feet first (breech baby)

If your baby is lying bottom or feet first, they are in the breech position. If they're still breech at around 36 weeks' gestation, the obstetrician and midwife will discuss your options for a safe delivery.

Turning a breech baby

If your baby is in a breech position at 36 weeks, you'll usually be offered an external cephalic version (ECV). This is when a healthcare professional, such as an obstetrician, tries to turn the baby into a head-down position by applying pressure on your abdomen. It's a safe procedure, although it can be a bit uncomfortable. Around 50% of breech babies can be turned using ECV, allowing a vaginal birth.

Giving birth to a breech baby

If ECV doesn't work, you'll need to discuss options with your midwife or obstetrician.  Although breech babies can be born vaginally, you will probably be offered a caesaraen section.  This is the safest way of delivering a breech baby.

If you plan a caesarean and then go into labour before the operation, your obstetrician will assess whether to proceed with the caesarean delivery.  If the baby is close to being born, it may be safer for you to have a vaginal breech birth.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has more information on:

The RCOG states that you may be advised against a vaginal breech delivery if:

  • your baby's feet are below its bottom – known as a "footling breech"
  • your baby is larger or smaller than average – your healthcare team will discuss this with you
  • your baby is in a certain position – for example, their neck is very tilted back, which can make delivery of the head more difficult
  • you have a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia)
  • you have pre-eclampsia

Lying sideways (transverse breech)

If your baby is lying sideways across the womb, they are in the transverse position. Although many babies lie sideways early on in pregnancy, most turn themselves into the head-down position by the final trimester.

Giving birth to a transverse baby

Depending on how many weeks you are when a transverse position is diagnosed, you may be admitted to hospital.  This is because of the very small risk of the umbilical cord prolapsing if your waters break.  This is a medical emergency where the umbilical cord comes out of the womb before the baby and the baby must be delivered very quickly.

Sometimes, it's possible to manually turn the baby to a head down position and you may be offered this.

It's almost impossible for a transverse baby to be born naturally.  So, if your baby is still in the trasverse position when you apprach your due date or by the time your labour begins, you'll be advisedf to have a caeserean section.

Last Updated: 25/05/2023 11:00:04
The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website