By the time most babies approach full-term, their heads will be facing down towards your spine, ready for a natural birth. But an estimated 3% of full-term babies remain upright in a breech position.
“Most babies turn by 38 weeks,” says Sister Tamzin Ingram from Johannesburg’s Genesis Birth Clinic, “so I always advise moms intent on a natural birth to wait as long as possible – at least into week 39 before deciding on a C-Section. However, it’s important to be especially vigilant for signs of labour if this is the case.
If you have your heart set on a natural birth you might be wondering if you’ll be able to have a vaginal birth if your baby is breech. We spoke to two experts to find out what your options are and if there’s anything you can do to turn your baby.
Can I have a natural breech birth?
Risking labour with a breech baby is not something many moms or their caregivers would welcome. Obstetrician-Gynecologist Dr Taheera Hassim who is based at Sunninghill Hospital, explains: “A breech delivery carries significantly higher risks than an ordinary vaginal birth and most doctors would recommend an elective C-Section.
“Among the risks are the baby’s head getting stuck and prolapse, where the umbilical cord becomes compressed during delivery and restricts the baby’s supply of oxygen. Because there is no evidence to suggest that a baby born in breech will not suffer long-term negative consequences, it is difficult to justify the additional risk posed by a natural birth.”
“We’ll only consider natural birth for a breech baby if the pregnancy is uncomplicated, full term, and it’s a second-time mom,” says Tamzin. “She will also have to birth with an experienced caregiver and be aware of the risks involved.”
Correcting a breech
Successfully turning a breech baby will depend largely on why he or she failed to turn in the first place. “If the breech is caused by a uterine abnormality or too little amniotic fluid, then your chances of turning the baby are slim,” says Dr Hassim. “And even in ‘easy breeches’, attempting an external cephalic version (ECV), or manual manipulation of the foetus, is not without risk. It is, however, the only scientifically proven method for correcting a breech.”
“A host of alternative treatments and practices do exist with varying degrees of success and one, or a combination of them, can be tried before attempting an ECV,” suggests Tamzin.
3 ways to help your breech baby turn
Always consult your caregiver before attempting anything that might affect your pregnancy and start by using the simple force of gravity to help your baby turn.
- Lie on your back and elevate your hips above your shoulders. Use a couple of pillows or the wall for support. Alternatively, get on your hands and knees and lower your forearms to the ground so that your hips are high and your shoulders low. Maintain these positions for at least 15 minutes, three times a day.
- You may also want to try the Chinese method of moxibustion, the burning of moxa sticks containing tightly rolled and dried mugwort leaves. You can buy them from herbalists, some acupuncturists and traditional Chinese healers, who will demonstrate how to use them.
- Another method some moms have found useful is to encourage your baby to move away from cold by placing a bag of frozen peas on the top of your belly – or towards music by placing headphones on your bump.
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals. Meet the Living & Loving Team and our Online Experts.