A baby is breech when they are positioned feet or bottom first in the uterus. Ideally, a baby is positioned so that the head is delivered first during a vaginal birth. Most breech babies will turn to a head-first position by 36 weeks. Some breech babies can be born vaginally, but a C-section is usually recommended.
A breech baby, or breech birth, is when your baby’s feet or buttocks are positioned to come out of your vagina first. Your baby’s head is up closest to your chest and its bottom is closest to your vagina. Most babies will naturally move so their head is positioned to come out of the vagina first during birth. Breech is common in early pregnancy and most babies will move to a head-first position by 36 weeks of pregnancy. This head-first position is called vertex presentation and is the safest position for birth.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
There is a small chance that your baby will not move into a head-first position before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Breech babies account for about 3% to 4% of all full-term pregnancies.
There are several fetal positions your baby may present in. Ideally, your baby is positioned head-down, facing your back, with their chin tucked to their chest.
Breech babies can be in a few different positions:
Your pregnancy is usually not affected. Most breech babies are born healthy, although there is a slightly elevated risk for certain birth defects. Your baby’s movements may feel a little different. You will feel your baby’s kicks lower in your belly. You may feel a hard lump closer to your ribs. This is your baby’s head.
If you planned a vaginal delivery, a breech baby could change these plans. When your baby is breech, a vaginal delivery can be complicated and dangerous. Your healthcare provider may feel comfortable attempting a vaginal breech delivery, but in most cases, they will recommend a Cesarean birth (C-section).
If your baby presents in a breech position after 36 weeks of pregnancy, your birthing plan will likely change. It's usually unsafe for a breech baby to be born vaginally due to risks of injury. In most cases, a planned C-section is the safest way to deliver your baby. Some healthcare providers may be comfortable with a vaginal breech birth. In some cases, turning your baby to a head-down position while they are still inside your uterus is an option. Your baby is then born head first.
You may be able to tell if your baby is breech, especially if you have had past pregnancies where your baby was head-first. The places where you feel lumps and kicks might indicate that your baby is breech. Let your healthcare provider know where you feel movement. They will feel your belly or do an ultrasound to confirm that your baby is breech.
It’s not always known why a baby is breech. Some factors that may contribute to this position are:
Your healthcare provider may be able to tell which way your baby is facing by placing their hands at certain places on your abdomen. By feeling where the baby’s head, back and buttocks are, it’s usually possible to find out what part of the baby is positioned to come out of the vagina first. An ultrasound may be used to confirm the baby’s position.
Almost all babies are breech at some point. As your pregnancy progresses, your baby will naturally move to a head-down position — probably between 32 and 36 weeks. Your healthcare provider will feel your belly and determine where your baby is positioned. This will happen during most of your appointments in the third trimester. After 37 weeks, a breech baby usually does not turn on their own. Your healthcare provider will discuss delivery options with you.
If your baby is breech at 37 weeks of pregnancy, your healthcare provider may:
The complications of having a breech baby usually do not occur until it's time to deliver. Some breech babies can be safely delivered through the vagina.
The risks of attempting a vaginal breech birth are:
If your baby is breech, your healthcare provider may consider turning your baby so that you can have a vaginal delivery. In some cases, trying to turn your baby may not be safe or the risks outweigh the benefits.
Flipping your baby may not be safe if you have any of the following:
The most common method used to turn a breech baby is called external cephalic version (ECV). It's performed by your healthcare provider around 37 weeks of pregnancy. This procedure is performed in the hospital just in case an emergency occurs. It involves placing hands on your abdomen and applying firm pressure to turn your baby to a head-down position while your baby is still in your uterus. It is about 65% effective and carries some risks.
The risks of ECV include the following:
Although the risk of having these complications is small, some healthcare providers prefer not to try to flip a breech baby.
Most babies will flip to a head-down position before they reach full term (37 weeks). If your baby is still in a breech position at this time, your healthcare provider will determine if you can deliver vaginally or if you will need a C-section.
Some women will try at-home methods to flip their baby to a head-first position. They may help, but there is no scientific evidence that they work.
A chiropractic technique, called the Webster technique, can also help your uterus relax. Some providers even recommend acupuncture. Both of these techniques need to be done by a professional that your healthcare provider has recommended.
There is nothing you can do to prevent your baby from being in a breech position. If your baby is in a breech position, it’s not because you did anything wrong.
It's possible to deliver a breech baby vaginally. It can be more dangerous for the baby and the risk of injury is much higher. If the umbilical cord is compressed during birth, the baby could be deprived of oxygen and this could harm their brain and nerves. The cord could also slip around the baby’s neck or arms, causing injury. Healthcare providers have various levels of comfort with vaginal deliveries of breech babies. Talk to your provider about the risks and benefits of different types of birth for a breech baby.
Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms during pregnancy:
Learning your baby is breech may give you concerns about your delivery. It’s completely natural to have questions. Some questions to ask your doctor can include:
Birth defects are slightly more common in breech babies. It might be the reason that the baby didn’t move to the head-down position. Most babies who are breech at delivery are born without any health complications.
Most of the time, a C-section is the safest way to deliver a breech baby. Your risks of developing complications are much higher if you try to deliver a breech baby through the vagina. However, some healthcare providers may feel comfortable performing a vaginal breech birth.
Having a breech baby doesn’t change some of the first signs of labor like contractions or rupturing of your membranes. In most cases, your healthcare provider will recommend a planned C-section. If your delivery is planned, you may not have any labor symptoms.
If you are in labor and go to the hospital for delivery, your provider will confirm your baby’s position a final time. Your provider could attempt a vaginal delivery, but it's more likely they will proceed with a C-section to be safe.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Having a breech baby can be unexpected and change the vision you had for childbirth. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to expect during a breech delivery. They can help you understand the risks and benefits of a breech birth so that you and your baby are kept safe.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/07/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.