Your Baby is Breech: Now What?

Having a breech baby may mean shifting more than just your baby—also your expectations for delivery. Here, one mom tells her story of when her baby wouldn't turn.

Your Baby is Breech: Now What? wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

For weeks I had been proudly prompting people to pat my baby's butt. That sounds worse than it was: I was about 35 weeks pregnant, and you could feel a hard knob where her behind jutted out from my belly. When it was my doctor's turn, she furrowed her brow. "Hmmm," she said. "You may have a breech baby." She pulled a mobile ultrasound machine into the room, smeared goo on my belly and started peeking around. I was thrilled for an unexpected chance to see my baby, whose sex I still didn't know and wouldn't until she was born, just two and a half weeks later.

"As I suspected, that's not her butt, it's her head," my doctor said.

I laughed; of course it was. No baby has a bottom that big! Duh.

"Which means we'll have to think about scheduling a C-section," she continued, and I frowned.

Does breech = C-section?

Only about 4 percent of babies are breech at the time of delivery, and most hospitals now perform cesarean sections in those cases because of the risks associated with vaginal births. In fact, a recent Canadian study of more than 52,000 breech deliveries found that breech babies delivered vaginally had 3.6 times the rate of injury compared to those delivered by planned C-section.

Not that your baby's position is set in stone: Some doctors will consider performing an external cephalic version to manually turn your breech baby with their hands.

External cephalic versions, or versions, as they're known, are typically more successful when it's the patient's second or later baby, when there is plenty of amniotic fluid and when the baby is relatively easy to feel, says Allison West, M.D., an OBGYN at John A. Haugen Associates in Minneapolis. They're usually performed at 37 weeks, so the baby doesn't have time to flip back around. But there are some drawbacks: "There's a risk of a baby not tolerating it and having fetal distress. Usually if you stop trying to turn the baby and pushing, the baby recovers and is fine. There's also a risk of causing labor or causing someone's water to break," West says. "There's a risk of what's called placental abruption, where the placenta starts to separate from the wall of the uterus, which is a bad thing because you need the placenta to pass oxygen and nutrition to your baby. That's uncommon, but it can happen. If it does, usually people have bleeding and contractions, so you know something is going on. And then versions are only successful about 50 percent of the time."

Versions are up to you

Ultimately, in most cases, it's up to the patient whether you have a version. "Some people don't really care. They might say, 'If this is the way the baby is supposed to be, then we're going to have to go with that,'" West says. "Other people care a lot and are terribly disappointed."

My doctor determined that wasn't a good option in my case, because my baby had been in that position for so long and didn't seem to have much room. I fell into the disappointed but not devastated camp.

Still, after getting the breech news, I immediately headed home and started Googling to see if there was anything I could do myself. I went to a chiropractor, who did something that didn't work. I went to an acupuncturist and brought home moxibustion: big cigars made of dried mugwort that I burned near my little toes. I placed frozen green peas on my kid's poor little head and played relaxing music near my crotch to try to lure her down there. When none of that seemed to work, I did a back bend from the edge of my bed and rested my head on the floor, hanging out upside down for a while to see if gravity would do the trick. None of those have been proven to work, West says, but doing something felt better than nothing at the time.

And little did I know (though my doctor obviously sensed something to this effect) that I had a bifurcated uterus that divided my baby's living quarters in half. No wonder she had stopped flipping around!

At 36 1/2 weeks, my water broke as my husband and I were watching a movie and we headed to the hospital for my inevitable C-section. At that point, predictably, I didn't care. We all know the feeling: A healthy baby was all I really wanted. And my daughter came out screaming and flailing like a champion—all 5 pounds, 3 ounces of her.