Can you turn a breech baby?

DoctorPregnant_zps3ac96800You may have heard recently about a technique that can be used to “flip” a breech baby. This procedure is called external cephalic version (ECV) and is done by your prenatal care provider.

When is a baby breech?

As your due date approaches, your baby usually moves into a head down position. During a vaginal delivery, this means that the baby’s head comes out first. But in about 3-4% of full-term births, the baby doesn’t move into a head-down position. This is called a “breech presentation.” A breech baby can be positioned so that the baby’s bottom, feet, or both are facing down.

What is ECV?

Since it is best for your baby to be in a head down position for a vaginal delivery, if the baby is breech, a C-section may be medically indicated. To improve your chances of giving birth vaginally, your provider may decide to perform an external cephalic version. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) “external cephalic version (ECV) is an attempt to turn the baby so that he or she is head down.”

Your health care provider may attempt an ECV when you are between 36-38 weeks of pregnancy. He or she will apply firm pressure on the outside of your belly to try to get the baby to roll into a head-down position. Two people may be needed to do this and ultrasound may be used to help guide the turning.

When is ECV not safe?

An ECV will not be attempted if:

  • You are pregnant with more than one baby
  • There are concerns about the health of the baby
  • You have certain uterine or cervical problems
  • The placenta is in the wrong place or has detached from the wall of the uterus (placental abruption)

Can complications occur with ECV?

ECV typically takes place in the hospital in case complications arise.  The baby’s heart rate will be monitored both before and after the procedure.  Some problems that may occur with an ECV include:

ACOG states that over 50% of all ECV attempts are successful. However sometimes the baby moves back into a breech position. While ECV can be tried again, it gets more difficult as the baby gets bigger.

If your baby is in a breech position, talk to your health care provider. You can discuss if you are a candidate for ECV as well as what delivery options may be best for you.

Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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