What you can do to help your baby settle in the 'optimum foetal position' for birth
Throughout your pregnancy your baby will have been continually moving around in your uterus, shifting to the most comfortable position possible as he or she grows. However, during the final weeks of your pregnancy as space becomes short your baby will settle on the position they plan to be born in. For most babies this is the 'anterior' position, one which is considered 'optimum' for an easy and swift birthing experience; other babies adopt a variation on this theme.
The position your baby settles in as you go into labour can affect the speed, comfort and length of your delivery and while it's not a 'be all, end all' if they're not in the 'optimum' birthing position, there are certain tricks you can try to help things along. We explain more....
What's the 'optimum foetal position'?
The 'optimum foetal position' for birth is when baby lies with their head pointing downwards, their face positioned towards Mum's spine and their back facing outwards towards her tummy button. This position is adopted by most babies naturally towards the end of pregnancy and makes for an easy passage through the pelvis and birth canal as baby is able to tuck their chin in towards their chest as they move downwards so that the narrowest part of their head reaches the cervix first. They're then able to slip through the pubic bones relatively easily and for this reason, so called 'anterior' positioned births tend to be shorter and less painful.
Posterior positioned babies
Some babies adopt a posterior position during the final weeks of pregnancy. This is where they still lie head down but with their spine lying against their Mum's spine and their face pointing outwards towards her tummy button.
The posterior position isn't ideal as it can cause more discomfort during the final weeks of pregnancy as the hard surface of baby's spine can press against the spine of Mum-to-be causing backache and discomfort. What's more, most babies will need to turn as labour progresses and they need to make their way through the birth canal making for a longer and potentially more painful labour.
It's believed that our increasingly sedentary lives have resulted in a rise in the number of babies who adopt the posterior position for delivery. This is thought to be because when we're in a seated position, with our knees positioned above our hips and the back of our pelvis tilted forward (as we so often are whether we're driving, sitting on a comfy chair or working at a computer), the heaviest part of baby's body, i.e. the spine and base of the skull, gravitates towards the lowest point of the mother's body i.e. the back of the pelvis.
How to encourage your baby into the 'optimum position'
While nothing is guaranteed to help your baby into the optimum 'anterior' position for birth, there are some techniques that are said to help encourage this during the final weeks of pregnancy. You could try these from week 35 onwards when your baby begins to settle.
Breech positioned babies
- Place a wedge or pillow under your hips so that you sit with your knees below your pelvis, you should do this whether you're at home, at work or in the car.
- Avoid crossing your legs as this restricts space at the front of your pelvis where baby needs it most.
- Try to avoid sitting down for long periods of time as standing up and being active encourages baby into an anterior position.
- Spend at least 10 minutes a day on all fours, rocking your hips. If you don't find this comfortable you could try leaning over a beanbag or leaning forward onto a dining chair.
- Try yoga or breastroke to open out the front of your hips and pelvis.
3-4% of babies adopt a breech position during the final weeks of pregnancy. This is where the feet or bottom face downwards rather than the head.
While natural birth is possible with a breech positioned baby, most mums-to-be are offered the chance to have their baby turned before labour starts. This practice is called External Cephalic Version (ECV) and is successful about 2/3 of the time.
Some doctors and midwives believe that a cesarean section is the best delivery choice for a breech baby, however others hold that a normal delivery is just as safe providing the right supervision is given.
Whatever position your baby adopts for birth, your midwife will be able to explain your options fully and recommend the best course of action for you and your baby.
Have any questions about labour, pregnancy or babies? Why not visit the AskBaby forums and chat to other parents to be.