How to Tell if Baby is Head Down

Determining Position Before Labor

There are many different ways a baby can be positioned during pregnancy. Baby can be head up or head down, and can also be turned or rotated relative to Mom's spine. Belly mapping, or noting where you feel kicks and wiggles, can give you clues about how baby is positioned. If you feel strong kicks up near your ribs or the top of your stomach, baby is generally head down. Ultrasounds can also tell how a baby is laying inside the womb. If your baby is not head down as you get into the later weeks of pregnancy, your doctor or other care provider can attempt to physically reposition the baby.

Early Pregnancy

Belly of pregnant woman in sunset lights

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It is normal for baby to move around often during the early weeks of pregnancy. One day you may feel kicks low in your hips, the next day they might be in your side, and the day after that baby may be kicking you in the ribs. When your baby is smaller and space is more abundant, it is not unusual for him to be lying transverse, or sideways inside the womb. Most transverse babies move into another position early in the third trimester of pregnancy. As your baby grows bigger and begins to run out of space in your uterus, he starts to try and find a more comfortable position. This position is generally head down, or ready for birth.

Late Pregnancy

Babies can turn head down at any point in late pregnancy, or even when labor begins. Most babies turn head down somewhere between 30 to 34 weeks gestation, as they start to run out of space in the womb. Doctors start to become concerned about positioning if baby is not head down at 36 weeks, since this is considered full term, and labor can begin at any time. If you feel a lot of movement over a the course of several hours, you can have your doctor perform an examination to see if your baby has moved head down. Otherwise, your doctor will use ultrasounds or manual exploration during your examinations to find out how your baby is positioned and can offer tips for shifting your baby if he is not moving to a head down position on his own.

Belly Mapping

Belly of pregnant woman in sunset lights

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Belly mapping is a technique created by Gail Tully of Spinning Babies that can help you to figure out how your baby is positioned in the womb. The technique includes palpitating your belly and paying attention to the movements you feel. Smaller movements are likely to be your baby's hands, and he will tend to keep those up near his face. Larger movements are more likely to be your baby's feet. You can also feel for hardness, which could either be baby's bum or his head. If you have a fetoscope you can listen for baby's heartbeat. You will be most likely to hear this high on his back, between his shoulder blades. If you hear a heartbeat low in your pelvis, it is likely that your baby is head down. While belly mapping may not be exact, it can be a great way to bond with your baby, and to estimate his position inside of you.

Changing Positions

If your baby is not head down in the later weeks of pregnancy, your doctor may recommend some techniques to change your baby's position. Sitting on an exercise ball with your back straight may encourage baby to turn, as can swimming or even doing handstands in the water if you are able and your doctor approves. You can also get on hands and knees and lay your upper body on the ground while keeping your bottom up in the air. None of these techniques are surefire ways to turn a baby, so be sure to stop if you feel uncomfortable. An external version is an exercise where the doctor works to physically turn baby into a head down position inside of you. External versions are typically done after 37 weeks, and they are performed in a hospital with fetal monitoring and ultrasound guidance. Most babies who turn during an external version will stay head down until delivery.

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