Towards the end of a pregnancy, most babies will usually adopt a head-first position in anticipation of labour. 3 to 4 out of 100 babies may, however, be in a bottom-first or feet-first position, otherwise known as breech.
Natural (vaginal) breech births used to be performed commonly but has fallen out of favour for more than 20 years. Nowadays, breech babies are usually delivered by planned C-section. This practice is based on research that suggests that planned C-sections are safer for breech babies compared to natural birth. C-section does carry slightly more risk for the mother compared to a vaginal birth.
A mother who is reluctant for C-section may consider asking her doctor to attempt external cephalic version (ECV). ECV involves applying gentle but firm pressure on the mother’s tummy to help the baby turn to a head-first position in the womb. ECV can be successful in up to 50-60% of cases and is generally safe. If successful, the mother can wait until natural labour occurs before attempting a vaginal birth.
Planned vaginal birth for breech babies is currently not practiced by many doctors because of the lack of experience since most breech babies are delivered by planned C-section. Vaginal breech births require training and experience. Due to the risks involved, they should only be undertaken in hospitals with facilities for emergency C-section. Mothers who plan to have a natural breech delivery need to clearly understand the risks involved for their babies.
If you have a breech baby near the end of your pregnancy, please discuss your options in detail with your doctor so that a plan for safe delivery can be made.