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What Is Cephalic Position?

The ideal fetal position for labor and delivery

  • Why It's Best

Risks of Other Positions

  • Determining Position
  • Turning a Fetus

The cephalic position is when a fetus is head down when it is ready to enter the birth canal. This is one of a few variations of how a fetus can rest in the womb and is considered the ideal one for labor and delivery.

About 96% of babies are born in the cephalic position. Most settle into it between the 32nd and 36th weeks of pregnancy . Your healthcare provider will monitor the fetus's position during the last weeks of gestation to ensure this has happened by week 36.

If the fetus is not in the cephalic position at that point, the provider may try to turn it. If this doesn't work, some—but not all—practitioners will attempt to deliver vaginally, while others will recommend a Cesarean (C-section).

Getty Images

Why Is the Cephalic Position Best?

During labor, contractions dilate the cervix so the fetus has adequate room to come through the birth canal. The cephalic position is the easiest and safest way for the baby to pass through the birth canal.

If the fetus is in a noncephalic position, delivery becomes more challenging. Different fetal positions have a range of difficulties and varying risks.

A small percentage of babies present in noncephalic positions. This can pose risks both to the fetus and the mother, and make labor and delivery more challenging. It can also influence the way in which someone can deliver.

A fetus may actually find itself in any of these positions throughout pregnancy, as the move about the uterus. But as they grow, there will be less room to tumble around and they will settle into a final position.

It is at this point that noncephalic positions can pose significant risks.

Cephalic Posterior

A fetus may also present in an occiput or cephalic posterior position. This means they are positioned head down, but they are facing the abdomen instead of the back.

This position is also nicknamed "sunny-side up."

Presenting this way increases the chance of a painful and prolonged delivery.

There are three different types of breech fetal positioning:

  • Frank breech: The legs are up with the feet near the head.
  • Footling breech: One or both legs is lowered over the cervix.
  • Complete breech: The fetus is bottom-first with knees bent.

A vaginal delivery is most times a safe way to deliver. But with breech positions, a vaginal delivery can be complicated.

When a baby is born in the breech position, the largest part—its head—is delivered last. This can result in them getting stuck in the birth canal (entrapped). This can cause injury or death.

The umbilical cord may also be damaged or slide down into the mouth of the womb, which can reduce or cut off the baby's oxygen supply.

Some providers are still comfortable performing a vaginal birth as long as the fetus is doing well. But breech is always a riskier delivery position compared with the cephalic position, and most cases require a C-section.

Likelihood of a Breech Baby

You are more likely to have a breech baby if you:

  • Go into early labor before you're full term
  • Have an abnormally shaped uterus, fibroids , or too much amniotic fluid
  • Are pregnant with multiples
  • Have placenta previa (when the placenta covers the cervix)

Transverse Lie

In transverse lie position, the fetus is presenting sideways across the uterus rather than vertically. They may be:

  • Down, with the back facing the birth canal
  • With one shoulder pointing toward the birth canal
  • Up, with the hands and feet facing the birth canal

If a transverse lie is not corrected before labor, a C-section will be required. This is typically the case.

Determining Fetal Position

Your healthcare provider can determine if your baby is in cephalic presentation by performing a physical exam and ultrasound.

In the final weeks of pregnancy, your healthcare provider will feel your lower abdomen with their hands to assess the positioning of the baby. This includes where the head, back, and buttocks lie

If your healthcare provider senses that the fetus is in a breech position, they can use ultrasound to confirm their suspicion.

Turning a Fetus So They Are in Cephalic Position

External cephalic version (ECV) is a common, noninvasive procedure to turn a breech baby into cephalic position while it's still in the uterus.

This is only considered if a healthcare provider monitors presentation progress in the last trimester and notices that a fetus is maintaining a noncephalic position as your delivery date approaches.

External Cephalic Version (ECV)

ECV involves the healthcare provider applying pressure to your stomach to turn the fetus from the outside. They will attempt to rotate the head forward or backward and lift the buttocks in an upward position. Sometimes, they use ultrasound to help guide the process.

The best time to perform ECV is about 37 weeks of pregnancy. Afterward, the fetal heart rate will be monitored to make sure it’s within normal levels. You should be able to go home after having ECV done.

ECV has a 50% to 60% success rate. However, even if it does work, there is still a chance the fetus will return to the breech position before birth.

Natural Methods For Turning a Fetus

There are also natural methods that can help turn a fetus into cephalic position. There is no medical research that confirms their efficacy, however.

  • Changing your position: Sometimes a fetus will move when you get into certain positions. Two specific movements that your provider may recommend include: Getting on your hands and knees and gently rocking back and forth. Another you could try is pushing your hips up in the air while laying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor (bridge pose).
  • Playing stimulating sounds: Fetuses gravitate to sound. You may be successful at luring a fetus out of breech position by playing music or a recording of your voice near your lower abdomen.
  • Chiropractic care: A chiropractor can try the Webster technique. This is a specific chiropractic analysis and adjustment which enables chiropractors to establish balance in the pregnant person's pelvis and reduce undue stress to the uterus and supporting ligaments.
  • Acupuncture: This is a considerably safe way someone can try to turn a fetus. Some practitioners incorporate moxibustion—the burning of dried mugwort on certain areas of the body—because they believe it will enhance the chances of success.

A Word From Verywell

While most babies are born in cephalic position at delivery, this is not always the case. And while some fetuses can be turned, others may be more stubborn.

This may affect your labor and delivery wishes. Try to remember that having a healthy baby, and staying well yourself, are your ultimate priorities. That may mean diverting from your best laid plans.

Speaking to your healthcare provider about turning options and the safest route of delivery may help you adjust to this twist and feel better about how you will move ahead.

Glezerman M. Planned vaginal breech delivery: current status and the need to reconsider . Expert Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2012;7(2):159-166. doi:10.1586/eog.12.2

Cleveland Clinic. Fetal positions for birth .

MedlinePlus. Breech birth .

UT Southwestern Medical Center. Can you turn a breech baby around?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If your baby is breech .

Roecker CB. Breech repositioning unresponsive to Webster technique: coexistence of oligohydramnios .  Journal of Chiropractic Medicine . 2013;12(2):74-78. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2013.06.003

By Cherie Berkley, MS Cherie Berkley is an award-winning journalist and multimedia storyteller covering health features for Verywell.

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  • Fetal presentation before birth

The way a baby is positioned in the uterus just before birth can have a big effect on labor and delivery. This positioning is called fetal presentation.

Babies twist, stretch and tumble quite a bit during pregnancy. Before labor starts, however, they usually come to rest in a way that allows them to be delivered through the birth canal headfirst. This position is called cephalic presentation. But there are other ways a baby may settle just before labor begins.

Following are some of the possible ways a baby may be positioned at the end of pregnancy.

Head down, face down

When a baby is head down, face down, the medical term for it is the cephalic occiput anterior position. This the most common position for a baby to be born in. With the face down and turned slightly to the side, the smallest part of the baby's head leads the way through the birth canal. It is the easiest way for a baby to be born.

Illustration of the head-down, face-down position

Head down, face up

When a baby is head down, face up, the medical term for it is the cephalic occiput posterior position. In this position, it might be harder for a baby's head to go under the pubic bone during delivery. That can make labor take longer.

Most babies who begin labor in this position eventually turn to be face down. If that doesn't happen, and the second stage of labor is taking a long time, a member of the health care team may reach through the vagina to help the baby turn. This is called manual rotation.

In some cases, a baby can be born in the head-down, face-up position. Use of forceps or a vacuum device to help with delivery is more common when a baby is in this position than in the head-down, face-down position. In some cases, a C-section delivery may be needed.

Illustration of the head-down, face-up position

Frank breech

When a baby's feet or buttocks are in place to come out first during birth, it's called a breech presentation. This happens in about 3% to 4% of babies close to the time of birth. The baby shown below is in a frank breech presentation. That's when the knees aren't bent, and the feet are close to the baby's head. This is the most common type of breech presentation.

If you are more than 36 weeks into your pregnancy and your baby is in a frank breech presentation, your health care professional may try to move the baby into a head-down position. This is done using a procedure called external cephalic version. It involves one or two members of the health care team putting pressure on your belly with their hands to get the baby to roll into a head-down position.

If the procedure isn't successful, or if the baby moves back into a breech position, talk with a member of your health care team about the choices you have for delivery. Most babies in a frank breech position are born by planned C-section.

Illustration of the frank breech position

Complete and incomplete breech

A complete breech presentation, as shown below, is when the baby has both knees bent and both legs pulled close to the body. In an incomplete breech, one or both of the legs are not pulled close to the body, and one or both of the feet or knees are below the baby's buttocks. If a baby is in either of these positions, you might feel kicking in the lower part of your belly.

If you are more than 36 weeks into your pregnancy and your baby is in a complete or incomplete breech presentation, your health care professional may try to move the baby into a head-down position. This is done using a procedure called external cephalic version. It involves one or two members of the health care team putting pressure on your belly with their hands to get the baby to roll into a head-down position.

If the procedure isn't successful, or if the baby moves back into a breech position, talk with a member of your health care team about the choices you have for delivery. Many babies in a complete or incomplete breech position are born by planned C-section.

Illustration of a complete breech presentation

When a baby is sideways — lying horizontal across the uterus, rather than vertical — it's called a transverse lie. In this position, the baby's back might be:

  • Down, with the back facing the birth canal.
  • Sideways, with one shoulder pointing toward the birth canal.
  • Up, with the hands and feet facing the birth canal.

Although many babies are sideways early in pregnancy, few stay this way when labor begins.

If your baby is in a transverse lie during week 37 of your pregnancy, your health care professional may try to move the baby into a head-down position. This is done using a procedure called external cephalic version. External cephalic version involves one or two members of your health care team putting pressure on your belly with their hands to get the baby to roll into a head-down position.

If the procedure isn't successful, or if the baby moves back into a transverse lie, talk with a member of your health care team about the choices you have for delivery. Many babies who are in a transverse lie are born by C-section.

Illustration of baby lying sideways

If you're pregnant with twins and only the twin that's lower in the uterus is head down, as shown below, your health care provider may first deliver that baby vaginally.

Then, in some cases, your health care team may suggest delivering the second twin in the breech position. Or they may try to move the second twin into a head-down position. This is done using a procedure called external cephalic version. External cephalic version involves one or two members of the health care team putting pressure on your belly with their hands to get the baby to roll into a head-down position.

Your health care team may suggest delivery by C-section for the second twin if:

  • An attempt to deliver the baby in the breech position is not successful.
  • You do not want to try to have the baby delivered vaginally in the breech position.
  • An attempt to move the baby into a head-down position is not successful.
  • You do not want to try to move the baby to a head-down position.

In some cases, your health care team may advise that you have both twins delivered by C-section. That might happen if the lower twin is not head down, the second twin has low or high birth weight as compared to the first twin, or if preterm labor starts.

Illustration of twins before birth

  • Landon MB, et al., eds. Normal labor and delivery. In: Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 19, 2023.
  • Holcroft Argani C, et al. Occiput posterior position. https://www.updtodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 19, 2023.
  • Frequently asked questions: If your baby is breech. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/if-your-baby-is-breech. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  • Hofmeyr GJ. Overview of breech presentation. https://www.updtodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  • Strauss RA, et al. Transverse fetal lie. https://www.updtodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  • Chasen ST, et al. Twin pregnancy: Labor and delivery. https://www.updtodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  • Cohen R, et al. Is vaginal delivery of a breech second twin safe? A comparison between delivery of vertex and non-vertex second twins. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine. 2021; doi:10.1080/14767058.2021.2005569.
  • Marnach ML (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. May 31, 2023.

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Why Is Cephalic Presentation Ideal For Childbirth?

Why Is Cephalic Presentation Ideal For Childbirth?

5   Dec   2017 | 8 min Read

cephalic presentation mean what

During labour, contractions stretch your birth canal so that your baby has adequate room to come through during birth. The cephalic presentation is the safest and easiest way for your baby to pass through the birth canal.

If your baby is in a non-cephalic position, delivery can become more challenging. Different fetal positions pose a range of difficulties and varying risks and may not be considered ideal birthing positions.

Two Kinds of Cephalic Positions

There are two kinds of cephalic positions:

  • Cephalic occiput anterior , where your baby’s head is down and is facing toward your back.
  • Cephalic occiput posterior , where your baby is positioned head down, but they are facing your abdomen instead of your back. This position is also nicknamed ‘sunny-side-up’ and can increase the chances of prolonged and painful delivery. 

How to Know if Your Baby is In a Cephalic Position?

You can feel your baby’s position by rubbing your hand on your belly. If you feel your little one’s stomach in the upper stomach, then your baby is in a cephalic position. But if you feel their kicks in the lower stomach, then it could mean that your baby is in a breech position.

You can also determine whether your baby is in the anterior or posterior cephalic position. If your baby is in the anterior position, you may feel their movement underneath your ribs and your belly button could also pop out. If your baby is in the posterior position, then you may feel their kicks in their abdomen, and your stomach may appear rounded up instead of flat. 

You can also determine your baby’s position through an ultrasound scan or a physical examination at your healthcare provider’s office. 

Benefits of Cephalic Presentation in Pregnancy

Cephalic presentation is one of the most ideal birth positions, and has the following benefits:

  • It is the safest way to give birth as your baby’s position is head-down and prevents the risk of any injuries.
  • It can help your baby move through the delivery canal as safely and easily as possible.
  • It increases the chances of smooth labour and delivery.

Are There Any Risks Involved in Cephalic Position?

Conditions like a cephalic posterior position in addition to a narrow pelvis of the mother can increase the risk of pregnancy complications during delivery. Some babies in the head-first cephalic presentation might have their heads tilted backward. This may, in some rare cases, cause preterm delivery.

What are the Risks Associated with Other Birth Positions?

Cephalic Presentation

A small percentage of babies may settle into a non-cephalic position before their birth. This can pose risks to both your and your baby’s health, and also influence the way in which you deliver. 

In the next section, we have discussed a few positions that your baby can settle in throughout pregnancy, as they move around the uterus. But as they grow old, there will be less space for them to tumble around, and they will settle into their final position. This is when non-cephalic positions can pose a risk.  

Breech Position

There are three types of breech fetal positioning:

  • Frank breech : Your baby’s legs stick straight up along with their feet near their head.
  • Footling breech: One or both of your baby’s legs are lowered over your cervix.
  • Complete breech: Your baby is positioned bottom-first with their knees bent.

If your baby is in a breech position , vaginal delivery is considered complicated. When a baby is born in breech position, the largest part of their body, that is, their head is delivered last. This can lead to injury or even fetal distress. Moreover, the umbilical cord may also get damaged or get wrapped around your baby’s neck, cutting off their oxygen supply.  

If your baby is in a breech position, your healthcare provider may recommend a c-section, or they may try ways to flip your baby’s position in a cephalic presentation.

Transverse Lie

In this position, your baby settles in sideways across the uterus rather than being in a vertical position. They may be:

  • Head-down, with their back facing the birth canal
  • One shoulder pointing toward the birth canal
  • Up with their hands and feet facing the birth canal

If your baby settles in this position, then your healthcare provider may suggest a c-section to reduce the risk of distress in your baby and other pregnancy complications.

Turning Your Baby Into A Cephalic Position

External cephalic version (ECV) is a common, and non-invasive procedure that helps turn your baby into a cephalic position while they are in the womb. However, your healthcare provider may only consider this procedure if they consider you have a stable health condition in the last trimester, and if your baby hasn’t changed their position by the 36th week.

You can also try some natural remedies to change your baby’s position, such as:

  • Lying in a bridge position: Movements like bridge position can sometimes help move your baby into a more suitable position. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your legs bent. Raise your pelvis and hips into a bridge position and hold for 5-10 minutes. Repeat several times daily.
  • Chiropractic care: A chiropractor can help with the adjustment of your baby’s position and also reduce stress in them.
  • Acupuncture: After your doctor’s go-ahead, you can also consider acupuncture to get your baby to settle into an ideal birthing position.

While most babies settle in a cephalic presentation by the 36th week of pregnancy, some may lie in a breech or transverse position before birth. Since the cephalic position is considered the safest, your doctor may recommend certain procedures to flip your baby’s position to make your labour and delivery smooth. You may also try the natural methods that we discussed above to get your baby into a safe birthing position and prevent risks or other pregnancy complications. 

When Should A Baby Be In A Cephalic Position?

Your baby would likely naturally drop into a cephalic position between weeks 37 to 40 of your pregnancy .

Is Cephalic Position Safe?

Research shows that 95% of babies take the cephalic position a few weeks or days before their due date. It is considered to be the safest position. It ensures a smooth birthing process.

While most of the babies are in cephalic position at delivery, this is not always the case. If you have a breech baby, you can discuss the available options for delivery with your doctor.

Does cephalic presentation mean labour is near?

Head-down is the ideal position for your baby within your uterus during birth. This is known as the cephalic position. This posture allows your baby to pass through the delivery canal more easily and safely.

Can babies change from cephalic to breech?

The external cephalic version (ECV) is the most frequent procedure used for turning a breech infant.

How can I keep my baby in a cephalic position?

While your baby naturally gets into this position, you can try some exercises to ensure that they settle in cephalic presentation. Exercises such as breech tilt, forward-leaning position (spinning babies program), cat and camel pose can help.

Stitches after a normal delivery : How many stitches do you need after a vaginal delivery? Tap this post to know.

Vaginal birth after caesarean delivery : Learn all about the precautions to consider before having a vaginal delivery after a c-section procedure. 

How many c-sections can you have : Tap this post to know the total number of c-sections that you can safely have.

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Delivery, face and brow presentation.

Julija Makajeva ; Mohsina Ashraf .

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Last Update: January 9, 2023 .

  • Continuing Education Activity

Face and brow presentation is a malpresentation during labor when the presenting part is either the face or, in the case of brow presentation, it is the area between the orbital ridge and the anterior fontanelle. This activity reviews the evaluation and management of these two presentations and explains the role of the interprofessional team in managing delivery safely for both the mother and the baby.

  • Describe the mechanism of labor in the face and brow presentation.
  • Summarize potential maternal and fetal complications during the face and brow presentations.
  • Review different management approaches for the face and brow presentation.
  • Outline some interprofessional strategies that will improve patient outcomes in delivery cases with face and brow presentation issues.
  • Introduction

The term presentation describes the leading part of the fetus or the anatomical structure closest to the maternal pelvic inlet during labor. The presentation can roughly be divided into the following classifications: cephalic, breech, shoulder, and compound. Cephalic presentation is the most common and can be further subclassified as vertex, sinciput, brow, face, and chin. The most common presentation in term labor is the vertex, where the fetal neck is flexed to the chin, minimizing the head circumference.

Face presentation – an abnormal form of cephalic presentation where the presenting part is mentum. This typically occurs because of hyperextension of the neck and the occiput touching the fetal back. Incidence of face presentation is rare, accounting for approximately 1 in 600 of all presentations. [1] [2] [3]

In brow presentation, the neck is not extended as much as in face presentation, and the leading part is the area between the anterior fontanelle and the orbital ridges. Brow presentation is considered the rarest of all malpresentation with a prevalence of 1 in 500 to 1 in 4000 deliveries. [3]

Both face and brow presentations occur due to extension of the fetal neck instead of flexion; therefore, conditions that would lead to hyperextension or prevent flexion of the fetal neck can all contribute to face or brow presentation. These risk factors may be related to either the mother or the fetus. Maternal risk factors are preterm delivery, contracted maternal pelvis, platypelloid pelvis, multiparity, previous cesarean section, black race. Fetal risk factors include anencephaly, multiple loops of cord around the neck, masses of the neck, macrosomia, polyhydramnios. [2] [4] [5]

These malpresentations are usually diagnosed during the second stage of labor when performing a digital examination. It is possible to palpate orbital ridges, nose, malar eminences, mentum, mouth, gums, and chin in face presentation. Based on the position of the chin, face presentation can be further divided into mentum anterior, posterior, or transverse. In brow presentation, anterior fontanelle and face can be palpated except for the mouth and the chin. Brow presentation can then be further described based on the position of the anterior fontanelle as frontal anterior, posterior, or transverse.

Diagnosing the exact presentation can be challenging, and face presentation may be misdiagnosed as frank breech. To avoid any confusion, a bedside ultrasound scan can be performed. [6]  The ultrasound imaging can show a reduced angle between the occiput and the spine or, the chin is separated from the chest. However, ultrasound does not provide much predicting value in the outcome of the labor. [7]

  • Anatomy and Physiology

Before discussing the mechanism of labor in the face or brow presentation, it is crucial to highlight some anatomical landmarks and their measurements. 

Planes and Diameters of the Pelvis

The three most important planes in the female pelvis are the pelvic inlet, mid pelvis, and pelvic outlet. 

Four diameters can describe the pelvic inlet: anteroposterior, transverse, and two obliques. Furthermore, based on the different landmarks on the pelvic inlet, there are three different anteroposterior diameters, named conjugates: true conjugate, obstetrical conjugate, and diagonal conjugate. Only the latter can be measured directly during the obstetric examination. The shortest of these three diameters is obstetrical conjugate, which measures approximately 10.5 cm and is a distance between the sacral promontory and 1 cm below the upper border of the symphysis pubis. This measurement is clinically significant as the fetal head must pass through this diameter during the engagement phase. The transverse diameter measures about 13.5cm and is the widest distance between the innominate line on both sides. 

The shortest distance in the mid pelvis is the interspinous diameter and usually is only about 10 cm. 

Fetal Skull Diameters

There are six distinguished longitudinal fetal skull diameters:

  • Suboccipito-bregmatic: from the center of anterior fontanelle (bregma) to the occipital protuberance, measuring 9.5 cm. This is the presenting diameter in vertex presentation. 
  • Suboccipito-frontal: from the anterior part of bregma to the occipital protuberance, measuring 10 cm 
  • Occipito-frontal: from the root of the nose to the most prominent part of the occiput, measuring 11.5cm
  • Submento-bregmatic: from the center of the bregma to the angle of the mandible, measuring 9.5 cm. This is the presenting diameter in face presentation where the neck is hyperextended. 
  • Submento-vertical: from the midpoint between fontanelles and the angle of the mandible, measuring 11.5cm 
  • Occipito-mental: from the midpoint between fontanelles and the tip of the chin, measuring 13.5 cm. It is the presenting diameter in brow presentation. 

Cardinal Movements of Normal Labor

  • Neck flexion
  • Internal rotation
  • Extension (delivers head)
  • External rotation (Restitution)
  • Expulsion (delivery of anterior and posterior shoulders)

Some of the key movements are not possible in the face or brow presentations.  

Based on the information provided above, it is obvious that labor will be arrested in brow presentation unless it spontaneously changes to face or vertex, as the occipito-mental diameter of the fetal head is significantly wider than the smallest diameter of the female pelvis. Face presentation can, however, be delivered vaginally, and further mechanisms of face delivery will be explained in later sections.

  • Indications

As mentioned previously, spontaneous vaginal delivery can be successful in face presentation. However, the main indication for vaginal delivery in such circumstances would be a maternal choice. It is crucial to have a thorough conversation with a mother, explaining the risks and benefits of vaginal delivery with face presentation and a cesarean section. Informed consent and creating a rapport with the mother is an essential aspect of safe and successful labor.

  • Contraindications

Vaginal delivery of face presentation is contraindicated if the mentum is lying posteriorly or is in a transverse position. In such a scenario, the fetal brow is pressing against the maternal symphysis pubis, and the short fetal neck, which is already maximally extended, cannot span the surface of the maternal sacrum. In this position, the diameter of the head is larger than the maternal pelvis, and it cannot descend through the birth canal. Therefore the cesarean section is recommended as the safest mode of delivery for mentum posterior face presentations. 

Attempts to manually convert face presentation to vertex, manual or forceps rotation of the persistent posterior chin to anterior are contraindicated as they can be dangerous.

Persistent brow presentation itself is a contraindication for vaginal delivery unless the fetus is significantly small or the maternal pelvis is large.

Continuous electronic fetal heart rate monitoring is recommended for face and brow presentations, as heart rate abnormalities are common in these scenarios. One study found that only 14% of the cases with face presentation had no abnormal traces on the cardiotocograph. [8] It is advised to use external transducer devices to prevent damage to the eyes. When internal monitoring is inevitable, it is suggested to place monitoring devices on bony parts carefully. 

People who are usually involved in the delivery of face/ brow presentation are:

  • Experienced midwife, preferably looking after laboring woman 1:1
  • Senior obstetrician 
  • Neonatal team - in case of need for resuscitation 
  • Anesthetic team - to provide necessary pain control (e.g., epidural)
  • Theatre team  - in case of failure to progress and an emergency cesarean section will be required.
  • Preparation

No specific preparation is required for face or brow presentation. However, it is essential to discuss the labor options with the mother and birthing partner and inform members of the neonatal, anesthetic, and theatre co-ordinating teams.

  • Technique or Treatment

Mechanism of Labor in Face Presentation

During contractions, the pressure exerted by the fundus of the uterus on the fetus and pressure of amniotic fluid initiate descent. During this descent, the fetal neck extends instead of flexing. The internal rotation determines the outcome of delivery, if the fetal chin rotates posteriorly, vaginal delivery would not be possible, and cesarean section is permitted. The approach towards mentum-posterior delivery should be individualized, as the cases are rare. Expectant management is acceptable in multiparous women with small fetuses, as a spontaneous mentum-anterior rotation can occur. However, there should be a low threshold for cesarean section in primigravida women or women with large fetuses.

When the fetal chin is rotated towards maternal symphysis pubis as described as mentum-anterior; in these cases further descend through the vaginal canal continues with approximately 73% cases deliver spontaneously. [9] Fetal mentum presses on the maternal symphysis pubis, and the head is delivered by flexion. The occiput is pointing towards the maternal back, and external rotation happens. Shoulders are delivered in the same manner as in vertex delivery.

Mechanism of Labor in Brow Presentation

As this presentation is considered unstable, it is usually converted into a face or an occiput presentation. Due to the cephalic diameter being wider than the maternal pelvis, the fetal head cannot engage; thus, brow delivery cannot take place. Unless the fetus is small or the pelvis is very wide, the prognosis for vaginal delivery is poor. With persistent brow presentation, a cesarean section is required for safe delivery.

  • Complications

As the cesarean section is becoming a more accessible mode of delivery in malpresentations, the incidence of maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality during face presentation has dropped significantly. [10]

However, there are still some complications associated with the nature of labor in face presentation. Due to the fetal head position, it is more challenging for the head to engage in the birth canal and descend, resulting in prolonged labor.

Prolonged labor itself can provoke foetal distress and arrhythmias. If the labor arrests or signs of fetal distress appear on CTG, the recommended next step in management is an emergency cesarean section, which in itself carries a myriad of operative and post-operative complications.

Finally, due to the nature of the fetal position and prolonged duration of labor in face presentation, neonates develop significant edema of the skull and face. Swelling of the fetal airway may also be present, resulting in respiratory distress after birth and possible intubation.

  • Clinical Significance

During vertex presentation, the fetal head flexes, bringing the chin to the chest, forming the smallest possible fetal head diameter, measuring approximately 9.5cm. With face and brow presentation, the neck hyperextends, resulting in greater cephalic diameters. As a result, the fetal head will engage later, and labor will progress more slowly. Failure to progress in labor is also more common in both presentations compared to vertex presentation.

Furthermore, when the fetal chin is in a posterior position, this prevents further flexion of the fetal neck, as browns are pressing on the symphysis pubis. As a result, descend through the birth canal is impossible. Such presentation is considered undeliverable vaginally and requires an emergency cesarean section.

Manual attempts to change face presentation to vertex, manual or forceps rotation to mentum anterior are considered dangerous and are discouraged.

  • Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

A multidisciplinary team of healthcare experts supports the woman and her child during labor and the perinatal period. For a face or brow presentation to be appropriately diagnosed, an experienced midwife and obstetrician must be involved in the vaginal examination and labor monitoring. As fetal anomalies, such as anencephaly or goiter, can contribute to face presentation, sonographers experienced in antenatal scanning should also be involved in the care. It is advised to inform the anesthetic and neonatal teams in advance of the possible need for emergency cesarean section and resuscitation of the neonate. [11] [12]

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Disclosure: Julija Makajeva declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Mohsina Ashraf declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

This book is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ ), which permits others to distribute the work, provided that the article is not altered or used commercially. You are not required to obtain permission to distribute this article, provided that you credit the author and journal.

  • Cite this Page Makajeva J, Ashraf M. Delivery, Face and Brow Presentation. [Updated 2023 Jan 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-.

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Your baby in the birth canal

During labor and delivery, your baby must pass through your pelvic bones to reach the vaginal opening. The goal is to find the easiest way out. Certain body positions give the baby a smaller shape, which makes it easier for your baby to get through this tight passage.

The best position for the baby to pass through the pelvis is with the head down and the body facing toward the mother's back. This position is called occiput anterior.

Information

Certain terms are used to describe your baby's position and movement through the birth canal.

FETAL STATION

Fetal station refers to where the presenting part is in your pelvis.

  • The presenting part. The presenting part is the part of the baby that leads the way through the birth canal. Most often, it is the baby's head, but it can be a shoulder, the buttocks, or the feet.
  • Ischial spines. These are bone points on the mother's pelvis. Normally the ischial spines are the narrowest part of the pelvis.
  • 0 station. This is when the baby's head is even with the ischial spines. The baby is said to be "engaged" when the largest part of the head has entered the pelvis.
  • If the presenting part lies above the ischial spines, the station is reported as a negative number from -1 to -5.

In first-time moms, the baby's head may engage by 36 weeks into the pregnancy. However, engagement may happen later in the pregnancy, or even during labor.

This refers to how the baby's spine lines up with the mother's spine. Your baby's spine is between their head and tailbone.

Your baby will most often settle into a position in the pelvis before labor begins.

  • If your baby's spine runs in the same direction (parallel) as your spine, the baby is said to be in a longitudinal lie. Nearly all babies are in a longitudinal lie.
  • If the baby is sideways (at a 90-degree angle to your spine), the baby is said to be in a transverse lie.

FETAL ATTITUDE

The fetal attitude describes the position of the parts of your baby's body.

The normal fetal attitude is commonly called the fetal position.

  • The head is tucked down to the chest.
  • The arms and legs are drawn in towards the center of the chest.

Abnormal fetal attitudes include a head that is tilted back, so the brow or the face presents first. Other body parts may be positioned behind the back. When this happens, the presenting part will be larger as it passes through the pelvis. This makes delivery more difficult.

DELIVERY PRESENTATION

Delivery presentation describes the way the baby is positioned to come down the birth canal for delivery.

The best position for your baby inside your uterus at the time of delivery is head down. This is called cephalic presentation.

  • This position makes it easier and safer for your baby to pass through the birth canal. Cephalic presentation occurs in about 97% of deliveries.
  • There are different types of cephalic presentation, which depend on the position of the baby's limbs and head (fetal attitude).

If your baby is in any position other than head down, your doctor may recommend a cesarean delivery.

Breech presentation is when the baby's bottom is down. Breech presentation occurs about 3% of the time. There are a few types of breech:

  • A complete breech is when the buttocks present first and both the hips and knees are flexed.
  • A frank breech is when the hips are flexed so the legs are straight and completely drawn up toward the chest.
  • Other breech positions occur when either the feet or knees present first.

The shoulder, arm, or trunk may present first if the fetus is in a transverse lie. This type of presentation occurs less than 1% of the time. Transverse lie is more common when you deliver before your due date, or have twins or triplets.

CARDINAL MOVEMENTS OF LABOR

As your baby passes through the birth canal, the baby's head will change positions. These changes are needed for your baby to fit and move through your pelvis. These movements of your baby's head are called cardinal movements of labor.

  • This is when the widest part of your baby's head has entered the pelvis.
  • Engagement tells your health care provider that your pelvis is large enough to allow the baby's head to move down (descend).
  • This is when your baby's head moves down (descends) further through your pelvis.
  • Most often, descent occurs during labor, either as the cervix dilates or after you begin pushing.
  • During descent, the baby's head is flexed down so that the chin touches the chest.
  • With the chin tucked, it is easier for the baby's head to pass through the pelvis.

Internal Rotation

  • As your baby's head descends further, the head will most often rotate so the back of the head is just below your pubic bone. This helps the head fit the shape of your pelvis.
  • Usually, the baby will be face down toward your spine.
  • Sometimes, the baby will rotate so it faces up toward the pubic bone.
  • As your baby's head rotates, extends, or flexes during labor, the body will stay in position with one shoulder down toward your spine and one shoulder up toward your belly.
  • As your baby reaches the opening of the vagina, usually the back of the head is in contact with your pubic bone.
  • At this point, the birth canal curves upward, and the baby's head must extend back. It rotates under and around the pubic bone.

External Rotation

  • As the baby's head is delivered, it will rotate a quarter turn to be in line with the body.
  • After the head is delivered, the top shoulder is delivered under the pubic bone.
  • After the shoulder, the rest of the body is usually delivered without a problem.

Alternative Names

Shoulder presentation; Malpresentations; Breech birth; Cephalic presentation; Fetal lie; Fetal attitude; Fetal descent; Fetal station; Cardinal movements; Labor-birth canal; Delivery-birth canal

Childbirth

Barth WH. Malpresentations and malposition. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies . 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 17.

Kilpatrick SJ, Garrison E, Fairbrother E. Normal labor and delivery. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies . 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 11.

Review Date 11/10/2022

Updated by: John D. Jacobson, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

Related MedlinePlus Health Topics

  • Childbirth Problems

Obstetric and Newborn Care I

Obstetric and Newborn Care I

10.02 key terms related to fetal positions.

a. “Lie” of an Infant.

Lie refers to the position of the spinal column of the fetus in relation to the spinal column of the mother. There are two types of lie, longitudinal and transverse. Longitudinal indicates that the baby is lying lengthwise in the uterus, with its head or buttocks down. Transverse indicates that the baby is lying crosswise in the uterus.

b. Presentation/Presenting Part.

Presentation refers to that part of the fetus that is coming through (or attempting to come through) the pelvis first.

(1) Types of presentations (see figure 10-1). The vertex or cephalic (head), breech, and shoulder are the three types of presentations. In vertex or cephalic, the head comes down first. In breech, the feet or buttocks comes down first, and last–in shoulder, the arm or shoulder comes down first. This is usually referred to as a transverse lie.

Figure 10-1. Typical types of presentations.

(2) Percentages of presentations.

(a) Head first is the most common-96 percent.

(b) Breech is the next most common-3.5 percent.

(c) Shoulder or arm is the least common-5 percent.

(3) Specific presentation may be evaluated by several ways.

(a) Abdominal palpation-this is not always accurate.

(b) Vaginal exam–this may give a good indication but not infallible.

(c) Ultrasound–this confirms assumptions made by previous methods.

(d) X-ray–this confirms the presentation, but is used only as a last resort due to possible harm to the fetus as a result of exposure to radiation.

c. Attitude.

This is the degree of flexion of the fetus body parts (body, head, and extremities) to each other. Flexion is resistance to the descent of the fetus down the birth canal, which causes the head to flex or bend so that the chin approaches the chest.

(1) Types of attitude (see figure 10-2).

Figure 10-2. Types of attitudes. A--Complete flexion. B-- Moderate flexion. C--Poor flexion. D--Hyperextension

(a) Complete flexion. This is normal attitude in cephalic presentation. With cephalic, there is complete flexion at the head when the fetus “chin is on his chest.” This allows the smallest cephalic diameter to enter the pelvis, which gives the fewest mechanical problems with descent and delivery.

(b) Moderate flexion or military attitude. In cephalic presentation, the fetus head is only partially flexed or not flexed. It gives the appearance of a military person at attention. A larger diameter of the head would be coming through the passageway.

(c) Poor flexion or marked extension. In reference to the fetus head, it is extended or bent backwards. This would be called a brow presentation. It is difficult to deliver because the widest diameter of the head enters the pelvis first. This type of cephalic presentation may require a C/Section if the attitude cannot be changed.

(d) Hyperextended. In reference to the cephalic position, the fetus head is extended all the way back. This allows a face or chin to present first in the pelvis. If there is adequate room in the pelvis, the fetus may be delivered vaginally.

(2) Areas to look at for flexion.

(a) Head-discussed in previous paragraph, 10-2c(1).

(b) Thighs-flexed on the abdomen.

(c) Knees-flexed at the knee joints.

(d) Arches of the feet-rested on the anterior surface of the legs.

(e) Arms-crossed over the thorax.

(3) Attitude of general flexion. This is when all of the above areas are flexed appropriately as described.

Figure 10-3. Measurement of station.

d. Station.

This refers to the depth that the presenting part has descended into the pelvis in relation to the ischial spines of the mother’s pelvis. Measurement of the station is as follows:

(1) The degree of advancement of the presenting part through the pelvis is measured in centimeters.

(2) The ischial spines is the dividing line between plus and minus stations.

(3) Above the ischial spines is referred to as -1 to -5, the numbers going higher as the presenting part gets higher in the pelvis (see figure10-3).

(4) The ischial spines is zero (0) station.

(5) Below the ischial spines is referred to +1 to +5, indicating the lower the presenting part advances.

e. Engagement.

This refers to the entrance of the presenting part of the fetus into the true pelvis or the largest diameter of the presenting part into the true pelvis. In relation to the head, the fetus is said to be engaged when it reaches the midpelvis or at a zero (0) station. Once the fetus is engaged, it (fetus) does not go back up. Prior to engagement occurring, the fetus is said to be “floating” or ballottable.

f. Position.

This is the relationship between a predetermined point of reference or direction on the presenting part of the fetus to the pelvis of the mother.

(1) The maternal pelvis is divided into quadrants.

(a) Right and left side, viewed as the mother would.

(b) Anterior and posterior. This is a line cutting the pelvis in the middle from side to side. The top half is anterior and the bottom half is posterior.

(c) The quadrants never change, but sometimes it is confusing because the student or physician’s viewpoint changes.

NOTE: Remember that when you are describing the quadrants, view them as the mother would.

(2) Specific points on the fetus.

(a) Cephalic or head presentation.

1 Occiput (O). This refers to the Y sutures on the top of the head.

2 Brow or fronto (F). This refers to the diamond sutures or anterior fontanel on the head.

3 Face or chin presentation (M). This refers to the mentum or chin.

(b) Breech or butt presentation.

1 Sacrum or coccyx (S). This is the point of reference.

2 Breech birth is associated with a higher perinatal mortality.

(c) Shoulder presentation.

1 This would be seen with a transverse lie.

2. Scapula (Sc) or its upper tip, the acromion (A) would be used for the point of reference.

(3) Coding of positions.

(a) Coding simplifies explaining the various positions.

1 The first letter of the code tells which side of the pelvis the fetus reference point is on (R for right, L for left).

2 The second letter tells what reference point on the fetus is being used (Occiput-O, Fronto-F, Mentum-M, Breech-S, Shoulder-Sc or A).

3 The last letter tells which half of the pelvis the reference point is in (anterior-A, posterior-P, transverse or in the middle-T).

ROP (Right Occiput Posterior)

(b) Each presenting part has the possibility of six positions. They are normally recognized for each position–using “occiput” as the reference point.

1 Left occiput anterior (LOA).

2 Left occiput posterior (LOP).

3 Left occiput transverse (LOT).

4 Right occiput anterior (ROA).

5. Right occiput posterior (ROP).

6 Right occiput transverse (ROT).

(c) A transverse position does not use a first letter and is not the same as a transverse lie or presentation.

1 Occiput at sacrum (O.S.) or occiput at posterior (O.P.).

2 Occiput at pubis (O.P.) or occiput at anterior (O.A.).

(4) Types of breech presentations (see figure10-4).

(a) Complete or full breech. This involves flexion of the fetus legs. It looks like the fetus is sitting in a tailor fashion. The buttocks and feet appear at the vaginal opening almost simultaneously.

A–Complete. B–Frank. C–Incomplete.

Figure 10-4. Breech positions.

(b) Frank and single breech. The fetus thighs are flexed on his abdomen. His legs are against his trunk and feet are in his face (foot-in-mouth posture). This is the most common and easiest breech presentation to deliver.

(c) Incomplete breech. The fetus feet or knees will appear first. His feet are labeled single or double footing, depending on whether 1 or 2 feet appear first.

(5) Observations about positions (see figure 10-5).

(a) LOA and ROA positions are the most common and permit relatively easy delivery.

(b) LOP and ROP positions usually indicate labor may be longer and harder, and the mother will experience severe backache.

Figure 10-5. Examples of fetal vertex presentations in relation to quadrant of maternal pelvis.

(c) Knowing positions will help you to identify where to look for FHT’s.

1 Breech. This will be upper R or L quad, above the umbilicus.

2 Vertex. This will be lower R or L quad, below the umbilicus.

(d) An occiput in the posterior quadrant means that you will feel lumpy fetal parts, arms and legs (see figure 10-5 A). If delivered in that position, the infant will come out looking up.

(e) An occiput in the anterior quadrant means that you will feel a more smooth back (see figure 10-5 B). If delivered in that position, the infant will come out looking down at the floor.

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  • Prenatal Care

Fetal Cephalic Presentation During Pregnancy

Fetal Cephalic Presentation During Pregnancy

What is Cephalic Position?

Types of cephalic position, when does a foetus get into the cephalic position, how do you know if baby is in cephalic position, how to turn a breech baby into cephalic position.

If your baby is moving around in the womb, it’s a good sign as it tells you that your baby is developing just fine. A baby starts moving around in the belly at around 14 weeks. And their first movements are usually called ‘ quickening’ or ‘fluttering’.

A baby can settle into many different positions throughout the pregnancy and it’s alright. But it is only when you have reached your third and final trimester that the position of your baby in your womb will matter the most. The position that your baby takes at the end of the gestation period will most likely be how your baby will make its appearance into the world. Out of all the different positions that your baby can settle into, the cephalic position at 36 weeks is considered the best position. Read on to know more about it.

A baby is in the cephalic position when he is in a head-down position. This is the best position for them to come out in. In case of a ‘cephalic presentation’, the chances of a smooth delivery are higher. This position is where your baby’s head has positioned itself close to the birth canal, and the feet and bottom are up. This is the best position for your baby to be in for safe and healthy delivery.

Your doctor will begin to keep an eye on the position of your baby at around 34 weeks to 36 weeks. The closer you get to your due date, the more important it is that your baby takes the cephalic position. If your baby is not in this position, your doctor will try gentle nudges to get your baby in the right position.

Though it is pretty straightforward, the cephalic position actually has two types, which are explained below:

1. Cephalic Occiput Anterior

Most babies settle in this position. Out of all the babies who settle in cephalic position, 95% of them will settle this way. This is when a baby is in the head-down position but is facing the mother’s back. This is the preferred position as the baby is able to slide out more easily than in any other position.

2. Cephalic Occiput Posterior

In this position, the baby is in the head-down position but the baby’s face is turned towards the mother’s belly. This type of cephalic presentation is not the best position for delivery as the baby’s head could get stuck owing to its wide position. Almost 5% of the babies in cephalic presentation settle into this position. Babies who come out in this position are said to come out ‘sunny side up’.

When a foetus is moving into the cephalic position, it is known as ‘head engagement’. The baby stars getting into this position in the third trimester, between the 32nd and the 36th weeks, to be precise. When the head engagement begins, the foetus starts moving down into the pelvic canal. At this stage, very little of the baby is felt in the abdomen, but more is felt moving downward into the pelvic canal in preparation for birth.

Fetal Cephalic Position During Pregnancy

You may think that in order to find out if your baby has a cephalic presentation, an ultrasound is your only option. This is not always the case. You can actually find out the position of your baby just by touching and feeling their movements.

By rubbing your hand on your belly, you might be able to feel their position. If your baby is in the cephalic position, you might feel their kicks in the upper stomach. Whereas, if the baby is in the breech position, you might feel their kicks in the lower stomach.

Even in the cephalic position, it may be possible to tell if your baby is in the anterior position or in the posterior position. When your baby is in the anterior position, they may be facing your back. You may be able to feel your baby move underneath your ribs. It is likely that your belly button will also pop out.

When your baby is in the posterior position, you will usually feel your baby start to kick you in your stomach. When your baby has its back pressed up against your back, your stomach may not look rounded out, but flat instead.

Mothers whose placentas have attached in the front, something known as anterior placenta , you may not be able to feel the movements of your baby as well as you might like to.

Breech babies can make things complicated. Both the mother and the baby will face some problems. A breech baby is positioned head-up and bottom down. In order to deliver the baby, the birth canal needs to open a lot wider than it has to in the cephalic position. Besides this, your baby can get an arm or leg entangled while coming out.

If your baby is in the breech position, there are some things that you can do to encourage the baby to get into the cephalic position. There are a few exercises that could help such as pelvic tilts , swimming , spending a bit of time upside down, and belly dancing are a few ways you can try yourself to get your baby into the head-down position.

If this is not working either, your doctor will try an ECV (External Cephalic Version) . Here, your doctor will be hands-on, applying some gentle, but firm pressure to your tummy. In order to reach a cephalic position, the baby will need to be rolled into a bottom’s up position. This technique is successful around 50% of the time. When this happens, you will be able to have a normal vaginal delivery.

Though it sounds simple enough to get the fetal presentation into cephalic, there are some risks involved with ECV. If your doctor notices your baby’s heart rate starts to become problematic, the doctor will stop the procedure right away.

Most babies get into the cephalic position on their own. This is the most ideal situation as there will be little to no complications during normal vaginal labour. There are different cephalic positions, but these should not cause a lot of issues. If your baby is in any other position, you may need C-Section . Keep yourself updated on the smallest of progress during your pregnancy so that you are aware of everything that is going on. Go for regular check-ups as your doctor will be able to help you in case a complication arises.

When The Head Of Baby Turns Down in Pregnancy Transverse Lie Position in Pregnancy Belly Mapping

cephalic presentation mean what

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You and your baby at 32 weeks pregnant

Your baby at 32 weeks.

By about 32 weeks, the baby is usually lying with their head pointing downwards, ready for birth. This is known as cephalic presentation.

If your baby is not lying head down at this stage, it's not a cause for concern – there's still time for them to turn.

The amount of amniotic fluid in your uterus is increasing, and your baby is still swallowing fluid and passing it out as urine.

You at 32 weeks

Being active and fit during pregnancy will help you adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It can also help you cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.

Find out about exercise in pregnancy .

You may develop pelvic pain in pregnancy. This is not harmful to your baby, but it can cause severe pain and make it difficult for you to get around.

Find out about ways to tackle pelvic pain in pregnancy .

Read about the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby. It's never too early to start thinking about how you're going to feed your baby, and you do not have to make up your mind until your baby is born.

Things to think about

  • how you might feel after the birth

Start4Life has more about you and your baby at 32 weeks pregnant .

You can sign up for Start4Life's weekly emails for expert advice, videos and tips on pregnancy, birth and beyond.

Page last reviewed: 13 October 2021 Next review due: 13 October 2024

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What to know if your baby is breech

Find out what breech position means, how to turn a breech baby, and what having a breech baby means for your labor and delivery.

Layan Alrahmani, M.D.

What does it mean when a baby is breech?

Signs of a breech baby, why are some babies breech, how to turn a breech baby: is it possible, will i need a c-section if my baby is breech, how to turn a breech baby naturally.

Breech is a term used to describe your baby's position in the womb. Breech position means your baby is bottom-down instead of head-down.

Babies are often active in early pregnancy, moving into different positions. But by around 8 months, there's not much room in the uterus. Most babies maximize their cramped quarters by settling in head down, in what's known as a cephalic or vertex presentation. But if you have a breech baby, it means they're poised to come out buttocks and/or feet first. At 28 weeks or less, about a quarter of babies are breech, and at 32 weeks, 7 percent are breech. By the end of pregnancy, only 3 to 4 percent of babies are in breech position. At term, a baby in breech position is unlikely to turn on their own.

There are several types of breech presentations:

  • Frank breech (bottom first with feet up near the head)
  • Complete breech (bottom first with legs crossed)
  • Incomplete or footling breech (one or both feet are poised to come out first)

(In rare cases, a baby will be sideways in the uterus with their shoulder, back, or arm presenting first – this is called a transverse lie.)

See what these breech presentations look like .

If your baby is in breech position, you may feel them kicking in your lower belly. Or you may feel pressure under your ribcage, from their head.

By the beginning of your third trimester , your practitioner may be able to tell what position your baby is in by feeling your abdomen and locating the baby's head, back, and bottom.

If your baby's position isn't clear during an abdominal exam at 36 weeks, your caregiver may do an internal exam to try to feel what part of the baby is in your pelvis. In some cases, they may use ultrasound to confirm the baby's position.

We don't usually know why some babies are breech – in most cases it seems to be chance. While sometimes a baby with certain birth defects may not turn to a head-down position, most babies in breech position are perfectly fine. Here are some things that might increase the risk of a breech presentation:

  • You're carrying multiples
  • You've been pregnant before
  • You've had a breech presentation before
  • There's too much amniotic fluid or not enough amniotic fluid
  • You have placenta previa (the placenta is covering all of part of the opening of the uterus)
  • Your baby is preterm
  • Your uterus is shaped abnormally or has growths, such as fibroids
  • The umbilical cord is short
  • You were a breech delivery, or your sibling or parent was a breech delivery
  • Advanced maternal age (especially age 45 and older)
  • Your baby is a low weight at delivery
  • You're having a girl

There is a procedure for turning a breech baby. It's called an external cephalic version (ECV). An ob/gyn turns your baby by applying pressure to your abdomen and manually manipulating the baby into a head-down position. Some women find it very uncomfortable or even painful.

An EVC has about a 58 percent success rate, and it's more likely to work if this isn't your first baby. It's not for everyone – you can't have the procedure if you're carrying multiples or if you have too little amniotic fluid or placental abruption , for example. Your provider also won't attempt to turn your breech baby if your baby has any health problems.

The procedure is done after 36 weeks and in the hospital, where your baby can be monitored and where you'll be near a delivery room should any complications arise.

It depends, and it's something you'll want to talk with your caregiver about ahead of time. Discuss your preferences, the advantages and risks of each option ( vaginal and cesarean delivery of a breech presentation), and their experience. The biggest risk of a breech delivery is when the body delivers but the head stays entrapped within the cervix.

In the United States, most breech babies are delivered via cesarean. You may wind up having a vaginal breech delivery if your labor is so rapid that you arrive at the hospital just about to deliver. Another scenario is if you have a twin pregnancy where the first baby is in the head-first position and the second baby is not. A baby who delivers head-first will make room for the breech baby.

However, the vast majority of babies who remain breech arrive by c-section. If a c-section is planned, it will usually be scheduled at 39 weeks. To make sure your baby hasn't changed position in the meantime, you'll have an ultrasound at the hospital to confirm their position just before the surgery.

If you go into labor or your water will break s before your planned c-section, be sure to call your provider right away and head for the hospital.

In rare circumstances, if you're at low risk of complications and your caregiver is experienced delivering breech babies vaginally, you may choose to have what is called a "trial of vaginal birth." This means that you can attempt to deliver vaginally but should be prepared to have a cesarean delivery if labor isn't progressing well. You and your baby will be closely monitored during labor.

In addition to ECV, there are some alternative, natural ways to try to turn your baby. There's no proof that any of them work – or that all of them are safe. Consult your practitioner before trying them.

There's no conclusive proof that the mother's position has any effect on the baby's position, but the idea is to employ gravity to help your baby somersault into a head-down position. A few tips:

  • Get into one of the following positions twice a day, starting at around 32 weeks.
  • Be sure to do these moves on an empty stomach, lest your lunch comes back up.
  • Make sure there's someone around to help you get up if you start feeling lightheaded.
  • If you find these positions uncomfortable, stop doing them.

Position 1: Lie flat on your back and raise your pelvis so that it's 9 to 12 inches off the floor. Support your hips with a pillow and stay in this position for five to 15 minutes. Position 2: Kneel down, with your forearms on the floor in front of you, so that your bottom sticks up in the air. Stay in this position for five to 15 minutes. Sleeping position

Many women wonder if there are sleeping positions to turn a breech baby. But the positions you use to try to coax your baby head down for a short time shouldn't be used while you're sleeping. (It's not safe to sleep flat on your back in late pregnancy, for example, because the weight of your baby may compress the blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients to them.)

The best position for sleeping during pregnancy is on your side. Placing a pillow between your legs in this position may help open your pelvis, giving your baby room to move more easily. Support your back with plenty of pillows, too. Again, there's no proof that this works, but since it's the best sleeping position for you and your baby, you may as well give it a try.

Moxibustion

This ancient Chinese technique burns herbs to stimulate key acupressure points. To help turn a breech baby, an acupuncturist or other practitioner burns mugwort near the acupressure point of your pinky toes. According to Chinese medicine, this should stimulate your baby's activity enough that they may change position on their own. Some studies show that moxibustion in combination with acupuncture and/or positioning methods may be of some benefit. Others show moxibustion to provide no help in coaxing a baby into cephalic position. If you've discussed it with your caregiver and want to give it a try, contact your state acupuncture or Chinese medicine association and ask for the names of licensed practitioners.

One small study found that women who are regularly hypnotized into a state of deep relaxation at 37 to 40 weeks are more likely to have their baby turn than other women. If you're willing to try this technique, look for a licensed hypnotherapist with experience working with pregnant women.

Chiropractic care

There's a technique – called The Webster Breech Technique – that aims to reduce stress on the pelvis by relaxing the uterus and surrounding ligaments. The idea is that a breech baby can turn more naturally in a relaxed uterus, but research is limited as to the risks and benefits of this technique. If you're interested, talk with your provider about working with a chiropractor who's experienced with the technique.

This is a safe – and again, unproven – method based on the fact that your baby can hear sounds outside the womb. Simply play music close to the lower part of your abdomen (some women use headphones) to encourage your baby to move in the direction of the sound.

Learn more:

  • C-section recovery
  • Third trimester pregnancy guide and checklist
  • Hospital bag checklist

Was this article helpful?

Breech, posterior, transverse lie: What position is my baby in?

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies .

ACOG. 2019. If your baby is breech. FAQ. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/if-your-baby-is-breech Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

ACOG. 2018. Mode of term singleton breech delivery. Committee opinion number 745. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2018/08/mode-of-term-singleton-breech-delivery Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Brici P et al. 2019. Turning foetal breech presentation at 32-35 weeks of gestational age by acupuncture and moxibustion. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2019/8950924/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Ekeus C et al. 2019. Vaginal breech delivery at term and neonatal morbidity and mortality — a population-based cohort study in Sweden. Journal of Maternal Fetal Neonatal Medicine 32(2):265. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28889774/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Fruscalzo A et al 2014. New and old predictive factors for breech presentation: our experience in 14433 singleton pregnancies and a literature review. Journal of Maternal Fetal Neonatal Medicine 27(2): 167-72. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23688372/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Garcia MM et al. 2019 Effectiveness and safety of acupuncture and moxibustion in pregnant women with noncephalic presentation: An overview of systematic reviews. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine 7036914. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31885661/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Gray C. 2021. Breech presentation. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448063/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Meaghan M et al. 2021. External cephalic version. NCBI StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482475/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

MedlinePlus. 2020. Breech - series - Types of breech presentation. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/presentations/100193_3.htm Opens a new window [Accessed November 2020]

Noli SA et al. 2019. Preterm birth, low gestational age, low birth weight, parity, and other determinants of breech presentation: Results from a large retrospective population-based study. Biomed Research International https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6766171/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Pistolese RA. 2002. The Webster Technique: A chiropractic technique with obstetric implications. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 25(6): E1-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12183701/ Opens a new window [Accessed November 2021]

Karen Miles

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  1. Cephalic Position: Understanding Your Baby's Presentation at Birth

    If you're getting closer to your exciting due date, you might have heard your doctor or midwife mention the term cephalic position or cephalic presentation. This is the medical way of saying...

  2. Fetal Positions for Birth

    Policy What is the most common position for childbirth? Ideally for labor, the baby is positioned head-down, facing the mother's back with the chin tucked to its chest and the back of the head ready to enter the pelvis. This position is called cephalic presentation. Most babies settle into this position within the 32nd to 36th weeks of pregnancy.

  3. Cephalic presentation

    A cephalic presentation or head presentation or head-first presentation is a situation at childbirth where the fetus is in a longitudinal lie and the head enters the pelvis first; the most common form of cephalic presentation is the vertex presentation, where the occiput is the leading part (the part that first enters the birth canal). [1]

  4. Cephalic Position During Labor: Purpose, Risks, and More

    The cephalic position is when a fetus is head down when it is ready to enter the birth canal. This is one of a few variations of how a fetus can rest in the womb and is considered the ideal one for labor and delivery. About 96% of babies are born in the cephalic position. Most settle into it between the 32nd and 36th weeks of pregnancy.

  5. Fetal presentation before birth

    Products and services Fetal presentation before birth The way a baby is positioned in the uterus just before birth can have a big effect on labor and delivery. This positioning is called fetal presentation. Babies twist, stretch and tumble quite a bit during pregnancy.

  6. Cephalic Presentation: Meaning, Benefits, And More I BabyChakra

    The cephalic presentation is a birth position where the fetus is head down, facing backward, with their chin tucked and the back of their head ready to enter the birth canal. It is one of the variations of how a fetus rests in the womb and is considered an ideal baby birth position.

  7. Delivery, Face and Brow Presentation

    Cephalic presentation is the most common and can be further subclassified as vertex, sinciput, brow, face, and chin. The most common presentation in term labor is the vertex, where the fetal neck is flexed to the chin, minimizing the head circumference.

  8. Which Way Is Up? What Your Baby's Position Means For Your Delivery

    Cephalic presentation is further broken down by the position of the head; in the vast majority of cephalic deliveries, the crown or top of the head (called the vertex), enters the birth canal first and is the first part of the baby to be delivered. This is what we mean when we say a baby is "crowning".

  9. Your Guide to Fetal Positions before Childbirth

    Head Down, Facing Down (Cephalic Presentation) This is the most common position for babies in-utero. In the cephalic presentation, the baby is head down, chin tucked to chest, facing their mother's back. This position typically allows for the smoothest delivery, as baby's head can easily move down the birth canal and under the pubic bone ...

  10. Baby Positions in Womb: What They Mean

    The baby's chin is tucked into their chest and their head is ready to enter the pelvis. The baby is able to flex their head and neck, and tuck their chin into their chest. This is usually ...

  11. Vertex Presentation: Position, Birth & What It Means

    Cephalic presentation means a fetus is in a head-down position. Vertex refers to the fetus's neck being tucked in. There are other types of cephalic presentations like brow and face. These mainly describe how the fetus's neck is flexed. When does a fetus turn into a vertex presentation?

  12. Your baby in the birth canal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

    Information Certain terms are used to describe your baby's position and movement through the birth canal. FETAL STATION Fetal station refers to where the presenting part is in your pelvis. The presenting part. The presenting part is the part of the baby that leads the way through the birth canal.

  13. 10.02 Key Terms Related to Fetal Positions

    Figure 10-2. Types of attitudes. A-Complete flexion. B- Moderate flexion. C-Poor flexion. D-Hyperextension (a) Complete flexion. This is normal attitude in cephalic presentation. With cephalic, there is complete flexion at the head when the fetus "chin is on his chest."

  14. Fetal presentation: Breech, posterior, transverse lie, and more

    Fetal presentation, or how your baby is situated in your womb at birth, is determined by the body part that's positioned to come out first, and it can affect the way you deliver. ... This is called an external cephalic version, and it has a 58 percent success rate for turning breech babies. For more information, ...

  15. Cephalic Presentation of Baby During Pregnancy

    1. Cephalic Occiput Anterior Most babies settle in this position. Out of all the babies who settle in cephalic position, 95% of them will settle this way. This is when a baby is in the head-down position but is facing the mother's back. This is the preferred position as the baby is able to slide out more easily than in any other position. 2.

  16. What does "cephalic presentation" mean?

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  17. You and your baby at 32 weeks pregnant

    By about 32 weeks, the baby is usually lying with their head pointing downwards, ready for birth. This is known as cephalic presentation. If your baby is not lying head down at this stage, it's not a cause for concern - there's still time for them to turn. The amount of amniotic fluid in your uterus is increasing, and your baby is still ...

  18. cephalic presentation

    presentation of any part of the fetal head, usually the upper and back part, as a result of flexion such that the chin is in contact with the thorax in vertex presentation; there may be degrees of flexion so that the presenting part is the large fontanel in sincipital presentation, the brow in brow presentation, or the face in face presentation.

  19. Breech position baby: How to turn a breech baby

    How to turn a breech baby naturally. Get into one of the following positions twice a day, starting at around 32 weeks. Be sure to do these moves on an empty stomach, lest your lunch comes back up. Make sure there's someone around to help you get up if you start feeling lightheaded. If you find these positions uncomfortable, stop doing them.

  20. Vertex Presentation: What It Means for You & Your Baby

    In layman terms, the head down position is known as 'cephalic presentation' which means that the head of the baby lies towards the mouth of the uterus (cervix) and the buttocks and feet of the baby are located at the top of the uterus. Vertex is the medical term for "crown of head".

  21. Cephalic Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Types & Treatment

    Cephalic disorders happen when something disrupts the development of a fetus' central nervous system. This part of the nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord, both of which are critical parts of how your body works. These conditions range from minor to severe, and sometimes, their effects are deadly. Some are treatable, but this ...

  22. Cephalic Definition & Meaning

    : directed toward or situated on or in or near the head gastropods with cephalic tentacles dragons with cephalic horns cephalically sə-ˈfa-li-k (ə-)lē adverb Examples of cephalic in a Sentence Recent Examples on the Web However, most babies turn into a head-down position (cephalic presentation) somewhere around 36 weeks gestation.