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Presentation and position of baby through pregnancy and at birth

8-minute read

If you are concerned about your baby’s movements, contact your doctor or midwife for advice immediately.

Key facts

  • Presentation refers to which part of your baby’s body is facing towards your birth canal.
  • Position refers to the direction your baby’s head or back is facing.
  • Your baby’s presentation will be checked at around 36 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Your baby’s position is most important during labour and birth.
  • If you baby is in a breech presentation, your doctor may recommend trying a technique called an external cephalic version to try and move your baby while they are still in the uterus for an easier birth.

What does presentation and position mean?

Presentation refers to the part of your baby’s body that is facing downwards in the direction of the birth canal.

Position refers to where your baby’s occiput (the bottom part of the back of their head) is in relation to your body.

If your baby is in a breech presentation, then position refers to where your baby’s sacrum (lower back) is in relation to your body.

People — including medical professionals — sometimes use these terms incorrectly. Sometimes when speaking about babies in breech presentation, the word ‘position’ will be used to refer to their presentation. For example, you may read information or hear people say ‘breech position’ instead of ‘breech presentation’.

What are the different types of presentation my baby could be in during pregnancy and birth?

Most babies present headfirst, also known as cephalic presentation. Most babies that are headfirst will be vertex presentation. This means that the crown of their head sits at the opening of your birth canal.

In rare cases, your baby can be headfirst but in face or brow presentation, which may not be suitable for vaginal birth.

Vertex, brow and face presentations
Illustration showing the vertex, brow and face presentations.

If your baby is in a breech presentation, their feet or bottom will be closest to your birth canal. The 3 most common types of breech presentation are:

  • frank or extended breech — where your baby’s legs are straight up in front of their body, with their feet up near their face
  • complete or flexed breech — where your baby is in a sitting position with their legs crossed in front of their body and their feet near their bottom
  • footling breech — where one or both of your baby’s feet are hanging below their bottom, so the foot or feet are coming first

Read more on breech presentation.

What are the different positions my baby could be in during pregnancy and birth?

If your baby is headfirst, the 3 main types of presentation are:

  • anterior – when the back of your baby’s head is at the front of your belly
  • lateral – when the back of your baby’s head is facing your side
  • posterior – when the back of your baby’s head is towards your back
Anterior, lateral and posterior fetal presentations
Top row: ‘right anterior — left anterior’
Middle row: ‘right lateral — left lateral’
Bottom row: ‘right posterior — left posterior'

How will I know what presentation and position my baby is in?

Your doctor or midwife can usually work out your baby’s presentation by feeling your abdomen. They may also double check it with a portable ultrasound. Your baby’s presentation is usually checked around 36 weeks.

Your doctor or midwife will also confirm your baby’s head position in labour by examining your belly and using an ultrasound, and they may also do a vaginal examination. During the vaginal examination they are feeling for certain ridges on your baby’s head called sutures and fontanelles that help them work out which way your baby is positioned.

What is the ideal presentation and position for baby to be in for a vaginal birth?

For a vaginal birth, your baby will ideally be headfirst with the back of their head at the front of your belly, also known as being in the anterior position. This position is best for labour and birth since it means that the smallest part of your baby’s head goes down the birth canal first.

Vertex presentation, showing the narrow part of the baby’s head
Illustration of the vertex presentation, showing the narrow part of the baby’s head.

When does a baby usually get in the ideal presentation and position for birth?

Your baby will usually be in a headfirst position by 37 weeks of pregnancy. Around 3 in every 100 babies will be in breech presentation after 37 weeks.

Your baby’s position can change with your contractions during labour as they move down the birth canal, so their exact position can change during labour.

What are my options if baby isn't in the ideal presentation or position for a vaginal birth?

If your baby is in a breech presentation, your doctor may recommend a technique called an external cephalic version (ECV) to try and move your baby while they are still in the uterus. An ECV involves your doctor using their hands to apply pressure on your belly and help turn your baby to a headfirst position. It has a 1 in 2 chance of success and is a safe option in most pregnancies.

There is no evidence to show that alternative therapies, such as exercises, acupuncture or chiropractic treatments, help your baby change from a breech presentation to headfirst.

If your baby remains breech, your doctor may discuss having a breech vaginal birth. Not all doctors and hospitals offer this option. They may also suggest you birth your baby with a planned caesarean section.

If your baby’s presentation is headfirst but the position of your baby’s head is not ideal for labour, it can lead to a longer labour, and potential complications. The position of your baby’s head will often change as your labour progresses. If it doesn’t, sometimes you can still give birth without assistance, or you may need your doctor to help turn your baby’s head or help your birth with a vacuum or forceps.

Any procedure or decision for a type of birth will only go ahead with your consent. You will be able to discuss all the options with your doctor, and based on your preferences for yourself and your baby’s safety, make a decision together.

Resources and support

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has a factsheet about the options available to you if your baby is in a breech presentation at the end of your pregnancy.

Mercy Perinatal has information on external cephalic version (ECV) safety and benefits if your baby is in a breech presentation at the end of your pregnancy.

The Women’s Hospital has information about the different presentations and positions your baby could be in, and how it can affect your birthing experience.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023


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Need more information?

Breech presentation and turning the baby

In preparation for a safe birth, your health team will need to turn your baby if it is in a bottom first ‘breech’ position.

Read more on WA Health website

Breech Presentation at the End of your Pregnancy

Breech presentation occurs when your baby is lying bottom first or feet first in the uterus (womb) rather than the usual head first position. In early pregnancy, a breech position is very common.

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

External Cephalic Version for Breech Presentation - Pregnancy and the first five years

This information brochure provides information about an External Cephalic Version (ECV) for breech presentation

Read more on NSW Health website

Breech pregnancy

When a baby is positioned bottom-down late in pregnancy, this is called the breech position. Find out about 3 main types and safe birthing options.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Malpresentation

Malpresentation is when your baby is in an unusual position as the birth approaches. Sometimes it’s possible to move the baby, but a caesarean maybe safer.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Labour complications

Even if you’re healthy and well prepared for childbirth, there’s always a chance of unexpected problems. Learn more about labour complications.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

External cephalic version (ECV)

ECV is a procedure to try to move your baby from a breech position to a head-down position. This is performed by a trained doctor.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

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The articles in this section relate to having a baby – what to consider before becoming pregnant, pregnancy and birth, and after your baby is born.

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Your pelvis helps to carry your growing baby and is tailored for vaginal births. Learn more about the structure and function of the female pelvis.

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