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Planning for a Breech Birth

A breech baby is a baby who’s positioned so that either the baby's bottom or feet will deliver first. While it’s true that Caesarean sections are the most common way breech babies are delivered in the United States, Great Britain and Australia, Caesarean sections are major surgery and do involve some risk, as with any other surgical procedure. In addition, the uterus is scarred when a Caesarean is performed, which is more likely to rupture during future deliveries. To avoid these risks, many women look for options for delivering their breech babies vaginally.

To know if a breech delivery is an option for you, you first need to know your baby's position. For example, if your baby's head isn’t properly positioned with chin on chest, a vaginal delivery isn’t safe even if your baby were presenting head first. On the other hand, if your baby is frank breech – presenting the bottom first, hips flexed and knees straight – there’s a good chance of vaginal delivery. Two-thirds of all breech babies are in a frank breech position.

A baby in the complete breech position – where the bottom is presenting and the knees are bent but the feet are above the bottom – may also be a good candidate for a vaginal delivery. There are studies that show that breech babies are at no more risk during vaginal delivery than a baby presenting head first. If your baby is in a footling position – presenting feet first – however, this position can be more problematic because the umbilical cord can become entangled with the baby's feet, shutting off the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby.

Parity is another consideration. Parity is just a fancy term for how many children the mother has delivered before. There’s a commonly held belief that a woman who has previously delivered a baby will have an easier time delivering a breech baby. There’s no scientific evidence to prove this, but the belief lingers.

If you plan to go ahead with the vaginal delivery of your breech baby, your next challenge will be finding a practitioner who has experience with vaginal breech births. Legendary midwife Ina May Gaskins and midwives taught by her have a long track record of successful breech deliveries. The best way to find a practitioner who is experienced with breech vaginal deliveries is to call around and ask questions. You’ll also have to decide how far you’re willing to go to find a practitioner if there isn’t one available close by. Different practitioners have differing skill and comfort levels with vaginal breech deliveries. You’ll also need to choose a birthing location that will accommodate your wishes for a breech vaginal birth.

In addition, there are a number of methods you can try to turn a breech baby. Some are decidedly low tech and can be tried at home without risk. Moxibustion and the Webster's chiropractic technique, for example, have demonstrated success in turning babies. A medical procedure known as external version can also be attempted, but only in a hospital setting. Your health care practitioner will be able to advise you as to which of these options may work for you.

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