Updated on November 30th, 2023 // by Katie Griffin
Are you wondering how to tell if your baby is head down as you approach your due date? There are 3 main methods used to determine if baby is in a head down position. Let’s discuss those methods, including what it feels like when baby is head down and tips to keep baby in the best position.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Table of contents
- How to Tell If Baby Is Head Down #1: Leopold’s Maneuvers
- How to Tell If Baby Is Head Down #2: Location of Heartbeat
- How to Tell If Baby Is Head Down #3: Ultrasound
- What Does It Feel Like When Baby Is Head Down?
- How Can I Do To Keep My Baby In a Head Down Position?
- What is the Difference Between “Head Down” and Baby “Dropping”?
At some point in the last trimester, your baby is going to settle into his favorite position for birth. Most babies will move to a head down position by around 28–30 weeks of pregnancy, and 97% will be head down at birth. This is ideal for moms planning a natural birth, since it’s the position most likely to lead to a safe and uncomplicated labor and birth (1).
However, some babies stay in a breech position or transverse lie past 34 weeks of pregnancy. If attempts to turn the baby aren’t successful, there is a chance that your little one will be born through a cesarean birth.
With that in mind, it’s understandable that many moms want to know how to tell if baby is head down as early as possible. Starting at around week 27 of your pregnancy, your doctor will check baby’s position during each prenatal visit. Expect them to use one, or a combination, of the following techniques:
How to Tell If Baby Is Head Down #1: Leopold’s Maneuvers
Leopold’s maneuvers are a technique where your doctor or midwife will check your baby’s position by pressing her hands into your abdomen and feeling the baby. You can even try it yourself at home! Here are the four simple steps:
Step 1: Begin by pressing around the top of your uterus — an area known as the fundus.
- If baby is head down, you will feel a bottom. Baby’s bottom feels soft with small bones protruding out.
- If baby is in a breech position, you’ll feel a head. The head is hard, firm, and will move independent of baby’s body.
Step 2: Next, feel for the location of your baby’s back by placing your hands on the side of your abdomen.
- Baby’s back will feel firm and smooth.
- Hands and feet are found on the other side, and will feel small and knobby.
Step 3: Now feel for the round head lying just above the pubic bone.
- If the head is down but isn’t engaged in the pelvis yet, you may be able to gently push it back and forth.
Step 4: Finally, place both hands on your lower abdomen and move gently down the sides of the uterus towards your pelvis.
- Your doctor will do this to feel if baby’s head is well flexed and tucked into the chest.
Are Leopold Maneuvers Accurate?
After all 4 maneuvers are done, your doctor will have a fairly accurate picture of your baby’s position. With that said, it takes a lot of practice to get good at this technique. It’s also difficult to do on a mom who has a higher body weight or has lots of amniotic fluid. So, unfortunately it’s not 100% accurate.
How to Tell If Baby Is Head Down #2: Location of Heartbeat
The location of your baby’s heartbeat can also be very telling about whether your baby is head down. If the head is down near the pelvis, it makes sense that baby’s heartbeat would be found just above the pelvis, below your belly button.
Is Heartbeat Location Accurate?
Still, the location of the heartbeat is also not entirely reliable. Electronic monitors like dopplers may pick up the beat, even if the monitor is far from the heart. Additionally, since water carries sound, extra amniotic fluid can skew the results.
Other Info Provided by the Heartbeat
In the picture above, the dots show the general location of baby’s heartbeat in relation to the most common head down positions. It can be a fun exercise to see what extra information the location of the heart beat can tell you about baby’s position in the pelvis. Here’s a brief explanation of the abbreviations:
- Right (R) or left (L) side of the pelvis
- Occiput (O) is a fancy word that describes the back of baby’s head. It means that the head is the body part pointing downward into the pelvis.
- Anterior (A) or posterior (P) help you know whether the back of baby’s head is pointing towards the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of your pelvis.
How to Tell If Baby Is Head Down #3: Ultrasound
Are you wondering how to tell if baby is head down with 100% accuracy? Ultrasounds are your answer!
Ultrasounds allow your caregiver to clearly view your baby and her position inside the uterus. However, they aren’t routinely performed to tell the baby’s position. It would likely only be used only if both Leopold’s maneuvers and the location of the heartbeat suggest that your baby may not be head down.
What Does It Feel Like When Baby Is Head Down?
The sensation and physical experience of baby turning to a head-down position is often subtle, and you may not feel any drastic change. Some women don’t even notice it immediately. However, some common experiences include:
Movement: You might start to feel different types of movements. Kicks may shift to the upper part of your belly or ribs.
Body Parts: We touched on this in the section about Leopold’s Maneuvers, but when baby is head-down, you can often feel the long, hard, rounded surface of baby’s back on one side of your belly. Or you may feel the firm, round shape of baby’s head in your pelvis. It may even feel slightly springing to your gentle touch due to the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
Baby’s Hiccups: You may have already been feeling the rhythmic taps of your baby hiccuping in the womb. But now you’ll feel these movements lower in your belly near the pelvis. This is because the baby’s diaphragm (which is causing the hiccups) is located higher up in the torso.
How Can I Do To Keep My Baby In a Head Down Position?
Once your baby has turned into a head-down position, which is the optimal position for birth, there are several things you can do to encourage the baby to stay in this position:
- Good Posture: Practice good posture to provide your baby with more room to stay in a head-down position. Sitting up straight and avoiding slouching can help maintain the position.
- Prenatal Yoga: Certain yoga poses are beneficial for maintaining the baby’s position. Poses that open the pelvis and align the uterus, like the Cat-Cow stretch, can be helpful. Remember, always consult with a prenatal yoga instructor for guidance.
- Pelvic Tilts: Doing pelvic tilts can help. You can do this by getting on your hands and knees and gently rocking your hips. This position helps to relieve pressure and can encourage the baby to nestle into the pelvis.
- Avoid Certain Positions: Try to avoid sitting in deep, cushy sofas or recliners that encourage a reclined, laid-back position as this can encourage the baby to move into a posterior position (baby’s back against your back), which is less optimal for birth.
- Use an Exercise Ball: Sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair can encourage good posture and alignment. It allows your pelvis to be in a more open position.
- Stay Active: Regular, gentle activity like walking can help maintain your baby’s position by keeping your pelvis moving and encouraging the baby to settle down into the pelvis.
- Sleeping Positions: Sleeping on your side, especially the left side, can help maintain the baby’s position. Avoid sleeping on your back in the later stages of pregnancy.
What is the Difference Between “Head Down” and Baby “Dropping”?
Baby in a Head-Down Position:
To recap, the head-down, or cephalic position…
- Refers to your baby’s orientation in the uterus. It means that baby’s head is pointing down toward the birth canal.
- Babies get into the head-down position several weeks before labor begins, starting as early as 28 weeks of pregnancy. The exact timing of this can vary.
- Being head-down doesn’t mean that labor is imminent. It’s just a sign that the baby is aligning himself for the birth process.
Baby “Dropping” or “Lightening”:
- Dropping or lightening is a term used to describe the moment when the baby settles, or drops, lower into the pelvis.
- In first-time moms, this often occurs in the final weeks before birth, towards the end of the third trimester. In moms who have given birth before, it may not happen until labor has already started.
- When the baby drops, it’s a clear signal that your body is preparing itself and your baby for birth.
- The way your body feels when baby drops is more pronounced than when baby moves into a head-down position. Symptoms include pelvic pressure, breathing becomes easier, increased swelling in the legs, and more.
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- Ladewig, P., London, M., & Davidson, M. (2006). Contemporary Maternal-Newborn Nursing Care, 6th edition. Pearson Education Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ. p 392, 426-428.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2017). Frequently Asked Questions Special Procedures: Ultrasound Exams. Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Ultrasound-Exams.