Using External Cephalic Version to turn Breech Babies

There are a couple of techniques that can potentially turn a breech baby.  Below we discuss external cephalic version.  For an alternative technique, see our Blog on using the Webster Technique.  Two very different techniques.

External cephalic version is a medical procedure used to turn a baby from a breech or a transverse position into a head-down position.  It is a manual procedure conducted by a doctor and is usually conducted around 37 weeks’ gestation.

Watch a successful external cephalic version here.

What happens during an external cephalic version

External cephalic versions are offered to expectant mothers with low-risk singleton pregnancies. During the procedure, the mother and baby will be monitored to ensure that there is no distress to either of them. Generally, hospitals inject the mother with a small amount of Ventolin to relax the uterus.

First of all, the procedure [1] will commence with the doctor placing his hands on the mother’s abdomen. The doctor then uses external pressure to move the baby up and away from the pelvis. This is done by gently moving his hands around the mother’s abdomen (either clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion). Applying pressure at the baby’s head and buttocks, so that the baby faces in the new head down position.

Up to three attempts will be made to turn the baby.

Furthermore, you should also note that if you are Rhesus negative, it is likely you will require an injection of Anti-D.

What is the likelihood of success?

It is difficult to predict the likelihood of success because there are so many external factors to take into account and everyone’s situation is different.  However, you the likelihood of success is more predictable when taking into account factors such as:

  • the doctor’s experience. Some doctors have a reputation for having ‘magical hands’ and have a very successful rate.
  • whether you have had a previous baby
  • your maternal weight,
  • the size of your baby,
  • whether your baby has engaged in your pelvis,
  • the position of your placenta. Is your placenta in the normal position close to your spine (a non-anterior placenta)?
  • whether your baby has a palpable head,
  • how relaxed your uterus is, and
  • whether you have a normal amount of amniotic fluid.

Disqualifying factors

Most noteworthy is that you will not be a candidate for an external cephalic version if you have:

  • had any bleeding in the third trimester
  • an unusually shaped uterus (bicornuate uterus)
  • high blood pressure or diabetes or some other medical condition that will prevent an external cephalic version.

Will it hurt?

No. It may be a little uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be painful. However, if at any point you’d like the doctor to stop then don’t be afraid to ask.

Risks and complications

As with any medical procedure, there are always risks. However, to minimise these risks, you will be monitored by your medical team both before and after the procedure. Some risks include:

  • premature rupture of the membranes,
  • severe discomfort for the mother
  • umbilical cord entanglement
  • placenta abruption
  • preterm labour
  • a suborn baby who just doesn’t want to turn

Risks of causing harm to the baby are generally low. However, if complications arise, you may require an emergency caesarean section.

[1] This is a medical procedure which carries risks. Only a professional who is trained in external cephalic versions should carry out the procedure.

Hi! Natural Birth and Motherhood is about empowering women who are going through the stages of pregnancy, birth, or motherhood.  Find out more useful information on related topics by clicking on the Blog button below.

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