If your baby is in your pelvis with their head pointing down, facing your back, it can make giving birth easier. Find out more about baby positions in the womb here.
The best position for your baby to be in for the birth is head down, with his back against your belly, facing your back. This way, he can fit through your pelvis more easily. He can flex his head and neck, tucking his chin into his chest, so that the narrowest part of his head (the back) is pressing on your cervix, helping it to open. The flexible joints in his skull allow the head to change shape and make its way more easily down the birth canal during labour.
This position is know as ‘occiput anterior’ (OA), meaning that the back of the baby’s head, or ‘occiput’, is at the front, or ‘anterior’. The majority of babies lie this way.
If the baby is lying to your left, it will be written in your maternity notes as LOA (left occiput anterior).
If the baby is lying to your right, it will be written in your notes as ROA (right occiput anterior).
You can read more about babies which are not head down in our article on breech babies.
Some babies lie with their back against their mother’s back. This is known as an ‘occiput posterior’ (OP) position. Labour tends to take longer if he is in this position because he can’t tuck his chin in very easily and getting through the pelvis is more awkward. If a baby is in this position, it often causes backache during labour.
Lounging on sofas and sitting in cars for long periods may make babies more likely to lie in a posterior position. Because the back of your baby’s body is heavier than the front, his back will tend to roll toward the direction you’re leaning in. So if you’re leaning backward or reclining (as on a sofa), his back may roll toward your back – so he will be in a posterior position.
If you’re leaning forward, however, his back may roll toward your front – an anterior position.
If you’re in a position in which your knees are below your hips, this creates more space for the baby’s head to lie in the front of your pelvis. Some babies, however, will not shift their position.
There are things you can try to get your baby into the best position for birth.
It’s not always easy to tell which way round your baby is lying, but your midwife should be able to tell you. There are also some signs that you can look for.
If he is lying OP or ‘back to your back’, your bump may feel squashy and you may feel (and see) kicks in the middle of your belly. Another particular tell-tale sign is a dip around your belly button.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about pregnancy, labour and life with a new child.