Belly Mapping: How To Tell If Baby Is Head Down

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May 18, 2018

Like a game of Guesstures in your belly, your baby is constantly poking and prodding around inside of you.

Is that hard, lumpish mass pushing up into your ribs a bottom or a head? You might be wondering if those fluttering sensations in your lower abdomen could be feet or hands, and whether or not your baby is in an optimal position for delivery.

Each gesture you feel can tell you something about how your baby oriented inside the womb. Fortunately, there’s a simple way you can track these movements and determine your baby’s exact position. It’s called “belly mapping”.

What Is Belly Mapping?

The Belly Mapping technique was created by Spinning founder Gail Tully.

It is the process of tracking your baby’s kicks and wiggles as a way to discover their position in your uterus without an ultrasound.

It can take some practice, so this article will give you the knowledge to discover your baby’s position and provide some tips on doing it as successfully as possible.

Starting at the end of your second trimester, around month six, you should be able to guess your baby’s position.

The Benefits of Belly Mapping

Besides satisfying curiosity, what other benefits come from knowing which direction your baby is facing?

For one, knowing if your baby is head down or feet down (breech) will help you better prepare for delivery.

If your baby is breech you can see a Webster-trained chiropractor, acupuncturist, or start doing exercises to flip a breech baby.

Or, if your baby remains breech and your doctor isn’t prepared to deliver a breech baby, you can seek out a more supportive care provider who is comfortable with the safety of vaginal breech delivery.

You will also be better prepared to make an informed decision about whether to be induced or not, and you’ll be able to understand how your baby will descend during labor.

Babies are born most easily in a head down, occiput anterior position, meaning the back of your baby’s head is facing outward, toward your belly button.

Babies can and do come in other positions; occiput posterior is when the back of your baby’s head is towards your spine, which can make descent slower and sometimes more painful.

Your baby might also come with a nuchal hand; when a baby has a fist that crowns with their face or before their head.

Interestingly enough, babies who favor the left side of the uterus and an anterior position tend to have shorter labors.

Babies who are posterior will often try to turn around in early labor, which sometimes leads women to believe they are in “false” or pre-labor, due to the start and stop nature of these early positioning contractions.

A significant 15-20% of babies start labor in a posterior position, but only about 8% are born this way. Knowing your baby’s position can help you make better decisions for helping your baby be born more readily.

How To Map Your Belly

1) Step 1

You will need:

  • A non-toxic marker or fingerpaint
  • A comfortable place to lie down
  • A small doll (optional)

2) Step 2

It’s best to start this process right after coming home from a prenatal appointment where you ask your doctor to help you find your baby’s head.

You’ll also want to know where your baby’s heartbeat is “located” to help with your mapping.

You can use a fetoscope at home if you like (a fetoscope is a special stethoscope that can be used to hear your baby’s heartbeat without a doppler).

Settle into a comfortable position on the floor, bed, or couch, laying down on your back or reclining.

3) Step 3

Start by feeling for your baby’s head. For most women, their baby will be head down, very low and just above the pubic bone.

It feels like a large, hard softball that can kind of jiggle back and forth just a little. If your baby’s head is up by your ribs, it will move more freely.

Heads and bottoms can be hard to discern between at times, so note this: a bottom will not move as freely as a head, since the head can wobble on the neck.

Find what you think is the head and find the bottom and wiggle both back and forth.

If your baby’s whole body seems to move, you found the bum. If just the hard object seems to move, you found the head.

When you find it, take your marker and put a line or an “X” for the head.

4) Step 4

Then, think about where your baby’s heartbeat was found (or find it yourself – your partner may need to help) and put another mark there, maybe a little heart if you want to get fancy.

Your baby’s heartbeat is most easily heard directly at their back, so feel for a long, hard mass leading up from the head and draw a line along it on your belly.

You can keep the line faint for now if you’re not certain.

If you can’t find this long, hard part of your baby, then your baby is probably posterior.

You’ll feel a softer, open area instead, with limbs facing forward jabbing outward against your stomach. Mark this area as your baby’s back.

Find your baby’s bottom. Draw a curved line (or two) for the bum.

It will be opposite the head.

5) Step 5

Next, mark where you feel the most kicks. You’ve been feeling kicks and wiggles for weeks now; where are the smaller flutters? Where are the big jabs? Think about where you’ve been feeling them.

If your baby is head down, most likely their hands are near their face, so that’s where you can expect to feel flutters.

You’ll feel these tiny movements towards your back if your baby is anterior, or towards your front, if your baby is posterior.

If your baby hasn’t moved for a while, drink a glass of orange juice (or any fruit juice) and lay down again. Sometimes that can get your baby going.

6) Step 6

Once you have these marks on your belly, hold up the doll if you have one and position it to match the marks you made. Now you can visualize your baby in a whole new way!

There’s a lot of variation to this technique since your baby could be in any number of positions, have bent or extended legs or arms, be facing up or down, backward or forwards.

Be patient, have fun, and note that it’s very unlikely that you’ll hurt your baby trying belly mapping.

Are you a visual learner? Check out this video on Belly Mapping from Mama Natural:

Can’t Feel Your Baby’s Position?

Remember, first of all, that belly mapping is an imprecise science and that babies are changing position constantly until the end of the third trimester, which is when they should finally settle down right as they start running out of room before they are born.

Second, there are situations that can make feeling your baby’s position more difficult. Having a very firm pregnant stomach, excess amniotic fluid, an anterior placenta, or extra cushion around your middle can make it more difficult to assess your baby’s position.

You can always ask your doctor or midwife to show you where your baby’s head is, as they should be confident in feeling with their hands.

Your midwife or doctor can also listen for your baby’s heartbeat with a fetoscope or doppler, another clue to the belly mapping puzzle since your baby’s heart is most easily heard from their back.

The heartbeat will be fainter and more difficult to find if your baby is posterior since their back will be towards your spine.

Ultimately, if your care provider suspects your baby is breech they may order an ultrasound, which is the most accurate way to know where your baby is hanging out.

Due to the potential impact on your baby’s development, ultrasounds shouldn’t be used unless there is a medical indication.

What To Do When Your Baby is Posterior

First, relax.

You may hear many stories of posterior-facing babies having more difficult and longer labors, but that doesn’t have to be the case for you. Here are a just few ways to help your baby rotate:

1) Abdominal Lift And Tuck

A special Spinning Babies technique you can use to help baby rotate.

2) Hands and Knees/Cat Cow Stretch

Just as it sounds, you start this position on your hands and knees.

You can crawl around your house (chase your other kids, if you have them!) or stay in place and alternate arching and dipping your back.

Creates room for your baby and the stretching feels so good, especially in late pregnancy.

3) Good Posture

Sitting up straight and keeping your pelvis wide open when you sit will help your baby to rotate on their own.

It will also help your back feel better and keep your muscles and joints relaxed for labor.

What To Do When Your Baby Is Breech

You can still belly map when your baby is breech (head up).

Breech can be difficult to determine at times, depending on your baby’s position, and sometimes an ultrasound will be recommended.

If you have an ultrasound, be sure to ask about all the details you can; which way baby is facing (anterior or posterior), how your baby’s head is tilted and flexed, where your baby’s legs are, and what type of breech position your baby is in.

This can help you determine the safety of having a vaginal birth.

Your baby could also be laying sideways, called transverse.

If your baby is transverse at the time of labor, a cesarean section will be necessary.

For more on breech belly mapping, it’s best to go to the expert advice on this article at

Entire articles have been written on what to do when your baby is breech.

If you try belly mapping and suspect a breech baby before 36 weeks, there’s no need to be concerned, even if your doctor mentions a cesarean.

The truth is that the vast majority of babies will turn head down on their own before 36 weeks. Many more breech babies will turn before labor.

The few who don’t can many times be birthed vaginally with support from a skilled and knowledgeable care provider, although these are unfortunately rare.

If your care provider doesn’t support your desire for vaginal breech birth, you can either find a new care provider who will help you deliver your baby vaginally, try everything to help your baby flip, or elect to have a cesarean section.

If you want to try flipping your baby, there are a number of things you can do; from a bag of peas on your stomach where your baby’s head is located to visiting an acupuncturist for a moxibustion treatment.

Your doctor can also attempt an ECV, using their hands to manually flip your baby.

If you choose a cesarean section, your doctor will assume you want to schedule it for convenience.

If your baby is happy and healthy inside of you, consider waiting until after your baby’s due date, at least, or waiting until labor begins before going in for the cesarean section.

A number of babies will flip head-down from breech right before labor, or even DURING labor.

And always have your doctor check which direction your baby is facing (breech or head down) right before they operate, to be sure your baby is still breech and that you don’t have to have an unnecessary surgery.

Whatever you decide, know that you’re making the best decision for your baby and that you have a right to receive the care you desire.

What To Do When You’re Expecting Twins

Twins really throw a wrench into all sorts of plans, but they can certainly benefit from the techniques from Spinning Babies!

If your babies share an amniotic sack, determining their positioning may be more difficult, due to limbs being more tangled together.

If they have their own sacks this will help.

You’ll want to try the same methods described above to determine your babies’ positions, and, together with your midwife or doctor, you should be able to figure it out without using ultrasound.

For optimal positioning and body-balancing, Tully recommends starting Spinning Babies exercises at the beginning of your second trimester when you are pregnant with twins.

Balancing your body creates space for their bodies; it’s a win-win.

Using these techniques can help breech twins turn head down, or at least baby A (the first baby who will come out) to turn head down.

If baby A is head down, they will pave the way, so to speak, for baby B, and even if baby B is breech they should come out easily and no cesarean section will be needed.

Belly Mapping is Fun!

Have fun with this incredible technique!

It could even make a really enjoyable baby shower game, or create a special connection between you and your birthing partner when done together.

Being pregnant is such a unique time. Your birth experience will go so much smoother when you have knowledge of where your baby is located and what direction they are facing.

Knowing your baby’s positions helps you, it helps your doctor, midwife, and doula all work with you and your baby to help them be born in the best way.

If you want to, after belly mapping you can get crazy with the paints and make a beautiful, full-color picture of your baby, or you can invite a henna artist to come paint a lovely mandala around your baby on your gorgeous pregnant belly.

Whatever you do, be sure to take this time to celebrate your incredible body and the miracle of growing a child, and admire how your body and your baby work together in perfect synchronization to grow and be born!

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