A common concern of most expectant moms is whether or not their baby is head down in the womb.
Knowing your baby’s position can help you prepare for labor. It also makes it easier to discuss your birth plan with your doctor or midwife, as the baby’s position in the womb can have an impact on labor.
I know every mama wants to have a smooth labor, so I’m discussing one technique to solve the mystery of baby’s position in utero – belly mapping.
Belly mapping is gaining popularity as an at-home method of understanding your baby’s position. It can also be an opportunity for other members of the family (like a partner or siblings) to participate in the pregnancy and empowers moms to approach labor confidently.
If you’d like to learn belly mapping, here’s a guide on things to remember and how to get started.
What To Know Before Belly Mapping?
- The best time to do it is after 30 weeks (or 7-8 months) (1).
- It may be easier to map your belly after an appointment with your doctor or midwife because the professionals can help you get an idea of the baby’s general position.
- Certain factors such as the placement of your placenta, amniotic fluid levels, and tummy tone affect how you feel the sensations of kicks & bumps which help you map baby body parts (2).
- Choose a time when your baby is usually active, and ensure you have a comfortable, quiet spot to relax.
Before you start, watch this video inspired by the pioneer of the Belly Mapping process, Gaily Tully.
What Do I Need?
The first thing you’ll need is an appropriately pregnant belly, of course!
You can either choose to draw a representation of your belly on a piece of paper or draw directly on your belly. If you decide to draw directly on your belly, choose a nontoxic marker or paint. Either way, divide the circle into quadrants to help you identify the various parts of your belly and where movements occur.
It’s also helpful to have a baby doll handy, to help you visualize baby’s head and limbs. Now let’s get started!
How To Do Belly Mapping
1. Locate Your Baby’s Head
Get comfortable in a quiet space where you can concentrate on baby’s movements without distraction for at least 15-30 minutes. Sometimes it’s easier to tell baby’s position if you are at least partially reclined, or if it’s not too discomforting, fully reclined on your back.
Relax and breathe deeply and slowly to notice more movements.
First, let’s find your baby’s head. Apply gentle pressure using your fingertips to the upper part of your pelvis/pubic bone. If you feel something round and hard, it’s likely the head.
Instead, if what you feel is rounded but softer, it’s probably baby’s bottom. You may also try grasping and gently wiggling the body part – the head would tilt or move independently while moving the bottom would shift your baby’s entire body (3).
Your baby is also likely head down if you’ve felt hiccups lower in your belly.
Once you’ve determined the position of the head, mark this area with a circle either on your belly or the paper.
2. Find Their Back
After finding the head, move your hands along your stomach, feeling for a long, hard, smooth mass. This indicates the position of the baby’s back.
Sometimes you will feel it fully on one side of your belly or another. Mark this with a curved line either on your paper or your skin.
If you can’t feel any hard mass, this could mean their back is in line with your back, in a posterior position. In this case, you may feel more limbs or a softer mass which is your baby’s tummy as opposed to their spine.
3. Use Your Doll Prop
Based on the positioning of the circle and line on your tummy, you have an idea where your baby’s limbs may be.
Now, move the doll around to mirror what you already marked on your tummy, and use the sensations of kicking and movement you feel to visualize your baby’s position in the womb.
You can also mark kicks and movements with dots or waves corresponding to the sensation, to give you a sense of the movement pattern. Are all the kicks on one side, indicating the direction of baby’s legs? Do you feel flutters down low, indicating they’re stretching their arms in that area?
4. Know The Different Baby Positions
The most commonly known positions for baby to be in are either head down or breech, but did you know these are not the only possible positions?
- Head Down – 97% of babies will be in the head down position by the time labor begins after 37 weeks.
- Breech – there are multiple breech positions, depending on the baby’s legs and feet. The baby may be bum first, feet first, or cross-legged. (4)
- Posterior – This is sometimes referred to as “sunny side up,” where the baby faces outwards towards mom’s belly button.
There are also a variety of other possible positions baby can be in, and head down is not the only determinant of ideal baby positioning. The Spinning Babies website explains other ways baby might present and how it impacts birth & labor.
Your baby’s position in-utero can also change frequently, especially in the first and second trimesters, before they get much larger (5).
Depending on how far along you are, there are many options you can discuss with your healthcare provider. These may include at home exercises, alternative therapies, and doctor led treatments to move your baby into a head down position.
Of course, the first step would be to verify the baby’s position with your healthcare professional. Take any next steps only with their guidance and advice.
What Should I Do Next?
Now that you’ve done a visual map on your belly of the baby’s position, by:
- Locating the head and marking with a circle.
- Marking baby’s back on your belly.
- Mapping movements and patterns.
You can take things one step further by turning your map into a beautiful work of belly art using paint to create an artistic representation.
I’ve seen some beautiful examples of this, for you creative mamas out there!
The Bottom Line
Belly mapping can be a wonderful exercise to include other members of your family in your developing pregnancy. Partners can help with feeling your belly for baby’s position, bringing them closer to you and the growing baby. Siblings may even enjoy marking movements based on your cues.
It is reassuring to have your babe be head down from 32-34 weeks on. However, some moms place a lot of importance on specific positioning. Some positions promote easier labor and vaginal birth, but the baby’s position can change tremendously during labor. As you enter the last trimester, there are some things you can do to promote an easier labor position. Move often, use proper posture, and sit upright. However, the most important intervention is to relax and trust your body. Often, babies flip to the perfect position during labor.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Have you ever done belly mapping before? Are you the creative mama who turned theirs into a full work of art? Share with me in the comments below; I’d love to hear your stories.
If you have any other expectant mamas in your life, share this article with them – they’ll enjoy the experience of bonding with their baby in this way.