What to Know About the Vertex Position

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on August 28, 2022
3 min read

When you give birth, your baby usually comes out headfirst, also called the vertex position. In the weeks before you give birth, your baby will move to place their head above your vagina.

Your baby could also try to come out feet-first, bottom-first, or both feet- and bottom-first. This is the breech position and only happens in about 3% to 4% of births. Your baby could also be in transverse position if they’re sideways inside of you. If your baby is in breech position or transverse position, your doctor will talk to you about different options that you have to give birth.

Before you give birth, your baby will change positions inside of you. But when labor begins, babies usually move into the vertex position.

They will move farther down to the opening of your vagina. The doctor or midwife will instruct you on pushing your baby until their head is almost ready to come out. You'll take long, deep breaths to oxygenate the baby. A slow birth of your baby’s head will also help stretch the skin and muscles around your vagina.

Breech position. If your baby is still in the breech position at 36 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor may offer you an external cephalic version (ECV), which is where a doctor puts pressure on your uterus to try to turn your baby to a headfirst position. It may be slightly uncomfortable or even painful, but it’s generally a safe way to help your baby reach the vertex position. ECV helps babies get to a headfirst position about 50% of the time.

You shouldn’t have an ECV if you have had recent bleeding from your vagina, if your baby’s heartbeat is abnormal, if your water is broken, or if you’re pregnant with more than one baby.

If ECV doesn’t work, you’ll either have a cesarean section (C-section), which is when a baby is delivered through a cut in the uterus and abdomen, or a vaginal breech birth.

It may not be safe to have a vaginal breech birth if your baby’s feet are under their bottom, your baby is bigger or smaller than average, your baby is in an odd position, you have a low placenta, or you have preeclampsia, which is when you have high blood pressure and damage to organs with pregnancy.

Transverse position. If your baby is laying sideways across your uterus close to the time of delivery, your doctor would offer an ECV or C-section. 

Your doctors may be able to turn your baby to a headfirst position, but if they can’t or you begin labor before they can turn your baby, you’ll most likely have a C-section.

ECV problems. If your baby isn’t in vertex position and your doctor uses ECV to move them, some problems can happen. Your amniotic sac, or the part that holds liquid during pregnancy, can break early, your baby’s heart rate may change, your placenta may pull apart from your uterus, or you could go into labor too early.

Your baby may also move back into a breech position once your doctor moves them into vertex position. Your doctor can try to move them again, but this gets harder as the baby gets bigger.

Breech birth problems. If you give birth in the breech position, your baby’s body may not be able to stretch your cervix enough for their head to come out. Your baby’s shoulders or head could get stuck against your pelvis.

Breech births can also cause your umbilical cord to go into your vagina before your baby does. This is an emergency and requires an immediate C-section.

C-section problems. Since this is a major surgery, infections, bleeding, and organ damage can happen. C-sections can also cause you to have issues with later pregnancies, such as a tear in your uterus or issues with your placenta.