Belly Mapping 101: How to Know if Baby Is Head Down

Belly mapping is a method created by Gail Tully of Spinning Babies that helps women and their providers figure out baby’s position in your uterus. It’s a fabulous tool that mamas can use at home to know if baby is head down!

In this article, you will learn when babies typically turn head down, what the optimal position for birth is, details about various head down positions, and how to belly map!

We’ll wrap up with a brief discussion of things you can do if you do find yourself with a breech baby and a due date that’s getting closer and closer.

Are you ready? Let’s go!

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When does a baby turn head down?

This is a question on a LOT of mamas’ minds during pregnancy. I think a lot of us know that baby being head down is the way to be. So many women contact me when they hit their third trimester and baby is sitting breech.

If this is you – take a deep breath! Babies change their position a fair amount while growing in your belly, and the stats are there for you to NOT be overly concerned about baby’s position until much, much closer to your due date.

According to this article, 97% of babies will be head down by the time you are full term! And as your pregnancy progresses, the likelihood that baby will get into that position gets better and better.

The OBGYN quoted in that article estimates that before 28 weeks 75% of babies will be head down, and by 32 weeks around 90% of babies are head down.

And as for the other 3% who are not head down by full term? The VAST majority are born safely via planned C-section, vaginally after a successful ECV, or by vaginal breech birth. I’m telling you that because we need to normalize not stressing moms out about baby’s positioning! And that is not my intention with this article.

What are the head down positions?

So you may be wondering what all of this head down talk is about? Like I said before, it’s likely you know head down is best. But did you know that in addition to being head down, we describe baby’s position even more specifically based on the direction they are facing, and which way their head is tilted?

There are actually over 10 different head down positions! But, for the purposes of this article, let’s review the three broad terms that we use to describe a head down baby:

  • Occiput Anterior (OA): This is when baby is head down and looking at your back. This is considered the optimal position for vaginal birth!
  • Occiput Posterior (OP): This is when baby is head down and looking at your belly button. Sometimes this position is referred to as “sunny side up”
  • Occiput Transverse (OT): This is when baby is head down and looking at your right or left hip

Learn more about the occiput posterior position in this article.

Why does baby’s position matter?

Baby’s position during birth matters because when baby is positioned optimally, you have a higher likelihood of spontaneous labor. The reality is, letting your body go into labor spontaneously versus electively being induced is associated with fewer maternal complications. 

While neonatal outcomes were shown to be unaffected, C-section rates, rate of labor interventions (epidurals, labor augmentation, use of forceps), and lengths of hospital stay for mom were all significantly higher during elective inductions (source).

Other benefits of optimal positioning

Optimal positioning is also associated with less instances of interventions such as vacuum delivery, C-section, epidural use, and more.

Sometimes labor stalls because baby is not in an optimal position (this happened during my second birth when my guy was OP!). If this happens to you, focus on changing positions frequently to encourage baby to change positions (your nurse can help with this!).

Babies can be born OP or OT, but many times they rotate during labor and come out OA.

Belly Mapping

So, how do you determine which way baby is lying in there without an ultrasound? Spinning Babies has a method called “belly mapping” that is REALLY useful for this. Belly mapping helps identify a baby’s position in the final months of pregnancy and even during labor.

You may be able to tell which side your baby’s back is on, which movements are from the feet, and which are from the hands. If you decide to do this please keep in mind that while knowing your baby’s position is helpful, it is not diagnostic and won’t tell you for sure how your labor will go.  

How to belly map?

Gail Tully from Spinning Babies has a fabulous and FREE handout for parents that you can access here. But I’ll adapt it a bit here (with full credit to her!) for your reference, too!

  1. Become aware of baby’s movements. Take a few nights before you even attempt belly mapping to become used to your baby’s movements. If you’re doing your daily kick counting, you might already have a good sense of this – but think about which movements might be kicking, punching, stretching, etc.
  2. Get a marker to use on your actual belly, or draw a circle on a piece of paper and divide it into 4 quadrants to mark where we feel things
  3. Find your baby’s head by feeling for a small bowling ball. Based on the percentages above, figure out how likely it is that baby is head down and begin feeling gently for their head above your pelvis
  4. Once you’ve got the head mapped, you are going to work on figuring out which way baby is facing in there – Spinning Babies recommends the use of a doll or stuffed animal to help you visualize this
  5. Finding their back is the next logical step. Baby’s back will feel like a long, hard, smooth mass from the outside. Based on their head, you may be able to figure out where their back is lying (off to the right or left, or right down the middle)
  6. Pay attention to where you’re feeling kicks hit you to help decide which way they’re facing – feeling kicks in the ribs can mean an anterior positioning and kicks on your upper abdomen might mean posterior
  7. The feeling of fluttering near the head can indicate arm movements. How these feel might also give clues to whether baby is facing out, in, or to the side

What can I do if my baby isn’t in an optimal position for birth?

So if you do your belly mapping, or have an ultrasound and find out baby isn’t yet in that ideal OA position, there are things you can do to encourage it!

Spinning Babies

First, check out the Spinning Babies website for some helpful tips and tricks. They also have an awesome eBook Helping Your Breech Baby Turn. This is the MOST comprehensive eBook I’ve found for anyone dealing with a breech presentation! They reference a 90% success rate in flipping babies!

The Webster Technique

You can also find a chiropractor in your area that is certified in the Webster Technique and has experience working with pregnant women. The Webster Technique is a gentle adjustment that aligns the pelvis and releases soft tissue to associated muscle groups. It has been shown to be effective in moving baby into a head down position. 

External cephalic version

Finally, you can ask your provider to perform an external cephalic version. This is a technique where we turn baby manually from the outside!

It is typically performed around 37 weeks. The success rate is around 58% and there are several factors to discuss with your provider on whether trying it is worth it or not! Not everyone is eligible, and there can be risks involved – but worth asking about!

Wrapping up

The main thing I want you to take away from this article is not to stress about baby’s position before your birth! Like I said at the beginning – around 97% of babies flip to head down by the time mama is full term.

Now that you’ve read this article, you know how to use belly mapping to figure out which way baby is sitting in there, and what you can do if baby is still breech!

Looking for more birth education? Our online birth classes are here to give you the tools and knowledge you need to let go of fear and feel confident before birth – no matter how you deliver!

Liesel Teen, BSN-RN
Founder, Mommy Labor Nurse

Meet Liesel Teen

Hi there. I’m Liesel!

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

When you know what to expect and have the tools to navigate the experience, you’ll feel confident and in control.

I believe you deserve a better birth — no matter how you deliver.