Turning a Breech Baby with ECV (External Cephalic Version)

With only 4 weeks to go our baby was showing no signs of turning to the head first position, and we were given a number of options including an ECV (External Cephalic Version). Whilst there was plenty of information that tried to describe the procedure and give statistics on the success rates; I was not able to find any testimonies from people that had actually had a successful ECV, and the only people that we’d spoken to with a first hand experience it had either failed, or the baby had turned back again. Here’s our own experience which other couples may find useful. This is provided from the Dad’s perspective, although I have obviously discussed with my wife what she went through.

A breech baby is where the bottom is facing the lower part of the womb (ie. head up). This can cause problems with a vaginal delivery as it means that the bottom (or legs) will be delivered first and the widest part of the baby, the shoulders and head, are delivered last. Whilst a vaginal breech delivery was an option it is not something we wanted due to the risks involved. Rather than go immediately for a cesarean section (the third option) we chose to attempt an ECV (External Cephalic Version), in the hope of having a normal vaginal delivery. We had been told that the odds of a successful turn were between 50 and 60% (depending upon who we spoke to).

The procedure was booked in for the 37th week of pregnancy. My wife was told not to eat anything for 8 hours and so was very hungry when we arrived at the labour ward which is where the procedure was to be performed. The reason for this is that if the baby was in any distress during the procedure then she would be wheeled through to the theatre for an emergency C-Section, this is a very rare occurrence and the procedure carried very little risk. We were taken to one of the delivery suites and the baby was monitored and a trace of the baby’s heart rate recorded. Then the obstetrician came through to speak with us. She checked the position of the baby to see that it was still in breech. She then discussed the procedure and explained that because this was the first pregnancy and that the baby was in an extended breech (legs up in front of the body) that the success rate was actually only about 35%, but that she would have a go.

An injection was given, under the skin in the arm, to relax the muscles in the uterus. A portable sonography machine was brought into the room and a scan of the baby done to ensure it was not in any distress and to see where the placenta was in relation to the baby. My wife was given Entenox for pain relief and olive oil was applied to her tummy. The obstetrician then turned the baby, by holding the baby’s head with one hand (which just followed the baby), and by pushing the bottom with the other hand. This was all done externally through my wife’s tummy. The obstetrician explained that this would be uncomfortable, but not painful. My wife however said that this was a painful procedure, although the gas and air helped. Part-way through the procedure the obstetrician checked the baby by performing a scan and then continued with the rest of the turn. The baby turned without too much difficulty and was confirmed to be head down with another scan. The actual turn took approximately 15 minutes.

After the procedure was complete the baby monitor was reapplied for about 30 minutes to confirm that the baby was not in any distress as a result of the procedure. We then went home after spending a total of two and half hours in the hospital. The baby has so far remained in the head down position and the chance of it turning back is very slim. Although there are a large percentage of ECVs that aren’t successful, the fact that we now have a good chance of a normal delivery means that it was worthwhile going for the ECV.

More information about ECVs at

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