Amidst all the pushing and pains of labour, many women forgot to pay attention to the way that the baby comes out. Fortunately, this is why a whole team of medical professionals are on hand to make sure baby is entering the world in the right direction. Moms are, after all, too busy in the process and probably have their eyes clenched shut from the effort of pushing. Fair enough, too.
The way that a baby presents itself to the world is really important. In an ideal world, all babies would come out head first. This is the best position for a baby to slide through the birthing canal in a smooth and effortless process (smooth and effortless for some, that is!).
If babies aren’t born head first, this is called a ‘breech’ birth. This basically means that the baby is coming out no matter what body parts are making their grand appearance first. Typically, a breech birth means that the first thing to see the light is going to be the baby’s little bottom or a teeny tiny foot kicking into the world.
Breech births aren’t overly common and generally aren’t life threatening. Doctors and midwives have ways to re-position the baby to ensure the head comes out first. But just why is it so important to see that head coming through the enlarged hole first? What difference does it really make? And when did we start placing so much emphasis on it.
Find out just why babies have to come out head first with these 12 explanations to sort a few things out.
12Save The Best For Last
It doesn’t take much but a first glance at a newborn to realise that the head is disproportionately larger than the rest of the body. It doesn’t stand out a lot, but the head certainly is the biggest part of the newborn baby. Obviously, things are going to grow and balance out, but in that moment the head is dominating.
During development in the womb, too, the head grows the fastest out of any other body part of the baby. Take another look at your ultrasound photo and see just how big the baby’s head is. This is no trick of the screen - at a certain point during pregnancy the baby’s head is 50 per cent of its whole mass!
So, with this is mind, it makes sense that the biggest part of the baby comes through first. It’s like a cat trying to figure out if it can fit through a hole in the fence. If the whiskers say no-go to the head, the tail certainly isn’t going to make it!
11Clear The Way
The journey from womb to world is an extensive one and little baby has a long way to go. Of course, mom is helping out with all the pushing and heaving trying to get that big headed baby through a narrow birthing canal.
While the vagina does grow from the size of a cherry to a bagel during the labour process, the space still really isn’t that big when you think about a whole baby coming through. However, when baby is coming out head first, it does make life somewhat easier.
When the head is guiding the rest of the body, it means that the baby is able to clear the pelvis smoothly. On a woman’s pelvis, there are bone points called ischial spines. These are the most narrow parts of the pelvis and the bits where the most pushing is needed. The baby’s head is able to press against these and find a pathway out, making the rest of the birth somewhat smooth.
10Follow The Leader
Not only is the head the biggest part of the baby’s body that needs to come out, it is also the easiest one to maneuver. Think about this one in terms of a bird swallowing a fish (the opposite result of pregnancy, in a way). Birds generally always swallow fish head first. This is so that the fish can’t flail their flapping tail and get things choked up for the bird who just wants some dinner.
When it comes to pregnancy, it is a similar idea, but in producing life rather than taking it away. Basically, once the head is out, the rest of the limbs follow suit. The head is smooth and round and just glides out, dragging the body with it. If it were the feet going through, they are at risk of wandering any which way and getting stuck along the journey. Feet were made for walking, sure, but in the case of giving birth they are made for following without objection!
9Feet Don't Breathe
A big part of coming into the world is taking the first breath of fresh air. For babies, this is a really important step in becoming part of the human world and stepping away from life in the womb. Obviously, oxygen is a pivotal factor in this procedure.
In utero, the baby has been receiving oxygen via mom’s breaths which are delivered through the placenta. Now, it is time for baby to take the first breath using the lungs. When a baby is born head first, the oxygen reaches the mouth as soon as the birth canal is cleared. This gives the baby a chance to feel the air, suck in a breath, and gets those lungs functioning immediately. The first breath is as vital as the rest to come. Really, it is better for the head to come out first - the feet or butt aren’t going to do much with that oxygen.
8Thanks To Human Evolution
For those who believe in evolution, this makes a lot of sense. For those who don’t believe in evolution, it’s an interesting theory nonetheless. Being bipedal basically refers to the way that humans walk on two feet. As the female body evolved and became bipedal, the way that the baby developed and the birthing system worked had to change as well.
With bipedalism, the pelvis of females became more bowl shaped and narrow. This allows the body’s weight to balance on the pelvis and keep things upright. It also allows the body to transmit the distribution of weight to the legs and make walking happen. However, in this process, the birthing canal became narrow as well, along with the pelvis. This narrow birth canal means there is only room for one limb at a time to come out, and going back to the head being the biggest, it all makes sense.
7It's Been Long Enough
There is a reason that babies stay in the womb for 9 months, or longer if they are too nice and cosy to come out. This is the because they need all that time for development, ensuring their limbs are strong enough to brave the world and their organs are functioning in a prime way to embrace the oxygen and light waiting for them at the end of the tunnel.
Also, by the end of their duration of time in the womb, babies will have moved around a lot (made mom feel a few kicks and hiccups along the way) and transitioned to the ideal position for presentation, that is with their head is facing down.
In the case of breech births, these are more likely to occur before 30 weeks. When babies are born pre term, they haven’t had the right amount of time to get themselves into the ideal position for birthing. Timing is key, in more ways than one, with birthing.
6Baby Can't Get Any Bigger
The female body knows when the baby is ready to come out, not just because mom-to-be is entirely sick of hosting that growing baby inside the womb, but also because of the weight of the baby. When the baby reaches a certain weight and size, it starts to shift around in the womb. This shifting motion is the baby positioning itself with the head facing downwards, getting ready for the main event.
When the baby is in this position, often referred to as ‘dropped’ or ‘dropping’, it means things are getting serious. This is because the baby is healthy and strong and ready to fly the nest, so to speak. Realistically, the baby is ready to make the journey through the birth canal, ideally head first. This is why the baby drops and faces down, so that the head can lead the way through. Even at such a young age, baby knows what’s best. Good work, human biology!
5Keep Your Hands Where I Can See 'Em
Now, we said earlier that the doctors and midwives who are part of the professional medical team have their methods to resolve a breech birth. Their methods are safe and reliable and work in the vast majority of cases. But if these methods can be avoided, that is going to work better for all involved.
The way that doctors or midwives deal with a breech birth is to turn the baby. This means that their hands have to go up your vaginal opening (which is no drama since now it has the circumference of a bagel) and grab hold of the baby in the womb and give it a little rotational twist.
So, while the pains of labour are peaking and the screams of terror are echoing around the room (generally from mom-to-be, sometimes from partner watching), the last thing anyone really wants is a pair of hands making their way up the place a new life is trying to come out. Make it easier for everyone, baby.
4For Everyone’s Sake
As with anything in life, giving birth is a matter of safety first. A breech birth can lead to complications for both the baby and mom, such as a ruptured uterus. For the baby, a birth where anything but the head comes out first means there is an increased chance of choking.
If baby tries to come out feet or bottom first, the umbilical cord is going to get caught up in the mess somewhere. Dragging the umbilical region out before the head has passed doesn’t spell good news for anyone. The umbilical cord, or belly button, is geographically closer to the feet in a newborn but is more important to the head in the birthing process. This is called compromised circulation. It isn’t actually choking, but rather an increased chance of asphyxiation, a breathing difficulty in which the umbilical vessels are compromised before baby can take the first important breath.
3No One Wants To Be Stuck
Giving birth, as often as it is done by women around the world, is still a scary procedure that has many risks. Fortunately, nature and biology have taken care of most of the risk assessment and made everything so much easier for life. All that’s left is the pushing and pain, and science has taken care of that one with epidurals!
When it comes to the baby coming out head first, this is essentially to minimise risks. It is the ideal position because it ensures the rest of the baby’s body is in prime position to follow on through. Any other position means that there is a risk of things getting stuck, from a foot to the umbilical cord. It is a squirmish image to imagine the baby’s foot getting caught on the exit, or the umbilical cord getting wrapped around an AWOL leg. In fact, it’s an image we don’t want to imagine. So let’s just focus on the head coming out first for all the right reasons!
2Because The Womb Says So
Once again, we’ve got to give a hand to Mother Nature, human biology, and evolution (if you believe in the latter). Thanks to this combination, the womb of a female is made to be positioned in a way that allows it to give birth. Even better, it is designed in an aerodynamic way that makes it easier for the baby to glide out head first.
Essentially, the shape of the uterus changes as pregnancy goes along. After all, it does grow from the size of a peach to a watermelon throughout those 9 months. The other thing that happens is the position of the uterus and the baby inside the uterus. As the baby gets bigger and heavier towards the end of the pregnancy term, the uterus shifts forward and drops down lower. This isn’t because the weight of the baby is dragging it down, but because it is prepping for the main event and situating itself in an aerodynamic alignment.
1The Spine Is Boss
The position of the baby before it comes out into the world is super important, not just for the birth process but the first few minutes of life after. Complicated births can lead to complicated lives, which is why we all like to see the head coming out that birthing canal first. This all comes back to physiological alignment and what the body was designed to do.
Basically, if you stand up straight, your head is upright and straight. The head being in this position pulls everything else into line, including the spine. If the head turns, the rest of the body turns, which also turns the spine. Makes sense? So for the baby to come out in the smoothest and straightest way possible, the head really needs to set the direction and the pace. A straight head means a straight spine and a straight spine means good news for all.
Sources: Readysteadybaby.com, Parents.com, Reddit.com
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