Diagnosis of breech presentation

On abdominal palpation the fetal head is found above the mother's umbilicus as a hard, smooth, rounded mass, which gently 'ballots' (can be rocked) between your hands.

Why do you think a mass that 'ballots' high up in the abdomen is a sign of breech presentation? (You learned about this in Study Session 11 of the Antenatal Care Module.)

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The baby's head can 'rock' a little bit because of the flexibility of the baby's neck, so if there is a rounded, ballotable mass above the mother's umbilicus it is very likely to be the baby's head. If the baby was 'bottom-up' (vertex presentation) the whole of its back will move of you try to rock the fetal parts at the fundus (Figure below).

Figure 8.3 (a) The whole back of a baby in the vertex position will move if you rock it at the fundus; (b) The head can be 'rocked' and the back stays still in a breech presentation.

Once the fetus has engaged and labour has begun, the breech baby's buttocks can be felt as soft and irregular on vaginal examination. They feel very different to the relatively hard rounded mass of the fetal skull in a vertex presentation. When the fetal membranes rupture, the buttocks and/or feet can be felt more clearly. The baby's anus may be felt and fresh thick, dark meconium may be seen on your examining finger. If the baby's legs are extended, you may be able to feel the external genitalia and even tell the sex of the baby before it is born.

Last modified: Monday, 14 July 2014, 2:28 PM