You might be ready to give birth, but is your baby ready to be birthed?
Leading up to delivery day, many people experience their baby drop into the proper birthing position. But how can you tell when it happens? And when does it usually happen?
In this guide, we’ll go over the frequently asked questions about baby dropping:
- When does baby drop?
- When does baby turn head down?
- What are the typical baby dropping symptoms?
- When baby head is down, how long until labor?
- What happens if baby doesn’t drop?
- How to make baby drop at 39 weeks?
- Can you to turn baby head down naturally?
Keep reading to learn about baby dropping.
Why Does Baby Drop Before Delivery?
Before we answer “when does the baby head turn down?” we should first address why this happens.
Simply put, a baby “drops” and turns their head down into the pelvis to get ready for delivery. They may also rotate so that the back of their head is facing the stomach. This is a sign that labor is coming and they’re getting into the correct position to enter the world. When your baby keeps dropping and enters your vaginal opening, it’s time to start pushing. If a baby doesn’t drop before labor, a doctor will need to consider other delivery methods (more on this later).
The official term for “baby dropping” is “lightening.” It typically happens a few weeks before labor starts. In some cases, a baby drops closer to delivery, only a few hours prior. Lightening could be a sign labor will start shortly or in a few weeks. Other women don’t get the warning and only feel their baby drop when labor begins—every pregnancy varies.
When Does Baby Turn Head Down?
If you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy, you’re probably wondering, “when does my baby turn their head down?”
The answer differs by pregnancy and there’s no specific day or week you can expect your baby to drop. There’s no way to predict exactly when your baby will turn their head down.
Some people feel their baby drop a few weeks before delivery. Other people feel their baby drop closer to the big day, sometimes only a few hours before. It’s possible that you won’t feel your baby drop until right before labor actually begins.
If your baby doesn’t drop before labor, try not to worry. Many babies don’t move into position until active labor starts. This can be normal. Many people don’t experience a drop before and still have healthy, safe births.
Fetal Stations: Baby Dropping “Steps”
Babies typically progressively drop into position. That means your baby probably won’t suddenly drop into your pelvis (unless it happens right before delivery). Instead, over weeks, days, or hours, they’ll slowly move into the correct position.
There’s 11 positions your baby will move through to reach the ultimate position. These 11 positions are called “stations.” The stations range from -5 to +5.
- -5: The starting station.
- 0: Baby’s head is level with the bone points of your pelvis. This is referred to as being “engaged” and “lightening.”
- +1 Baby’s head begins to move past the pelvis bone points.
- +3: The head begins to appear in the birth canal (called “crowning”)
- +5: Baby’s head covers the vaginal opening (before delivery)
With each station, your baby drops about 1cm lower.
Baby dropping isn’t always linear. A baby might move between positions before ultimately settling into a +5 position. For example, a baby at a +1 position can go back to a -1 position. She’ll then progress back to 0, +1, +2, etc.
Doctors monitor the fetal head stations your baby moves into. Your doctor might check during an appointment in your third trimester or only on delivery day (depending on when your baby drops). Your doctor checks the fetal station to understand how labor is progressing. They might also take other measurements, like cervical dilation.
Baby Dropping Symptoms
When you’re in the third trimester, you’re probably looking out for baby dropping symptoms. In general, when your baby’s head drops, you’ll be able to tell because you’ll notice a few changes.
Baby dropping symptoms include:
- Finding breathing easier (less pressure on your diaphragm)
- Less frequent heartburn
- Increased discharge (as cervix gets thinner)
- Urge to urinate more often (increased pressure on your bladder)
- Small urine leakage from pressure
- Pelvic discomfort (slight pain when baby changes position is expected, but see your doctor if you have regular or intense pain)
- A lower belly bump (if you’ve been carrying your baby higher throughout the first trimesters)
- Harder to walk
- Back pain (added pressure on lower back muscles)
- Feeling kicks lower in the belly
- Hemorrhoids (increased pressure on pelvis and rectum)
Not all people experience baby dropping symptoms. If you’ve held your baby lower throughout your pregnancy, the change of her dropping might not be drastic enough to notice. On the other hand, if your baby is higher up, a big drop will be more likely to catch your attention.
What Does Baby Dropping Feel Like?
If this is your first time giving birth, you might wonder what it actually feels like once your baby has turned their head down and dropped. Here are some phrases people use to describe the sensation of their baby dropping:
- Walking with a bowling ball between your legs
- Walking like a penguin
- An obvious “pregnancy waddle”
- Baby feels heavier
- Pants quickly feel tighter
- Breathing and eating easily for the first time since becoming pregnant
- Feeling like baby is so low that they will “fall out”
When Baby Head is Down, How Long Until Labor?
You might wonder, “when baby’s head is down, how long until labor?”
It may be impossible to predict how long after the drop that delivery will happen. As we discussed above, baby dropping is typically a progression that can happen slowly or quickly. Your baby may drop and you may suddenly go into labor—or you may drop and wait weeks.
For example, your baby may quickly drop to station/position +5 as soon as you go into active labor. Other babies will slowly work down to position +5 over the course of days or weeks.
What If Baby Doesn’t Drop?
First, it’s important to know that some babies don’t drop until labor actively starts. At this point, they’ll quickly move through the stations until they enter the birth canal, ready to be pushed out.
In other cases, a baby may move downward but doesn’t progress through the cervix. If this happens and you’re unable to push your baby out, a doctor will need to look at other delivery options. This may include:
- Cesarean delivery (C-section)
- Use of forceps
- Use of Vacuum
How to Make Baby Drop at 39 Weeks
If your baby hasn’t dropped yet and you’re anxious to give birth, you might wonder, “how can I make my baby drop at 39 weeks?”
First, know that it’s normal if you’re at 39 weeks and haven’t felt your baby drop yet. Many babies don’t get into position until the big day or until active labor.
Although you can’t make your baby drop, there’s certain movements that can encourage her to move into the correct position. These involve motions that open up the hips and pelvic muscles.
Here’s some exercises if you’re wondering how to turn your baby’s head down naturally:
For more tips on how to make your baby drop at 39 weeks, watch the video below.
In general, exercise can encourage your baby to move into the correct position. Exercise is generally considered safe and recommended during pregnancy (unless your doctor has told you otherwise). Read our pregnancy exercise guides:
- Exercise During Pregnancy – The Benefits
- 11 Easy and Super Fun Pregnancy Exercise Ideas That You’ll Actually Do
- 7 Exercises to Make Labor Easier and Less Painful
If you’re at 39 weeks of pregnancy, you might also consider asking your doctor about induction. Although different doctors induce at different times and in different situations, you can discuss your options as the due date gets closes or passes.
Summary: When Does Baby Head Turn Down?
Nearing the end of your journey, you probably have many questions like “when does baby drop” or “when does baby head turn down?” A baby’s head turning down is a sign that she’s getting ready to be birthed by getting into the correct position. Dropping can take place over weeks or days leading up to delivery. It could also happen on delivery day or even during active labor. Although it’s impossible to predict, your doctor will monitor the fetal stations/positions on delivery day.
P.S. Do you have a pocket fetal doppler yet? These handheld devices allow you to listen to your baby before birth! They provide reassurance and bonding for mom and the whole family!