Fetal problems in breech position

The vast majority of breech position newborns are normal at birth. But fetal abnormalities are more common in breech newborns than in newborns delivered in the head-down position.

In more than 50% of breech births, there is no apparent cause for the fetus's failure to turn head-down.1 However, experts have noted that some fetal conditions, such as neurological and muscular problems, are linked to breech birth. Such conditions are thought to make a fetus less able to turn to the head-down vertex position before birth.2

Fetal problems most commonly seen in breech infants born at full term include:1

  • Trisomy 21, a type of Down syndrome, affecting about 1 in 200 breech infants.
  • Anencephaly , affecting about 1 in 250 breech infants.
  • Hydrocephalus , affecting about 1 in 167 breech infants at birth.
  • Cardiovascular problems, affecting about 1 in 200 breech infants.
  • Gastrointestinal problems, affecting about 1 in 200 breech infants.

Many of these conditions can be detected by tests early in pregnancy.


  1. Cruikshank DP (2003). Breech, other malpresentations, and umbilical cord complications. In JR Scott et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 9th ed., pp. 381–395. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. Cunningham FG, et al. (2005). Breech presentation and delivery. In Williams Obstetrics, 22nd ed., pp. 565-586. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated: April 28, 2008

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