What Is Belly Mapping, And How Do You Do It?

Beautiful woman with baby painted on pregnant belly.Getty

When you’re pregnant, it’s easy to convince yourself that you must be expecting triplets (even if you know differently) — or, like, an octopus. Those seem like the only possible explanations for the fact that your baby feels like it is everywhere in your belly. Because they’re moving all over the place, you can’t tell their tiny little tush from their toes. And it goes without saying that you’d love to know your baby’s position in the womb… if for no other reason than to give yourself a better chance of anticipating the pelvic pain that comes with baby’s sharp kicks to your cramped bladder. Well, it’s time for you to meet belly mapping.

It may sound a little New Age-y, but this technique has been around since at least the ‘70s. Plus, it has a lot of practical value since fetal positioning can greatly affect a mom’s comfort level in both pregnancy and childbirth. So, let’s take a closer look at what belly mapping is and everything else to know about it.

What is belly mapping?

We’ll give you a well-rounded answer to that question by the end of this article. But, basically, belly mapping helps you determine your baby’s position in utero. Meaning if you’ve been wondering how to tell what position baby is in or how to get baby in the right position for birth, you came to the right place.

Midwife Gail Tully, founder of SpinningBabies.com, gets the credit for coining the term “belly mapping.” According to her website, it’s defined as “a three-step process for identifying baby’s position in the final months of pregnancy.”

When can you start belly mapping?

Although every woman and every pregnancy is different, the general rule of thumb is that the best time to do belly mapping is after 30 weeks (or seven to eight months pregnant).

What positions could baby be in?

There are three main positions a baby takes in utero (which is also known as fetal presentation): cephalic, breech, and transverse. But depending on precisely how baby is situated, there are six common fetal positions:

  • Cephalic — occipito-anterior: This is sort of the golden standard when it comes to fetal presentation. It’s the most ideal for childbirth! Basically, baby is upside down facing your back, allowing them to tuck their chin into their chest.
  • Cephalic — occipito-posterior: In this fetal presentation, baby is upside down but facing forward with their back against yours. You’ve probably heard this referred to as “sunny-side up.” Since baby can’t tuck their head into their chin in this position, it makes for a less seamless transition down the pelvis. To avoid this, your healthcare provider may try to manually rotate baby during labor.
  • Breech — frank: If your baby is breech, it means their head is facing up (as opposed to the optimal, down). With frank breech, baby’s legs are pointing up and their butt is closest to the birth canal.
  • Breech — footling: With this presentation, one or both of baby’s feet are pointed downward, making them closest to the birth canal.
  • Breech — complete: Here, baby’s butt is closest to the birth canal, but their knees are bent. It’s almost like they’re sitting criss-cross applesauce.
  • Transverse: If your baby’s fetal presentation is transverse, it means they’re lying horizontally or sideways in your uterus. Here, their shoulder is most likely to come out first, although it’s rare for babies to remain in this position until birth.

How is belly mapping done?

Want to know the fetal presentation of your little chicken nugget? Here’s what you’ll need to do if you want to give belly mapping a shot:

  • Get your supplies: You need a comfortable but relatively firm flat surface to lie on, like your bed or the couch. You’ll also need a sheet of paper and something to draw with. Or you could use paint or non-toxic marker and doodle right on your belly.
  • Find baby’s head: Lying flat on your back or partially reclined, very gently place pressure on your upper pelvic area. Do you feel something hard and round? You’ve probably found baby’s head. Alternately, if you’re pushing on something round and firm-ish (it won’t be as hard as the head) that could be a teeny baby tushie. If baby is moving, pay attention to how it feels. Do you feel like you’re getting strong kicks to your bladder? Those little legs are probably down. If the movements feel more fluttery, you’re probably feeling baby’s hands or fingers down there.
  • Find baby’s back: Once you find baby’s head, move your hands upwards from it. Do you feel a smooth, firm mass? That’s baby’s back! If you don’t feel anything matching that description, baby is probably in the posterior position (aka with their back facing your back), making it hard for you to feel the back.
  • Mark the position: Once you’ve located baby’s head and have a sense of where their back is, go ahead and draw a large circle divided into four quadrants on your paper or belly. Mark where you think both the head and back are. If you have a baby doll handy, you can then use it to visualize from the head and back positioning where baby’s arms and legs might be. Then you can draw those, too.

Can a baby’s position in the womb change?

Not only can it change, it likely will frequently — especially during the first two trimesters. Waiting until after week 30 gives you a better chance of belly mapping when baby is snuggled in more, although they can still change positions on their own at that point as well. If you have any questions about the results of your belly mapping, you can ask your OB to confirm (or disprove, perhaps) your findings at your next appointment.