What is belly mapping and how do I do it?

Belly Mapping!

For those of you who know what belly mapping is, would you agree with me this is one of the more fun topics of pregnancy??? The mystery and suspense of figuring out the clues is something that really appeals to my personality. And to those of you who don’t yet know, you are in for a treat!

Unlike some other pregnancy-related-topics that tell you exactly what is going on by the title (like “Lightning crotch” ouch! Or “Stretch marks”) belly mapping is slightly less clear in its title, but it makes sense pretty quickly. Belly Mapping is basically an attempt to determine the position of your baby in utero by feeling your belly with your hands, and also observing the sensations of movement and making sense of those movements. I guess “Feeling for and determining Baby’s position” wasn’t as catchy of a title as Belly Mapping. Also, I love the cute pictures of pregnant bellies with a globe painted on them. So at least in my opinion, the title can stay.

What is belly mapping and how do I do it? Belly mapping. position of baby. pregnancy. new mom

There are experts

Believe it or not, there are experts in the field who can give you directions and pointers on how to map your belly, and determine baby’s position. Spinningbabies.com is one of those places. I’d recommend you go check them out! That’s where I started when I was pregnant and interested in knowing how my baby was positioned. However, no matter how good the experts are, or how clear the directions they give, you still have to start from square one and learn as a novice… It’s going to be confusing at first. But trust me, you only get more skilled and knowledgeable as you go. And to me, this skill is one that is *super* rewarding without much time spent, the effort made, and there is zero expense.

When to start?

Honestly, it’s hard to tell the baby’s position until the baby starts to get squished in there! Twenty weeks is on the EARLY end of even having a faint clue. That doesn’t mean you can’t start! Just remember, it’s all about learning and less about “getting it right” at this point. Later on, maybe 28 weeks you might be getting better clues. By 32 weeks it still may seem confusing, especially if your baby has lots of fluid or is VERY active, or on the flip side very still.

My personal experience was in starting at about 20 weeks with my middle child (daughter) and thinking “Huh, I think this baby might be breech?” I practiced for weeks, feeling, poking, prodding… and mostly just having fun. After a time I realized I had started too early and lost interest in doing it every day. Then around 35 weeks or so I realized, “I bet I can figure out baby’s position” and soon discovered baby was breech. She stayed that way until after 40 weeks, then flipped all on her own. It was *awesome* knowing that she was definitely no longer breech based on her movements, feeling where her head was down low (and wasn’t under my rib anymore!), and verifying it by recognizing her heartbeat was down low instead of up high.

How to do it?

Let me be honest. My husband gets kind of freaked out by me belly mapping. It makes him nervous for me to poke and prod and squish and feel around on my belly where the baby is. You also might feel a bit nervous at the beginning. After all, it seems that anything more firm than a caressing hand on our belly just might hurt the baby in there. Whatever you do, just know that it is much more likely that you will hurt yourself before you could even hurt the baby.

What I like to is to lay on my back on my bed, or the floor, and first feel down at the bottom of my belly between my womb and my pelvic bones. The first time I did this I was surprised to find I could “lift” my uterus up and get my fingers between it and the bones as if I was lifting a large water-balloon. If the baby is big enough, and head down, you can feel the head like a round firm softball (or whatever size your baby’s head is!) and it’ll shift around a little but not much. It’s neat to “lift” the baby and head up and let it re-settle back into the pelvis bones. It sounds hard, but it’s very very gentle, kind of exciting, and maybe enough to know “Awesome! The baby IS head down.”

My breech baby felt WAY different when I did this. She “floated” more. There was no big round firmness down there, and the baby’s shifting movement when I “lifted” was much much much easier and squishier and all around she didn’t feel engaged in any way.

What about kicks?

Kicks and punches are super helpful clues about baby’s positioning. For example, with my first, even though I never belly mapped with him, I know he was head down, back to my left side, and hands and feet on the right. How? Because I remember very vividly the big round head down (my doctor always confirmed head down) AND I could poke the right side of my belly and immediately he would hit, kick, punch, and stick his foot WAY out on the side. People could see his foot through my shirt, he’d push it out so firmly and keep it there!  Pay attention to kicks!

There are a few things to keep in mind with movements though. Hands and feet could feel similar – but legs have more strength to kick and push out than hands and arms. If you consistently feel strong sustained pushing feelings, it’s pretty likely you have a foot doing that. But realize that babies are curled up into a literal ball and their feet and hands can be in the same area.

No kicks to belly map?

What if you feel general vague movement but no true kicks or punches? Maybe your placenta is in the way? If you have an Anterior Placenta, it means the placenta is acting like a pillow or a couch cushion in between you and baby. Sorry, if that’s disappointing. 🙁 It really would make mapping more difficult, but not impossible in all circumstances. You just might need to be more persistent and notice more nuances than you would otherwise.

Something that surprised me when I found out, but in hindsight was kind of a “duh” moment for me… Babies tend to face their placenta. If your placenta is on the back, the baby might be facing the back of your uterus. On the left, facing the left. It’s a rule of thumb, and not *always* accurate. But think about having a short-ish string tied from your belly button to something. It makes sense that you wouldn’t be facing AWAY from that object as much.  If you have a placenta in the back, and you don’t feel much movement even then, your baby may just be facing your back too. We have lots of nerve endings in the front but not nearly as many in the back, so sensations at the back of your uterus are neigh-on-impossible to feel.

Firm or Squishy?

Supposedly you feel for firmness on the sides of your belly and that should be the back, squishy means hands, and legs on that side. I have to be honest, this was really hard for me to tell. Squishy? Firm? I don’t know.  Bottoms and heads both feel pretty firm. That’s at least a good place to start! But the whole “squishy” part? Everything felt about the same to me…  I did know that if I felt flutterings, kicks, punches, or other “elbow like” movements, it wasn’t the back of the baby. The process of deduction was easier for me than feeling and interpreting.

Give me an example, Hannah, please?!

Okay, I get it. Some of this theory stuff gets too vague and unhelpful. Let me describe how it felt when I (correctly) mapped my breech daughter, and then again with my second daughter who was sunny-side-up.

Breech daughter.

Imagine sitting on a couch, semi-reclined, watching tv. Legs crossed or not, but not tucked up under you. The way my baby was positioned was bottom down, head up on my right side, at least one knee bent, maybe both (not up near her head). So basically she was sitting on my lap like a toddler. Silly girl…  I would *always* feel a sweeping up and down sensation on my right side as she raised her hand up to her face and back down to her side again. But nothing else over there. Zero other movements. That was it.

Okay, in my left hip bone I would feel tickling sensations which I at first thought *might* be hands and fingers. It wasn’t. That was toes. She liked to tuck her toes in next to my hip bone and get them “comfortable” for her, but my goodness it was annoying to me! When she’d “tuck in” is when I would start to lift up my belly and try to dislodge those feet.   The other (and last) sensation I had regularly was a sort of bigger sweeping movement when she’d bring her left knee or foot up on my left side (foot up to her head?) and maybe her left arm moving around in there?

It was really weird because it was always a BIG movement with a lot of pressure, but UP then DOWN and it was over. Maybe she was stretching because she was uncomfortable? Her head stayed firmly under my first rib on my right side. It felt like someone tried to push a golf ball up under your rib cage. The size wasn’t the issue, it was the odd pressure that made it noticeable.

How do you know these things?

Once I heard of belly mapping I started paying close attention to where the movements were, and how they felt, and I pondered different possible positions of what made sense. It took several days/weeks and suddenly the lightbulb went on of how she was positioned, and it all clicked into place. She was NOT an active baby. Those movements were consistent but rare. I felt zero other movements. But then again… Imagine if YOU fell bottom first into a large bucket, or sat too far down into a toilet seat. You wouldn’t be able to produce very many large movements except a little bit of flailing limbs. That’s kind of how she was positioned!

Also, a sneaky clue, we listened for the heartbeat. Wherever you find the heartbeat the strongest (my husband listened with his ear to my belly and could find the heartbeat at 28 weeks and onward. Low tech, very accurate, and free) that’s where the upper torso is. If the baby is head down the heartbeat will be well below your belly button and typically on one side. Her heartbeat was consistently on the right, at or above belly button level – until she flipped then it was close to my pubic hairline.

Okay, what about the other baby?

My second daughter was NOT breech. She was sunny side up.  How did I know? For one, my baby never dropped. Her head was definitely down (that round firm head). But it never engaged, so it wasn’t side-to-side matching up to the opening of my pelvis. The kicks and movements were all over the place. On the left, then the right, in the front, crazy! So her back wasn’t on either side OR on the front. It was lined up with my spine, giving her freedom of motion to “respond” anywhere at all to pokes on my belly.

The heartbeat was harder to hear, but always low-ish and unclear which “side” it was on. I got “tickly” sensations down low, but not very many, and never in one consistent place.

During labor, I had back labor. Sadly I * believe* she was sunny-side-up, and though I knew it was less than ideal, I didn’t do much to encourage her to move. Now that I’ve given birth to a sunny-side-up baby, I would definitely work with a chiropractor or do spinning babies to try and change the position prior to birth. Back labor is no fun, and it took a LONG time for her to decide to turn her head enough to get into my birth canal. When she came out she had a deep groove on the top of her head from one ear to the other where my bone was pressing on her. It took much longer to go away than the rest of her head molding. Poor thing. And it just showed me I was right, she was looking forward the whole time!

What about your baby’s position?

I just want to remind you that even though it sounds like I figured it out quickly and easily, both of my baby’s 1) stayed in ONE position and didn’t move around much. 2) It took me a few weeks of poking and prodding and pondering to gain the confidence that I knew what was happening inside my belly. If you start to belly map and feel it’s too confusing — take a break. Try another time. Just piece together a few clues at a time (Okay, the baby is definitely facing the left because ALL the movements are on the left) and see if that stays true the next time you feel.

There is no blame place if you don’t know, or if you think you know but you get it wrong. However, there is confidence and excitement earned if you learn over time what your baby’s movements mean. It’s a lot of fun. There is a reward. If you enjoy it, then it’s totally worth it! If you aren’t being rewarded, then there’s nothing to say that you need to continue!

Belly painting

I am not an artist. But if I were… I would simply love to paint a picture on my belly of what I thought my baby’s position was each week and take a picture. Babies move. Positions change! Guesses change? And having “belly-mapping-bump-painting-pictures” would be so much more fun than my boring weekly progression photos. Don’cha think?!

Ladies… Feel your bellies. Pay attention to movements. Press and see if the baby “hits back” and notice the feelings. If nothing else, you are learning something new and different and special about your growing darling.

Oh, and sometimes if you play music on your cell phone, and balance it on your belly, the baby will “punch” it off. 😉 That was my son and husband’s favorite game for a while. Just another tool in getting baby to move so you can guess how he/she is lying.

Blessings!

 

Hannah S.
Hannah S.

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