Face Presentation

These are often called "Angel-Faced Babies" by dulas
because they are born face up, facing the heavens.
See a photo (not me!)

 

Face Presentation is a relatively uncommon labor presentation (only about .4 percent of births) when the baby is head down but has its neck extended, as if looking down the birth canal, rather than with its chin tucked into it's chest.  The chin or the nose presents first (very rarely the brow), not the top of the head.

Presentation refers to the part of the baby first entering the pelvic structure on it's way out the vagina.  A vertex birth (head first) happens approximately 95 percent of the time.  The options (in order of occurance) are: Vertex, Breech, Shoulder, Face, Brow

Attitude is the relationship of the baby's extremities -arms, legs and head - to his main body.  A fully flexed baby is compact and compared to poorly flexed or extended.   A fully flexed vertex presentation makes for the smallest diameter of the baby's head exiting at all times.  If the baby's head is only partly flexed, a larger diamer will have to come through the birth canal, making for a longer labor and more difficult exit.  (Trust me on this!)  If the baby's head is Fully Extended, the baby is Presenting by Face.  This sounds very scary when described, as the head is bent backwards till it is resting on the back shoulders.  It appears like the baby is going to break it's neck coming out!

Labor:  The top of the baby's head will be resting (uncomfortably!) on the mother's backbone.  Labor will likely be slower since the face is not an ideal canidate to dilate the cervix.  Mom is probably going to be in a bit of extra pain.    In my case, once I past transition I had no urge to push since the head was not hitting the proper nerves.  (I don't know if this is always the case or not)   I found this very disconserting since I knew from past experience I should be wanting to push.  The diamater of the head as it presents is about the same as a vertex birth (abt 9.5 cm).  However, while the presenting parts may be equal, for the face presenting baby - the full width of the head is to follow!    When a baby is vertex, the head bones actually mold together and overlap, making the head easier to push through and out of the birth canal.   Face presentations have no such luck.

Having an angel-faced baby is akin in size to a breech birth!!  However, as long as the baby is face up - chin facing the mom's bellybutton - there is no danger.   With a breech birth, the danger is the head getting suck in the birth canal after the body has sucussfully exited, possibly with the cord pinched.  With a face first baby, the head comes out first - so there is no danger of asphyxiation.

Please note that angel-faced baby's are routinely C-sectioned in hospitals.  Any baby that is sunny-side up "fits the requirement for a c-section".   Moreover, since labor will be longer and mom will appear to be 'hung up' at stages - some will say there is a faliure to progress.  (Again, this is simply because the nose does a poor job of dilating the cervix.)  Please give labor a try - these babies can and do fit!  It's worth the extra effort.

The Prognosis:  Since Angel babies are born sunny-side up (face and throat facing upwards toward the ceiling) the baby needs to be suctioned at once, so no amnioatic fluid is asperiated into the lungs.  Since the baby is born with his neck pushing against the mother's pubic bone, there is sometimes a fear that the child will suffer from breathing difficulties (edema around the throat), but this rarely happens.  Although the baby is terribly bruised during the labor (imagine using YOUR nose to force through the birth canal!) the prognosis for mommy and baby (assuming they have a caring provider that allows them to birth vaginally) is fine.  The face will be swollen for a day or so.  90 percent of angel-faced baby's deliver vaginally!!!   Mine did!  At over 9 1/2 pounds too!  With a big ole face like a dinner plate!

If the chin is facing the Mom's tailbone:  (Posterior)  Then the prognosis is not so good.  Even midwives agree that if you have a face presenting baby with a "mentum posterior", vaginal delivery is almost impossible.   Often the chin will get hooked on the tailbone, and the baby is wedged in the no-mans land of the birth canal.   Happily of all face presentations, only about 30 percent are posterior and many of them rotate before they get stuck. 

Vaginal Delivery:  Remember, 90 percent of all face presentation babiess deliver vaginally!!  The reason for this is most face babies aren't diagonosed until very late in the labor when it is already apparent that baby is coming down that birth canal, doctor training or no!  Be aware that if a hospital rountinly uses sonograms during labor, or if your doctor is doing frequent vaginal exams, they will discover your baby is facing the heavens and may request a preemptive c-section (because of the small danger a baby may asphyxiate on it's own amniotic fluid.)  You need to decide what you feel the risks of this are.  I had my angel baby vaginally, natrually, and at home.  And it's a decision I feel blessed I made.

 

Material gathered from:  Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin & Gentlebirth

      Also some cool midwife books that I don't own but that my midwife brought over the day after Stealth Baby's birth to show head position, rotation and generally talk about what happened the night before while I was in labor land.

   

5 October 2000

 

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