My baby's head is engaged
What does it mean when I am told my baby's head is engaged?

The thing about pregnancy is that it comes with it's own unique language. You wouldn't be the first expectant mother to feel like she needs to take a dictionary along to her appointments! 

You may be wondering what it means to be told your baby's head has engaged. As you journey through the third trimester of your pregnancy you may experience a feeling of being 'full up' and find it more difficult than usual to breathe deeply. This is thanks to baby now pushing up into the space where your lungs and stomach are! However, as your due date approaches you may feel these symptoms ease, or feel a heaviness in your pelvis - this is known as your baby's head engaging, and essentially it means that your baby is in the correct position for birth, so that their head has moved down to sit in the pelvis.

It is important to remember that as with every part of pregnancy, this may not be experienced by every mother. It is common for the baby to drop down during labour especially if it is your second or third baby. If you have concerns, ask your midwife. She will be able to tell you if your baby's head has engaged or not. 

Your midwife records your baby's head engagement in measurements of fifths. So if you read 5/5 or 4/5, this means that the head is not engaged yet. Notes of 3/5, 2/5 or less means your baby's head is engaged.

What our midwife says...

"Unfortunately the timing of when your babys head engages - descends - into the pelvis does not indicate when you’ll go into labour," explains midwife Anne Richley.

"Although most women with a first baby will be told by their midwife that the head has engaged by 38 weeks, this has no bearing on when labour will start, as many babies move into the pelvis much earlier than this."

"Many women find that the baby's head doesn’t engage until they are actually in labour, and the power of the contractions helps to push the babys head deeper into the pelvis. Once the head is well down and engaged you may feel that your bump has ‘dropped’ and looks lower in appearance."

Factors that can affect when your baby's head engages include...

  • If your baby is in a posterior position, his back to your back, it may be harder for him to engage.
  • If your baby has lots of room to move he is less likely to engage. He might be enjoying swimming in lots of amniotic fluid!
  • The shape of your pelvis or position of the placenta.
  • If you are expecting a big baby it is more likely that your baby's head will engage when contractions begin.

Real mum’s tell all...

Discussions about your baby's head engaging are always a hot topic in our Forums. Check out what other mums have to say about their experience...

"Im 37+6 and at last appointment (37+1) baby had not engaged. Midwife said it makes no difference to when labour will be as some babies just dont engage until labour starts. She said first contractions will pull baby down." says Lil-Betty-Boop

"I've been getting the same sensation since Sunday (on the same day, my mum and my nan commented that my bump was looking lower). Feels like there's a heavy pressure down there! At first, I thought it might be constipation (sorry, TMI) but everything's fine on that front. Will be interesting to see what the midwife reckons on Tuesday!" says RedHead85

"the mw can feel if baby's head is engaged, they'll palpate around ur pubic bone to see how much of baby's head they can don't worry ur mw will notice because she'll be actively checking for it, and she'll tell u. x" says WoWBabies

"I've heard of babies engaging as early as 28 weeks. Don't actually know these people but have heard from friends that they know people it's happened to. With mine it's be later on 35 weeks plus and I just feel heavier, there is a push on the pelvic area that can't go unmissed!" says Bubblez

What did you think when you were told your baby's head was engaged? Did you worry that it hadn't? Tell us below, head to our Facebook page or tweet us @Baby_Expert

Also, don't miss... our amazing week-by-week guide to your baby's growth

Compiled by Catherine Hudson

Catherine Hudson 21/01/2013 12:28:18
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2 comments on this
Patrice Lowe
Silver member

17/08/2013 at 02:48

I would never approve this idea of giving birth at home .One should always deliver the baby in hospital. Giving birth to a baby is such a complicated process. One should never take risk .You never know what kind of emergency you have to face. At hospital you have all the facility available for both mother and the child.
Silver member

17/04/2014 at 14:37

@Patrice- What a load of rubbish! Women were giving birth long before hospitals. Opinions like yours irritate me because they are misguided and misinform people who read them. I had my first child in hospital- the WORST experience of my life I can tell you. I ended up having a stressful 36hr labour, stuck in stirrups (at their insistence) for hours upon end (slowing down the labour), they bruised me so badly doing checks that when my doctor visited me at home told me was the worst he'd ever seen. I couldn't sit down for 6 WEEKS! Circumstance meant that when I had my second child, I had to look at other options. I'd never thought home birthing still happened so I was surprised when I read about it. It was NEVER an option that was offered to me by my midwife- I had to ask. I researched it well as I'd never want to risk myself or my unborn child for a 'hippy fad' and was stunned to find that SHOULD I need an emergency c-section (worst case scenario) the transfer time from home to theatre was LESS than if I were in hospital. My midwife explained this is because in hospital, I'd be scheduled in- from home it'd be blue light emergency.. So SHOULD anything go wrong, I would get treatment quicker from home! The midwives carry equipment for resuscitation etc, the same as hospitals and you have at least 2 midwives caring for you exclusively at all times- which is impossible to achieve in hospitals and IF there is the slightest hint that there is a problem, they send you to hospital........ My point is, home birthing is safe for anyone who has textbook pregnancies. It is something that should be encouraged more. My 2 births were worlds apart. I had my second child at home, a boy. He was a 2.5 hour stress free labour, only gas needed on my part, no stitches required, I was healed within a week and was the most magical experience of my life.. So much so, I'm now 39 weeks gone with baby number 3 and am fully intending to have another home birth.. Please don't use your ill-informed notions to put women off what is an amazing experience. I wouldn't wish my first birthing experience on anyone and as a result, hospital is the last place I feel is safe for myself or my baby. I'll be going there only if I have no other choice...
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