Leopold Maneuver in Nursing: 4 Steps to a Successful Delivery

SimpleNursing Editorial Team Dec 27, 2023
Young female nurse does a sonogram on the belly abdomen of a supine pregnant woman.

Nursing is about more than just providing care.

It’s also about delivering that care with confidence, compassion, and precision. One technique that stands as a testament to this is the Leopold maneuver, a four-step method of abdominal palpation used to assess an unborn baby’s position in the uterus, also known as the fetal lie.

What is the Leopold maneuver?

Christian Gerhard Leopold, a German obstetrician and gynecologist, developed the maneuver in the late 19th century.

Each step in the maneuver involves a different hand placement and movement on a pregnant client’s abdomen.

The purpose of each step is to identify a specific aspect of the unborn baby’s anatomy, such as the:

  • Back
  • Buttocks
  • Head
  • Limbs

By doing so, the nurse can determine the baby’s orientation as it relates to the maternal pelvis and whether there are any potential complications for delivery. The Leopold maneuver is usually performed in the third trimester of pregnancy when the fetus is large enough to palpate.

This non-invasive technique can provide valuable information about the baby’s well-being and readiness for birth. For example, the nurse can estimate term fetal weight and determine if the mother’s pelvis is adequate for a vaginal delivery.

But it requires skill to perform accurately, and it may not be reliable in cases of:

  • Excess amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
  • Multiple gestation
  • Obesity

Because of this, other assessment methods, like electronic fetal monitoring or an ultrasound may need to be utilized.

Why is the Leopold maneuver essential for nursing students?

The benefits of the Leopold maneuver extend far beyond its use in labor and delivery.

Nursing students can learn a lot about fetal anatomy and physiology by performing this technique during clinical rotations. It helps build good palpation skills, and the ability to accurately assess a client’s condition through touch is a cornerstone of nursing practice.

The maneuver also delivers the following benefits:

  • Safe client care: The Leopold maneuver is a fundamental skill for nurses involved in obstetric care. Accurate assessment of fetal position and presentation is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of the pregnant client and baby.
  • Informed decision-making: Knowledge of the maneuver empowers you to make informed decisions regarding labor management and interventions. This skill enables the health care provider (HCP) to anticipate potential challenges and take appropriate action to address them.
  • Effective communication: The ability to perform the maneuver and communicate the findings to the health care team is essential for providing coordinated care. Clear and accurate information about the baby’s position and presentation helps streamline the delivery process.

How to perform the Leopold maneuver

Perform the Leopold maneuver while maintaining the client’s comfort and privacy.

Follow these steps before beginning the maneuver:

  1. Ask the client to empty their bladder before the examination.
  2. Have them lie on their back on a flat surface with their shoulders slightly raised on a pillow and their knees slightly bent.
  3. Expose the abdomen from the xiphoid process to the pubic symphysis.
  4. Warm your hands before touching the abdomen.
  5. Perform each of the four maneuvers sequentially, using gentle but deep pressure with your palms and fingers.

Step 1: Fundal grip (Determine the fundal height)

Palpate and measure the fundal height.

Fundal height refers to the distance from the top of the uterus (fundus) to the pubic bone. This measurement helps identify the fetal lie and estimated gestational age.

Step 2: Umbilical grip (Locate the fetal back)

Gently palpate the abdomen with both hands, feeling for the firm, smooth surface of the baby’s back.

By identifying the fetal back’s position, you can determine whether the baby is in a vertex or breech presentation, which has implications for the mode of delivery.

Step 3: Pawlik’s grip (Identify the presenting part)

Identify the part of the baby that will descend into the birth canal first.

In most cases, this will be the baby’s head, known as a cephalic presentation. But there are instances when the baby’s buttocks (breech presentation) or shoulder (transverse presentation) may present first.

Accurately identifying the presenting part is crucial for determining the baby’s position and planning for a safe delivery.

Step 4: Pelvic grip (Locate the fetal head)

Assess the engagement of the baby’s head in the pelvis, which predicts the ease or difficulty of labor.

Identifying the fetal head’s position allows you to monitor for potential complications during birth.

After performing the Leopold maneuver, document your findings and report any abnormal or uncertain results to your supervisor or the HCP.

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