Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc
Audio Broadcast of the article is available below:
Acupuncture and Moxibustion are so effective at turning breech babies!
In your pregnancy, the expectation is that your baby will move into a head-down position at about 34 to 36 weeks. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Approximately 3 to 4% of babies end up being in breech position at the end of pregnancy and most expectant mothers are disappointed to hear their baby is one of them. The majority (about 80%) of cases of breech babies do end up in a c-section delivery.
With breech position, there are three different possibilities:
Full (flexed) Breech – baby is sitting cross-legged over the cervix
Footling Breech – feet first…one or both of the feet are sitting directly above the cervix
Frank Breech – bottom first, with feet up by head
Of these three possibilities, women with a frank breech baby will be offered a trial labour. Basically, they will be allowed to go into labour naturally to have a vaginal birth but they should be in the hospital to be monitored. In the other two situations of full and footling breech, caesarean sections are performed.
To increase your chances of a vaginal birth, Chinese medicine offers wonderfully safe and effective techniques to move your baby into the correct head-down position.
As a doctor of Chinese Medicine & acupuncturist, the main techniques that I use in my clinical practice to turn breech babies are acupuncture and moxibustion (moxa for short). These 2 techniques have attracted A LOT of attention over the years! If you’re wondering if they actually work for breech babies, keep reading!
The purpose of the acupuncture for breech babies is to open the pelvic area and release tension in the lower back & sacrum, uterine ligaments and related muscles. These tensions can prevent the baby from moving into a head-down position. Acupuncture causes the pelvis and uterus to relax allowing for more room for the baby to move into place.
I also love giving my pregnant patients acupuncture because it addresses stress. Stress and anxiety can occur in women with breech babies as they are often worried about their deliveries and having to end up getting a c-section.
Let’s Talk Moxibustion for Breech Babies
Moxa is actually the primary technique used for breech babies. It’s time-tested and involves burning an herb called mugwort (or ai ye in pinyin Chinese). It’s a smokeless stick that’s held close to the skin at a particular point on the outer edge of the smallest toe (the point is called Bladder 67). Burning the moxa encourages the baby to move and often you will feel a lot more movement of your baby during the session.
The heat stimulation from the moxa releases pregnancy hormones placental estrogen and prostaglandins which help to nudge the baby into its optimal position.
Don’t worry – the moxa will not burn you or feel too hot by any means. It’s relaxing and comfortable.
Moxa is applied to the little toe bilaterally for 20 minutes, once a day for ten days. This is the typical protocol but may vary depending on the person.
This particular point on the small toe is actually one of the most tested points in Chinese medicine and has a success rate of anywhere between 69% and 85% in successive clinical trials. Amazing right?!
Dr. Maryam’s Breech Protocol
This is what you can expect in a visit with me to turn your breech baby:
#1 Brief Consultation
I will do a brief medical history intake, ask questions about your physical & emotional health and if there have been any complications during your pregnancy and any previous pregnancies. If you’re solely coming in to turn your baby and don’t have additional symptoms to address, this consultation shouldn’t take long at all.
Gentle acupuncture consisting of anywhere between 6 to 10 points. The points are on the lower legs, feet, head and arms. Acupuncture is gentle but yet very powerful and effective. You will be lying on your side throughout the treatment with plenty of pillows to ensure the best relaxed position for you.
#3 Administer Moxa
While you’re resting with your acupuncture needles inserted, I administer moxa to the corner of the little toe for 10 minutes on each side. All you’ll feel is a gentle warmth. Most women report that the treatment is so soothing and can be the best part of their day.
#4 Take Moxa Sticks Home.
Following the acupuncture/moxa treatment, I’ll give you some moxa sticks to take home and teach you how to apply the moxa on yourself. Your partner, husband or friend can also be instructed in the application of moxa in order to aid in the process. I give enough sticks to complete the course of treatment at home so don’t worry about having to buy these in stores.
#5 Go home, put your feet up and r-e-l-a-x!
When Should You Start Treatments?
The ideal time to start doing acupuncture/moxa to turn your breech baby is as soon as you find out pretty much. It has been found that intervention at 34 weeks is most successful before the baby has grown too large. Close to 50% of babies will have turned spontaneously by 36 weeks so many midwives and doctors like to wait until then before discussing a treatment plan with the family if the baby stays breech. I very much prefer to see my patients as close to the 34 week mark as possible but of course will still attempt to do the best I can for the patient after that..even up to the 38 or 39 week mark. After that, often the baby can be too big and wedged into the pelvis too tightly to move positions.
What You Can Expect
Women report a cumulative effect with the moxa treatment meaning that the effects become greater and greater after applying the moxa over the course of several days. The baby progressively becomes more and more active with each treatment until eventually feeling a rather uncomfortable period of activity.
During acupuncture, expect to feel very relaxed…most likely you’ll fall asleep and snore…! Also expect to feel the baby moving a bit more during the treatment and especially afterwards.
If after 10 days of moxa at home the baby has still not successfully turned, I recommend a period of rest for 4 to 5 days before repeating the treatment and coming in for another acupuncture appointment. This is of course if time permits depending on how soon to the due date they are.
Generally, I will need to see you anywhere between one and four times. If you can consistently do the moxa at home every day you most likely won’t need to see me too many times. I like to incorporate weekly acupuncture sessions as well if time allows.
Avoid cold raw foods such as fruits, fruit juices, ice cream, salads and smoothies. Instead have warm cooked foods. The reason behind this is that similar to how the moxibustion brings warming energy to the body to help move the baby into the right position, you also want to eat warming foods and avoid foods that are cold that would create more stuck constricted energy. Some examples of warming foods are soups, stews, broth, congee, red meat, steamed veggies and ginger.
Cold/Hot Sequence easy tip
Something else that you can easily do at home is to place a cold compress (ice pack or bag of frozen veggies) on your belly where you think the baby’s head is located and a heating pad or hot water bottle on the lower pelvis area at the same time. This can guide the baby to move towards the warmth and away from the cold!
Try to do this at least twice per week for 25 minutes each time.