Moxibustion is a form of Chinese medicine that works wonders on breech presentation of a fetus during pregnancy. It is a form of heat generated from an herb called mugwort. Gently warming the pinky toe of the mother causes the baby to correct it’s position in the womb. It is completely safe, with no negative side effects.
Breech Presentation: Background
As pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, space in the uterus gets smaller, resulting in less room for the baby to move. The baby’s head eventually becomes heavier than its bottom and under normal circumstances around 32 weeks gestation the baby sinks down, head first into the pelvis and engages in preparation for birth.
Breech presentation: How Common Is It?
Between 29-32 weeks 15% of all babies will end up in breech position. This means the baby is positioned with its bottom, knees or feet pointing down, essentially poised to come out bottom first. Only 3-4% of these presentations will stay in this position until labor. Breech presentation is considered normal in pregnancies and is not generally medically diagnosed until the last few weeks of pregnancy.
When Does Breech Presentation Become A Problem?
While most breech babies turn on their own before birth, the longer a baby stays in the breech position, conditions become more cramped, and the less likely that it will turn on it’s own. Vaginal birth for a breech baby is uncommon, as there is a much greater liability for doctors delivering babies this way. Most doctors recommend a caesarean birth for breech babies, which is a major drawback in that it involves major surgery for the mother. The remedy for this situation is to find an effective way of turning the baby quickly and safely to the head down position.
Breech Presentation and Chinese Medicine
By the time most women with breech presentation come to our acupuncture clinic they are usually at a crossroad. If their baby remains in breech position their freedom of choice around birthing options is severely reduced and the time to turn the baby naturally is fast running out.
What is Moxibustion?
Moxibustion is an herbal treatment using a Chinese herb called Mugwort (commonly called Moxa). For external use (meaning that you don’t eat it) Moxa is compressed and rolled into an herbal stick. Moxa sticks are then lit and held over acupuncture points. The radiant heat produced has the effect of stimulating the acupuncture point.
In our acupuncture office, we use ‘smokeless Moxa’, an alternative preparation of the herb which produces much less smoke, making it more suitable for use in the clinic and at home.
How is moxa used to turn breech babies?
The moxa stick is lit, generating a warming sensation. It is then used to gently warm the tip of the pinky toe. This corresponds with the acupuncture point called Bladder 67. Ideally moxa should be applies twice a day until the baby’s position is corrected.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, moxa has a strengthening and warming effect which promotes movement and activity. The nature of heat is also rising. This warming and raising effect is used to encourage the baby to become more active and lift its bottom up in order to gain adequate momentum to summersault into the head down position.
This technique can also be used to reposition transverse presentation, a situation where the baby’s shoulder or back is pointing down, or is lying sideways across the abdomen.
How effective is it?
A 3 year study published in AJCM (2001) based in a facility where 1437 births were reported examined the effectiveness of moxibustion and acupuncture in turning breech presentation. Only women who were 28 weeks pregnant or later diagnosed with breech presentation were entered into the study. The control group consisted of 224 women. This group was given exercise and external cephalic manipulation. They had a spontaneous correction rate of 73%.
The experimental group consisted of 133 women. They received 30 minutes of moxibustion to the acupuncture point Bladder 67 daily and acupuncture, but no exercise or external cephalic manipulation. They had a correction rate of 92%. The study concluded that acupuncture and moxibustion is a safe and effective modality to correct breech presentation in a clinical setting.
Although there is no 100% guarantee that a late term baby will turn from a breech position, moxibustion offers a highly effective, safe, non-invasive option. Women should definitely consider this treatment to attempt to turn their baby naturally and avoid restricting their birthing options.