When your baby is in a breech position it can cause a lot of women to stress. It typically means if the baby doesn’t turn on their own you will end up with a scheduled cesarean delivery, which major surgery isn’t typically someone’s first choice. So can moxibustion for breech positioning, an ancient chinese acupuncture treatment, be the secret you need to get your baby into proper position prior to your delivery?
Why Is A Breech Baby A Problem For Delivery?
Typically prior to labor a fetus will position themselves in a head down in preparation for birth. This is the safest position for a vaginal delivery. In the US population about 3-4% of fetuses will be in a breech presentation and require alternative action for a safe delivery.
There are complicated risks with breech presentations that typically cause mothers and providers to choose a planned c section versus going forward with a vaginal delivery.
- Increased risk of injury during delivery if the baby’s body does not stretch the cervix enough for the head to be delivered. Arms and shoulders can become wedged in mother’s pelvis and lead to broken bones.
- Umbilical complications such as cord compression or twisting that can result in lack of oxygen to your baby causing nerve or brain damage.
Cesarean deliveries come with their own risks, but is considered the safer option between the two options.
What is Moxibustion?
Moxibustion is a traditional chinese method of treatment which uses the burning of “Moxa sticks” or herbal sticks containing the artemisia vulgaris plant to stimulate acupuncture points BL 67 (located beside the outer corner of the fifth toe nail).
It is thought to increase the production of prostaglandin and estrogen which in turn increase uterine contractions. The increase of uterine contractions lead to increased fetal movements that assist in achieving a head down position for delivery.
How is it Done?
- Prepare a way to extinguish moxa stick
- light the moxa stick with a candle (may take a few minutes to light)
- It will turn grey and ashy. Make sure you evenly heat the moxa stick tip.
- scrape off the ash on a ceramic bowl and hold it close to your hand to determine if it is hot
- Once hot bring moxa stick close to the skin on the outside corner of your fifth toenail so you can feel the heat but does not come in contact with your skin as to not burn the skin. You want to feel the heat!
- Hold this to the area for about 15-20 minutes by each pinky toe.
- Once complete extinguish moxa stick
- This should be done 1-2 times per day for 7 days
- Check positioning with OBGYN
- Repeat for an additional 7 days if baby is still in breech position.
Can I Do It At Home?
Yes, you can definitely do this at home. You can get creative and try to do this yourself, but it is best to get your partner or someone else involved to ensure you don’t burn your skin while attempting.
Below is a video showing proper technique for moxibustion for breech position treatment.
Is it Safe?
There is no evidence to support any difference in outcomes in respect to premature births or premature rupture of membranes when compared to usual pregnancy care. The increase in abdominal contractions increased fetal movement but did not cause preterm labor.
More studies need to be done to see full effects but so far the only side effects noted from over 2500 participates over several different studies included reports of unpleasant odor, nausea, some throat discomfort, and abdominal discomfort from increased contractions.
Does It Actually Work?
In an updated meta analysis published in 2021 of randomized control trials including 2555 breech baby presentation pregnancies of women from several different nationalities evaluated three variations of moxibustion for breech treatment vs a control group or no treatment. The first looking at moxibustion treatment alone, the second acupuncture alone, and third a combination of moxibustion and acupuncture treatment.
Each study varied slightly but consisted of treatments between 15-20 minutes 1-2 times per day for 7-14 days between 28-37 weeks of pregnancy.
With the moxibustion only treatment groups and the combination treatment groups there was a 95% increase in cephalic presentation at birth vs the control groups. When looking at acupuncture treatment only there was no significant increase in head down presentation versus the control group.
It is best to always consult with your OBGYN and a certified acupuncturist prior to started any moxibustion or acupuncture treatment, however, there is great evidence to suggest the effectiveness of moxibustion in turning breech babies with few negative side effects.
Updated research gives us great hope for moxibustion for breech position as a positive solution to help your baby flip to a head down position prior to birth. It is low cost, easy to implement at home with some help, and comes with low risk side effects when compared to alternatives such as external cephalic version or cesarean delivery. It does come with a 5% fail rate, but could be a great choice if you are hoping for a vaginal delivery.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.