Many pregnant ladies have come to my office for treatment over the years. Acupuncture is a wonderful choice in care during this time because it's completely natural and can treat a wide range of issues that may arise during pregnancy such as morning sickness, back and pelvic pain, hypertension, insomnia, labor induction, pretty much, you name it. Several months ago I had a woman named Liz come to see me because she was experiencing morning sickness and fatigue in her first trimester. I treated her with acupuncture and gave her some dietary advice to help resolve the issue. She continued to see me throughout the course of her pregnancy, mainly to keep her blood pressure down, and in her final weeks we began doing labor preparation treatments.
Research has shown that the average duration of labor in a group of women giving birth for the first time was considerably lessened with labor preparation acupuncture treatment than those without. Feedback suggests that prebirth acupuncture provides additional positive effects and possible reduction in rates of medical intervention as well.
In the time Liz was seeing me for labor prep an ultrasound by her OBGYN indicated that her little guy was in the breech position around week 34. Up until this point, Liz and I had many talks about acupuncture during pregnancy and I had mentioned at some point, that often we can turn a breech baby using a technique called moxibustion.
Moxibustion is an externally applied treatment using a Chinese herb called Moxa (Artemisia argyi), commonly known as ‘Mugwort’. For external use Moxa is compressed and rolled into a cigar-shaped herbal stick which is then lit and held over acupuncture points. The radiant heat produced has the effect of stimulating the point.
The acupuncture point UB 67 is the primary point selected for use because it is the most dynamic point to activate the uterus. Its strong suit is in turning malpositioned babies and keeping them in the head down position. It is located on the outer, lower edge of both toenails of the little toe.
I had already given Liz moxa for home labor preparation treatment so when Liz found out that baby boy was breech, she called me. I was able to give her instructions on how to use the moxa stick on the UB 67 point to turn the baby to the head down position. And guess what? He turned.
But there's a twist...
Liz was scheduled for a medical induction in which she would be given prostaglandins for the ripening of her cervix to promote labor. I was using treatments to urge this naturally so that she could go with the least amount of drug intervention, however, before her last treatment with me she was scheduled for a cesarean. The baby had gone back to a transverse position. She wasn't dilated and her baby was high and cozy in the last weeks. Her OBGN didn't want her to go past her due.
Honestly, I would be fibbing if I said I didn't feel a little bummed that Liz was scheduled for surgery after spending time with her and getting to understand her hopes for childbirth. She cancelled her last appointment with me so that she could spend time with her husband before surgery. Despite being disappointed in the change of plans, I was excited for Liz and her husband and for the next chapter in their lives.
Liz contacted me a couple weeks following the date of her surgery. She had continued using the moxa on the UB 67 points and when she went in for her C-section that morning he was head down and she was dilated 2cm. She went home to return two days later to deliver her infant boy vaginally. I was so happy to get this news, not to mention some pictures of little baby Silas.
moxa timing and treatment
The optimum time for turning a breech baby with moxa is at week 34 before the baby has grown too large, but some babies do turn as late as week 38 or 39, such as in Liz's case. Moxa should be applied to UB 67 bilaterally, for 20 minutes once a day, for ten days. Often the mother will need the help of her partner, but some women remain flexible enough to perform the treatment on their own.
Women usually report that the baby becomes more active during or following the moxa treatment, though it may take several days before they notice significant movement. It typically becomes a cumulative effect, with the baby progressively becoming more active until eventually (and hopefully!) the baby makes a full somersault in which case the movements will quiet down.
Of course, moxa treatment for breech babies doesn't work 100% of the time. Some babies just prefer not to make their entrance into the world head first, but many women do have success with this simple, non-invasive approach. If you learn that your little one is in the breech position, check with your health care provider before attempting moxibustion treatment to ensure that no contraindications apply and schedule an appointment with a licensed acupuncturist for treatment and instructions to carry out at home.