Does Acupuncture Really Turn a Breech Baby?

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By Mary Sabo, L.Ac DACM

It may seem somewhat strange, but acupuncture and particularly a technique called Moxibustion, has been used for thousands of years to help a breech baby find the right position for birth. In fact, a recent meta-analysis showed that it is not only helpful to correct a breech baby’s position, but may also reduce the need for pitocin during labor.[i] Working with an acupuncturist in the weeks leading up to labor and delivery is safe and helpful for supporting late pregnancy symptoms like back pain and fatigue and can also help your baby and your body prepare for a healthy labor and delivery.

Moxibustion, also called Moxa, is a warming technique used in conjunction with acupuncture to promote healing and change in the body. It involves warming specific acupuncture points with a medicinal dried herb called mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). It is typically a pleasant experience and does not hurt. To encourage a breech baby to turn, a dried (sometimes also charred) roll of moxa is lit and used to warm an acupuncture point on the pinky toe. While it may seem strange that warming your toe will turn your baby, it has scientific evidence to back it up![ii]  Researchers speculate that applying moxa to this particular area stimulates the baby to move, signaling a malpositioned or breech baby to move into the (likely most comfortable) head down position. Moxa does not hurt the mother or baby and if a baby cannot change position for some reason (cord positioning, fibroid, etc.), it will not turn. Clinically, I have found that moxa often does the trick, but patients who are eligible for an external cephalic version (ECV) who perform moxa in the weeks leading up to the procedure seem more likely to have it work. 

Moxa is typically performed during acupuncture sessions in the weeks leading up to a woman’s due date starting around week 34 or 35. Because moxa is fairly easy to perform, I also give my patients moxa sticks to take home with instructions so they can continue to stimulate the baby to turn. They warm their pinky toes 20 minutes once or twice a day until the baby is in the correct position. This can take only one session or weeks, but once the baby is head down, it often stays that way until birth. It is recommended, however, to discontinue moxa once the baby is in position. 

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[i] Qin-hong Zhang, Jin-huan Yue, Ming Liu, Zhong-ren Sun, Qi Sun, Chao Han, and Di Wang. Moxibustion for the Correction of Nonvertex Presentation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 241027.

[ii] Neri I1, Airola G, Contu G, Allais G, Facchinetti F, Benedetto C. Acupuncture plus moxibustion to resolve breech presentation: a randomized controlled study. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2004 Apr;15(4):247-52.