Moxa to the Rescue: Moxibustion for Breech Babies

Photo Credit: @dsmdoula on instagram

Pregnancy is an amazing journey and a wild ride. We all hope that everything goes smoothly and that our birth preferences will be honored on the day we meet our little ones. One very common issue that can occur in later pregnancy is a breech position of the baby. While a breech position is common before 28 weeks, according to acupuncturist Debra Betts, this often changes later in the pregnancy, “with 7-15% of babies remaining breech at 32 weeks and 3-4% at birth.” But it is still an issue, and one that can be extraordinarily stressful for expectant mothers.

Over the many years of treating pregnant women, I have seen first-hand the amazing benefits Chinese Medicine can have on helping new mothers turn breech babies and to avoid possible c-sections. Our go-to herb in these situations is mugwort, or moxa, an aromatic plant that has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Moxa has incredible benefits for menstrual and fertility issues, as well as for breech pregnancies. At Jen Becker Acupuncture, we practice moxibustion frequently for breech pregnancies, as well as for relieving back pain, pain from arthritis, and to treat heavy menstrual bleeding and many other ailments.

What is moxibustion? and How does moxibustion work?

In traditional Chinese medicine, mugwort is used in healing herbal formulas or for moxibustion, which takes many different forms. In our practice, we do needle moxa, in which we place a small chunk of mugwort (moxa) on the end of an acupuncture needle, light it on fire and then allow it to burn out. We also do pole moxa, in which we light a long, cigar-shaped moxa stick and wave it over the acupuncture point. Both methods work by applying heat to the acupuncture point, amplifying the healing/medicinal effects of the herb. In this way, moxibustion warms the body, dispelling an excess of yin (or cold energy), and therefore allowing blood and qi to flow freely. You may feel a little warmth as the moxa burns down or as we wave the moxa stick over the point on your skin, but you won’t feel any pain. It is generally extremely relaxing and has a nice smell similar to sage.

Moxibustion for breech pregnancies

There are a number of methods that aim to turn breech babies around, including external rotation or External Cephalic Version (ECV). But ECV is a complicated process that has a low success rate, and many women would prefer to avoid it. Moxibustion, on the other hand, is a wonderful, safe technique that can come to your aid in this stressful moment. Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, and founder of Evidence Based Birth, writing in, synthesizes recent studies of moxibustion’s effects on pregnancy and concludes that moxibustion, when combined with either acupuncture or postural techniques, increases the chances of turning a breech baby. One study she cites, done on a group of 470 women, found that moxibustion plus postural techniques resulted in a 74% decrease in the risk of having a breech baby at birth, as compared to postural techniques alone.

The most common acupuncture point for moxibustion treatment for breech babies is BL 67, located beside the outer corner of the fifth toenail. The moxa applied to this point stimulates heat receptors on the skin, and Debra Betts even points to a medical journal article that states that moxa emits “long- wavelength infrared radiation.” Dekker explains that “It is thought that the heat encourages the release of two pregnancy [or maternal] hormones—placental estrogen and prostaglandins—which lead to uterine contractions. These contractions can then stimulate the baby to move.”

But moxibustion alone may not be enough to change the position of your baby. In many of the studies, it was moxibustion in addition to acupuncture and some kind of postural technique that was most effective. Spinning Babies, a technique created by midwife Gail Tully, uses alignment and movement—balancing the pelvis, for example, or releasing the connections around the hip ball and socket—to encourage repositioning, and to allow gravity to have room to work. Movement and acupuncture are so important and effective during pregnancy because they both reduce muscle tension and stress in the body, which could potentially be building up in the pelvis and uterus, affecting your baby’s position as well as their birth.

If you are considering moxibustion to correct a breech pregnancy, you will want to start by consulting a licensed acupuncturist and receiving the treatment from them in-office. However, many studies that prove the effectiveness of moxibustion had their subjects receiving twice-daily treatments between the 33rd and 35th weeks of pregnancy. So after your first few sessions with a licensed professional, you can consider self-administering the therapy, or having a partner administer. Let your acupuncturist know that you would like to do the practice at home, and ask for instructions and required materials.