Though breech presentation appears to be very common, most babies (91-96%) turn into the head-down position by week 34 of pregnancy. Once the babies have turned, they usually stay in this position because their head is the heaviest part of their body and space to move gradually becomes limited.
If you check with your primary healthcare provider at your regular monthly appointment and baby appears to have not yet turned head down by 33 weeks, this is a great time to try acupuncture and moxibustion. The best time to come in for treatment is between 34-36 weeks as acupuncture and moxibustion treatments for breech are most effective when performed between 34-36 weeks, increasing turning rates up to 75.4% from 47.7%. (1)(2)
Around 36 weeks, if your baby has not turned, you may be offered an ECV (external cephalic version). This involves manually manipulating the baby through your abdomen to a head-first position. Moxibustion can also increase the success rate of ECVs.
One of the benefits of moxibustion as a treatment for breech is that it has been shown in systematic reviews to be very safe. Obstetrical regulating bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are now recommending moxibustion as an additional tool for breech presentation. (2)
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Acupuncture and moxibustion have been shown to be effective treatments that gently encourage the baby to turn into the head-down position. These treatments change the mother’s hormonal levels, which cause the baby to increase its movements. Not only is there increased fetal movement, the baby's head is drawn into a downward position, so even if the baby turns cephalic (head down) midway through the treatment series, continued treatment does not make the baby return to a breech position.
Treatments are most effective when performed between 34-36 weeks because there is still a lot of room for the baby to move.
Moxibustion is the burning of a specific herb (Artemesia, Mugwort) over acupuncture points, using heat to activate the point. A trained practitioner of Chinese Medicine helps determine whether you are a candidate for this treatment and will teach you how to do these treatments at home daily until the baby turns.
Moxabustion for breech is ideally performed between 33 and 36 weeks for the highest turn rates. At your appointment acupuncture is performed and you are taught how to perform daily moxibustion (a heat therapy that stimulates a specific acupuncture point on the pinky toe) at home. After one week, if the baby has not turned, you repeat one more acupuncture treatment and another week of daily moxibustion.
In a study by Cardini et al. in 1998, published in the Journal of American Medication Association, the moxibustion group had a 75.4% turn rate in comparison to 47.7% in the control group. Most importantly, no side effects or adverse reactions have been noted in this study or any other similar study.