A breech presentation refers to the situation when the baby is lying in a position other than head-down inside the womb. This can mean the baby’s bottom is down (and would be first to enter the birth canal), or the baby can be lying transversely (on his/her side). A breech presentation can make vaginal delivery much more difficult or dangerous, so obviously it is in the best interest of the mom and baby to have the baby turn head-down before labor.
Moxibustion is a technique in Traditional Chinese Medicine in which the herb moxa (mugwort) is burned over certain locations on the body to produce a therapeutic effect. In the case of turning breeched babies, moxa is burned over a specific acupuncture point on the outside of the little toe. This is a treatment that has been used for hundreds of years to turn babies in the womb.
Clinical research supports the use of moxibustion in many instances of a breech presentation. A large clinical trial in China conducted in the 1990s and published in JAMA included 260 pregnant Chinese women and found that the application of moxibustion to that specific acupuncture point, between weeks 33 and 35, significantly increased the number of cephalic presentations (the number of women whose baby’s turned to be head-down), at 35 weeks and at delivery, when compared to no intervention.
A recent systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2012 concluded that “There is some evidence to suggest that moxibustion may be useful for turning babies from breech presentation (bottom first) to cephalic presentation (head first) for labour when used with either acupuncture or postural techniques of knee to chest or lifting buttocks while lying on the side.” This review included data on patients who had received moxibustion treatment at some point between weeks 28 and 37. It also concluded that “there is some evidence to suggest that the use of moxibustion may reduce the need for oxytocin. When combined with acupuncture, moxibustion may result in fewer births by caesarean section.”
Moxibustion is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to help rebalance the mother’s body and help create space for the baby to turn itself, to be ready for labor when the time comes.