Moxibustion and Breech Babies: an Overview

A type of heat therapy used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), moxibustion is becoming more widely offered across the NHS and in private practice here in the UK, particularly in the case of breech babies.

So how can moxibustion therapy cause babies to shift into the right position, just in time for birth? We’re going to take a look at this question so you can work out whether moxibustion is a service you could begin offering in your practice.

Babies chilling out in breech position

Babies can move around a lot in the womb but when it comes to birth, by far the safest position is head down. The vast majority of babies adjust themselves into this position well in time for birth, while ‘breech’ babies are those bottom first instead. Additionally, babies can be transverse, i.e. lying on their sides, or feet first.

If a baby is in breech position at 36 weeks, it’s likely the obstetrician or midwife will attempt to encourage the baby to turn by putting pressure on the abdomen in a procedure called external cephalic version (ECV). This works in around half of cases and babies can also turn themselves in the last weeks of pregnancy.

However, if the baby does not get into a head down position, the likelihood of a caesarean section being required is high.

Moxibustion and breech babies

Moxibustion has been used in TCM for hundreds of years but it’s only in very recent years that it has made much headway in the UK. Due to the chance of babies turning themselves in the final weeks, even days, of pregnancy, it’s exceptionally difficult to ascertain whether pregnancies studied have resulted in a turn because of moxibustion or because the babies were going to turn regardless.

While numerous studies have taken place, they suffer from significant variability and there is no ability to blind trials because of the nature of moxibustion.

Safety is an important factor when assessing the use of moxibustion too, whether it is effective or not. Used to treat a wide variety of conditions as well as breech position, safety must be assessed for each use. While some applications of moxa risk burns, coughing, and skin irritation, there are ways to reduce these risks:

  • Indirect moxibustion ensures the moxa is heated away from the skin rather than placed directly on the skin
  • Smokeless moxa helps prevent throat irritation that might be caused by smoke
  • Indirect moxa is less likely to cause skin irritation as it never makes contact

Moxibustion for breech babies revolves around gently heating specific TCM energy points in the toes. This heat is thought to cause hormonal changes and encourage the baby to shift around, moving itself into a head first position.

Whilst moxibustion for breech babies should never be attempted without checking with the midwife or obstetrician first, it is generally considered safe. However, some women will not be able to try moxibustion due to a variety of reasons including pregnancy complications, high blood pressure and twins.

Who offers moxibustion for breech babies?

While pregnant women can attempt moxibustion with their partners or another second person, it can be easier for a trained professional to perform. In addition, it must be ensured that the baby is still in breech position before embarking on moxibustion.

A variety of health practitioners can offer moxibustion for breech babies. An increasing number of midwives and NHS maternity units are offering the service around the country. Acupuncturists already working with moxa are also in a good position to offer moxibustion to pregnant women.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, teaching patients and their partners to use moxibustion correctly is a perfectly suitable alternative to performing it yourself. Using video to demonstrate will be one of the most effective ways to teach, particularly live video, where you address any questions your patient might have.

Where to buy moxa

Whether you’ll be performing moxibustion personally or directing your patients in how to do it themselves, you’ll need a good supply of the right moxa. Moxa sticks are particularly common for this application, as they are easy to hold close to the energy points on the toes.

If you’re looking for moxa, we carry a wide range for many uses, including breech treatment. If you’re not sure which suits your needs, email us with your requirements.