Using acupuncture to turn your breech baby

First time mum Katie Henney put the Chinese practice of acupuncture to the test in a bid to turn her breech baby

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For a straightforward birth, your baby should ideally have his head pointing downwards and his spine facing out (in what’s known as the anterior position). Most babies will move into this position of their own accord between the 7th and 8th month of pregnancy, but sometimes they need a helping hand. When Katie Henney, 34, discovered her baby was still in the breech position (bottom-down) in week 34, she was determined to try to turn her little one and increase her chances of a trouble free birth.

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“I’d used acupuncture when I was trying to conceive,” says Katie. “I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and was giving everything, from medical and drug intervention to diet and nutrition, a go. We’d been trying for a baby for 2 to 3 years, and after just 2 sessions of acupuncture I fell pregnant. Maybe it was just a coincidence and timing, but when I found the baby was breech I thought it was worth giving acupuncture another go.”

How it works

Acupuncture has been used to turn breech babies in China for centuries, and some practitioners claim to have an 86% success rate. Katie’s therapist, Fiona Wolfendon, a professional acupuncturist from Napiers Herbal Health Clinic, explained how the treatment – known as moxibustion – works. “Moxa, a herb that has been used by the Chinese since ancient times, is formed into sticks which are then burned by the acupuncture points on the foot. When held near the skin the hot moxa stick stimulates the acupuncture points, altering the flow of energy into the uterus. The sticks are held by the little toes on both feet – a point reputed to have a deep pathway to the uterus. The increased placental oestrogen caused by the heat from the moxa stick increases the baby’s heart rate and, in turn, encourages the baby to move around. The best time for the treatment is between 34 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. The later you leave it, the smaller the chance of success.”

So, discovering her baby was breech at 34 weeks was perfect timing for Katie. In her session with Fiona she was told what the treatment would involve and how it worked. Fiona explains: “Pregnant women have one treatment with me, and I give them a stick to take home so they can treat themselves. They should burn the moxa sticks by both feet, twice a day for 10 days. After the first 5 days they should have the baby’s position checked, and if it has moved the treatment should stop – otherwise it could return to the breech position.”

The power of incense

With Katie sitting upright to ensure the best possible blood supply to the uterus, Fiona placed needles into several acupuncture points around the bladder area. She explained that these work on the same principle as the moxa – encouraging a flow of energy to the uterus – but that it is the burning moxa sticks held by the acupuncture points on each little toe that are key to the treatment. Katie’s session with Fiona lasted about 45 minutes, then armed with a moxa stick and Fiona’s guidance, she was able to carry on the treatment at home.

“I burnt the incense by the area on my small toes at home following the session,” Katie says. “It was all a bit strange – and pungent! – but I didn’t feel any pain. The only sensation was the heat coming from the burning incense.”

And Katie was in luck – her baby turned within a couple of weeks of the session. “The baby stayed the right way round and there were no problems with the birth,” she explains. “There were no complications and I only had a 12 hour labour.”

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The verdict

Despite a second success story after using acupuncture, Katie is still slightly sceptical as to whether the treatment really did make her baby (Oliver, now 9 months) turn. She explains: “It’s very difficult to say whether the acupuncture actually encouraged Oliver to turn, because most babies do turn of their own accord in the last few weeks of pregnancy, if not before.” But if it means a safer birth for mother and baby, Katie is certain that it’s worth giving anything a go. “At least you feel you are doing everything you can to help your baby,” she concludes.

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