Usually a few weeks before birth, most babies will move into delivery position, with their head moving near the birth canal. If this does not happen, the baby’s buttocks and/or feet will be in place to be delivered first. This is called a breech presentation. Breech births occur in about 1 of 25 full-term births. Breech presentation can be caused by excess or low amniotic fluid, a short or twisted umbilical cord, placenta previa, or a variation in the shape of the uterus.
The Western treatment for breech presentation is External Cephalic Version (ECV), a method of manually turning the baby, performed around week 37. Successful in about half of the cases, ECV can be quite uncomfortable and carries the risk of fetal distress, ruptured membranes, and placental separation, sometimes resulting in the need for an emergency caesarean section. On the other hand, Traditional Chinese medicine approach to breech presentation, which has been used for thousands of years, carries no risk to the mother or baby and boasts about 75% success rate.
The treatment encouraging the baby to turn is generally performed between 32 and 36 weeks, when there is still enough room for the baby to turn, although in some cases it can be attempted later in pregnancy as well. The method, called moxibustion involves burning processed leaves of a mugwort plant called moxa near or on an acupuncture point on the foot, which is believed to cause the body to release hormones that stimulate the uterus and increase fetal activity, thereby encouraging the baby to turn on its own. When successful, the baby will usually turn within 24 hours of the treatment. Though it often takes one treatment for the baby to turn, sometimes several are necessary. Patients are often given moxa "sticks" to take home so that they may continue the therapy in between treatments.
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