Burning herbs makes the baby spin 'round: moxibustion and breech babies.

Last night at our childbirth class, the instructor was discussing breech babies. She mentioned that one way to get babies to turn head-down is moxibustion, which, as she described it, is a non-needle acupuncture technique where the provider burns some herbs by the mother’s feet. She said that a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association supported the technique’s effectiveness, even though “western medicine doesn’t know why it works.”

I was skeptical.

Well, a bit of research on the Net when I got home at least confirmed the basics of moxibustion (detailed about halfway down that page – with photos!) and that JAMA had indeed published a study that found moxibustion to be effective. Even Skepdic referred to it (scroll down to the November 11, 1998 section):

I’m surprised, and I’m still skeptical – or at least, I want to know more. Have further studies confirmed moxibustion’s effectiveness? Are there any working theories on why this works – something more substantive than “Chinese medicine works in mysterious ways”?

Please shed some light. I’m very curious. (Note: I am not requesting medical advice in this thread; my wife’s not far enough along to have a breech baby yet, so it wouldn’t apply regardless.)

Most acupuncturists do moxa in combination with two needles - one at the corner of the nail of each little pinkie toe. So it’s not entirely needleless.

We used it a lot - at least four cases a month - in the acupuncturist’s office where I worked. Only one woman in the five years I was there needed a c-section 'cause it didn’t work. Occasionally, the moxa would work and the baby would flip, only to flip back again a day later. This happens with external versions, too. Another dose of moxa would do the trick on the slippery fellas.

External Versions have gone out of style due to fears around complications. Moxa seems like a safe option, and certainly doesn’t hurt anyone. If it doesn’t work, an external version can be done the next day.

As for why it works - I can only say it in Chinese Medicine terms which won’t mean anything to you or be accepted by the Western minds on the board. The heating of UB (Urinary Bladder) point 67 on each side increases the yang which is needed for the baby to move. Movement in babies at this time is naturally downward, so if you give them the energy they need to move, they will most likely move down.

Not very helpful, I know. Sorry.

Hmm. They didn’t appear to use needles in the JAMA study, so apparently they’re not necessary for moxibustion to be effective. (Apparently they don’t quash the moxibustion’s effectiveness, either.) What I’m really curious about is if the smoke and heat are both required, or if one or the other of them would cause the effect.

Well, the key part of your explanation may be the last part. The heating does * something * to make the baby move, and movement, in general, is beneficial. So it could just be that the mother’s discomfort is transmitted to the baby, either through chemical means or just muscular tension in the lower part of the body. Did the study heat other parts of the body to see if they were equally effective? Did they use anything besides mugwort?