The cesarean rate for diagnosed breech presentations rose from 12% in 1970 to more than 95% today. A fetus that is in a breech position has it s head at the top of the uterus instead of down against the cervix, this can create complications during delivery. For women who are planning on having a vaginal birth, this is a shocking statistic. The trend began in 1959 when Dr. Ralph Wright called for mandatory cesareans for women with a baby in the breech position. The move towards mandatory cesareans for breech is affecting the clinical training of obstetricians and midwives and fewer are having the chance to witness a vaginal breech birth. Coupled with the threat from malpractice insurance companies to not provide coverage for hospitals that permit planned vaginal breech births, the clinical skill is in jeopardy.
Acupuncturists are turning fate around for women with a breech presentation. A common plant found in the mountains and abandoned plots around North Carolina is the tool of choice. The plant is called Artemisia vulgaris and has been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to stimulate acupuncture points with heat. The plant is dried and repeatedly ground and sifted until it forms into a soft, golden fluff called moxa. Moxa is burned at a safe distance from the skin to gently stimulate selected acupuncture points. For women with a breech diagnosis, the point chosen is called Zhi Yin (Reaching Yin) and is found on the outside edge of the little toe.
In 1998, JAMA published a study lead by Dr. Cardini which demonstrated that moxibustion applied to Zhi Yin for 1-2 weeks beginning at the 33rd week of pregnancy resulted in the fetus turning head first after treatment and at delivery. Cardini’s group demonstrated over a 75% success using the moxa technique. Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for women during pregnancy. Acupuncture can resolve muscular pain that occurs during pregnancy and is a treatment of choice for a mother concerned about taking pharmaceuticals. Women with severe morning sickness are also finding that the holistic approach of acupuncture is the best approach. Incorporating breathing and relaxation exercises along with acupuncture treatment, an expectant mother with morning sickness can keep food down and nourish her and her baby’s body. Induction of labor can also be performed with acupuncture. When using acupuncture to induce labor, contractions increase gradually which gives the mother’s body time to safely transition into active labor.
The current age of medicine has brought a tremendous wealth of skills and knowledge both old and new. As science moves forward with new medical breakthroughs it is also important to keep old methods of effective procedures alive. A medical community that thoughtfully integrates innovation with antiquity will have the resources available to meet the future’s healthcare needs.