This is a post I wrote on October 31, 2016 which didn’t get transferred over to the new site. Enjoy it now!
You might also be interested in my book “Beautiful Birth” or the related on line course. In here there is more information on preparing for birth which includes many of the ideas I suggest here for working with turning breech babies.
How to turn a breech baby: turning breech babies
If you google how to turn a breech baby you will come up with a list of suggestions with perhaps top of the list being external cephalic version (an obstetric technique to manually turn the baby) followed by using the knee to chest position and moxa (a Chinese herb) on the little toe point (BL67).
I would like to consider why babies might be breech and how we can support mothers whose babies are breech. I think it is important that we are not mechanical in our approach and understand that what works for one mother and baby will not work for another. We should not simply be focusing on turning breech babies but understanding the situation more deeply. I also feel that we need to look at the relationship between the mother and the baby and to support their connection on their individual journeys to express who they are. This means supporting not just the body in a physical way, but also the mother’s thoughts, feelings and what is going on for her and her baby. This is an aspect of shiatsu and eastern medicine that I find really helpful. Working with the meridian pathways and points of Chinese medicine is about including all of this: looking at the whole picture physically and emotionally and not simply mechanically focusing on turning breech babies.
Why would we want to turn a breech baby?
The first thing to remember is that many babies are breech (ie bottom rather than head closer to the pelvis) around 32 weeks. By the end of pregnancy without doing anything in particular, 57% of these babies will turn head down (cephalic) with 25% turning after 36 weeks. Only about 3-4 % of babies remain breech and don’t turn. I find many women start to get worried around 32 weeks if their baby is breech, because these days often the pressure is to have an elective Caesarean. A lot of this worry is unnecessary as most babies will turn. Worry and stress on the other hand, are not a particularly helpful emotions during pregnancy. Of course there are also some women who might be worried about vaginal birth and are in some ways relieved that they have a reason to have a Caesarean.
It is only relatively recently, 2010, that there has been more pressure to have a Caesarean delivery for a breech baby. Until then most breech babies were delivered vaginally. However in 2010 a Canadian study , (Hannah) concluded that C section was the safest option for a breech baby. After this it became more difficult for women to get support for a vaginal breech birth. This study has been criticised and many places are now beginning to offer vaginal breech delivery as a choice for some women.
We need to remember that often there is not an issue, the baby just happens to be positioned breech and can quite easily be born vaginally, as many are. Sometimes it is helpful to focus on turning breech babies but it is important to consider why they are breech. Sometimes there are complications which mean that a vaginal delivery is not advisable. Mary Cronk, a UK midwife who has specialised in vaginal breech deliveries states, and this makes sense to me, that a breech baby, with no obvious complications, can
“be born easily and spontaneously, if the labour proceeds spontaneously and easily…(however) ..
I do not believe that there is any place for induction or augmentation in a breech labour. If a breech labour does not progress, this woman’s body is telling us something, and we should listen. There is no emergency, there is no rush, this labour just isn’t progressing, and this baby should be delivered by caesarean operation.
I do not feel that there is any place for either trying to push breeches through pelvises with oxytocic drugs or pulling them through with actively managed breech extractions. I feel that this management is what has contributed to giving vaginal breech delivery poor outcomes and such a bad name. In my experience, if the labour does not progress well and spontaneously, the baby needs to be delivered by caesarean operation.”
To read Mary’s article in full visit the AIMS website: Hands off that breech
Why might a baby be breech?
Firstly, we must not forget that there may be nothing “wrong” at all. Maybe we don’t need to focus just on turning breech babies. The baby just wants to be that way and will be born easily vaginally with no complications. I restate this, as I feel it is important not to make the woman feel that there is anything “wrong” either with her or her baby. We are not all the same and some babies choose a different way of being born. It is important to honour these differences. In some cultures, a breech baby was considered to be lucky . It was thought they would have good fortune or grow up to be healers. How we view a breech baby is determined a lot by our cultural beliefs and assumptions. In our culture we tend to see breech babies as being a “problem” and we have to make them turn. Sometimes postnatally baby’s hips are more open but in most cases this can easily be remedied with some simple baby shiatsu/massage.
Breech Babies are clutching at their mother’s hearts: supporting the baby to make the transition to being born
Secondly we need to remember that in turning head down, the baby is bringing their heart away from the mother’s heart and getting ready for separation from her. I love the Chinese expression that a breech baby is “clutching at their mother’s heart”. It could be that the baby is really happy in the womb and wants to stay close to their mum. It could be the opposite: that the baby is scared to come out. I have worked with women in both of these situations. Sometimes it is the mother who is not ready to let go of her baby and accept the end of the pregnancy. Sometimes I have worked with women who have had a sudden shock (such as their mother being ill or dying) or their partner is away and not certain to be back for the birth. I have worked with women where their relationship with the partner is unclear or even violent and difficult where the mother doesn’t feel safe. In these kind of situations, it makes sense that the baby doesn’t feel safe to be born and be in these difficult situations.
We could say that something is shifting in the ancestral energy: each time a baby comes into the world the family dynamics change, not just of those members who are still alive. Our work is then to help the mother support the baby to make the transition. Sometimes just speaking about what is going on helps shift the situation. Sometimes it is in working physically with the body that the mother can allow certain feelings to release. I work a lot with the Extraordinary Vessels, which have direct links with the ancestral energy and I have found that they help bring powerful emotions to the conscious so that the mother and baby can process them.
Thirdly, in a small number of cases there may be specific issues which are stopping a breech baby from turning such as uterine abnormalities (such as bicornuate (heart shaped) uterus), oligohydramnios (low levels of amniotic fluid which may restrict the movement of the baby), polyhydramnios (too much fluid), low lying placenta, developmental issues with the baby or cord issues. I have worked with many women whose baby tries to turn, they notice the baby moving and may even have contractions, but the baby is unsuccessful. Later we have discovered that the cord is too short, or the baby’s head was stuck between two fibroids or stuck up in the top of a bicornuate uterus and so couldn’t move. In these cases, having a Caesarean is the only way the baby can be born.
We need to consider all these different situations and simply only focus on turning breech babies.
How to support a mother with turning a breech baby and preparing for birth
I find that shiatsu, and indeed most forms of bodywork such as massage or osteopathy or acupuncture can be amazing tools to support the mum and baby in these different situations and potentially for turning a breech baby. Whatever kind of birth is going to happen, we can support the mother and baby to prepare for it.
It is helpful to prepare the mother to be open to any possibility and to support preparing for a Caesarean if the baby doesn’t turn and if the mother either can’t find an obstetrician to support her in a vaginal breech birth or perhaps that the baby is in such a position that a vaginal breech birth is not possible.
I include lots of work of connecting the two more consciously and facilitating the connection between the two. Work like the Heart-Uterus meridian (use my visualisation and adapt it to breech) or just getting mum to place her hands over her baby and talk to them and find out what is going on. This work can also be included in the session by working the Heart-Uterus connection and the Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai). Any kind of work which helps the mother connect with herself and her baby and prepare for birth whether it be massage or osteopathy or shiatsu or acupuncture will be helpful.
I always include deep sacral work as it helps give the baby more space and, depending on the situation may help with turning a breech baby. This I will do with the mother in the all fours position which she can also practice herself with her partner. You could even do this work with the mother in the knee to chest position.
I will also work down the legs (Bladder meridian) and include work with BL67: I find that shiatsu style work ie pressure to the point is as effective as using moxa (the Chinese herb). Women may prefer it
I always include some work with the Extraordinary Vessels especially the Girdle Vessel (Dai Mai) or Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai).
I’d love to hear how you work with breech babies and what you have found through perhaps turning breech babies and from women who have been supporting to connect with their breech baby in whatever process they will go through.
Here are some of the comments on the original blog about turning breech babies:
Lilli Pock November 1, 2016 at 7:04 pm
Thank you Suzanne,
thank you for the blog article about turning breech babies, it is very interesting and so well put in words!
i worked with 4 pregnant women who’s baby were breech (all of them over 36 weeks) one of them with twins. i used parts of hypnobirthing, yoga, a lot of talking, collecting possibilities of other natural techniques that i could not provide but knew of, tips for changing daily habits (like avoiding sitting on a chair or car too long), bonding with the baby,… and of course shiatsu, but as i wasn’t so familiar with the importance of the extraordinary vessels i see now, i would have had a different approach with the shiatsu session. 2 babies turned and that within the next 12 hours after, that making the already fixed date of the c-section (days later, because tendency here is to set the date 2 weeks ahead due date) not necessary. these women came only once to give it (me) a try.
also my neighbor bore her 6th child in breech 2 weeks over due date. very rare case here in austria! only one hospital in vienna will help you with breech birth, all others it’s 100% c-section case. i am glad to know her, a lovely woman, and i use that story to tell in some occasions to set things back to center or straight, as with all the other stories going around there is less and less “good” birth stories that tell about breech birth. doctors also frightened this woman, setting date for a c-section 4 weeks before actual birth. she just canceled, had doubts as well at some nights but was so glad later after a quick and good birth experience that she’d trusted her body and her baby.
also very important, some babies just can’t turn, thinking this must happen puts a lot of pressure on as well. you explained it much better than that, but yes, so important!
i really like your wisdom, way of thinking and explaining.
Thank you very much for sharing!
Lilli Pock, Vienna
suzanneyates November 8, 2016 at 12:56 pm
Thank you for sharing your experience Lilli about turning breech babies. And great to hear how it is in different countries. Great to hear about your neighbour’s breech baby at 42 weeks…
shiatsuglasgow November 1, 2016 at 11:10 am
Hi Suzanne thanks for this, such an important subject on turning breech babies! So many women are fretting through the last weeks of their pregnancy over having to turn a breech baby. They seek out all sorts of treatments that can be done to turn their breech baby. I used to do Moxa on BL67 myself, and it seemed to be working in most cases. It was wonderful. But more and more I realise that it is the Well Mother approach that you taught me that was at the root of the successes, rather than the Moxibustion.
I hardly ever use moxa now as I find the time is better spent on your methods of talking and encouraging mother, which are so effective. Also working with her energy and helping her connect with her own and her baby’s/babies’ energies, accepting and having faith in her body to birth this baby, not in a right or a wrong way, but in the best way for her and this baby. This confidence, coming from herself as the centre of the matter, is so wonderful for promoting a positive birth experience, with all the love and not with fear. And now slowly, slowly here in Glasgow the possibilities for for women to deliver breech in hospital are beginning to increase, if they can be determined to persevere/ be patient, and put their own needs above those of the medical professionals.
(I have a couple expecting twins soon and this whole subject is more important than ever in their case!)
I hope you don’t mind me posting this link here to an article by Michel Odent. http://www.wombecology.com/?pg=fetusejection
suzanneyates November 1, 2016 at 2:59 pm
Dear Lucy, thanks for your feedback on my blog on turning breech babies. And it is great to hear that more options are opening up for women in Glasgow.