Ask The Midwife

by Gail Chapin
Certified Nurse Midwife


QUESTION: I am three months away from my due date and my baby is breech. My doctor is telling me I may have to have a cesarean section. I am in a state of panic! What can I do to try helping the baby move head down?

I can imagine how you feel! But you can relax- most babies that are breech (baby’s bottom is coming first instead of the head) at this point in the pregnancy will find their way to a head down position on their own.

Breech births are a hot topic these days amongst obstetricians and midwives. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently made the recommendation that ALL breech babies be born by cesarean section. This is a change from previous practices where women not having their first baby might have the option of a vaginal breech - depending on the provider’s philosophy.

Fortunately, there are several things you can try on your own to encourage the baby to turn. I will briefly discuss some of these but I strongly suggest you do further research on your own and consult with your doctor before trying any of them.

The simplest exercise to turn a breech baby is the breech tilt. These should be done three times a day for 10-15 minutes each time. The mother can either lie on her back on a firm surface and raise her hips 12 inches with large solid pillows or use a slant board. An ironing board works just fine. Prop one end of the board 12-18 inches high on the seat of a chair or couch. She then lies on the board with her head down, hips up and bring bent knees gently up toward the tummy. In this position, gravity helps the baby move towards the top of the uterus, which helps flex the chin onto the chest and start to turn under. As pressure builds on the back of the baby’s head, it should gradually turn transverse (sideways) and then all the way to head down.

Another option is to have your health care provider perform a “version.” Pressure is applied to the mother’s abdomen in an attempt to manually turn the baby. There is some risk involved in this procedure such as potentially causing pre-term labor and possible separation of part of the placenta. Versions can be a little uncomfortable and not all doctors or midwives offer them. Parents considering version should have a thorough discussion with their provider.

Another technique that is gaining in popularity is moxibustion, a sort of acupuncture without needles. The procedure involves burning a cigar-like stick of herbs near the outer corner of the pregnant woman’s little toenail. Moxibustion carries no risk to mother or baby (I suppose she could burn her toe by accident). A study in China about four years ago found that 75% of breech babies treated with moxibustion turned to a head first position compared to 48% in the control group who had no treatment. Other alternative suggestions include acupuncture, homeopathic medicines (Pulsatilla being the most common remedy used), and chiropractic.

A few “folk” remedies are: placing headphones to the lower abdomen and playing pleasant sounds or music, footbaths with a few drops of the essential oil Clary Sage and moving a flashlight from the top of the tummy to the bottom on the side the baby is facing (the idea here is that the baby will follow the light). All of these techniques will work better if the baby is far enough away from the due date that it still has plenty of room to move.

First, relax. The baby will probably turn on its own. Next, I would suggest you contact practitioners who are skilled in these alternative methods for more details. And of course, discuss any plans with your provider

If you have any questions about pregnancy or women’s health, e-mail us at thebirthplace@pa.net, call them to 717-593-9173 or mail them to:

The Birth Place
14478 Molly Pitcher Highway
Greencastle, PA 17225