Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation

There is some evidence to suggest that moxibustion may be useful for turning babies from breech presentation (bottom first) to cephalic presentation (head first) for labour when used with either acupuncture or postural techniques of knee to chest or lifting buttocks while lying on the side.

Breech presentation of babies is common in the second trimester of pregnancy but most babies turn themselves before the onset of labour; some do not. A baby coming bottom first can have more difficulty being born, which causes trauma to the mother. A vaginal birth has to be planned or a caesarean section may be suggested. Moxibustion is a type of Chinese medicine that may be helpful in turning a breech baby. It involves burning a herb close to the skin at an acupuncture point on the little toe to produce a warming sensation. This review found eight randomised controlled trials involving 1346 women. Women randomly assigned to moxibustion had daily to twice weekly treatment at between 28 and 37 weeks. In one trial adverse events relating to treatment included an unpleasant odour (with or without throat irritation), nausea and abdominal pain from contractions. The included trials were of moderate methodological quality, sample sizes in some of the studies were small, how the treatment was applied differed and reporting was limited. While the results were combined they should be interpreted with caution due to the differences in the included studies. More evidence is needed concerning the benefits and safety of moxibustion.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review found limited evidence to support the use of moxibustion for correcting breech presentation. There is some evidence to suggest that the use of moxibustion may reduce the need for oxytocin. When combined with acupuncture, moxibustion may result in fewer births by caesarean section; and when combined with postural management techniques may reduce the number of non-cephalic presentations at birth, however, there is a need for well-designed randomised controlled trials to evaluate moxibustion for breech presentation which report on clinically relevant outcomes as well as the safety of the intervention.

Read the full abstract...

Moxibustion (a type of Chinese medicine which involves burning a herb close to the skin) to the acupuncture point Bladder 67 (BL67) (Chinese name Zhiyin), located at the tip of the fifth toe, has been proposed as a way of correcting breech presentation.


To examine the effectiveness and safety of moxibustion on changing the presentation of an unborn baby in the breech position, the need for external cephalic version (ECV), mode of birth, and perinatal morbidity and mortality for breech presentation.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (26 March 2012), MEDLINE (1966 to 1 August 2011), EMBASE (1980 to August 2011), CINAHL (1982 to 1 August 2011), MIDIRS (1982 to 1 August 2011) and AMED (1985 to 1 August 2011) and searched bibliographies of relevant papers.

Selection criteria: 

The inclusion criteria were published and unpublished randomised controlled trials comparing moxibustion (either alone or in combination with acupuncture or postural techniques) with a control group (no moxibustion), or other methods (e.g. external cephalic version, acupuncture, postural techniques) in women with a singleton breech presentation.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed eligibility and trial quality and extracted data. The outcome measures were baby's presentation at birth, need for external cephalic version, mode of birth, perinatal morbidity and mortality, maternal complications and maternal satisfaction, and adverse events.

Main results: 

Six new trials have been added to this updated review. One trial has been moved to studies awaiting classification while further data are being requested. This updated review now includes a total of eight trials (involving 1346 women). Meta-analyses were undertaken (where possible) for the main and secondary outcomes. Moxibustion was not found to reduce the number of non-cephalic presentations at birth compared with no treatment (P = 0.45). Moxibustion resulted in decreased use of oxytocin before or during labour for women who had vaginal deliveries compared with no treatment (risk ratio (RR) 0.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.13 to 0.60). Moxibustion was found to result in fewer non-cephalic presentations at birth compared with acupuncture (RR 0.25, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.72). When combined with acupuncture, moxibustion resulted in fewer non-cephalic presentations at birth (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.94), and fewer births by caesarean section (RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.64 to 0.98) compared with no treatment. When combined with a postural technique, moxibustion was found to result in fewer non-cephalic presentations at birth compared with the postural technique alone (RR 0.26, 95% CI 0.12 to 0.56).