Babies are supposed to enter the world headfirst, but when a baby is breech (feetfirst), it's a potentially serious situation that often requires a Caesarean section.
Sometimes, however, it's possible to tun that tyke around using the techniques of Chinese medicine — including acupuncture and a mysterious herb called mugwort. The ancient practice also can make normal deliveries less painful, keep mom more comfortable and help her recover more easily afterward.
Ashland acupuncturist Kara Miller of Jade Mountain Medicine in Ashland, who has been a midwifery assistant for 20 years, uses needles — before clients go to a birthing center — to help induce labor, establish regular contractions and reduce pain.
Especially handy in the Chinese medicine tool kit is "moxibustion," or the igniting of mugwort (burned like incense), in association with acupuncture needles stuck into the pinky toe. It's a process, says Miller, that stimulates blood and "chi" (energy) to the womb and can turn a breech baby.
"It was kind of a miracle," says recent mom Kyla Chermesino. "I was worried about her being breech, but three hours after we did moxibustion with the needle in my toe, the baby turned. There was a big movement, and I was like, 'Whoa.' "
The process, says Miller, can be done by spearing a segment of mugwort with the needle to the toe and then burning it.
"It's called 'alternative,' but it's been done for thousands of years and is used by half the world's population," says Miller. "And above all, empirically, it works. I don't know exactly how it does it. I just know it does. And it's really mainstream."
Another recent mom, Tia Rose Behrens of Ashland, underwent the same process.
"It was really cool," she says. "I never believed in it. I thought it was magical voodoo, but going through acupuncture to turn her — she was really moving but couldn't turn. I finally had to do the C-section."
Both mothers were referred by Dr. Jani Rollins, an Ashland obstetrician. Miller says she gets many referrals from midwives and physicians who reach outside the box for the best care.
In acupuncture, there is no protocol about which points get the needles, says Miller. Rather, "it's always based on tongue diagnosis and pulse readings on three positions on the radial artery, which have 27 classifications of pulses, giving information about the overall constitution, down to specific organs."
Using acupuncture during childbirth can diminish labor pains and help prevent episiotomies and epidurals. The process is safe and makes women more comfortable, she says, so they are able to labor more easily and the baby is not exposed unnecessarily to drugs.
Moxibustion is optimal at eight months, when there's "still room in the womb to turn," says Miller. "It's one of the most widely researched and well-known aspects of Chinese medicine."
After delivery, says Chermesino, acupuncture helps shrink the uterus, slow bleeding and tighten up ligaments around the womb and hips.
Miller began working as a midwifery assistant in Ashland in 1997. After attending a birth at which an acupuncturist was present, she decided to pursue a master's degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland. After completing the program, she traveled to Nanjing, China, for an internship in the gynecology department of the Nanjing International Acupuncture Training Center.
Miller and her husband, fellow acupuncturist Jason Miller, are producing a television series called "Life Authentic," about the inner process of creating a healthy, happy and quality lifestyle — aside from the usual practices of nutrition, exercise and health care — and will be seeking, with Ashland producer Gary Kout, to market it to a television network.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.