Shay Mitchell Tried Acupuncture to Get Her Baby Out of Breech Position—But Is That Safe?
The Pretty Little Liars star tried several alternative therapies to move her baby to a head-down position in utero.
Since announcing her pregnancy on Instagram in June, Pretty Little Liars actress Shay Mitchell has been giving fans an in-depth look into her pregnancy journey through her YouTube series, Almost Ready. In a recent episode of the series, Mitchell's doctor revealed that her baby was in a breech position, meaning the feet (rather than the head) were pointed toward the birth canal, which can sometimes present complications during delivery, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
After learning that her daughter was "head-up," Mitchell was told that she'll have to go to the hospital to have an external cephalic version (ECV), a manual procedure in which the doctor attempts to turn the baby around in the womb so that it's facing head-down. However, Mitchell said she had mixed feelings about undergoing the procedure.
"I don't know how the hell that's going to go," she told her partner, Matte Babel on the car ride home for the doctor's office. "I had someone tell me that it was almost just as bad as labor. They have to like forcefully move her in my stomach." (Related: Shay Mitchell Reveals She Had a Miscarriage In 2018)
While an ECV isn't exactly pain-free, it's not a "forceful" procedure, and it shouldn't cause labor-like discomfort, says Michael Cackovic, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn from Ohio State University Wexner Centre. "You are basically guiding the baby, [and it] will probably go down on its own anyway, but you're not using brute force," he explains, adding that it's all about the technique. "If someone is hurting you during this procedure, they're not doing it correctly," he says.
Still, Mitchell's personal preference was to avoid the procedure. So, she turned to some alternative therapies in an effort to get her baby to rotate naturally. On top of going to a chiropractor and putting headphones on her belly, Mitchell also tried prenatal acupuncture to see if anything would cause her baby to move out of a breech position.
Turns out, Mitchell isn't the only celeb to try acupuncture in this situation. Shawn Johnson East did the same back in August: "Breech baby cures! Let's flip this baby doc! Acupuncture is life!" Johnson East wrote in an Instagram Story that showed her getting acupuncture.
But does this strategy really help? Here's what experts have to say.
Does acupuncture help babies in a breech position?
Women often turn to acupuncture as a drug-free alternative for relieving some common discomforts and ailments that can arise during pregnancy. Getting a baby out of a breech position is one of them, says Stefanie DiLibero L.Ac, a licensed acupuncturist at Gotham Wellness. When trying to get a baby to move in utero, professionals usually focus on an acupuncture point known as Bladder 67, explains DiLibero. The point is located on the outside of the end of the pinky toe, near the edge of the nail. (Related: Why Does Acupuncture Make Me Cry?)
From there, a Chinese herb called moxa (also referred to as Artemesia Vulgaris) is applied to or near this acupuncture point once or twice daily for 10 to 20 minutes for about 10 days, says DiLibero. This process, called moxibustion, involves heating the acupuncture point by burning the moxa material close to the skin and removing the herb once the skin becomes red and warm. The idea is that moxa stimulates heat receptors on the skin of the toe and encourages the release of two pregnancy hormones—placental estrogen and prostaglandins—which may then lead to uterine contractions that can stimulate the baby to move.
"Ideally, you start this around 34 weeks for it to be most effective (because there is more room in the womb to move), but it's always worth a try, even at later stages in gestation," explains DiLibero.
How effective is it really?
Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of research on how effective acupuncture can be in getting babies out of a breech position. In fact, the effectiveness is actually quite difficult to calculate, says Dr. Cackovic. He explains that at 25 weeks of pregnancy, 25 percent of babies are in a breech position. That percentage decreases by half at 32 weeks, and by the time a woman is at term, only three to four percent of babies end up still being in a breech position.
"All babies want to be head-down because their head is the heaviest part of their bodies," explains Dr. Cackovic. But women often turn to alternative therapies like acupuncture for breech babies several weeks before they're at term. If and when the baby does move to a head-down position, it's not uncommon for people to credit it to the acupuncture when, in most cases, it likely happened naturally, says Dr. Cackovic. (Related: 5 Weird Health Concerns That Can Pop Up During Pregnancy)
"The reality is that while acupuncture is likely safe during pregnancy, there isn't enough data out there to prove that it can help get a baby out of breech position," he explains. "Most of these things just occupy the mom while the baby works its way [down] on its own. From everything I know from anatomy and physiology, I just can't see how acupuncture would help move a baby."
Is it safe?
The short answer is yes, but it's always important to see a licensed professional when considering acupuncture during pregnancy, says DiLibero. She also notes that there are several acupuncture and acupressure points that may be best to avoid during pregnancy, as they are thought to induce contractions. (Related: Science Has Found a Way to Seriously Speed Up Labor)
"There are some points which are contraindicated during pregnancy" warns DiLibero. "These are used to bring on labor when the woman is overdue, but [they] have other health-balancing functions for people who are not pregnant. So always make sure that your acupuncturist is aware that you are pregnant so they can avoid these point locations."
Does a breech baby always equal a C-section?
While Mitchell was nervous to experience an ECV, the thought of having to undergo a C-section to deliver her breech baby brought her to tears. "I can't even talk about this. It's actually going to make me upset," she said in last week's episode of Almost Ready. "Even if it doesn't happen today, I don't want to have to do that."
"It's not just the surgery; it's the recovery time," she added. "I cannot be bedridden for however long it's going to be. I really don't want that. If I'm in bed, I'm going to go nuts." (Related: 7 Moms Share What It's Really Like to Have a C-Section)
But a breech baby doesn't always mean you have to undergo a C-section. "These days in the hands of a skilled provider, a breech presentation doesn't immediately mean a C-section," explains Dr. Cackovic. "We vaginally deliver breech babies all the time," as long as the doctor feels it is safe for both the woman and her baby to do so, he says.
On that note, there are obviously exceptions in some cases. Sometimes there are anatomical reasons why your baby could be stuck in a breech position, says Dr. Cackovic. For instance, it could have something to do with the placement of the placenta, or you might have a uterine anomaly that causes a lack of space for the baby to turn, he explains. But if your doc tells you there are no red flags, and you would prefer to avoid a C-section, Dr. Cackovic says it's worth having a conversation with your provider about delivering a breech baby vaginally.