When I was pregnant with my first child back in the early 80s, I did a special report on childbirth and was allowed in the labor and delivery room with the mother. I was particularly struck with how, when she was almost ready to deliver, she was put on a gurney and whisked off to an operating room. Everyone, including me and the videographer, had to change into surgical scrubs and put on masks. I vowed that when my baby was born, there would be no trip to the OR. I would labor and deliver in the same comfortable room. My obstetrician agreed, as long as the baby was properly positioned and there were no other complications.
So there we were on Christmas Day 1983 and things were moving right along when the doctor came in to assess the situation and suddenly declared, “Oh, oh, the baby is posterior. We’re going to have to move you to the OR.”
“No way,” I commanded. “Give me half an hour. I’ll turn her around!”
My confidence came from a friend who labored for about 36 hours before delivering her first child. Just a few weeks before, she had regaled a group of us with stories about how the baby wasn’t in the right position and the nurses had her assume so many positions she felt like a contortionist. One finally worked and the baby turned. We were howling with laughter when she demonstrated some of the positions.
I was not howling with laughter as I got up on my hands and knees and started rocking back and forth as my friend had described. About six maneuvers later my doctor evaluated my progress and to his amazement, the baby had turned and was almost ready to make her entrance. I didn’t have the time or the energy to gloat. There was more hard work to be done. Finally, twelve hours after the first contraction, my daughter was born — shoulder first, so I guess she hadn’t completely turned, but she was beautiful and healthy!
Meaghan Woodford was 33 weeks along when she found out her baby was not in position. She planned to have this child, her third, at home. If he didn’t turn, she might have to check into the hospital instead. Her reaction: “We have to fix that now or it’s going to throw a big wrench in my plans. In the hospital I couldn’t have my midwife as my doula. I didn’t want that to happen. I was adamant that I could turn him around.” She went to Cape Elizabeth chiropractor Dr. Janel Voelker for help. After just one quick adjustment, says Meaghan, “He turned relatively quickly. It was very gentle. I didn’t realize it at first because he was a wiggly kid to begin with.”
Dr. Voelker says her goal is to align the woman’s pelvis and loosen up ligaments that support the uterus, allowing the baby to get into proper position on its own. She is certified in the Webster technique, which is a specific chiropractic adjustment for pregnant women. “I have a specialized table that has drop pieces in it,” she explains. “The mom is lying on her stomach on a nice pillow to protect her baby. I check the measurements on how the pelvis is moving, how the hips are moving, how the legs are moving. That helps me determine in which direction the pelvis is out of alignment.”
She is able to raise a section of the table underneath the woman’s pelvis about a half-inch. “I push down,” she continues, “and the table then drops that half inch and it allows me to do a very quick, but very gentle adjustment on the pelvis to line it back up again.” She also teaches the woman how to massage the round ligaments that surround the uterus in order to loosen them up.
Because Meaghan didn’t want to take any chances, she also saw an acupuncturist, who used a traditional Chinese technique called moxibustion. “You have a smudge stick about 4-inches long that you light and blow out so it smokes. I had to hold it near my pinky toe about 5 minutes on each side every other day for a few weeks. I know it sounds crazy, but I was amazed. Every time we did it I could feel him move.”
Moxibustion involves warming an acupuncture point with a moxa stick made of the herb mugwort. The point on the outside of the little toe is connected to the uterus through a meridian or pathway. When it is warmed it stimulates the uterus, which can cause the fetus to move.
Meaghan’s father was a physician and she was raised in a “very western medicine household.” But she was determined to have a home birth and willing to try whatever methods she could to turn her baby. “It was a new experience,” she says. “It worked and I’m very pleased that it did.” Ronan Woodford was born at home on May 22, 2010 and, as his mother describes, “There were no extenuating circumstances. The home birth was wonderful!”
Fortunately, most babies will engage or get into position on their own about two weeks before the due date. Head down with the face toward the mother’s spine is the optimum position. Delivery becomes more difficult when the baby is facing the mother’s belly. If it’s sideways or its bottom or feet are facing downward, a c-section is usually recommended.
The c-section rate is this country is currently 32.8 percent. Forty years ago, it was 5 percent. Recognizing the high rate, in 2010 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued less restrictive guidelines for women who wanted to try having a vaginal birth after a previous c-section (VBAC). The president of the college stated, “The current cesarean rate is undeniably high and absolutely concerns us as ob-gyns.” Coincidentally, Meagan’s first delivery was a c-section and she had two subsequent vaginal births.
I’m not suggesting that either Meaghan or I would have needed a c-section because our babies weren’t positioned properly, and maybe they would have turned on their own. But neither of us was willing to have a wait and see what happens if we do nothing attitude. We both knew what wanted and were willing to speak up and take action. Our first priority was the safety of our babies, so we made sure our health care providers were in the loop. The result? Two healthy babies and two happy mamas!
If you’d like to learn more about baby positioning, I found an interesting website called Spinning Babies. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or stories to share. And also, make sure to read the current issue of Maine Women Magazine. It’s all about pregnancy.