"Turn your head to the other side, with your face down," Anne Lundquist says to her patient, Jennifer Hernandez, who is lying on her stomach on a chiropractic table.
Then Lundquist, 42, who works in Orange, Calif., starts applying pressure to Hernandez's hips. "Oh, he just kicked me!" Lundquist says, referring to the 36-week old baby inside Hernandez's belly.
Close to 10 minutes later, Hernandez, 36, stands up and feels relief. Two more weeks and she'll be ready to deliver, hopefully with no complications.
That's not the same story she heard four weeks ago, when an obstetrician told her she was facing a Cesarean delivery (C-section) because the baby in her womb was in a high-risk position. A childbirth educator referred her to Lundquist, a prenatal chiropractor certified since 2001 in the Webster In-Utero Constraint Technique.
The Webster technique is an increasingly popular form of chiropractic medicine that focuses on helping pregnant women. Though complex in some ways, the basic idea is this: to help a pregnant woman feel comfortable enough with her body to help her give birth to a healthy baby.
Sometimes the manipulations include loosening the mother's womb enough to allow the baby to shift from a high-risk position to a position that's safer for the baby and more comfortable for the mother.
"(It) reduces interference to the nervous system, balances out pelvic muscles and ligaments which in turn removes torsion to the uterus. (It) allows the baby to get into the best possible position for birth," said Jeanne Ohm, executive coordinator of the Philadelphia-based International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, the organization that certifies chiropractors on the technique.
Although the technique was initially used to help pregnant moms with breech babies, it is now used to help any woman with pregnancy-related complaints, said Lundquist.
Hernandez first visited Lundquist at 32 weeks of pregnancy. An ultrasound from her obstetrician's office showed her baby was 180 degrees from the normal head-down position for birth, so her doctor told her she needed to start considering the possibility of a C-section, a medical standard of care for breech babies but something Hernandez was hoping to avoid.
After two sessions with Lundquist, a new ultrasound showed the baby was in the proper head-down position. "I felt a great relief after the first adjustment," Hernandez said.
Hernandez had been suffering with neck and back pain long before she got pregnant. She started horseback riding at age 3 and was involved in three car accidents. But the active real estate agent never thought the pain would haunt her pregnancy. Critically, she never thought her own pain might interfere with her baby's development.
But it does.
Lundquist, in an essay she wrote about the Webster technique, said that during the last six months of a baby's development in the womb, when 65 percent of the baby's nervous system is growing, the fetus is extremely sensitive to pressures that can influence the "normal formation of structures."
Among those "normal" functions is the baby's position in the womb. If, by the 34th week, the baby isn't in the correct position the baby isn't likely to reposition without some outside help.
Breech babies aren't limited to moms who have bad backs and necks.
Karen Lombard, 41, never had back pain, but her second baby was in a breech position before she visited with Lundquist last year.
Lombard didn't feel any change after Lundquist applied the Webster technique. Although the baby wasn't moved to a totally safe position, she was moved enough so the doctor could maneuver the baby before active labor. The doctor used a baby maneuvering technique known as the external cephalic version, or ECV, to get the infant into a healthier head-down position.
Lombard said the procedure was painful, but short and successful. She had a vaginal birth and her daughter, Danielle, is a thriving 4-month-old.
Lundquist saw Lombard for the first time when Lombard was 36 weeks pregnant, a point that Lundquist says might have been too late for the Webster technique to achieve the full effect.
HOW IT WORKS
Lundquist loosens up tight spots she finds on the ligaments that suspend the uterus in the mother's pelvis. She provides a gentle pressure with her thumbs on the ligaments on each side of the patient's lower abdomen, avoiding direct pressure on the baby or putting any pressure on the uterus. If one of the ligaments is too tight, it could put tension on the uterus causing a tortional or twisting force, a condition called in-utero constraint.
Each session lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, with moms noticing the changes in 30 minutes to one hour after the treatment. But mothers say that their babies get very active during or soon after Lundquist's manipulations.
"Immediately after the first treatment I felt he moved," Hernandez said.
The technique doesn't involve any risk, said Ohm, who has 25 years of chiropractic experience, 10 of which she has been teaching the Webster technique to the ICPA membership.
Lundquist usually is successful in readjusting the baby, though the success rate drops if her patients have passed the 34-week mark of their pregnancies.
"It's good to look at the baby's position by the 34th week," said Sue Coffman, a Bradley childbirth method instructor who referred Hernandez and Lombard to Lundquist's care.
According to the ICPA, the Webster technique has been found to be 82 percent successful in helping moms feel comfortable.
"I recommend (pregnant moms) visiting a chiropractor even if the baby isn't breech. It's really helpful," Hernandez said.
Breech position: A fetus with the feet, buttocks or legs pointing down toward the cervix is said to be in breech position. Before birth, most breech fetuses change position so that the head points downward. Some, however, remain in breech position late into the last part of pregnancy.
Medical procedures used with breech babies
External cephalic version (ECV): an external procedure done by a physician to turn a fetus from any abnormal position into a head-down position before labor begins.
Cesarean section or C-section: a form of childbirth in which a surgical incision is made through a mother's abdomen and uterus to deliver the baby. It is usually performed when a vaginal delivery would put the baby or mother's life at risk. In the last decade it has been performed upon request.
Chiropractic procedure: the Webster technique
A chiropractic analysis and adjustment that reduces interference to the nervous system, balances pelvic muscles and ligaments which in turn removes torsion to the uterus, reducing the potential for intrauterine constraint and allows the baby to get into the best possible position for birth.
It was developed in 1978 by Larry Webster, founder of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, to help breech babies turn to the proper head-down position for a vaginal birth.
TIPS AND CONTACTS
Tips to help the baby get in the right position:
Sit on the "truck driver" position: on the edge of the seat with legs open
Sleep on the side, leaning a little forward
Exercise (especially stretch) and eat healthy and balanced meals
Talk with your obstetrician or gynecologist about any abnormalities before seeing experts in other fields
Address of Webster-certified chiropractors can be found at the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association's Web site, www.icpa4kids.com