Natural ways to induce labour
One of the main reasons women present to my acupuncture clinic is for either pre-birth or induction of labour, so I thought I should take a look at how and why labour actually starts and what women may be able to do to help start it themselves prior to the often dreaded medical induction. It is also very timely as my first ever niece is due to arrive in the world in the next month or so and I hope these suggestions might be used to facilitate her smooth entry when she’s ready to join us.
Firstly, I thought we could look at what causes labour to spontaneously start, and of course the answer is that we don’t really know! It’s probably due to a complex interaction between the mum and her baby. We think the baby’s brain may release some hormones which message to its mother that it is ready to be born, but we don’t yet know why or how this happens as yet. The mother’s body also sends signals, with the placental function starting to wind down around 37-38 weeks. Amniotic fluid levels begin to decline, shrinking the uterine space a little. The cervix starts to release progesterone towards the end of pregnancy, which softens the cervix making it easier to dilate when contractions do begin.
What You Can Do
You will be inundated with advice about bringing on labour, some of which are just nonsense, of course. Here is a list of suggestions that you may have heard of. Some which I recommend and others that are not recommended but covered so you know why.
Walking and Stairs
Being upright means your baby can move further down onto your cervix. As you walk, the pressure caused by the baby’s head can stimulate the release of oxytocin, which helps to trigger and regulate contractions. The stairs can help to move your baby down into a good position and also opens up the pelvis through a gentle rocking motion.
If you can get your baby into a good position before your labour starts, you are in for a smoother ride! Labours with babies in the posterior position (baby’s back to your back) are well known to be longer, are associated with increased back pain, and tend to stop and start more than those when the baby is in the anterior position. Expending time and energy to encourage your baby into a good position is well worth it for when those contractions begin. To find out about good positioning exercises, have a look at the Spinning Babies website.
I know I’ve just told you to go for a walk, climb some stairs and do positioning exercises, but now I want you to rest. Everything in moderation – how can you expect your body to work efficiently for you if it doesn’t have the energy it requires? Most woman are on maternity leave by around the 36 or 37 week mark, so there should be time to roster in a daily afternoon nap, and a morning one too if it’s required. You don’t need to run around visiting everyone; you need to look after yourself instead. And that includes eating good nourishing foods and resting up – don’t forget that a very cute and very demanding little baby will be here before you know it and an uninterrupted nap might become a thing of the past – experienced mums will tell you to enjoy your rest while you can, and you should listen to them.
Of course – my favourite! Here at the Fertility and Pregnancy Acupuncture Clinic, we use our needles to encourage your baby to move into the correct position and get down into the pelvis, to help soften your cervix, to ask your body to start thinking about producing a bit of oxytocin and to chill you out. We recommend weekly acupuncture from 36 weeks to lessen the need for a medical induction of labour and also shortens labour and reduces the need for pain relief. Click here for more information on our services.
Whilst you’re here at the clinic we can teach you a few acupressure points to use at home, both to help get things started and for when you’re in labour too. You have to remember that these are best learnt before you get yourself into good labour, and that it’s your support person or people who need to do it for you. If you can’t make it to an acupuncturist and you want to learn at home, there is a great booklet which is free to download from Debra Betts’ website.
You may think this is an old wives tale, but sex is naturally designed to induce labour. Possibly the last thing some of you will feel like at this stage, but sex provides the two key elements of a medical induction. Semen contains natural prostaglandins, which is the very thing that will be used (well not semen itself but a synthetic prostaglandin) to soften up your cervix in a medical induction. The other key element of a medical induction is the synthetic version of oxytocin. The body releases oxytocin into the body when a woman orgasms, which is what stimulates for contractions.
I thought this might grab your attention! But the reason why this is recommended is it releases oxytocin, which is the hormone which controls contractions. So gentle rolling or rubbing the nipple may well help. It is also useful if your contractions are beginning to become spaced out by encouraging them to return.
Often, when you’re nearing or gone over your estimated due date, your doctor or midwife may offer a membrane sweep (AKA Stretch and Sweep). This involves a vaginal examination, which can be uncomfortable. The doctor or midwife will put their fingers into the cervix and sweep the membranes around the cervix, and at the same time stretch the cervix. This can release both prostaglandin and oxytocin and help labour commence. It’s not always possible to do, as sometimes your baby’s head is a bit too high or the cervix isn’t yet open or soft enough to be able to do it.
Bromelain is an enzyme contained in the fresh juice and stems of pineapples, and in large enough quantities, is thought to cause contractions. Unfortunately, you would have to eat at least seven large pineapples to gain any effect, so this one may prove impractical for you, although if you managed seven pineapples, you’d probably end up with diarrhea, which like curry and castor oil might help bring labour on. It is important not to source bromelain as a supplement, as on its own is not safe during pregnancy.
Raspberry Leaf Tea
This tea has been used as a uterine tonic for centuries in certain cultures, such as India. It can be taken in tablet or tea form and many women use it help get themselves and their uterus ready for labour. Click here for our raspberry leaf tea recipe. Please speak to your health care provider before taking any tablet forms of raspberry leaf tea.
Curries and other spicy foods are thought to stimulate both your bowel and uterus (as they have the same nerve supply) and can help kick start labour. It works for some, and even if it doesn’t, it’s always delicious!
This will help you to relax and if you can find a good pregnancy massage therapist, they may be able to stimulate some of the acupressure points for you too. It can be really useful if you’re stressed or tired and just need a bit of TLC before you need to provide it to your new baby.
This is not my specialty, but I have heard of lots of women using homeopathy to get ready for labour and then during the various stages of labour. If this appeals to you, find an appropriate homeopathic care provider who can help.
Osteopaths and Chiropractors
Lots of women head off to an osteopath or chiropractor to help get their pelvis into the best possible position for labour. Find one who focuses on pregnancy and this might help too.
Evening Primrose Oil
This can be taken either orally or vaginally and is thought to help soften the cervix and prepare it for labour. Please speak to your health care provider before taking evening primrose oil.
You may here this being suggested; however, castor oil is not recommended anymore. It works the same way as the curries by stimulating your bowels and uterus. As a midwife, I’ve known a few women who have used this one and some of them have indeed had a baby faster, but unfortunately the effects of the castor oil doesn’t know that you can stop going to the loo once the baby is out, and it certainly doesn’t look like much fun running to the shared loo (if you’re spending the night in hospital) with your brand new baby every two seconds!!!!
I’ve put this last as it’s by far the most important. Remember, a due date is just an approximate time that your baby might arrive, it might be weeks early or it might be weeks late, you just can’t know until he or she has arrived. As much as you’re super uncomfortable and want this baby out and you’re super excited to meet this baby, it will still come when it comes.
I have gone through a list of suggestions, but the only outcome that really counts is a happy mum and a healthy baby. The rest will happen as it should. Do what you can to hurry along your labour if you like, but definitely make sure that you take this time to rest and dream of the beautiful baby you are going to meet very soon! At the end of the day, your body and baby will come when ready.