Natural ways to bring on labour: can you and should you do it?

You’re approaching the 40 week mark and those calls from your family, friends and your mum’s best friend from school who somehow knows your due date are taking on a frenzied tone. Your best mate wants to make sure you’re the one she tells first, your mother in law has picked out her outfit for the first photo with her grandkid and your dad is postponing his holiday to make sure he can meet the little one as soon as possible. It’s enough to make you want to drop your phone into the bath on purpose. Maybe just put it on silent for a bit.

On top of all that noise, your midwife is now talking to you about engagement fractions (⅗? Is ⅗ ok for now?), sweeps and inductions. You’re wondering if every tiny bit of fluid you can feel is the start of your waters breaking, you’ve had enough of aching in bed when you try to sleep and every Braxton Hicks contraction you feel could be the start of something. In other words, the pressure is on.

Technically, there’s no ‘natural’ way to bring on labour, as even a sweep might be hurrying along a baby who’s not quite ready to make an appearance yet. Research now shows that the baby’s lungs will release a special protein that tells the mum’s body that it’s ready to go and start labour. Also, the baby’s head position is vital. The pressure of it on the cervix also kicks off and amplifies the flow of hormones needed for labour. The best advice out there is to be patient and let nature take it’s awe inspiring course.

What’s a woman to do? Wait it out and hope for the best or speed things along yourself if you can? Could your attempts make labour a painful nightmare or will they just not work? Here’s a brief roundup of options you might have seen or heard about.

Might work but might not

Pineapple – this apparently does work. The bromelain it contains is thought to act in a similar way to the human hormone prostaglandin that ripens and softens the cervix, making labour more likely to start imminently. You can try this one late in pregnancy if you like but be warned – you’ll need to eat 8 fresh pineapple cores a day to get anywhere near the volume of bromelain that you need in your body for it to be effective. That means none of the tasty flesh and no juicy canned ones either. Hot and spicy food – There’s no real evidence for this one. If you have a craving for spicy food, indulge it. Bear in mind though that the last thing you want to deal with, alongside your labour, is an upset digestive system if you overdo it. Your body will likely prepare itself with a mini clearing of the system so what goes in will come out sometime soon.

Stay away from these Castor oil – the evidence shows that this will work for some people but if it does, the outcomes aren’t normally good. Everyone who took part in studies felt nauseous, many had much more painful labours and it was likely that taking it increased the chances of a cesarean. This one doesn’t sound good to me. I’d leave it well alone.

Aloe vera juice – bottles of aloe vera juice often carry a warning that they shouldn’t be used by pregnant women. It works as a laxative and can irritate the uterus, causing strong contractions that can easily become out of control giving you a more difficult and possibly more painful labour. I’d stay well clear of this too – it doesn’t sound worth the risk.

Go for it

Nice relaxing options that make feel good hormones flow – we’re mammals and labour will categorically not start if we feel stressed or in danger. If you can relax and feel happy, you’re massively increasing your chances of going into spontaneous labour.

Lovemaking, baths, laughter and happy visualisations all fall into this category. They will produce a positive physical change in your body that might loosen things up and persuade baby that the outside word is also a pretty happy place.

Alternative remedies also work in a similar way. Being relaxed, positive and like you’re doing something to help, may just be the kick start you need. Acupuncture, reflexology and hypnotherapy are by far the most likely ‘natural’ interventions you can use to help. Just make sure you see someone who’s trusted and qualified.

Raspberry leaf tea – this one is absolutely proven to be helpful, so much so that it’s best to avoid it until you are past week 30. From that point on, you can drink one cup a day, gradually increasing up to four cups it if you have no overly strong effects. The tea works to tone the uterus, making sure that contractions (or surges in hypnobirthing talk) are as efficient as possible. I made mine into pints of iced tea each morning.

Dates – just like raspberry leaf tea, these won’t kick labour off alone but they will make your body more receptive to the hormone changes it needs to pick up on to kick of surges. In countries where women eat more than six dates a day, it’s been shown that they could expect to have a shorter first stage of labour and to go into spontaneous labour more often. The dates mimic the effects of oxytocin, making the uterus more sensitive, stimulating it’s surges and reducing the chance of postpartum hemorrhage. They are nutritious but also contain a fair amount of sugar so once you’re past week 36, replace any daily treats with six awesome dates!

Patience is still best though. As with everything to do with our amazing human bodies, we need to learn to trust in it’s knowledge and ability to get things right. Maybe your baby will come tomorrow of it’s own accord anyway; perhaps it needs a week or two more to finish up growing. Whatever your circumstance, remember this: you’re getting a blissful few extra days, with just you and your partner; the kind of alone time you might be wishing for very soon. Babies come when babies are ready.

——————————————————————-

This post was written for and first appeared on The Natural Parent Magazine.

How to plan for a positive, empowering birth

A lot of mums to be have their heart set on a particular kind of birth, yet nature and circumstances can mean that their actual experience is pretty different to what they had hoped for.
Of course, in the short term every new mum is just glad to have their healthy baby in their arms but later on, once the initial oxytocin rush is over, having a birth experience that wasn’t the one you had dreamed of can weigh heavy on the mind.

The very first thing to say is that you did the best you knew how to at the time and given the circumstances. Ideas like, ‘I did something to make my birth hard’ or ‘I should said no’ are worth forgetting about almost immediately. Knowing what to do or say when under time pressure and in the heat of a moment as intense as having a baby, is not easy. Allow yourself some peace of mind.

After knowing and understanding that, I’d share these tips with any woman planning a birth.

Get informed and understand how birth works

This doesn’t mean watching gory birth videos or One Born Every Minute. It does mean learning about how your body and hormones are designed to work with your baby – about how birth is actually a normal, physiological process, not a medical emergency. For example, did you know that the mother’s body receives the message to start labour when the baby’s lungs are mature enough and begin to release a special kind of protein as a signal? Or that pushing with all your might may actually be counterproductive?

It can seem like daunting medical detail at first but you don’t need to be a scientific genius to do this. Keeping an eye on parenting and mothering blogs or Facebook groups is a great way to start. Taking the time to talk to your midwife or a local doula or hypnobirthing teacher would be even better. They are often very passionate about what they do and could talk for hours.

 

Be an active participant

From a really early age, we begin to receive the wisdom that doctors and caregivers know best. We know they have vast knowledge and experience and want to help them do their job. When you’re worried, uncertain or afraid, it can be comforting to know that there are people around who have seen and done this a million times before. However, this doesn’t mean they know you, your body or your baby. It also doesn’t mean that you should override your very powerful mother’s instinct easily.
By being passive when it comes to interactions with caregivers, you will give them no choice but to treat you as a standard patient. They will do what they know best and follow a well worn path. You will still need to consent to everything but they might then assume that you’re happy to go with their first suggestion and not present any alternatives. Being active and vocal, right from the start, will set the right tone – you value their experience and will take their advice but you want to make sure you feel that all the decisions taken were the right ones for you.

Express birth preferences clearly

Shifts change, caregivers work long hours, dads get tired and once in labour, you might not want to talk much. If you’re in a hospital and have a long labour, you might see a few different midwives as people come to the end of their working day.

It really pays to write down your birth preferences clearly and simply and have copies of them ready to share with whoever is looking after you. If you need to, ask your midwife if they have 2 minutes to go through them verbally with you. This is definitely a job for the dads – research shows that once labour begins, dads are much more likely to be listened to than mum. Take advantage of this and allow dad to express his natural instinct to protect his mate and child. This will give mum the chance to remain in her birth bubble, focused and unworried.

Ask questions

It’s your body, your baby and your birth. I’ve heard it said that we ask more questions about fixing a roof or fitting a kitchen than we do when a baby is being born. How can that be right? Birth is magical, awe inspiring and a little bit other worldly it’s true, but it’s also a normal process that has been researched and studied. Your caregivers are professionals who train for years to be able to do their jobs. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t understand, use their knowledge. Talk with them. Satisfy yourself that every decision you make with them was the right thing to do. Don’t leave any room for doubt. It’s ok to ask for the risks and benefits of every option. It’s ok to ask for time to decide. It’s ok to decide to say no. But first, you must ask the questions.

Thank goodness for modern medicine

You may have had your heart set on a natural water birth at home and then your baby arrived via c-section. You might not have wanted any pain relief but on the day you decided differently. Isn’t modern medicine wonderful? You have these choices available to you and can make decisions in clean hospitals, with fully trained caregivers in support and your baby will arrive safely and healthily. It’s so easy to demonise more medicalised births and be disappointed if you don’t achieve a natural one but we are lucky women. So many women in the past and around the world now, don’t have the access to healthcare we have. The fact that we are able to pick and choose in itself is a luxury.

I often remind parents to be that positive and negative are relative terms and thoughts are fluid. There are physical ways to increase your chances of having a more comfortable, natural birth like hypnobirthing, keeping fit during pregnancy and eating well. Equally important is preparing yourself mentally for what is about to happen. If you take the time to get informed and make plans, whatever path your birth takes, you can look back on your birth experience knowing that everything that happened was right for you and your baby. And who can ask for a better start to family life than that?

This post was written for and first appeared on The Natural Parent Magazine.