Laura has asked the question:
Are there any non-medical ways to help labour get started?
Thank you, Laura, for the question.
You can certainly try natural methods of induction or ‘nudges of encouragement’ first, unless the need to induce is urgent. All methods of induction, natural or medical, are likely to work best when carried out as close as possible to the day when your baby is ready to be born and labour is imminent, so don’t start too early unless recommended!
Labour will begin spontaneously when your baby is ready for life outside the womb and sends signals to your body to start labour.
You can help set the tone by avoiding bright or artificial light in the evenings for a few weeks before your due date. That means switching off computers, mobile phones, and devices in the late afternoon. This will allow your natural melatonin – the ‘hormone of darkness’ to help you to go into labour. Melatonin is a precursor of labour contractions which is probably why we benefit from semi-darkness in labour.
The following suggestions may help to get labour started and will do no harm:
What you can do yourself
- De-stress and get some exercise, such as going for a long slow walk in nature or doing yoga. Meditate and relax every day to stay in tune with your baby and your inner guidance. Try your best to stay relaxed, positive, and calm, using breathing or hypnobirthing techniques you may have learnt.
- You could try making love. Orgasm, being held and caressed, and pleasurable nipple stimulation can help to release more oxytocin, the hormone that makes the uterus contract.
- Penetrative sex is not advised if your membranes have broken, because of the risk of infection.
- If they have not broken however, there are natural prostaglandins in semen which help to ripen the cervix, it is recommended to lie on your back for a half hour after making love and put a few pillows under your hips to raise your pelvis, so the semen remains inside.
- Repeat positive affirmations to yourself such as: “My baby knows when to be born”; “I trust my body”
- Acupuncture and/or reflexology can be effective in stimulating the hormonal systems that help to get labour started.
- It’s best to consult a licensed practitioner with experience in this area. Alternatively, most complementary therapies can help to initiate labour, especially if you have already been having the treatment during your pregnancy. Even if you end up being induced, these treatments ‘prime’ your body for labour and will help the induction to go smoothly.
- Your midwife could do a ‘cervical sweep’ – a massage around the cervical opening. This may stimulate the secretion of natural prostaglandins which soften and ‘ripen’ the cervix and help to start labour. This may be uncomfortable, but has been shown by research to be effective, especially when carried out after 40 weeks of pregnancy. You should always be consulted and agree to this procedure beforehand and make sure it does not include rupturing the membranes.
Things you can eat or drink
- Drink three cups of organic raspberry leaf tea per day starting from 38 weeks. This is a mild uterine tonic and stimulant. Make it exactly like regular tea, one teaspoon per cup and one for the pot!
- Evening primrose oil is said to be helpful in ripening the cervix. You can take three capsules of 500mg every day from 36 weeks until birth.
- Wait until the last minute, and then try a small glass or two (no more!) of good organic wine in the evening. I tried this when I was a week ‘overdue’ with my first baby and really fed up – it relaxed me and did the trick!
- There are lots of anecdotes that eating dates and/or pineapples can encourage labour to start. There is no evidence that I know of, but if you like them – why not?
- Less pleasant is the old-fashioned method of taking castor oil. If you do this, get it from your chemist, letting them know what you need it for and ask about the dosage. To make it taste better, mix with fresh orange juice, and sweeten with sugar or honey and glug it down.
- It’s also said that eating a vegetarian curry (not at the same time as the castor oil!) may get things going. Both may stimulate the bowel to empty and this may help to trigger labour.
I wish you all the best for the birth of your baby.
Active Birth is designed for mothers who wish to give birth naturally and have had a healthy pregnancy and no medical complications during labour and birth. Aspects of an Active Birth can also sometimes be used in combination with medical interventions. The website and newsletters offer general information only. They are not a substitute for the professional advice, diagnosis or treatment offered by your midwives or doctors. The Active Birth Centre/ Janet Balaskas in general, accept no liability for the guidance herein, and advise that you do not disregard professional medical advice and inform yourself with other trusted evidence-based sources of information when making your decisions.