Natural Ways to Induce Labour
(Based on an article by Lisa Rodriguez, R.N. and Marjorie Greenfield, M.D. – edited and extended by Jane Weideman.)
As you near the end of your pregnancy, you may be ready for the entire process of carrying your baby to be over. You’ll be eager to start a whole new phase of life and finally actually meet your little miracle! But you might wonder: When is it safe to try to naturally induce labour, and how would you go about accomplishing that?
Here are some things to think about as you approach your estimated due date. Babies have their own calendar. As much as we would like to naturally induce labour as soon as “we” are ready, labour starts often unpredictably and sometimes later than what mothers would like for their own comfort. Babies will come at 38 weeks and other times will need 42 weeks. Technically you are not overdue or what is called “postdates” until 42 weeks. However, today it is more common to hear from providers that you are “overdue” even if your due date was yesterday!
So in essence, your due date is only a very rough target; which is why it is referred to as an EDD – estimated due date. Your own baby will likely come within a period of four weeks between 38-42 weeks. Only about 3-5% of women actually give birth on their due date not to mention that the majority of women don’t go into labour until after their estimated due date!
Rushing the last few weeks does not help you or baby. Studies have shown that if your body is not ready for labour, (i.e. cervix unripe- not dilated or effaced) and you have an induction with pitocin, you will either have a very long labour or a much greater chance of a caesarean.
So it is important to note that you shouldn’t even consider trying to begin your labour until you are at least around 40 weeks pregnant, or already overdue. That’s because your due date is only an estimate and could be inaccurate by a few weeks, so if you start your labour before 40 weeks, you might give birth to the baby before he is ready to thrive outside the womb.**
Several things can be done that might make you have contractions and kick-start your labour – but they’ll only work if your body is ready. If your body isn’t prepared to go into labour, you can try as much as your heart desires, but you will only frustrate yourself.
Please use caution when trying any of these natural methods to begin your labour, else the uterus can become hyperstimulated, meaning that it’ll get too little rest between contractions.
First and foremost find time to rest, relax and meditate. Connect with your baby. Make sure you feel safe and mentally, physically and emotionally ready for labour to begin. If and when you do feel ready, communicate this with your baby, either in thoughts and feelings or even verbalising it out loud. Don’t underestimate the (blocking) power of the subconscious here. Consciously surrender and give consent to yourself the universe (or whatever you believe in, and prefer) to allow the journey to begin. You could also try reading and pondering some Affirmations and Quotes to help you to prepare.
If you are having contractions but are not yet in labour, walking can help get things going. Walking allows your hips to sway side to side, which will help bring the baby into position to be born. Also, by standing upright, you’re using gravity to move the baby down into the pelvis. Another plus: It usually feels good to walk when you are contracting. And of course, even if you don’t go into full-blown labour, at least you’re getting some exercise.
Also try ‘slow-dancing’ and belly-dancing type movements. Swivel, rotate and sway your hips from side to side. Visualise the swirling of a galaxy, and the funnelling of a hurricane. Allow your focus and energy to channel inwards and and down culminating in your cervix. Doing this helps to aid gravity and can help baby to move lower into the pelvis and to to start applying pressure on the cervix which is needed to get labour established. You can make this an intimate and bonding sensual experience; possibly include candles, music, aromatherapy and massage etc. Make sure you feel safe and relaxed. This can follow on from the mediation and lead into the next suggestion. Feelings of love, safety and well-being will result in your brain releasing Oxytocin – which is the main hormone responsible in and required for labour and which makes the uterus contract. This only happens when you are relaxed and not overloaded with adrenalin and fear.
Making love can be one of the last things on a woman’s mind toward the end of her pregnancy. She probably feels clumsy and big and may be experiencing a lot of vaginal pressure. But sex is one of the main things you can do to get your labour under way. When you and your partner make love, his semen (which contains prostaglandins) can stimulate contractions. (The gel used in inductions is a prostagladin gel, so it is certainly worth trying this before going in for a medical induction). At the very least the semen will help to soften and ‘ripen’ the cervix, and every bit of progress helps. An added bonus will be if the mum can reach orgasm too. As the regular, rhythmical contractions brought on by orgasm combined with a prostaglandin may very well kick-start labour, and certainly will cause progress at the very least even if it does not result in sustained contractions.
For decades, women have been using castor oil to help induce labour. In fact, many old school physicians and midwives swear by it. It can provide good results if you are already in early labour. It is believed to work by causing spasms in the intestines, which surround the uterus toward the end of pregnancy. These spasms, in turn, cause the uterus to cramp, which might result in labour.
You can take 30 – 80 ml of castor oil mixed with 100 -200ml of orange juice to cut its oiliness. You’ll want to drink it quickly because of the unpleasant taste. Some practitioners suggest taking a single dose; others suggest repeated doses depending on your response. Keep in mind that castor oil usually will cause your bowels to empty within about three hours. With luck, soon after that, you will be in true labour. Warning castor oil is not only unpleasant to drink (do drink it mixed with orange juice if you really want to try this!) but it also results in near immediate diarrhoea. (Ed: I tried this at a week over due with my first son, it did give stomach cramps and diarrhoea, and emptied the bowels nicely, but no labour. Thankfully. You actually wouldn’t want to be in labour with that much bowel action – but it is a good clean out in preparation for labour.)
Some people swear that it was that extra-hot enchilada from their favourite Mexican restaurant that brought them face to face with their new baby. Unfortunately, the statistics are out on this one. You could try it, but if you have a full stomach when you are in labour, you might vomit and see that enchilada again–in less-than-appetizing circumstances.
Some women massage their nipples as a way to induce labour. This stimulation brings about the release of oxytocin, which is the natural form of pitocin. Oxytocin causes contractions, which sometimes evolve into labour.
Most practitioners are not enthusiastic about this method of inducing labour, because it has been known to lead to excessively long, strong uterine contractions sometimes resulting in foetal heart rate slowing. Unless your practitioner advises it and is monitoring your progress closely, nipple stimulation is not always recommended as a means for beginning labour.
Stripping the membranes
Your practitioner may offer to “strip your membranes” to help start your labour. This procedure usually feels like a vaginal examination, although it sometimes can be painful or cause cramping. The practitioner places her gloved finger through the cervix and sweeps the amniotic membranes free of their attachment to the lower part of the uterine cavity. This process is believed to release hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which help to ready your body for labour.
While some experts believe that stripping the membranes causes you to go into labour that day, the only research on this procedure was done by a group of midwives who stripped the membranes of a group of their patients at every visit to the office after 38 weeks gestation. Their findings showed that patients who had this procedure were less likely to go past their due dates. According to the study, the procedure didn’t seem to pose any complications and didn’t cause the patients’ waters to break.
Many people swear by this one. There are reflexology points behind the ankle (about 4 inches above the ankle bone), on the roof of the mouth sucking a spherical lolly-pop stimulates this one) and in the webbing between thumb and forefinger (the muscle just in front of the bony joint). When stimulated correctly people claim to go into labour within hours and have short and simple labour and births. (Ed: I know several people who have tried this successfully.).
Factors of success
Many of these natural labour-inducing approaches can be effective if your body is ready to deliver your baby. To be successful, most of these techniques require you to be having contractions or perhaps in early labour.
Don’t worry, though–whether one of these measures works or your body still needs more time, your little one will be joining your family soon. Try to be patient; you’ll have a lifetime together when he finally does arrive.
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