How to encourage a healthy pregnancy is usually high on most mums to be agenda these days. There is so much on offer to help you through your pregnancy with anti-natal classes, Daisy Foundation Classes, NCT Groups, specialist exercise classes such as Yoga, Pilates, aqua natal. Then there is nutritional advice as well as alternative therapies such as massage, reflexology, acupuncture and hypno-birthing.
You patiently await your due date, eyeing it on your calendar and instructing loved ones to prepare for it days in advance. But when the date comes and goes without any contractions, what can you do? While there are no guaranteed techniques to coax your baby into the world (besides being induced by a doctor), there is some research to back up these natural ways to induce labor – if your body (and baby) is ready to cooperate.
Importantly get the ‘all clear’ from your midwife or doctor, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. If seeking a complementary therapy, make sure the therapist is qualified/experienced, (copies of my certificates can be seen here). It’s very important to ensure that the person treating you is qualified, and is knowledgeable in pregnancy treatments. If they do not have appropriate training or knowledge of pregnancy and birth, you could be putting you and your baby at risk.
Hormones in the body play an important part in your pregnancy and labour. We still don’t know know exactly what triggers off sponatanous labour. It is possibly a combination of the physical and emotional state of mum to be as well as the baby reaching a state of maturity. What we do know is the contractions of the uterus are caused by rising levels of the hormone oxytocin and and prolactin – the mothering hormone.
Oxytocin is often known as the “hormone of love” because it is involved with lovemaking, fertility, contractions during labour and birth, and the release of milk in breastfeeding. It helps us feel good, and it triggers nurturing feelings and behaviors. Oxytocin stimulates powerful contractions, which help to thin and open (dilate) the cervix, move the baby down and out of the birth canal, expel the placenta, and limit bleeding at the site of the placenta.
All mammals seek a safe place to give birth. This “nesting” instinct may be due to an increase in levels of prolactin, which is sometimes referred to as the nesting hormone. Once in labour, there are certain conditions that will slow, or even stop the process. If the fight-or-flight hormones are activated by feelings of fear or danger, contractions will slow down or stop and lengthen your labour, which can result in excessive bleeding at the placenta site after birth, as well as an increased chance of medical intervention.
As mothers-to-be all we can do is prepare ourselves physically, psychologically and emotionally for birthing our child, and our subsequent role as a mother. The use of complementary therapies is a great way in which to prepare ourselves, offer relaxation techniques, de-stress, address pregnancy related issues and and hopefully promote a natural labour.
Studies have shown that starting reflexology by 32 weeks can reduce the need for induction by 70% as well as reduce labour time down to just 4 hours, thus reducing the impact of stress and anxiety allowing your body to naturally and effectively prepare for childbirth. Certainly my experience as a maternity reflexologist reflects this. Reflexology is relaxing and has a soothing effect on both mind and body. Not only does it help prepare for a timely and straightforward birth, it is also a great way to help manage both the physical and emotional pressures many experience during pregnancy.
If you pass your due date and don’t relish the idea of medical intervention with a drug-induced labour, leading to the sudden onset on painful and in some cases non productive contractions, an alternative may be considered. Reflexology may stimulate the release of oxytocin by the body to encouraging the onset of uterine contractions naturally, keeping the mother in control, and is more effective than a hot curry. I have a very high success rate with previous clients.
Reflexology is also effective for pain management during labour.
Acupuncture & Acupressure
Acupuncture is the art of inserting thin needles into specific pressure points on the body, can stimulate uterine activity and nudge the baby into action. Numerous studies have suggested that acupuncture may help induce labour in women who are full term.
Accupressure is similar to acupuncture, that entails putting pressure on specific points on the body to stimulate uterine activity, except that instead of using needles, fingertips are used (including your own — or your partner’s). Two pressure points that may induce labour naturally: The webbing between your thumb and index finger, and the inside of your leg about four finger-widths above the ankle bone.
There is such a strong link between mind and body, daily relaxation and visualisation may help to achieve on set of labour. You could imagine the following as often as you like:
Breathe deeply into relaxation. Imagine your cervix is a beautiful flower ripening and opening. Now visualise your baby moving down the birth canal. Imagine your perineum opening again like the gentle, unfolding petals of a flower.
The theory behind hypnosis is that we need to feel relaxed for labour to start. Feeling stressed and anxious may prevent us from producing oxytocin, a hormone that’s needed to start labour and help it to progress. It uses a mixture of relaxation, breathing techniques, visualisations and positive suggestions. You can be taught to use these techniques in self-hypnosis during both pregnancy and labour, to help you feel calm, confident and in control. Hypnobirthing can be used in whatever type of delivery is that is planned. There is evidence to show that it reduces length of labour, use of pain relief and medications during labout and that women who use hypnotherapy during pregnancy have calmer infants and a lower inidence of post-natal depresion. A hypnobirthing course should be started somewhere between 25-30 weeks, the success of the course is strongly linked to how much practice you do.
You can also use self-hypnosis CDs or MP3s, as well as books that can be purchased online, that may help to relax you and take your mind off things for a while, if you’re frustrated with being overdue.
Taking a warm relaxing bath will help you relax and it’s your emotional state rather than the warm water that will help induce labour. Remember to have the water on the cooler side rather than too hot so that you baby doesn’t over heat. Getting too hot can cause the baby stress.
Aromatherapy should be used with caution during pregnancy as it can cause adverse reactions like headaches, nausea and allergic reactions. However, there are some types of aromatherapy that are safe to use at home to induce labor once your due date has passed. The oils can either be massaged into the skin using a carrier base oil (eg almond oil), diffused in a burner, or a couple of drops applied to a relaxing bath.
- Lavender: Helps to relax and calm the body, which in turn may facilitate the onset of contractions. Lavender can help create a tranquil atmosphere during labour and makes a calming spritzer when mixed with water and sprayed on the face and body.
- Clary sage: This oil should not be used during pregnancy. When contractions have begun massage a few drops into the abdomen using a carrier oil such as almond, this will aid the stimulation of the contractions and it may help ease the pain as it is said to be an antispasmodic.
- Basilica and Oregano: These should not be used during pregnancy as it helps to stimulate the uterus and aid contractions. Therefore they are fine to use after your due date and a few drops can be massaged into the abdomen using a carrier oil.
- Jasmine: Helps to stimulate the uterus and ‘warm the womb’. Again, should not be applied until after your due date.
It is well worth seeking professional advice from a qualified Aromatherapist as they may well have other suggestions.
Breast stimulation prompts the pituitary gland to release contraction-inducing oxytocin. A Cochrane Database review that included 719 women at 37 weeks pregnant or beyond found that nearly 40 percent of those who stimulated their nipples for one to three hours daily had their babies within three days, while only 6 percent of the control group gave birth.
It has been known that late babies make an entrance soon after a love-making session. Semen contains cervix-softening fats called prostaglandins (also used in medical induction) and a woman’s orgasm can lead to strong uterine contractions. A study in 2006 of 200 healthy women found that those who had sex after 36 weeks pregnant were significantly less likely to go past their due date or require labour induction.
Castor oil and spicy food
Midwives have long recommended inducing labour by drinking castor oil (2 ounces in a glass of orange juice or mixed with ice cream) with the idea that it can stimulate the smooth muscle of the bowels, promote the release of prostaglandin and nudge the nearby uterus into action. Research results are varied, but two recent trials showed that full-term women who were given castor oil were more likely to go into labour within 24 hours. The downside: If you’re not already showing signs of labour, taking castor oil can just give you a bad case of diarrhea (something you probably want to avoid this close to childbirth).
A safer option for those past 39 weeks? Load up on spicy food, some mums swear by a hot curry to get labour started. It’s meant to stimulate your bowel, which is served by the same nerve pathways as the uterus. The risk is you could just end up with chronic indigestion.
Try consuming tropical fruit salad, fresh pineapple, kiwi, mango and papaya all contain enzymes that may cause mild contractions – pineapple especially, as it’s rich in bromelain, which some studies suggest can help to soften the cervix. Problem is, you’ll need to eat buckets of the stuff.
Evening Primrose Oil
Raspberry Leaf is a uterine tonic, which also has added benefits after the birth for breastmilk production. It’s rich in nutrients and contains fragine, an alkaloid thought to help strengthen the uterine muscles, so it may help make contractions more effective once they eventually get going. Drinking raspberry leaf tea during and after labour may also help with milk letdown, reduce after birth bleeding and help the uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy state. Raspberry Leaf Tea is generally recommended anytime after 12 weeks in a healthy pregnancy. Make sure you check with your midwife before consumption.
The position you adopt during labour and delivery makes a difference to pelvic dimensions. Squatting for example , can increase pelvic measurements by up to 30%.
MOST IMPORTANTLY REMEMBER! That baby will come when he is ready – sometimes no matter what you want to happen, baby will not come when we would most like it! The greatest gift you can give your baby right now is the gift of choosing his own birth date, should the both of you be healthy.