Want know the best way to get labour started? Go grab a balloon, an aubergine, a small child and read on…
Going past your due date is a common occurrence, in fact being given a due date is just setting you up for disappointment, it is only around 4% of babies that actually are born on the given date, so really it is best forgotten! Personally I think we should be given a due window of around a month, but we are not, we are still given this magical day, and once we have been told it, no matter what, you can’t forget it!
I am very lucky in that I have never experienced the uncertain wait and pressure of going past my dates, my 1st pregnancy was 37 weeks, my 2nd 40 weeks, both healthy gestations, each baby and pregnancy is different. Within my professional capacity this is a topic that comes up regularly, mainly with a view to ‘avoid induction’ but also, let us be honest, come 41 weeks you are kind of done! I am not sure what I would have done had I got to 42 weeks and still no baby, but being a bit of a control freak and a massive solutions person I can be pretty sure I would have been researching everything and anything I could do to encourage bubs to come say hi!
So I have put together this list of weird and wonderful ideas of things that may encourage labour to start. There is little actual evidence to support any of these, and in all honestly I only think they will work if baby is ready, if you are ready and if all the biology is balanced out properly, but whilst you are waiting it could be a fun distraction to try some of these out, and I have tried to make sense of the nonsense to help you understand why they might work, so what might be best for you.
Encourage baby down
Your baby’s head pressing down on your cervix will help send messages to the brain to start releasing oxytocin (the hormone that causes contractions) but what are the best ways to do this? How do you wriggle baby down?
Walking-Physical activity is good, it is utilising gravity and causing movement in the pelvis, it is also oxygenating, energising and distracting. My sister has had 3 babies and never gone beyond 39 weeks. She swears by a long walk on the coast path between Trebarwith Strand and Tintagel, perhaps it’s the walking, or perhaps it’s Merlin’s magic, we will never know but a good long walk does the trick for her!
Dancing- Now this is one of my favourites! Dancing works on a number of levels, but falls into this category for the obvious hip wiggling gravitational wonder! Now for this to really help it needs to be of the pelvic wiggling variety, so grab yourself a hip belt, whack on some Oojami and have some fun! Hip circling, making a figure of 8 shape, hip drops and shimmies will all be good for encouraging baby into a low position, and can also help shift a baby that is not quite in optimal position. These are also great movements to use during labour. If you are lucky enough to have a dancing for birth class nearby I would highly recommend them! And if you don’t fancy belly dancing how about finding your inner Beyonce and get your twerk on! When I was 18 a great friend of mine went into labour whilst dancing at a festival in Deptford, she danced through that early latent stage like a trouper. 22 years later she is awaiting the arrival of another baby, unfortunately there are no festivals happening nearby, but pretty sure she will crank up the stereo at home and get down to it!
Drunken sailor- Noooo, put the rum down, I am not talking getting actually drunk, it will just give you heartburn anyway! Another way to get your hips moving and baby down is to walk along the pavement, but with one foot on the curb and one foot off. Yes you will look like a confused nutcase, or a slightly drunken sailor, but if you are at the stage of reading this you probably don’t care! If you really don’t want to do it in public the same effect can be done by walking down the stairs sideways (this is another good technique to use during labour if things seem to be slowing down)
Playpark- Apparently a trip to the playpark might be just enough to get things going, and if you think about it all the equipment is going to be great at adding a bit of gravitational pull to everything! The see-saw, slide and swings are all worth a go I reckon. I had a client whose waters went but no contractions. She went for a long walk, nothing, tried a bit of a jog (she was a runner) Still nothing, in frustration went and sat in the playpark over the road, had a big old swing and within an hour contractions had started! Coincidence, perhaps, but a good non-invasive encourager for sure!
Soften the cervix
So the next line of attack is softening the cervix. The cervix is the opening of your uterus, it is much like a hard lump of muscle that needs to warm up, soften and be gently stretched and absorbed up into the walls of the uterus. It isn’t a sphincter muscle, and it doesn’t work on its own, it is part of the uterus, and it is the uterus that does the stretching and opening, therefore no matter how soft and pliable your cervix is, without contractions it is not going to start opening, but saying that, a soft ripe cervix is good, because once contractions do start the cervix will be far more compliant in being stretched and opening up! But with this in mind all methods to do with softening the cervix are more likely to help as a run up to the main event, a sort of pre prep!
Evening primrose oil-it is said that if you pop a capsule of evening primrose oil up your vagina it will help soften your cervix. Personally I would not advise this, I would take the approach of upping the essential fatty acids in your diet, and include an evening primrose oil capsule (2000mg from 38 weeks) in the more traditional method (orally) It is said that EPO has a chemical in it that triggers a prostaglandin response in the body, hence why it is thought to help start labour.
Pineapple-Pineapple contains high levels of a substance called bromelain which is an enzyme that is very active (I use it in a great foot mask to soften dry skin!) and it is this ingredient that is said to help ‘ripen’ the cervix. You would need to eat quite a lot for it to be effective though, around 7!! Not sure it is advisable to eat that many, would probably end up with at best heartburn, at worse an upset stomach!
Dates- Dates have lots of benefits for the pregnant woman, and although strictly speaking are not connected with induction of labour they are said to help soften the cervix, and for this to be effective eating 6 dates a day from 34 weeks is a good positive way to support the early stage of labour.
Up the hormones of birth
There are a number of hormones that factor into labour, but the 2 we focus on with regards to labour are Oxytocin and Prostaglandins.
Sex- I have touched on prostadglandins in the section above with regards softening the cervix, as this is what their function in labour is, and this is often the 1st medical action that would be taken in a medical induction, the insertion of a gel pessary containing prostaglandins. Nature has provided us with a natural alternative that is worth a go, and that is semen. So the old wives tale that sex brings on labour could have an element of truth in it, but some figures suggest that for this to be effective you would need to do it 7 times (like anyone has the time or energy to do that!!)
Female orgasm- I have listed this separate to sex, because let’s be honest now, the 2 are not always the same! When a woman orgasms her body produces very high levels of oxytocin, and as oxytocin is the hormone that causes the uterus to contract the thought is that by upping this hormone it will start labour off. Now if it were as simple as this there would be no need for medical induction, and it would put into question the safety of having sex during pregnancy, so again, this is one that is likely only effective if your body is already geared up for labour and just needs a little nudge in the right direction. But during your pregnancy pay attention to how your bump responds during sex and orgasm, you may find it brings on some tightenings, which is a sign that your body does respond in this way, so worth keeping in mind as a useful tool to encourage contractions (bet you never considered included your favourite sex toy in your birth bag did you!!)
Nipple stimulation- tweaking, playing with or generally stimulating your nipples is another way of upping the oxytocin. This could be part of some intimacy with your partner, or even through breast feeding, or use of a breast pump. Personally I think as part of a sexual encounter it would be a nice addition, or breast feeding a lovely natural inducer of hormones, but a breast pump, although probably as effective physically, emotionally it is unlikely to have the same effect, and labour is more than just a physical act! I have seen and heard a number of women who are still breastfeeding use this technique during labour if contractions slow, what a wonderful way to bring things back up again.
Relaxation and laughter- Oxytocin is essential in labour starting, but it has a hormone enemy, one that stops it being produced in high enough quantities, and that is adrenalin, and adrenalin is produced in response to stress, so if stress is no friend of oxytocin, then relaxation and laughter is its perfect partner! Now I can think of lots of lovely ways to both relax and laugh that involve a lot of the above suggestions, but everyone has their own thing, so go do it! Get a massage, a pedicure, go for a walk, a swim, have sex, go out for dinner, watch a funny film have a dance, just whatever helps you to relax and have fun!
Irritate and stimulate the uterus
This is my least favourite category, but it needs to be covered. My opinion is that this is not the best way to encourage labour, it is uncomfortable, and can leave you feeling ill, lacking in energy and dehydrated, not the best state to go into labour in!
Castor oil- It is said that taking castor oil will upset your tummy, therefore it will stimulate your uterus as the intestines are pushed up around the uterus. It’s your call really, if you want to start off this amazing journey with tummy ache and the runs then give it a go, but keep in mind there is little evidence to support it, and it is questionable to do something that will make you feel ill in desperation to start labour.
Hot curry- This works on the same idea as castor oil, a spicy curry may stimulate and irritate your digestive system a little bit, but there is also the theory that it tastes nice, maybe a meal out with your partner will relax you enough to let things happen, and the health benefits of a curry are great, all that garlic ginger and turmeric will do you the world of good!
Aubergine Parmigiana- There is a restaurant in New York that claims over 300 babies have been born in the days following a pregnant women eating their aubergine Parmigiana. My feelings on this is that this rich and oily dish probably stimulates the intestines, or perhaps having an evening out, with some scrummy food, good company, and whatever followed that may have done the trick. But I like the idea of a little Italian birthy magic, and really who needs asking twice to try some delicious Italian food!
Bouncing and pressure- This is working on the stimulating bit and is covered in the sections above really! Sex, walking, bouncing on your birth ball, but add into this one blowing up a balloon! Yep apparently blowing up a balloon is said to help you exert downwards pressure on the cervix! I am not so convinced of this one, but if your kid has a birthday, or somebody else does, it might not hurt to offer your services as chief balloon blower (what’s gonna pop 1st, you or the balloon!!)
Now this may be a bit ‘woo woo’ and out there for some, but if you are ready to consider eating 7 pineapple’s chased with a round of vigorous orgasmic sex to get things moving then maybe you can open your mind to some more alternative practices, that are arguably gentler and more relaxing.
Acupuncture- Acupuncture works by stimulating the mother’s body to ready itself for labour, encouraging the body to naturally release prostaglandins to soften and ripen the cervix for labour, and oxytocin to trigger contractions. It is also a very relaxing treatment (I know it is needles but they are teeny tiny, and the whole process is very therapeutic!) Acupuncture is working on balancing the mother holistically, so allowing any energy blocks to shift, allowing the natural process to begin. Acupuncture also has a lot of success in encouraging babies to move, so if bubs is hanging out in a less than optimal position this could be just the thing to gently shift them, and whammy, head on cervix, happy mama, labour begins!
Shiatsu and acupressure- I have put these 2 techniques under the same category as they are both gentle energetic healing modalities, and although subtly different work on a similar idea. To use them as a way to encourage labour to begin the experienced practitioner will work with you fully clothed and stimulate different points on various meridians. You don’t need to understand what is being done, but a deep trust in the practitioner’s ability to balance and heal will help greatly. There are specific ‘points’ you can try and stimulate yourself, the most popular ones being found in the webbing between thumb and forefinger (LI4) And in the area between your neck and shoulder, almost follow a line up from your nipple, over the top of your shoulder (GB21) and on the lower leg about 3 finger widths up from the ankle bone on the inside of the leg (SP6)
Holistic massage- Now I specify holistic massage here as all massage is not equal when it comes to pregnancy, and specifically labour induction. Massage in itself can help with mental relaxation, physical stress, and general wellbeing, which will all help in allowing those hormones to build up and get things going. But holistic massage is a wider treatment, it can allow the space for you to come up with your own answers. There could be emotional releases that need to happen, and a skilled holistic practitioner will hold the space for you so you can come to your own conclusions and release said emotions. Sounds a bit weird right? Never underestimate the power of the mind to hold back labour. If you have an underlying fear, be it about birth, parenting or the future generally this could very well be holding you back, you could be holding on to this pregnancy without really knowing why. I personally have seen and felt some amazing energetic shifts in my clients through treatments, which have been followed by some pretty amazing births a few hours later, was it the massage, the chat, the bumpy track or the pineapple smoothie??
Mindset- This one connects in strongly with the last, but you can try and release those emotions and fears yourself, really give yourself a good talking to, write down your inner most thoughts and feelings, go for a walk and let your mind roam free, see what comes up, have honest conversations, have a cry if you need to, just let it all come out, you might be surprised at what you find out!
There are a number of alternative health practices they may also help encourage labour to start, with these you really should seek the advice of a professional naturopath, herbalist or homepath.
Homeopathy- The most common homeopathic remedies used to induce labour are pulsatilla, caulophyllum and cimicifuga. These are small sugar pills that are taken at a regular intival that can stimulate contractions. Although homeopathy is considered very safe to use during pregnancy and childbirth I would strongly recommend speaking to a homeopath as you are likely to get far better results than just trial and error.
Herbal remedies- There are a number of herbal remedies that are said to either tone up or even cause the uterus to contract. The most common of these is raspberry leaf tea, you do need to drink quite a lot of it, at least 2 or 3 cups a day. This isn’t really something that will induce labour alone, but as a pre warm up could help. You can get it in capsules of higher dosage which is said to be more effective at ramping up contractions, but if you are thinking of doing this you need to speak to a qualified herbalist or naturopath. Black and blue cohosh are 2 other herbal remedies that are said to cause uterine contractions. Again you must not use these without previously speaking to a qualified herbalist or naturopath.
So in all honesty, in my professional opinion I don’t believe in natural induction. I dislike the term and think it takes away from our own innate trust in the process of birth and our body’s ability to birth. Saying that I do believe in the power of the mind to stop or start labour. I do believe in the amazing personal balance of hormones needed for labour to begin, and progress, so I can see how some of these techniques may help create the balance needed for our bodies to go into labour naturally. I do also think that we need to take responsibility for our births. So many women seek these natural alternatives to medical induction because they either desperately want to birth away from hospital with no medical interventions at all, or are basically terrified of induction, and these feelings will not help the natural flow, as they are both rooted in fear.
If you are ready to get ready for your upcoming birth in even more detail then get in touch and book in your personalised birth coaching package. If you recognise that you are carrying some fear, or even past trauma then I can help release these fears and feelings using 3 step rewind, a hugely effective hypnosis for birth trauma, or if you are simply exhausted and needing some me time, so rebalancing then perhaps a pregnancy massage is called for.
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