In Birth

We eagerly await the day we’ll bring our little ones into the world.  After months of anticipation, it seems as though you can’t wait another day. But in some cases, you end up waiting a day, and another and a few more.

Most medical professionals agree a birth should proceed by 42 weeks at most and many will suggest induction of labour by 41 weeks gestation. So what do we do when we get past our estimated due date and our little bump decides it wants to stay put for longer? There are many myths and folklore out there surrounding natural ways to bring on a birth. So how do we separate fact from fiction? Here are a few facts and not-so-factual pointers on natural induction.

The Three H’s Induce Labour

First of all the three H’s are hot food, hot sex, hot bath. For the sake of this blog, I’ll separate them as they all have roots in different theories.

Hot/Spicy Food

This myth has been studied and studied again and shown no proof that it actively induces a birth. However, that being said there is some logic in it. Hot food can stimulate our gastric gases and cause diarrhoea. This, in turn, can cause intestinal cramping which some believe can cause contractions. This would only happen if you were already “ripe”, which is to say already proceeding naturally with labour. Castor oil, which is still recommended by some to induce labour, works on the same principle. I, however, never ever recommend it as there is nothing worse than having nasty diarrhoea and becoming dehydrated at the start of your labour.

Hot Sex

Depending on how you are feeling towards the end of the pregnancy, this may be a fun activity or a waste of time. Prostaglandins are hormones that help in inducing labour. During a medical induction, a gel containing the hormone is applied to the cervix to help it ripen. Semen contains prostaglandins, so in theory, a good romp in the hay should help ripen the cervix. Some professionals feel this is true and sex can induce labour, however many feel it is not effective. Many couples continue to have sex throughout their pregnancy and it does not stimulate labour early on in the pregnancy so why would it later? It’s a topic that’s hotly debated and even spills over into the question –is sex during pregnancy safe? Years ago sex was thought to stimulate labour, but with many studies, we’ve seen this theory disproven over time. So go ahead and enjoy your last days as a baby-free couple, but just don’t expect it to get anything moving but your headboard.

“Sex and acupuncture is what got my labour started with both of my pregnancies” L Muma to Max and Julie

Warm Bath

A warm bath will definitely relax you, but don’t expect it to bring your baby into this world. It’s a great idea to help you settle your mind especially if you are feeling over anxious about the late arrival of your baby. The warm water and perhaps some essential oils such as lavender will help you relax and rest your mind. The warm water will also warm your muscles and help them into a state of relaxation and rest. The buoyancy of the water will also take the weight of your back and pelvis providing some much-needed relief in the final days. It won’t put you into a state of labour, but there is a widely held belief that being relaxed and free of stress helps the body proceed into labour much easier.

Exercise/Walking

Any physical movement won’t necessarily make your labour start, but it can help facilitate that process. The simple act of being upright and moving may help draw the baby down into your pelvis and in a good position thanks to gravity and the swaying of your hips. The pressure of your baby on your pelvis may then prime the cervix for labour or help the labour progress if you’re already actively engaged. It can also help take your mind off the minutes. Waiting for labour to begin or progress can be stressful and if you’re counting every minute it can seem like a lifetime causing undo stress and anxiety. Exercise and walking produce “happy” hormones and can help you focus on other things especially when combined with relaxing breathing. So while it may not “hormonally” induce birth, it does have some physiological and emotional benefits when it comes to moving birth along.

Nipple Rubbing

Instead of sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for bubs to arrive, try twiddling your nipples instead. That’s right, nipple stimulation- massaging of twisting of the nipples can cause the hormone oxytocin to release which can bring on contractions. It isn’t one of the most recommended ways to naturally induce labours as some women find it painful or irritating. What’s more some practitioners do not recommend it as it can cause very strong and long uterine contractions which can potentially lower the foetul heart rate. So unless your Midwife or Doctor recommends it I would stay clear of the nipple tweaking.

Massage

Massage can also trigger releases in oxytocin and is most likely a more enjoyable way than nipple tweaking. Many massage therapists swear by focusing on different areas or pressure points of the body to bring about labour. If massages are not your thing especially when you are at the end of your pregnancy, simple meditation or cuddling can also be effective. The warmth and relaxation of both of these activities can also get your oxytocin pumping. That’s why we hear of a lot of women going into labour in the middle of the night when they are snuggled up, relaxed and warm.  Even if these activities don’t directly trigger labour they will get you into the right state of mind and help you move through the later stages when they arrive. Plus who couldn’t use a good cuddle every once in awhile?

Acupuncture / Acupressure

These two theories are linked to massage. However, they miss the component of body-to-body closeness that is thought to stimulate the oxytocin. So do they work? While there is no concrete medical evidence to say they absolutely work, they have been known to nudge the baby into action. Whether it’s through stimulation of the cervix nerves, relaxation, or pressure point stimulation it seems to help along an already proceeding pregnancy. These therapies work wonders with symptomatic pregnancy ailments such as nausea, aches and sleeplessness. That being said if the baby isn’t ready to make its way into the world, no amount of needling or pressure point stimulation will coerce your little one into making its grand entrance.

While nothing is guaranteed there is value in trying what makes you feel comfortable before resorting to medical intervention. Most of these tools are actually ways to augment a slow-moving labour rather than induce a labour that has not begun. There is no medical evidence any natural induction methods actually bring about actual labour. Only the hormone oxytocin can do that.

‘Towards the end of my pregnancy, I virtually tried everything under the sun to get myself into labour. It was only after I gave up trying and relaxed that labour kicked in.’ A, Muma to Gabriel

However many of these methods are complementary to putting you into a state where you are more likely to be relaxed and ready to proceed into labour. If the baby is running a bit late, go ahead and try some natural methods. But if the baby or the mother is in distress chances are your practitioner will recommend a medical induction or even a cesarean. It’s all a case-by-case situation, each one of us is different and each birth we experience is different. There is no one solution fits all. Educate yourself, try a few natural techniques that are safe, go with what makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, and remember, no matter what, your baby will eventually come out.

If you’ve read this blog to the end, you may also be interested in reading about medically induced labour.

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Urban Hatch is the online destination for mums-to-be and new mothers to receive support, guidance and care. Our mission is to help you and your partner thrive at parenthood from bump to birth and beyond.