Can it be done, or are you sending yourself nuts?
We get it. We totally get it. Once you hit your due date, and even before, you are so ready for that baby to come. You’re hot, you’re sore, you’re tired, you’re swollen and you are done being pregnant. If you’ve had some lovely (read: unwelcome and unhelpful) comments from medical people (some who know, some who really don’t) about how big your baby’s going to be, a terrifying birthing class or two and some mild threats of induction, you’re probably feeling pretty anxious, excited, scared and totally impatient. You, and the many women before you, hence the many, many tales of how to naturally induce labour. So, do any of them work? Let’s inspect.
Myths about bringing on labour
Firstly, let’s get something straight. Your due date is a guide only. Just five per cent of women give birth on their due date. You are not overdue until 42 weeks. Which is two weeks past your due date. You will be monitored more closely after 40 weeks, but as long as everything is fine, you should be able to continue to wait up until you are overdue and even beyond. OK, now the old wives’ tales that are totally false, but fun to think about:
- Spicy food? Seemingly the logic behind this is that a nice hot curry will get your bowels moving, and in turn… your uterus. That’s not how anatomy works sweetie! Plus a full stomach during labour isn’t always fun: heartburn, vomiting, diarrhea. Horrible.
- Walking? Climbing stairs? These can feel good once your contractions start, and it can help get the baby into position because it opens up the hips, but it’s not going to kick start labour. Also, a light walk might feel relaxing but don’t exhaust yourself. You’ll need that energy very soon.
- Pineapple? No truth to this, but if you’re craving pineapple, go for it.
- Raspberry leaf tea? This tea helps tone the muscles of the uterus, so it’s great to sip if you have a uterus, but that’s about it.
- Castor oil? That’s a laxative. An unpleasant one. Don’t drink it.
- Clary sage? Clary sage oil is thought to be a natural uterotonic, meaning it can cause contractions of the uterus, so it is not recommended to be used in pregnancy prior to 38 weeks. What research has been done into the essential oil, though it is limited, doesn't show an effect on uterine contractions, but that it increases oxytocin levels which has increased pain relieving effects. Therefore, it's not as effective in inducing labour as it is as a labouring tool.
Methods of bringing on labour
There is a lot of advice around needing to be relaxed to go into labour. Whether directly related or not, stress isn’t good for the body, and your body has got some serious work to do very soon, so finding ways to relax is a top priority. One effective way of reducing anxiety while waiting to go into labour is to tell everyone to stop asking you if you’ve gone into labour. Let everyone know, you’ll let them know when something happens, and until then enjoy how quickly everyone answers when you call.
Massage and acupressure can be used to target specific pressure points that press into the cervix, causing the baby to descend. “Acupuncture is useful to help soften and dilate the cervix with the onset of labour contractions,” says Fiona Harrison, a Melbourne-based doula. Just make sure you have a massage not to inspire labour but to feel relaxed. Nipple stimulation can release oxytocin, so you can try a little gentle rubbing. But if you’re not into it, don’t persist. You’re not going to get any oxytocin if it’s not enjoyable. “Go home, have sex,” has been advised to many parents passed their due date because there is some medical truth to sex inducing labour. Sort of. Semen contains prostaglandins, the hormone that helps soften and open the cervix, possibly leading to contractions. For this to have the best chance of taking effect, you’ll want to keep the semen on the cervix for a while. Many very pregnant women don’t really feel like having sex, so again, don’t force it. Orgasms are stress-reducing and oxytocin-producing, so foreplay or however you like to get your jollies is definitely advised. Plus, female orgasm has been known to open the cervix up to two centimetres. In 2014, a study asked the sexual activity of 120 women who presented to a university hospital in labour. The results showed the gestational age of babies was "significantly lower" in those couples who were sexually active.
When asked if anything can naturally induce labour, a doctor friend replied, “stretch and sweep!”. As for the rest of the things, she laughed and said, “no, none of those things have evidence for inducing labour”. So, yeah. Stretch and sweep is technically an intervention, but a fairly gentle and low-touch one compared to other induction methods. It is a vaginal examination that sometimes initiates labour, it has about a 24 percent success rate for labour starting in the subsequent 48 hours. Essentially, two gloved, lubricated fingers into the opening of your cervix and some circular movements to try and separate the membranes of the amniotic sack from your cervix. Usually uncomfortable, but not painful.
We know it’s hard, but try not to worry or put pressure on yourself to go into labour. Once it happens, it will happen quickly and suddenly you’ll have a little baby in your arms and everything will go very fast. If it’s your first, this might be the last time, for a long time, that you’re on your own. So take long, long showers, sleep in, get your nails done, get your hair done, read books, watch movies, go out for dinner with your partner, just have some you time, before it’s all “we” time. And let yourself be excited, cause it could happen at any minute.