Are there natural ways to safely encourage your labour to get started?
In the weeks leading up to the birth, your due date becomes a magical square on the calendar… and then the day usually passes without event! So, as hard as it is, try to be patient. Bear in mind that your due date is only a guide given by your doctor and, depending on your menstrual cycle, may well be inaccurate.
Ultimately, it's your baby who decides when it’s time to make an entrance, regardless of due dates, dating scans and frustrated mummy.
The good news is that you don't have to just sit there twiddling your thumbs, as there are a few tricks that may help to bring on labour naturally.
All of these will only be effective if you’re ready for labour – they won't bring on premature labour. It's nevertheless advisable to discuss these with your doctor or midwife before going ahead with trying to give nature a helping hand, particularly if there's a medical reason for induction.
It might be the last thing you feel like doing like now, but sex can help to get labour going in a couple of ways once your baby is at full term and you're ready for labour. Male sperm contains prostaglandin, the hormone that is naturally produced by the uterus lining to ripen the cervix and stimulate the uterus to contract. Massage and female masturbation can also help because female orgasm releases oxytocin, another hormone that stimulates contractions.
In normal circumstances it’s fine to have sex in the final stages of pregnancy, however, if you’re suffering from certain pregnancy-related health conditions your doctor may advise abstinence. Once your waters have broken then you shouldn’t have intercourse, as your baby is no longer protected from infection.
Stimulating the nipples in imitation of a baby's suckling action can release the hormone oxytocin, which, among other things, acts to stimulate the uterus to contract.
A quick twiddle won’t stimulate your nipples in the way your feeding baby would, to do that you need to stimulated the entire area of the areola with a massaging, rather than an pinching action. You’ll ideally need to keep up the stimulation for about fifteen minutes and repeat at frequent intervals throughout the day.
A relaxing bath or massage using one or more essential oils that can act to relax you and/or stimulate the uterus (clary sage, jasmine and marjoram) may help. If you're overdue, it may be that some stress or anxiety is preventing you from going into labour, so at the very least a relaxing bath or massage should help clear any mental blocks to the start of labour, regardless of whether the oils help with contractions.
While scientific studies are thin on the ground, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that acupuncture may help to kick-start labour once your body is ready.
If there aren't any known medical complications, homeopathic remedies may help to address any fears or anxieties that may be holding up labour. Unless you have plenty of experience in self-prescribing it is probably best to consult a professional homeopath for effective treatment.
Various forms of activity are often recommended to jump-start labour and walking is thought to work largely through gravity - your baby’s head is encouraged downwards to exert pressure on the cervix and so prompt the release of prostaglandin. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the suggestion that walking can help labour along, again, once your body and baby are ready.
If you do go for a walk to encourage labour then be careful not to overdo it, if you’re successful then you’re going to need plenty of energy to get through labour and birth.
This is one recommendation you’ll probably hear frequently and one often recommended by midwives, despite there being no clear medical evidence to back it up. If eating a hot curry or similar does help to bring on labour it might do so by stimulating the gut and bowels, which can have a knock-on effect on the uterus. This is probably one to avoid, or to try with caution, if you’ve been suffering from heartburn in pregnancy, or if you’re not used to hot foods.
This is frequently recommended as a way of getting labour going, but in fact is more of a uterine tonic, acting to strengthen the uterus, to be used in the final weeks of pregnancy to prepare your uterus for labour, rather than a means of actually initiating labour itself.
Because raspberry leaf tea can help with contractions it’s not recommended that you drink it before for the final trimester of your pregnancy, and many doctors recommend not drinking it before week 34. From week 34 onwards drinking a couple of cups a day can help prepare the womb for labour.
Castor oil is an old remedy for kick-starting labour, but it's a thoroughly unpleasant one. Usually made more palatable (but not much!) with the addition of orange juice, castor oil wreaks havoc on your insides, will most likely make you vomit and will certainly see you spend a large part of the day in the bathroom. It's probably the stimulation of the bowels (as with spicy food) that can have a knock-on effect on the uterus.
If the cervix is ripe, your midwife may be able to encourage the start of labour by sweeping the membranes, usually known as ‘a sweep’. This is a very old practice that prompts the uterus lining to release prostraglandin.
Your midwife uses her finger to gently move the membranes away from the lower part of the uterus.
A sweep can be quite uncomfortable and some women may even find it painful.
While it is intervention of a kind, a membrane sweep doesn’t involve any medication, so is different to a medical induction.
"We thought our son was really overdue (though it turned out he was just very big!) and I had had enough of eating curries every night. I hadn’t planned to go to a friend’s birthday party but I was getting fed up of sitting home waiting for something to happen, so I waddled over for an hour or so. I think it was probably more that I was just relaxed and had my mind off the birth, but I did treat myself to a small glass of organic red wine, and when we got home we also had sex. I went into labour in the night!"
Elizabeth, 35, mum to Zak, 3
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