What can I do to start labor naturally?

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions that I get as a birth worker is “What can I do to start labor naturally?” My first and initial response is the same in most every case…”What put the baby in there is the best way to get the baby out!” The cocktail of hormones involved in love making is the very same cocktail of hormones involved in labor and birth. Notice I said “love making” not merely sex! Though it is true that semen contains prostaglandins and prostaglandins typically stimulate labor activity…a woman has to feel safe and secure physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to engage in the kind of love making that stimulates the cocktail of hormones that will bring on labor (including endorphins “the feel good hormone”and oxytocin “the love hormone”). Love making strengthens the marrital relationship and is a whole lot more unifying, satisfying, and fulfilling for both partners than merely sex. For all practical purposes, consider hugs before drugs!

“If I engage in lovemaking during pregnancy, can I bring on preterm labor?” The answer is no. (Note: There may be some exceptions to this. Keep reading.) The hormonal receptor sites need to be open to the changing hormones in those last few weeks of pregnancy…and baby has a big “say” in that matter. In those last few weeks of pregnancy, baby produces a hormone called Corticotropin Releasing Hormone that helps significantly in baby’s readiness to tolerate living outside of the womb. Hear the ‘releasing’ part? Baby is getting ready to come out! The ‘corticotropin’ part stimulates baby’s lung maturation and they do more ‘practice breathing’ in these last fews weeks of pregnancy than in the rest of pregnancy combined. If we were to keep a constant watch over baby’s development via ultrasound thoughout pregnancy…we would not see much breathing effort until the last six or eight weeks of pregnancy. This Corticotropin Releasing Hormone is converted to estrogen in the mother and we see a hormonal shift in those last few weeks. And all those around her notice this change. Typically, mother is a bit more emotionally labile and vulnerable. We should welcome these signs AND also guard and protect this expectant mother even more. She needs to feel safe and secure and loved and adored! She is getting ready emotionally to let go of this kicking, moving, little being that has been a part of her for all these months. And baby is maturing and getting ready to be born. We needn’t rush that process. Allow baby to choose his/her birthing day!

Besides love making, here are some additional ways to stimulate labor naturally:

2.) It is thought that eating hot and spicy foods stimulates increased motility in the digestive system and muscles talk. So if the gastric motility increases often it also stimulates uterine activity.

3.) Walking applies baby’s head to the cervix and stimulates the release of prostaglandins which increases labor activity.

4.) Labor acupressure with Clary Sage essential oil is another option (Debra Betts has a free downloadable booklet here: https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/media/cms_page_media/133/Acupressure.pdf) and some additional information here: http://www.tomtheacupuncturist.com/blog/2016/10/26/can-acupuncture-and-acupressure-be-used-to-induce-labour.

5.) Clary Sage essential oil has a high percentage of esters in it which supports the estrogen surge that happens in those last few weeks of pregnancy and facilitates labor’s progress. Simply applying a drop or two to the feet morning and night may prove beneficial as long as the hormonal receptor sites are open. Remember that purity and potency of essential oils if a critical factor and more IS NOT better with regards to essential oils.

6.) Acupuncture and auricular therapy with a trained professional have proven beneficial.

7.) Very often midwives will use a combination of herbal products and tinctures that seem very effective in natural labor stimulation without the harshness of typical meds uses in the hospital setting.

9.) There is increasing evidence that date consumption in the last 4-6 wks stimulates cervical ripening. Dates are rich in simple carbohydrates that are absorbed and used by the cells for energy shortly after consumption. Date fruit also contains B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Today, various studies have been conducted on different varieties of date fruit and many of its nutritional and health benefits have been determined. “Date fruit contains saturated and unsaturated fatty acids such as oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids. Fatty acids in addition to providing and reserving energy, contribute to prostaglandin provision; therefore, date fruit can be helpful in saving energy and strengthening uterus muscles….Date fruit influences oxytocin receptors, stimulates the uterine muscles to respond more comfortably to oxytocins, and better prepares the uterus and cervix for delivery.” In a study of 210 women, those consuming date fruit during late pregnancy had greater cervical dilatation on admission compared to the non-consuming control group. (http://jmrh.mums.ac.ir/article_2772.html)

9.) Nipple rolling or nipple stimulation with a breast pump may bring on uterine activity.

10.) Doing nothing may be just as effective! Those last few weeks need to be a time of pampering and resting up for the increasing demands of motherhood. Consider a pregnancy/labor massage, pedicure/manicure, OR pre-baby getaway with your husband. Benefits of rest and relaxation facilitates endorphin production…which then faciliates oxytocin production…and that’s what we want anyway.

In the “olden days” before gestation wheels and over-the-counter pregnancy tests, women “knew” they were with child and trusted that the baby would come when they were ready. We’ve gotten quite distanced from that innate trust in our birthing bodies. We tell everyone that asks when baby is due…the “exact date” from the gestation wheel that the doctor or midwife read to us. Less than 1% of babies are actually born on their given due date. The 40 week “due date” is a “guess date”…an “estimated date of arrival”. The normal gestation period is 265-300 days. That is a wide variance…and that 40 week “due date” is right in the middle. So consider letting go of that mindset completely! Instead, focus on a “birthing time” instead of a due date. For example, if baby is due Feb. 7th…we might respond to the question “When is baby due?” with “When they are ready.” or “Sometime in February.” Just saying that and letting go of an exact date decreases all kinds of unnecessary stress and expectation and we wait with excitement and anticipation at the surprise of it all! Try it, mama! It works! I once worked with an OB/GYN (that has since retired) who had a sign on the wall of his office… “The baby is not over due until 42 weeks. I will not induce until then.” He was a very busy and well liked and appreciated obstetrician! Most of the time, labor and birth happen before 42 weeks gestation.

Now, I understand, that in today’s society, mothers and doctors and midwives would love to plan ahead and have everything all scheduled out and balanced. Especially if there is a limited time for maternity leave or a window of “convenience”. In caring for a newborn, that reasoning for medical intervention is often the cause of much distress and postpartum depression. Your routine “schedule” is going to be uprooted…as is your sleep and awake schedule, your showering schedule, your meal time schedule, your getting anything done schedule! There are certain pregnancy “HELPS” that we often dispense without much thought. Not knowing exactly when baby is coming actually helps prepare us emotionally for this uprooting of our daily schedule and accustomed effectiveness after baby is born. And those more frequent awakenings to empty our bladder during the night as baby settles in the pelvis in those last few days and weeks of pregnancy prepares us for waking to breastfeed the baby every 2-3 hrs. during the night after birth. And the beauty of it all is that the hormones of pregnancy (and later the hormones of breastfeeding) usually help us fall asleep quickly again. It’s really a miraculous and beautifully orchestrated designed plan! Let go! And baby will come in due time!

Those last few weeks of pregnancy are  challenging, for certain. AND, If the hormonal receptor sites are not open and baby is not ready, there’s actually little we can do to bring on labor naturally before it is time. Trust your body! Trust your baby! Settle in! And remember that any time a mother feels pressured…she will not release her baby. (Read my other blogs on that subject.)

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