Several weeks ago I wrote on medical methods of induction, many of which are no-nos if you’re wanting a natural birth. So now it’s time to write about natural induction (which, by the way, I now have plenty of experience with after my third daughter was two weeks later than planned. We were expecting a late-June baby, and ended up with a mid-July baby).
First, let me say this: it is best to let a healthy baby come when she or he is ready. If you are pushing your “due date” or it has already passed, then the best thing to do is just relax and allow the baby to begin labor when ready. There are things you can do to speed up the process by a couple days, but if your baby is not ready to come, then baby won’t come unless you force the issue.
Male sperm works to soften the cervix and causes contractions. Obviously this will not work if you are using condoms, but women more sexually active during late pregnancy tend to have babies come earlier than those who don’t, according to Ina May Gaskin, who is considered the nation’s leading midwife.
The swaying motion of walking helps move the baby down and into the correct position for birth. If the baby is already low, the movement will start to press her head against the cervix, helping it to open and efface. It also keeps mama healthy, which is essential for a natural birth. Don’t walk until you’re exhausted because you’ll need energy for labor, but a good 30-minute walk every day will help the birth process.
Okay, this may sound counter-intuitive, but getting adequate sleep is important for a mother about to go into labor. If your body is worn out from miles of walking and too much sex (like there ever is such a thing!), then it will delay labor in an attempt to rest. If this is the case, then sleeping is the best thing you can do because you do not want to begin labor exhausted. Especially if you are a first-time mother. Get enough rest! It will make labor easier.
Stimulating a pregnant woman’s nipples will contract the uterus. After giving birth, a nursing baby’s suckling helps the uterus contract back down quickly, thus reducing a woman’s risk of hemorrhage. Before the moment of birth, nipple stimulation helps start contractions or keep them going. For some women this is a sure-fire way to start labor. Oral stimulation is best, either from a nursing toddler or a spouse, but manual stimulation or using a breast pump work as well. Used in conjunction with intercourse, it is extremely effective. This also happens to be a great way to try to jumpstart a slowed labor in the hospital rather than using Pitocin or Cytotec.
There are pressure points on a woman’s body that help initiate labor contractions. A massage therapist trained in what is safe for pregnancy and labor is a great person to see. Someone trained in acupuncture and acupressure would also know what to do. However, you don’t necessarily need a trained professional to do the massage. Although a professional will be more experienced, a friend or partner can firmly massage the following areas:
~Hand: massage the webbing between thumb and index finger.
~Ankles: massage the ankles all the way up to mid-calf, focusing on the inside of her leg, a couple inches above the ankle bone.
~Sacrum: massage the lower back right between her hip bones, focusing on the two dimples just above the top of her buttocks crease.
There are a couple of homeopathic remedies that can encourage labor to begin. Most midwives will not distribute them prior to your “due date,” but check with your midwife or a naturopath to get some. The great thing about homeopathics is that they will not force a baby to come who is not ready. Using them will just give a baby who’s ready a little nudge to start labor. If they don’t work and just cause annoying contractions that do nothing productive, drinking a small cup of coffee will stop them. Caffeine counteracts homeopathics. Also, be warned that taking too much of a homeopathic will cause the reverse of the desired effect. I learned this the hard way with my third child when I accidentally stopped a batch of promising contractions by taking too many pills.
Okay, castor oil is disgusting. But it is a fairly fool-proof way of starting labor. It is a little more aggressive than any of the previous natural inductions listed. A tablespoon with breakfast should start some strong contractions that turn into labor. If you decide to try castor oil, make sure your care provider knows what you are doing so she can be ready for you. Be warned, castor oil is a laxative, so it will clean you out as well as get your baby out.
A good midwife or naturopath will be able to prescribe herbs to induce labor. These are similar to castor oil in that they are more aggressive than the first few methods listed. As with the homeopathics, I do not want to list particular herbs because it is something your care provider (who knows your medical history and situation) should recommend. If you are seeing a regular doctor who doesn’t know about herbs, try going to a naturopath or acupuncturist who works with pregnant women.
If you don’t mind needles, then seeing an acupuncturist may be a good way to start labor. When choosing a provider, however, make sure you go to someone with excellent references and experience in working on pregnant women. If you’re nervous about needles, as I am, many can also do acupressure and heat over various points to initiate labor.
Sweeping the Membranes
This is apparently a fairly effective method of beginning labor within 24 hours. During a vaginal exam, the doctor or midwife can gently insert a finger into the cervix and swipe in a circular motion to stimulate contractions. This method does, however, carry a slight risk for breaking the bag of waters with a sweep that is not quite gentle enough. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, except that having a broken bag of waters but no labor carries a risk of infection for your baby, and will necessitate medical induction within a day or so if labor does not begin.