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Archive for June, 2011

Induction is a term that describes the act of sending a woman’s body into labor. Technically, the word can be applied to both natural methods of induction, such as walking or sexual intercourse, and to unnatural methods, such as the administration of drugs or artificially breaking the bag of waters.

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Pitocin

Pitocin is a synthetic hormone that mimics oxytocin, the hormone that sends a woman into labor. It is administered via intravenous drip into the bloodstream, and causes contractions that are intended to either start labor or “jumpstart” a stalled labor. Since Pitocin is the most widely-used form of induction, I will dedicate a full post to it.

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Cytotec

Cytotec is a small pill that can either be taken orally, or is inserted in the vagina to induce labor. Once administered, it absorbs into the body and cannot be removed or its effects stopped.

Despite being quite popular among medical staff, this drug is not FDA approved for use on pregnant women since it frequently causes uterine rupture and can be fatal to both mother and baby. Uterine rupture means that the top of the uterus detaches from a woman’s body, often breaking open at the top and sending the placenta and unborn baby into her abdomen instead of through the birth canal. This occurs because the contractions created are too strong and hyperstimulate the uterus. Uterine rupture or danger of rupture is extremely serious and the baby must be born as quickly as possible, usually through cesarean, and the mother’s uterus must be repaired or removed.

Several years ago the manufacturing company sent out a warning to all medical practitioners against the use of Cytotec on any pregnant or laboring woman. Unfortunately, and extremely unethically, this pill is still used widely within the medical community.

Please read this article previously posted about Cytotec, and the serious dangers it represents to both mother and baby. If you decide to induce medically for any reason, please request Pitocin, and do not allow anyone to give you Cytotec, also called misoprostol.

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Prepidil and Cervidil

These two drugs, each a type of prostaglandin, work similarly to Cytotec in that they soften both the cervix and lower part of the uterus. They are frequently used in conjunction with Pitocin to enhance its effects. Prepidil is a gel applied directly to the cervix, and Cervidil looks like a tampon that is inserted into the vagina and releases the synthetic prostaglandin. Unlike Cytotec, these two drugs were FDA approved for labor induction in the mid-1990s. In case of hyperstimulation (overworking) of the uterus, the Prepidil can be wiped off and the Cervidil removed in order to halt the flow of prostaglandin. In this way the two are safer than Cytotec, which cannot be removed, but they can and do still cause uterine rupture occasionally.

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Breaking the Waters

For some women, labor begins by the bag of waters breaking. This happened to me with my first labor and it was pretty obvious to me when it broke. The break can cause harder contractions, but also greatly increases your chance of infection if the bag breaks before you are ready to be in labor. If labor doesn’t start soon after, most care providers will want to induce and administer antibiotics.

Breaking the waters refers to artificially rupturing the bag that holds the baby and amniotic fluid. This is a fairly common procedure and is considered safe because there is no danger of uterine rupture. If a woman’s body is ready for labor, breaking the waters effectively starts labor for 70-80% of women within 24 hours. The problem with this method of induction is that, for the other 20-30% who don’t go into labor quickly, danger of infection is high. In a hospital setting, this also places a time limit on how long labor is allowed to go. If breaking the waters does not start contractions within a specified period (usually 24 hours), then a hospital will begin other methods of induction, such as a Pitocin drip or the administration of one of the previously-mentioned interventions.

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As I write this, I am one day away from my “golden date,” which means that I am one day away from being 37 weeks pregnant.  Why is that date so important to me? At exactly 37 weeks, I am “allowed” to have my baby at home with my wonderful midwife, rather than in the hospital with a staff that isn’t too fond of home birthers.

Last night, though, we had a bit of a scare. I had contractions all day. They were big, strong, and pushed down on my pelvis. Nothing I did to slow them down had much of an impact for long. Even after I went to bed I woke up probably 10-15 times with them. It was a rough night because I did not want to go to the hospital simply because I was two days before my magic date. Now, if there was something wrong with the baby, then that would be a different story and I’d have no problem going to the hospital if needed. But if I had to go just to satisfy a law that set an arbitrary day as safe, based on an estimated due date, then I would have been pretty upset.

Thankfully, the contractions didn’t morph into labor last night, so I am safe – for now.  Just make it to midnight tonight, little baby, then feel free to come whenever you decide you’re ready! …well, as long as it’s not more than two weeks after your “due date” because then we’d have to deal with more drama, but then about you being “late.”

Anyway, last night’s excitement got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, other pregnant mothers may have trouble with contracting too much, too early. I start contracting fairly early in my pregnancies, so have a lot of experience with slowing down unwanted contractions.

I’d like to share some tips on what usually helps my body calm down when my contractions start to cause concern.

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COMMON CAUSES

First, it may be a good idea to go over a few common factors that can bring on contractions (or what feels like cramping early in pregnancy).

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Dehydration

Lack of water is probably the most common cause of non-labor contractions. This is easily fixed by drinking several glasses of water or Red Raspberry Infusion. If you have chronic contraction problems then upping water intake throughout the day will help.

Stress

Large amounts of stress can start contractions. The best thing to do in this case is to relax and try to remove or resolve the cause of your anxiety.

Overexertion

Overdoing it is one of my main causes of contractions. If possible, the best thing to do is stop. Take it easy. Just lie down or take a warm bath and let your body recover. Also, try to avoid lifting heavy objects or doing too many physical activities in one day. Many times, if you overdo it one day, the next day is when your body pays for it.

(I am preaching to myself here. During my second pregnancy we lived on the third floor and had almost no furniture. When my nesting instincts kicked in, I went crazy trying to get the place ready. By far my most dim-witted idea was to drag two large dressers and a bookshelf up to our third-floor apartment while my husband was at work. So there I was, eight months pregnant, trying to pull these solid wood monstrosities up three flights of stairs all alone. I finally realized that I was being an idiot, and found a kind maintenance man in the apartment office to take them the rest of the way. Of course, that little venture took me quite a while to recover from.)

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MY CONTRACTION REMEDIES

Now that I’ve gone over a few causes of contractions, I’ll list my personal remedies for contractions that just won’t stop. As always, check with your midwife or doctor first before using any new herbs or tinctures.

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Rest and Relaxation

Yep, I said it before, but this is important. If your body is stressed, overexerted, or simply worn out from the day, this is the first thing you want to do. Either lay down or take a bath. Let your body recover. My favorite is taking a warm, candlelit bath with one or all of the following remedies:

Red Raspberry Leaf Infusion

As I have mentioned before, red raspberry leaf is arguably the herb for women’s reproductive health. It strengthens the uterus and packed with vital nutrients for childbearing years. Taking a large glass or two of this infusion will help reduce contractions. If dehydrated, it will hydrate you, and the vitamins will help make your contractions productive. Meaning, if your contractions aren’t doing anything productive, such as bringing a baby into the world during labor, then red raspberry will help stop them.

Cramp Bark

Cramp bark is an amazing little remedy. It is generally used to relieve menstrual cramping. However, since it does so by reducing uterine contractions, it also helps reduce contractions during pregnancy. I have not come across any warnings about its use, except an unverified caution against using it if you are sensitive to aspirin.

The best way to take cramp bark is as a tincture. You can easily find this at a health food store. Just drop the recommended dose into a large glass of water. I find the taste pleasant, but if you don’t care for it, put it into just a little water and take it like a shot.

St. John’s Wort

This is another herb that works best as a tincture. By the way, if you don’t know what a tincture is, it is a concentrated liquid of an herb. Each one comes in a small bottle with a dropper. Doses are generally measured by counting how many drops you add to your water or tea. St. John’s Wort is most frequently used to treat depression. It calms and uplifts a person’s mind, which is perfect if you’re experiencing contractions brought on by stress or anxiety.

Red Wine

Okay, so I hesitated to add this to the list… wait, no, that’s not true. I briefly considered hesitating to add this, but that didn’t last long.

Now, I know that alcohol of any kind is decried for pregnant women because of fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s quite a touchy subject here in the U.S. In fact, during my first pregnancy a nurse told me that any amount at any time during pregnancy could cause serious damage. But then she also told me not to worry about any alcohol I’d consumed early on before I knew I was pregnant because it wouldn’t harm the baby. And yet during those first couple months is when the baby is at highest risk for birth defects and miscarriage. Make sense to you? Me neither.

Anyway, wine has long been used medicinally, even during pregnancy, and is still consumed in other developed countries by pregnant women. I personally view it as much safer than any prescribed drugs that could stop early labor, but that is between you and your own care provider. I’ll just share what I’ve found to help.

I personally only use red wine as a last resort, and only in the second half of pregnancy. When the chance of miscarriage and developing birth defects is high, as it is in the first trimester, I don’t touch the stuff. However, if none of the previous remedies have lessened my contractions and I truly am concerned about going into early labor, I drink a very small glass of wine – roughly a quarter of a glass – with bready food (I’m a lightweight, so don’t feel comfortable having more than that). The wine helps relax muscles, including uterine muscles. It also reduces any stress or anxiety that could be causing contractions. When all else has failed, there have been a few times when that little glass of wine finally stops the contractions or cramping.

Remember, whether it’s alcohol or caffeine or sugar, whatever you consume your baby does as well. And your baby feels it more than you do. So, if you feel lightheaded from any wine because you had too much or took it on an empty stomach, then your baby is probably reeling inside.

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So, there you have it. A few tips or ideas that may help you lessen contractions, especially ones that could easily turn into preterm labor.

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Please remember that I am not a doctor, midwife, or scientist. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned, what I’ve used, and what helps me and other women I’ve talked to. All of these mentioned have been suggested to me by a midwife or doctor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each one is good for you as well.

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In preparation for the birth of our third baby, I have been rereading all of the birth books I found helpful during my first pregnancy, as well as others I didn’t manage to get to at that time. It’s been a few years since I read them, and especially after a difficult labor with my second daughter, I’ve been needing a little reassurance and guidance this time around.

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Since I’ve read several childbirth books in a relatively short period of time, I’d like to give you a little review of what I would consider to be the best natural childbirth book for women who only have time to read one book.

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Although I have discovered invaluable information in each book I’ve read, the winner has to be… drumroll… Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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Here’s why:

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Most childbirth books tend to focus on one of two things: either the feelings of the birth experience and how to achieve a gentle birth through relaxation, or, instead, on the medical establishment and all of the interventions routinely performed on women. The first approach can leave a woman unprepared and uneducated in the face of a different birth than planned. Especially when complications arise. The second can unnecessarily frighten her and make her completely averse to doctors even in a true life-threatening situation, or it can train her to become an acquiescent patient in a hospital.

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Ina May’s book leans to neither extreme. She addresses both aspects thoroughly.

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Considered the nation’s leading midwife, Ina May Gaskin began her midwifery career in the hippie days, when everyone wanted a homebirth away from the “establishment.” She attended countless births over the years. Her wealth of knowledge and experience is truly incredible, and she has witnessed natural births that most traditionally-trained medical doctors and nurses have never seen or conceived of.

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The first part of the book is birth stories from many mothers who had natural births. This may not seem important, but in our culture of labor as a “medical emergency” and childbirth as “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced,” I think it is so important that pregnant women hear (or read, in this case) accounts of what a normal birth can look like. Each woman’s experience is different, but all of them fly in the face of the horror stories that everyone – from the media to veteran mothers – likes to inflict on a pregnant woman.

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In Part 2, Ms. Gaskin explains some history of birth in the last several thousand years, and how our society ended up with such a skewed perception of what giving birth is all about. She then talks about the process of labor, what’s happening in the body and mind, and even discusses nearly unheard of “orgasmic” or “pain free” birth. (Side note, there are unedited photographs of vaginas and women laboring or giving birth throughout the book, just so you know). Ina May explains how laboring in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people can lengthen or completely stop labor, and why an intimate setting with people you trust is the best place to bring new life into the world. She talks about this from both a biological and emotional standpoint. I should note that she discusses birth in both home and hospital settings.

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In the second part Ms. Gaskin also covers a myriad of tests and interventions normally performed or offered during pregnancy or labor, as well as VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and tips for choosing a traditional caregiver, midwife, or doula. She also talks about birthing positions around the world, and has drawings of women in each.

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Throughout the book Ina May remains true to her earthy roots. She writes frankly and insightfully about birth and about the labor process. She is engaging and down-to-earth, and provides an incredible amount of information. This book now holds a permanent place on my shelf.  If I could only give one book about childbirth to any pregnant woman, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is the one I would choose.

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So, I just looked at the calendar and realized that my third baby is due in roughly three weeks. Also, I realized that I’ve been slacking on my writing and had better get a move on since I’m sure I won’t be doing much in the month following the birth! I shall attempt to line up several posts and set them up to publish one every Tuesday morning. We’ll see how that turns out.

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Today I made one of the staples of my pregnancy diet, so thought I would share the benefits and “how to” with you. The following is technically made as an “infusion,” similar to sun tea, but most people call it Red Raspberry Leaf Tea.

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Benefits of Red Raspberry Leaf

Leaves from the Red Raspberry plant are an incredible source of nutrients during pregnancy and beyond. Chock full of vitamins A, B complex, C, and E, this herb also contains beneficial minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, as well as easily assimilated calcium and iron. If taken during pregnancy, the leaf helps provide relief from morning sickness, nausea, and vomiting, while also preventing miscarriage and easing labor. Taken postpartum, it smoothes out the hormonal mood swings and helps alleviate postpartum depression. In a non-pregnant woman, Red Raspberry also helps reduce menstrual flow. When combined with Red Clover as an infusion, the combination promotes fertility for both men and women. Basically, Red Raspberry is the herb for women’s reproductive health.

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If you buy a pregnancy tea from the store, Red Raspberry Leaf is invariably one of the ingredients. However, it is an expensive way to go, especially if you do drink it nearly every day. It also doesn’t work quite as well as making your own. So, here is the cheapest and simplest way to get some extra pregnancy nutrition.

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How to make Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

(as an infusion)

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What you will need:

Loose red raspberry leaves*

Glass jar with a metal screw-on lid**

Boiling water

Strainer

*Can be purchased in bulk at most health food stores, or online at a store such as Mountain Rose Herbs.

**I use an old applesauce jar. Isn’t it lovely?

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Instructions

Step 1.

Boil water. Place a small handful of leaves in the glass jar.

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Step 2.

Pour boiling water over the tea leaves and immediately screw on the lid. It doesn’t have to be an exact measurement. You will dilute the tea later to suit your taste. I usually fill my applesauce jar about half full of water. Swirl the contents around a bit to wet the leaves. It will look something like this:

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Step 3

Allow your tea to sit at room temperature for a few hours until cooled. It is most beneficial once the leaves have completely infused their nutrients into the water.

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Step 4

Pour your Red Raspberry Tea through the strainer into a glass, then dilute with water to taste. It may take a little trial and error at first to get the right combination of tea and water. Feel free to sweeten with honey, although I personally think it tastes best without anything added. Leave the remaining water and leaves in the jar for the next day’s drink.


Here is my glass of Red Raspberry, diluted how I like it. 

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Drink one glass of tea each day (at the strength you enjoy). If you have trouble with too many contractions as I tend to, drinking an extra glass or two as needed will help reduce them, both with hydration (dehydration causes contractions) and the vitamins, which keep the uterus healthy.

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Red Raspberry Tea will last roughly three days on the counter without going bad, although during the summer it will stay fresh better in the fridge if the room is hot.

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