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Less than three weeks ago I gave birth to my third daughter. Exciting, right?! Well, I’m excited. She’s adorable and it was literally the perfect birth. Absolutely perfect. Once I finish writing my birth story I’ll post it for anyone who wants to read about a home birth. Anyway, since I’ve now had three natural births, one in a hospital and two at home, I think it’s time to write about pain management during labor.

Although the majority of women in the U.S. choose to get an epidural to block feeling, there are definite risks to the procedure, both for the mother and her baby. I don’t think anyone would disagree that a drug-free vaginal birth is by far the safest. Unfortunately, not many women believe that they are capable of a drug-free birth. Most, if not all of this is due to our cultural opinion of birth. Nearly everyone, from doctors to the media, treats labor and birth as a medical condition that requires medical intervention and a highly-specialized doctor present to “get the baby out.” However, a healthy woman, left to herself or with a trusted labor assistant, will also give birth, and generally much more quickly and peacefully.

With all that being said, let’s talk about labor pains.

Now, labor is a lot of work. It is hard work. And for good reason. During labor our bodies go through incredible physical and hormonal changes as the baby moves down the birth canal to be born. How many are in awe that a baby is able to fit through an opening that is so small? I know I am! With all the changes occurring within a laboring woman’s body, there is also a level of discomfort. Each woman experiences it differently; some refer to the sensation as an intense ache on her pubic bone, some women describe extreme pain.

Whatever experience you’ve had or heard stories about, there are ways to alleviate painful sensations during each contraction (also called a surge or rush by many natural childbirth books – I like those terms much better, don’t you? They describe labor much more accurately than contraction does. What a distant, medical word) – without drugs. Here are some ways to handle the surges:

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1. Relax

Seems counterintuitive, right? When we experience pain or discomfort our natural reaction is to tense up in a “fight or flight” mentality. Our adrenaline kicks in and we’re ready to react. Normally, this is a good thing. However, labor is not something we can escape from, and it is not something to fear. We are bringing new life into the world, and that is a wonderful thing! Tensing muscles during a surge will only make the pain worse. Our tendency is to tense up, then when that makes it more painful we tense up more, which creates even more pain. It turns into a vicious cycle in which a woman even begins to tense up in anticipation of the next contraction.

In order to break free of that cycle, it helps to relax our muscles, especially in the abdomen, butt/vaginal area, and jaw. If you’re having trouble relaxing those muscles, allowing your mouth to fall open in a “duh” expression helps open up the birth canal as it lessens tension in your vaginal muscles. I know, it sounds weird, but those two sets of muscles are connected. It is possible to relax all these muscles even while you’re using others, such as while standing or kneeling.

2. Breathe, Breathe

“Breathing” does not mean the short, “hee hee hoo hoo” breaths that classes like Lamaze teach (well, they used to, at least; maybe they’ve changed). Patterned breathing techniques like that are only used to try to distract a woman from her contractions. When I say “breathe,” I mean deep, full, belly breathing. The kind we all used to do as children, before our culture taught us to never let our bellies stick out. Breathe like an opera singer or a baby. With each breath use as much lung space as possible. If you do it correctly, your belly should rise with each breath, but your chest barely moves. Try to visualize sending air down into your vagina instead of your chest. Deep breathing takes more oxygen into your body, which alleviates pain. Focusing on the breathing is also calming and brings your focus inward as you “give in” to what your body is doing.

3. Set the Mood

Just as there is a certain ambience that creates a romantic mood, there is an ambience that is good for labor. There are exceptions, of course, but most women need dim lighting, a peaceful atmosphere, and a very few trusted people in the room with her. If laboring at home, you can set up candles, play music, and hand-pick who is allowed to be there. If at a hospital, it will probably take a little more effort, but it is possible. Some hospitals provide cd players and bedside lamps, but others don’t. Find out beforehand and, if they don’t, you can bring your own stereo or light if you desire. Having only a few trusted people is also nearly impossible at a hospital, but you can limit who enters the room and when. In this case, a spouse or friend may have to keep unwanted people out. Also, if a nurse is rude or makes you uncomfortable, you can tell them to leave. Remember: you are paying them to help you during labor. Don’t be afraid to request a different nurse.

4. Move Around

I’ve written before that lying flat on your back is the worst position to labor and birth in. It not only closes the pelvic opening so that the baby has a hard time getting out, but it also makes contractions much worse for the vast majority of women. Early in labor, walking is great because it helps the baby move down and into a good position for birth. Later in labor, moving around to find the most comfortable position will help alleviate pain. Also, your body will tell you if you’re in a bad position for the baby as she moves down toward birth. Listen to your body, and if you don’t feel like being in a certain position, move (between contractions!) to a different one. Here are a few positions women find comfortable during late labor:

-standing, leaning forward against someone
-kneeling on all fours
-kneeling and resting upper body on a couch or bed
-sitting on the toilet, an exercise ball, or a birth stool
-resting in a tub of warm water
-lying in a side-relaxation position (on your side, slightly leaned forward, with top leg propped on a pillow and another pillow under chest and head)

5. Visualization and Listening

Many women find exercises such as visualization or self-hypnosis to be very helpful for labor. Hypnobirthing is an entire childbirth class that helps a woman learn self-hypnosis. There is also a good book on Hypnobirthing if you are unable to find or afford a class. Other classes, such as for the Bradley Method, teach visualization exercises. One popular one is called The Rainbow Visualization. Have your birth support read it to you in a calm, low voice in the months leading up to the birth, and then during labor they can read the whole thing or just the parts you find most soothing. A familiar voice is a very calming thing to listen to during labor. Have someone tell you a story, or read poetry or passages in Scripture to you. You can even recite favorites to yourself.

6. Massage

Nearly every woman loves some type of massage. During labor there are certain places that, if massaged, make labor easier. A skilled doula or labor assistant will be able to try various things to discover if one feels particularly nice. But, you don’t have to have a trained professional do it. Whoever you choose to be with you during labor can do it. One of the universal labor massage areas is the sacrum. This is the part of the lower back that lies roughly between the hipbones, just above the tailbone. Many women find that pressure on this area during contractions and even during pushing feels good. If your birth partner is unsure, have them start out firm but not too hard, then if you want more pressure, ask for it. Other good places to massage are the hands (especially between the thumb and index finger), feet, and ankles.

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So, there you have it! During labor remember: relax and give in to labor – you can’t escape it so work with it!; breathe into your pelvis; set the mood; don’t be afraid to move around; listen to a soothing, calm voice; and utilize the hands of whoever is in the room with you!

The Mini-Midwife

During my bouts of pre-labor contractions with number 3, one of my favorite positions was to kneel in front of the couch and lean forward so my upper body rested on the seat cushions.

One such time, Felicity, my 16-month-old daughter, decided to investigate. She came up behind me and started rubbing my lower back. Then she patted my butt, lifted up the skirt of my dress, and peered underneath.

“Baby?”

I think she may grow up to be a midwife.

Felicity

The Miso Tablet

Not too long ago at a birthday party I talked to a mom of a brand-new little baby boy. Her fourth baby. She was telling me about her birth; that she was five days past her due date and the doctor decided she “had to” induce. So, this sweet lady went in and was given a magical little “miso pill,” as she called it. “It’s a tiny little white pill they stick next to your cervix to start labor. My baby was born at noon. They had to do that to get my third baby out too.”

I stood there talking to her, trying to act normal and fervently hoping my look of horror didn’t show. That little “miso” pill, as she called it, is none other than Misoprostol, the generic name for Cytotec, a drug used off-label that has caused the damage and death of myriads of laboring women and their babies. Of course, I wasn’t horrified at the mom. There is no way she could know that the doctor she trusted was essentially performing an experiment on her to start labor. I was shocked that the doctor (who also happened to be my childhood doctor, which made it even more disturbing) would knowingly put this mother at risk without giving her any information on the drug she administered.

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Miso was first used as an induction drug in the mid-1990s. FDA approved as an ulcer drug, this pill has never been tested or approved for use on pregnant women. In fact, in 2000, the manufacturing company sent out a letter to all obgyns and midwives, warning against the use of miso because it causes uterine rupture (the uterus detaches and breaks open) and can harm or kill both mother and baby. And yet, eleven years and many deaths and lawsuits later, doctors still use it.

Essentially, the pill is dangerous because it’s unstoppable. With other induction drugs, like Pitocin, Prepidil, or Cervidil, the source of the drugs can be removed or slowed if a woman’s uterus shows signs of hyperstimulation or the baby goes into distress. Those drugs aren’t foolproof, but they don’t have as many cases of infant or maternal mortality due to uterine rupture as does misoprostol. A “miso” tablet, once absorbed into the body, cannot be stopped. It is an all or nothing deal. Therefore, even if the contractions strain the uterus to the point of rupture, there is no way to reverse or slow down those contractions.

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Talking to that mother got me thinking… if you know something about a drug a woman is given for childbirth, what do you say? Should you just stay silent, even though you know it causes death, disability, or infertility? Is it even ethical to stay silent? Do you tell her that the drug is that dangerous? Do you tell her to research it, knowing that she probably won’t? What on earth do you do in a situation like that?

In my mind, it would be different if the information was well known and in the news, such as the dangers of smoking cigarettes or binge drinking or a mainly fast food diet. Then I wouldn’t say anything because I know she made a conscious, informed choice. But medical interventions or prescriptions are an entirely different ballgame. We tend to trust our doctors and what they give us, believing that they have done the research and will give us the most beneficial treatment. This is not always the case. Most women don’t even know the potential side effects of labor drugs until it is too late and they’ve experienced the damage.

Women like the one from the party are the reason I started this site. Every woman deserves the right to make an informed choice about what is done to her body, especially during one of the most normal and natural processes she experiences: bringing forth life.

Natalie’s Birth Story

In light of writing a few weeks ago about how hearing normal, uncomplicated birth stories can help soothe a pregnant mother’s fears, I decided that it may be appropriate to include the birth story of my first daughter. I wrote it shortly after her birth. At the time, my husband and I had just been introduced to the world of natural childbirth, so we found a practice with nurse-midwives who delivered in a local hospital, took a Bradley Childbirth class, and prepared as best we could. Keep in mind that nurse-midwives are different than midwives in that they are also trained as nurses in hospital protocol and procedure.

I will admit that, when I think about it, I am still frustrated with the nurse-midwife for reasons you will discover. And upset about the “hospital protocol” that took my new baby away from me after only a few moments of skin-to-skin cuddling. However, I did experience a natural birth in a hospital setting, which may be what you are hoping to achieve.

As a plug for homebirth, the care of a homebirth midwife is so much better than at a hospital! It is centered around what is best for the mother and baby, rather than around what is convenient for the hospital staff or what their protocol is. Anyway, enough of that little soapbox. Here is my normal birth story:

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Natalie’s Birth

I kept thinking I was in labor a week before my daughter was born.  Every day around noon I’d start having contractions that got stronger and closer throughout the day and night, but petered off early in the morning.  Then they started all over again the next day.  On Sunday night we went to the hospital in possible labor, but decided to go home early in the morning when nothing happened.

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Finally, on Tuesday night, labor really started.  After trying to induce through natural methods such as walking, etc, hard contractions started around 11 p.m.  My husband and I went to bed, knowing that I wouldn’t sleep through having a baby, and that we’d need all the sleep we could get.  For the next two hours I got up with a few of the stronger contractions.  At 1 a.m. I felt my water break, and barely made it to the bathroom.

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My husband asked me if I was okay.

Well, I think my water just broke.

He said, you should call the midwife now.

Yeah, maybe I should.

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So I called the midwife on duty that night (who was the only one of the four in the practice we didn’t want), and she said to come on in.

Can I stay at home a little longer?

You can, she said, but since your water broke and your contractions are three minutes apart, we recommend that you come in soon. 

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So my husband got everything ready, and I sat on the bed, breathing through contractions.  We took our time, and arrived at the hospital at 2 a.m.  A nurse got me a wheel chair to sit in and my man checked us in.  I sat, relaxed, and couldn’t believe it was actually happening.  I mean, I knew it was time, but I didn’t feel ready to be a mother, or believe that all the long months of terrible pregnancy were finally at an end.

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We had the same nurse as when I had the false labor, and she said I looked much more serious about the whole thing than the last time we were there.  We gave her our birthing guide, and she said she’d ask before doing anything.  I let her put in a buff cap, even though I hate needles.  She checked my vitals, and the baby’s, and monitored my contractions.

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Wow, she said, when I look at you I can’t tell when you’re having a contraction. But when I look at the screen your contractions are peaking at the highest level.  On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt, what’s your pain level during each contraction? 

 

Maybe a four or five, I replied.  I started to feel excited because, if these were considered strong contractions, then I could definitely do this!

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Once the nurse was satisfied baby and I were both doing okay, she unhooked me to give me some freedom.  I had wanted to walk around to speed up labor since my mom’s labors were all really long.  But, instead, I didn’t feel like doing anything except soak in the jetted tub.

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Half an hour later I was in it, soaking, and started to feel a little desperate.  I was feeling nauseous, like I was going to throw up.  The pressure on my pelvis got a lot stronger, and, suddenly, I felt like I didn’t want to do this anymore.  Labor was too hard, I either wanted the baby to stay in there so I could go home, or have them cut her out of me.  Either way, I was done with this whole labor deal.  Then I checked myself: I was having all the signs of transition!  But it was way too soon!  There was no way I could be in transition already!  It hadn’t been long enough!  I decided to not mention any of my emotions to my husband, because I didn’t want him to think I was in transition, since there was no possible way I could be.  But it turns out he knew anyway because I was having all the physical signs as well, and he didn’t want to say anything to me either.

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It took me what felt like forever to get out of the tub and put my gown back on.  The contractions were so hard and so close together that it was really difficult to do anything.  I still had it in my mind that I wanted to walk around and speed up labor (ha-ha), but, again, didn’t feel like it. So I laid down on the bed in a side relaxation position, listened to calming music, and my husband told me a story.  He had just finished and the midwife had just walked into the room for the first time, when I had one last really hard contraction, then felt like I had to push.

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Um, I think I should push now.

That’s what we want to hear! said the nurse.  

I sat up a little bit, my husband supported me on one side and the nurse on the other, and I pushed with the contractions.

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The midwife wanted me to hold the baby down with each contraction, I didn’t want to, but I compromised and did a little of both.  After a while I had an overwhelming desire to sit up and squat, but the midwife said I was almost there and I should just keep pushing.  I got pretty annoyed, but was too busy giving birth to argue, and definitely couldn’t sit up without help.  When baby started crowning, I took it easy because I wanted to stretch without tearing.  The midwife told me I had to push harder and longer, because she didn’t want to have to do an episiotomy.

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What?! I thought. That’s ridiculous! 

But, it really didn’t matter anyway because my beautiful daughter came out with her fist up next to her eye, and tore me pretty badly.

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The moment of birth will forever remain a surreal, golden, grainy photograph in my mind.  I felt her come out and saw the top of her head as the midwife lifted her up.  I looked at my husband, he kissed my forehead, then my baby girl was suddenly sprawled across my chest, with a perfectly-shaped head and smooth skin.  I don’t remember if she was crying or not.  I think she wasn’t, but all that’s vivid is the way she looked.  She didn’t look at all like the pictures of newborns one usually sees.  She wasn’t purple, or pruny, or have a cone-head.  But she was tiny.  And a lot more squirmy than I thought a newborn baby had any right to be.  The nurse took her away much too soon, because she said my baby needed to be warmed up.  I knew it would have been best to just throw a blanket over us both, but my voice was still lost somewhere else in this silent movie so I could only watch.  I have no idea what the nurse did, my eyes were only for my family, over at the warmer.  My husband and my daughter.  I felt like I was someone else, watching the three of us from somewhere outside the room.  My man, with his broad shoulders and camera in hand, and stormy-sea eyes gazing at his child.  Our daughter, with her miniature fists still held close to her elvish face like a boxer and her tiny eyes squinted closed against the warmer light.  And me, hair escaping from a ponytail, face turned toward them, being stitched up and wanting them back next to me.

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The nurse finally gave my baby back, but all swaddled and hatted.  I hated that.  I wanted to take her out and cuddle her and feed her and look at her.  Not have her bundled up and hidden from me.

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After a while, when the nurse and midwife had finally left us for a few moments, my husband asked me what we should call her.  Oh! She does need a name, doesn’t she.

What name do you like best?

 Jayna or Natalie, I replied, hoping that he liked Natalie, a name he didn’t like before because the meaning didn’t make sense.

 I like Natalie too.

 Natalie Grace. It sounds good.

Natalie Grace, our ‘born on Christmas’ baby, met the world at 5:47 in the morning, to the piano rendition of Hushabye Mountain.  She weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces, and was 20.5 inches long.  Her eyes were grey, her hair exactly my shade of brown, and her toes looked like monkey feet.  A spring blizzard stormed outside that day, but we didn’t notice.

 

To check out Natalie’s sister’s birth stories:

Felicity’s Home Birth Story

Charlotte’s Home Birth Story

So, when are you due?

This is the most frequently asked question I’ve heard during all three of my pregnancies. I’m sure the same is true for most women. Everyone from close family and friends to strangers you meet in the checkout line want to know: when are you due? 

Having a general idea of when you can expect to have a baby is fine, but it gets pretty frustrating when you reach your “due date” and are still pregnant. Especially when you pass that date.

Well, I am at that point now. And I am tired of people acting as though it is an awful ordeal to be pregnant past my due date. Maybe I’m weird, but I am totally fine still having the baby inside instead of in my arms. Not that I don’t want to meet my baby, because I definitely do. I can’t wait to meet this new addition to our little family. However, I realize that a due date isn’t set in stone, it isn’t usually accurate, and a baby will come when a baby is ready. Unless you force it. The worst part of this very end of pregnancy isn’t the largeness, the heat (I hope I am never extremely pregnant in July again!), or the fact that I cannot sleep without pillows propping up my belly. Or even the brutal rounds of contractions I’ve had for the last month. The worst part is the pitying looks or comments when someone knows this baby is “late.” And pointing out the obvious with a question: so… no baby yet? 

People, it’s not late!

I wish we could just do away with due dates. Maybe it should be an estimated birth month instead. Or, in my case, an estimated birth window of late June/early July.

Let me tell you a little bit about due dates and why we really need to stop treating the calendar as our ultimate authority.

First, every baby is different. Just like no two people develop at the same pace, so no two babies develop at the exact same pace. The 40 weeks of gestation time is an estimate. Some babies arrive sooner, most babies arrive later. If a healthy mother is allowed to go into labor on her own, with no induction forced on her, the average length of pregnancy is 42 weeks and a couple days. If you think about it, when doctors induce at 40 weeks, or even 41 weeks, they are inducing many babies who are not ready to be born.

Second, the pregnancy calendar wheel is inherently flawed. All pregnancy wheel charts that determine when a woman’s official due date is are based on a fertility cycle of 28 days, with ovulation occurring 14 days after the beginning of the menstrual cycle. I’ll give you one guess as to why this is a problem. Yep, you got it. No two women are the same. Imagine that! And because no two women are the same, there is a large range of when conception actually occurs. Some women have closer to 20-day cycles, and some women have close to 40-day cycles. That is a big difference, and a huge range of possible conception dates. Also, menstrual cycles begin roughly 12-16 days after ovulation, so the ovulating-on-day-14 idea is fundamentally flawed as well. Even if the 40-week gestation was correct for every single baby, the simple fact that the actual date conception can vary between women so drastically would throw off the dates by a couple weeks either way!

So, if you are pregnant or know someone else who is, don’t get caught up in the dates! They are always an estimate, and just because a woman is past her due date doesn’t mean something is wrong with the baby or the woman. Your body knows what it’s doing. Take care of it with healthy food and exercise, and tell everyone your due date is two weeks later than it actually is. That’s what I’m considering doing next time!

References:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon et al.

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.

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.