As your due date creeps ever closer, it’s natural to be tired, uncomfortable, and more than a little ready for labour to get underway! Maybe you even want to induce labour. It’s also understandable that you’ll feel frustrated should your due date come and go without so much as a niggle. It’s important to keep in mind that due dates aren’t an exact science. In fact, according to a 2013 study in The International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, of about 18,700 women in Australia, less than 5% of babies are born on their due date. This just goes to show that the whole concept of a baby being ‘early’ or ‘late’ is a bit misleading. According to Evidence Based Birth website a study which investigated the accuracy of due dates found that 75% of first-time mums gave birth 9 days after their due date.
Having said all that, you have probably been the recipient of well-intentioned advice from friends, family members and even random strangers about how you can speed things up and induce labour naturally. So, which popular natural approaches to inducing labour are backed up by science?
Moderate exercise is not only safe, it’s highly recommended during pregnancy. Anecdotally, women nearing the end stage of their pregnancy are told to go for a walk to get labour started, but is there any truth to it? The idea is that walking might “encourage gravity to bring the baby lower in the pelvis,” explained Dr Jonathon Schaffir, an Obstetric Gynaecologist at the Ohio State University Wexner medical Center. This, he said might ultimately “shake the baby from its nest.” Despite a significant number of women swearing by this method though, there is no research to say that walking actually induce’s labour. That’s not to say it doesn’t help, just that no studies have been done in this area.
“There is definitely a benefit to having a patient be able to move around when they’re in labour,” says Dr. Anna Burgansky, director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the New York Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville who explains that it can help to progress labour and ease pain. “But there really is no data that walking before labour does anything.”
If you do decide to give walking a try, we recommend that you don’t overdo it. If labour is just around the corner, you’re going to need some energy left in the tank. Oh, and make sure you take your phone with you, just in case!
Castor Oil has been recommended to pregnant women for centuries as a natural way to induce labour. Because it acts as a very powerful laxative, it does cause uterine irritation or contractions, but rather then bringing on labour, the discomfort in the uterus is often the direct result of gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea. In randomised studies women were no more likely to go into labour after ingesting castor oil than the women who didn’t. Given the unpleasant side effects which could also lead to dehydration, we recommend giving this one a hard pass.
Generally speaking, sexual intercourse during pregnancy is safe. However, there are certain conditions such as placenta or vasa previa, that require a pregnant woman to abstain from intercourse with her partner as it could cause haemorrhage and endanger their health or that of their baby.
As for those of you with low-risk pregnancies, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but one study found that sexual intercourse “does not significantly increase the incidence of spontaneous onset of labor.” But the good news is, there is no harm in trying!
As delicious as it is, for those of you who don’t consume spices on the regular, scoffing down a hot curry or the like, may have a similar outcome to taking a shot of castor oil. Instead of moving a step closer to the maternity ward, you’re move likely to be shuffling off to the toilet with gastrointestinal upset, and uterine irritation and contractions. For those who already suffer with heartburn just from looking at food, this is a definite no-go remedy!
As with everything that isn’t medically tested and studied and given an official safe tick of approval, its best to avoid it, especially during pregnancy. That includes herbs.
You may have heard that blue and black cohosh, raspberry leaf tea and evening primrose oil are sold as ways to ‘prepare your uterus’ for labour.
However, as Elaine Duryea M.D, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, explains, ‘Cohosh has been associated with fetal heart failure and stroke as well as maternal complications during labour. Randomised trials have shown no increase in likelihood of labour onset with any of these herbs, and the safety is unknown.”
Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. This enzyme breaks down protein in tissue, and is commonly used as a meat tenderiser. That’s why your tongue and mouth may experience tingling and soreness when you eat it!
The theory behind eating pineapple to induce labour to begin centres around the idea that somehow the bromelain makes its way to your cervix and causes the breakdown of tissue there, causing a softening of the cervix and induce labour. However, there is no evidence to support this, and it can also cause significant heartburn.
Nipple stimulation is a natural way to increase oxytocin levels, which can kick childbirth into gear by sending signals to tell your body to start contractions and labour. According to Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Jonathan Emery M.D, nipple stimulation is the only method with data to back it up.
“In one trial, more of the women who did nipple stimulation were in labour after three days than those who didn’t. That’s a statistically significantly change,” he explains. “And it doesn’t appear to increase c-section rates or bad outcomes for mom or baby.”
However, the recommend amount of time to dedicate to this is approximately one hour a day! Gives a whole new meaning to ‘sitting around twiddling your thumbs,’ doesn’t it?
Your obstetrician or midwife may suggest performing a process called a membrane sweep. This involves them inserting a finger through the cervical opening, then sweeping from left to right in a circular clockwise motion. This is to separate the lower part of the membrane from the uterine wall, so can only be performed if your cervix is dilated. The procedure may be uncomfortable for some women.
According to Duryea, M.D. “the available data does not show an increase in spontaneous labour onset following this procedure – but it is also associated with vaginal bleeding, cramping, and occasional membrane rupture.”
Statistically speaking only 2% of women remain pregnant more than 1 or 2 weeks after their due date, so take heart in knowing that it will happen any day now. Your baby will come when they are good and ready! We recommend speaking to your obstetrician/gynaecologist or other health care provider before trying any of the ‘natural’ approaches above, to get their opinion on what is safest.
What about clinician induced labour?
We have actually written another more detailed post about artificial ways to induce labour. Our Obstetrician and Midwife talk through common misconceptions about it and how the process actually goes. It actually doesn’t seem to be as bad as people make it out to be.