I get asked all the time how to get labour started from pregnant women who are either trying to avoid a medical induction or are so uncomfortable they can’t bear to be pregnant any longer. Some of these women are asking once they hit 36 weeks because they fear going past their due date.
While it is best to wait and let nature take its course, I understand the frustration and sometimes stress that comes with being past your due date or trying to avoid other medical interventions like Pitocin induction.
Just to set the record straight, here are some pretty mind-blowing statistics on due dates from Evidence-Based Birth after conducting a study:
“In a significant study published in 2001, Smith looked at the length of pregnancy in 1,514 healthy women whose estimated due dates, as calculated by the last menstrual period, were perfect matches with estimated due dates from their first-trimester ultrasound (Smith 2001). The researchers found that 50% of all women giving birth for the first time gave birth by 40 weeks and 5 days, while 75% gave birth by 41 weeks and 2 days. Meanwhile, 50% of all women who had given birth at least once before gave birth by 40 weeks and 3 days, while 75% gave birth by 41 weeks.”Evidence on going past your Due Date, Rebecca Dekker from Evidence Based Birth (6)
Pretty wild right?!
Before you even try any of the following techniques, I will say something that is kind of cliche.
Why? Because there is so much damn truth in it!
Baby will come when baby comes.
When your body is ready when baby is ready and when your psyche is ready, baby will come.
You can try all the things in the world, but if your body, baby and mind aren’t ready- it’s not gonna work.
The second point is timing. Don’t wait until you are 40 weeks to start some of these techniques as they often don’t just work their magic overnight. You may want to start them at 36 weeks to let them do their thing. And some you better not try until you’ve reached your due date or you’ve consulted with your health care provider, as they can work quickly.
People don’t give enough credit to the mind when it comes to when you will go into labour. Mentally, if there are certain things that need to fall into place before you can let go and go into labour – it might not happen. Mentally, if you have so much fear surrounding childbirth and you are wound up with stress – maybe the only way your body can go into labour is with a pitocin drip because it is not creating that oxytocin naturally. Mentally, if you need certain people around – your husband to be in town, your parents to be close by to help care for older children, (or maybe you need them to leave because a watched pot never boils) – these are things that typically hold up labour.
I’ll use my second pregnancy as an example. I felt like I was about to go into labour any day after 37 weeks. But my body was hanging on. My sister was supposed to watch my toddler while I was in labour and she wasn’t back from Hawaii yet. My husband worked during the day. Sure enough, a few days after my sister returned from her trip I went into labour on a Saturday while my husband was home. All the conditions were right in my mind, and my body could let go, and I was relaxed. Let’s face it though – this scenario was almost too good to be true. In my first pregnancy, my best friend was visiting a week before my due date, and I was really craving my house to myself the days before my due date so I could go within and let go.
So I’ll ask you this. Instead of asking “How can I get labour started?”, take some time in self-reflection to ask yourself the following:
“What do I need to feel safe and supported for labour?”
“What do I need to let go of, so that my body and mind is ready to have this baby?”
“What fears around childbirth and being a new parent are holding me back from letting nature take its course?”
That should be the first step in getting labour started naturally. Here are some of the natural methods that are out there to help initiate spontaneous labour. I wouldn’t necessarily do all of them. Pick one or two, as always do your own research and make an informed decision.
- Raspberry Leaf Tea.
We’ve all heard of it. But it’s not going to work after drinking 1 cup a day after your due date. There’s actually not much research to prove its effectiveness but they say for it to be effective you want to start drinking it early on in pregnancy and have 2 cups a day (or more) for best results. You can start drinking it as early as the 2nd trimester however most people prefer to wait until the 3rd trimester. Starting at 34 weeks is a good time. It acts to tone the uterus and pelvic muscles to encourage more effective contractions. It’s effects are gradual which is why you generally have to start drinking it early and have more than 1 cup here or there.
There have been some cool studies done on eating 7 dates/day from 36 weeks gestation until labour begins. Generally speaking, they have found that eating dates before labour increases the degree of cervical ripening when the women arrived at the hospital as well as higher levels of cervical dilation. Additionally, the women who ate dates had shorter early labour, were more likely to have spontaneous labours, and less likely to need pitocin for labour augmentation. A small study showed that the women who ate dates also had less postpartum bleeding. So eat your dates! Unless you have gestational diabetes. You may want to avoid them in that case. (1) Dates on their own aren’t many people’s favourites. Check out my Recipe for Brownies that uses a lot of dates to get your dates in!
3. Evening Primrose Oil.
EPO contains prostaglandins while helping the cervix to ripen. (4) Typical dosage is 500-2000 mg per day starting at 38 weeks. (5) You can either take it orally or insert capsules vaginally for absorption.
There’s a homeopathic remedy called EZ Birth. I took it with my first pregnancy, and that labour was far from easy. That being said, midwives have been recommending them for ages, and they work wonderfully for many to help prepare the body for labour and with the intensity that comes with it. You can start taking them daily at 38 weeks and into childbirth to help with pain management.
Semen contains prostaglandins which we know help ripen the cervix and get it ready for labour. Achieving orgasm also helps stimulate uterine activity. Women who have sex during pregnancy are less likely to go past 41 weeks. (3)
6. Castor Oil.
This has been found to work effectively in women who are past their due date and works quickly. There is a good chance the pregnant person will go into labour within 24 hours of taking the castor oil. Although it is pretty unpleasant and may cause diarrhea and nausea. I would suggest that if one is wanting to try this, you talk with your doctor or midwife first.
7. Nipple Stimulation.
Either using your hands, a breast pump or otherwise- nipple stimulation increases oxytocin levels which is the hormone that helps labour get going. In general, studies have found that in first time birthing women who are low risk, nipple stimulation results in fewer c-sections and fewer augmentations with pitocin, and aids cervical ripening. (2)
8. Midwife Cocktail.
I’ve merely only heard of this, and while researching it, I didn’t find too much in the way of statistics or how to use it. I did, however, find out that it is a combination of lemon verbena tea, apricot juice, almond butter and castor oil. I’ve heard from various people including a midwife that it is highly effective. This is not something you would want to do before your due date or without first consulting your doctor or midwife. Once you’ve ingested it, labour could begin within the next 24 hours.
9. Membrane Sweep.
You can ask for one with your midwives, or your doctor may offer one as you approach your due date. This option is somewhat natural, depending on what your definition of natural is. During a vaginal exam, the practitioner may use a finger to sweep around the opening of the cervix (if it is open) separating the membranes around the baby inside the uterus from the cervix. It can be pretty uncomfortable, and it doesn’t always work. It has been shown to reduce the length of pregnancy by 1-4 days and can reduce the chance of a pregnancy going past 42 weeks. (7) You can read more about that here.
10. Bodywork. Acupuncture, Reflexology, Acupressure, Massage, Chiro.
While there’s not a ton of evidence or research around these bodywork techniques for labour induction, we know that labour preparation with the use of acupuncture, acupressure/reflexology can be beneficial. It works for some, and not for others. It creates the optimal environment in the body for labour to begin spontaneously.
I’m not an acupuncturist so I can’t speak for that, but in Reflexology we are working to get that oxytocin flowing, releasing tension and getting energy flowing in the pelvic area, and stimulating the uterus when the time is right all while activating that parasympathetic nervous system to put the birthing person in a state of relaxation. I’ve seen it work with my clients.
Massage itself is amazing to help prepare for labour. Why? Because you are RELAXING and getting into that parasympathetic nervous system state that you need to be in for labour to flow with ease. This is where we want to birth from. I’ve worked on pregnant moms before I even knew how to work specific points for labour initiation, sometimes on their due date or days after and they go into labour within hours. One of my friends came and saw me a day after her due date and specifically said, “I want this baby to stay in there for as long as possible! No labour initiation!” So I avoided all the spots and sent her home and she texted me later that day to tell me her water broke! Her body was ready.