Maybe you’re reaching your estimated due date and feel like it’s "time to do something". Or maybe you've gone past your due date with an antsy obstetrician and the threat of artificial induction is looming. If your intention is to have a natural labour and birth, be careful with the use of 'natural' methods of induction.
Any medicine, herb, or technique used to force the body/baby before it's ready can have unwanted effects and consequences. Natural birth involves a very complex series of events, with each one setting off the next. Inductions may "work", but they can also disrupt the delicate cascade of physical changes that happen during labour: triggering Y before X.
A natural labour is one that begins spontaneously when the baby is ready to be born. During labour the release of the feel good hormone, oxytocin, causes the uterus to contract rhythmically. An induced labour is usually more painful because it interferes with this neuromuscular harmony by producing strong and forceful contractions, without the release of endorphins and gentle build up of oxytocin. Interfering with the natural order of progression may also result in a woman feeling the urge to push before the rest of her body is physically prepared.
Interfering with the natural order of progression may also result in a woman having her labour start, but then having an arrest of labour. Often referred to as “failure to progress”, it means that the body began the process but wasn’t ready with all the hormones needed to continue and complete the birth of the baby. A premature urge to push (before her body is fully dilated), lack of stretching of the perineum, and difficulty birthing the placenta are some of the known consequences of forcing the body into the birth process before everything is aligned.
Intervention leads to intervention. Once you stimulate labour either medically or naturally, you drastically increase the potential for further interventions or complications.
Methods of Natural Induction
Acupuncture Inductions & Herbal Inductions / Black & Blue Cohosh These popular methods can be powerful and should be used with caution. They may cause labour to intensify very quickly, increasing the likelihood of an epidural and C-section.
Castor Oil Ingested as a laxative. Used to stimulate the bowels, in hopes of also stimulating the uterus. Can cause severe gastro-intestinal distress, stomach cramps and diarrhea. There is also the associated risk of castor oil having the same effect on the baby, causing it to pass meconium while still in the womb.
Evening Primrose Oil Used orally or applied to the cervix, this oil is reputed to “soften the cervix”. Studies show that the oil is associated with bleeding problems, premature rupture of the membranes, and the baby passing meconium in the womb. Read more.
Mechanical Induction / Membrane Stretch / Sweep A health care practitioner separates the membranes from the cervix. It’s invasive and not really natural. It increases the risk of infection and can cause premature rupture of membranes, which then puts a woman "on the clock" before the onset of labor. They can also cause contractions to begin but not continue, which may lead to further induction.
What's a waiting woman to do?
Walk, Squat & Climb Stairs If you must "take action", these activities move your hips and encourage your baby to descend.
Have Sex They say that sex puts a baby in and sex gets a baby out. The prostaglandins in semen can help to prepare the cervix and the female orgasm can softly stimulate the uterus. This is only safe if the waters have not broken yet. Nipple stimulation also releases oxytocin. Additionally, sex at full term can be a good laugh and hopefully serve to relax you.
Wait & Relax Above all else, absolutely trust in the body.
We are all different and the time it takes individual babies to fully mature varies. Women experience menstrual cycles of varying lengths. Babies reach developmental milestones like walking and talking at different times. In my opinion, their digestive systems are ready for solids at different times as well.
If needed, find a new care provider that respects your wishes to wait for spontaneous labour to occur. The 11th hour is not too late to switch providers, but it’s ideal to make sure that you ask about all of their policies, and their licensing body’s policies, before you begin working with them. Remember, this is someone you have hired to work for you.
Your due date is just an estimate, not an expiry date. My son was born at 41 weeks and the end of my pregnancy required patience, but the biggest practice in patience has been motherhood itself. There is a saying in China, “When the fruit is ready, it will fall off the vine”. Leave the fruit to ripen to perfection in its own way, as nature intended.
“Attending births is like growing roses. You have to marvel at the ones that just open up and bloom at the first kiss of the sun, but you wouldn’t dream of pulling open the petals of the tightly closed buds, and forcing them to blossom to your time line.” Lovely blossoms open when they’re ready - Gloria Lemay