During my recent pregnancy, I began to feel very early on that I would give birth before my guess date. So when I reached 36 weeks and began to feel early signs of birth approaching, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised, however, as week after week went by and baby stayed in. By the time I reached my guess date (“due date”), I was baffled. When I passed the time at which I gave birth to my previous baby (which was 40 weeks and 4 days), I was even more shocked. I began to truly feel that my body was confused or somehow incapable of giving birth, and that it would never happen. Of course, that wasn’t true, and I did have my baby eventually (at 41 weeks)!
While not all women go past their guess date, many women do struggle with patience as they near the end of their pregnancies. That’s probably why there are a plethora of suggestions in baby books and on the internet about ways to naturally “induce” or encourage birthing (“labor”) to begin. From about 37 weeks on, I tried as many of them as I was comfortable with. In this post I’d like to share my experience.
Here are the things that I tried:
- Red raspberry leaf tea. I began drinking this tea early in my third trimester, limiting it to about 2 mugs per day. When I reached 37 weeks, I started drinking as much as I wanted, which was a lot, maybe 4 to 5 mugs per day. Currently, I am still addicted to this tea!
- Eating basil and oregano. There is a popular idea that eating a specific recipe of eggplant parmesan will stimulate birthing. According to Google, it’s the basil and oregano that does the trick. Since I had heartburn throughout my pregnancy and couldn’t tolerate anything tomato based, I made pesto instead, which was even more concentrated in these herbs.
- Walking. Now, to be honest, by the end of my pregnancy going on long walks was uncomfortable and exhausting, so I went on short 20-minute walks instead. I also didn’t do this every day, though some pregnant women do.
- Walking on the beach. Supposedly, the combination of walking, being barefoot to activate pressure points on the feet, and being relaxed by the calming sound of the waves, can all help to stimulate birthing.
- Pregnancy massage with pressure points. Some spas offer massages for pregnant women that supposedly utilize specific pressure points to stimulate birthing. (While very relaxing, this was expensive.)
- Sex, including nipple stimulation and orgasm. Sex is supposed to be one of the most effective ways to induce birthing naturally. The prostaglandins in semen are a natural ripening agent for the cervix. The physical contact produces oxytocin, which is a natural uterine stimulator. When women are able to orgasm, this produces even more oxytocin and stimulates the birthing muscles further. And when nipple stimulation is included in sex, it produces even more oxytocin.
- Nipple stimulation with breast pump. This is one of the “big guns” when it comes to inducing birthing naturally. One must use this tool cautiously, to avoid producing overly strong pressure waves before the body is ready. I followed my midwife’s advice to use the pump for 20 minutes per day, starting at about 40 weeks.
- Hypnosis track for natural induction. I listened to Hypnobabies’ “Come Out Baby” hypnosis track, which is used for encouraging baby and body to be ready for birth very soon. I began listening at 39 weeks, every day, and occasionally twice per day.
- Talking to baby. Sometimes, there may be an emotional or psychological reason why baby isn’t coming out. It can be helpful for some people to take some time to mentally connect with baby and even ask baby to please come out. I tried this many times.
- Womb balancing & baby positioning stretches. Sometimes, birthing doesn’t begin because baby is not in the best position yet. There are specific stretches, such as those recommended on the Spinning Babies website, to help balance the womb and encourage baby into the best position. I did several of these stretches most days for the last few weeks of my pregnancy, and whenever I felt baby was not in the best position.
- Sitting on birth ball. This has a lot to do with baby positioning. Sitting on a birth ball (which is just an exercise ball) helps baby to be in a posterior position and engage in the pelvis so that baby’s head is applying pressure to the cervix, which stimulates pressure waves. I tried to sit on my ball often, instead of lounging on the couch, but at this point in pregnancy rest is also important.
- Membrane sweep. This is a more invasive method of natural birthing induction, and it does carry some risks, but it’s also considered to be fairly gentle (and as such, not always effective). During a vaginal exam, the maternity care provider inserts a finger into the cervix and sweeps it around to separate the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus. This stimulates the birthing muscles, and can lead to more effective birthing waves. Using my hypnosis, I found this to be slightly uncomfortable but not painful, and it did cause my bloody show and a strong pressure wave pattern for several hours. (Unfortunately, the pattern did not continue.)
- Praying. As a follower of Christ, this was my first tool and one I used most frequently. I prayed in many different ways. Sometimes I prayed asking God to please let baby be born soon. Sometimes I prayed for patience. Sometimes I prayed in submission to God’s will in the timing of my birthing. Prayer helped me get through the challenging time at the end of my pregnancy. However, it did not work to help me get my way in the timing of my birth. Ultimately, I had to accept that God has a plan that is best, and he’s probably not going to override that for my temporary happiness. He loves me too much to give me something that maybe wouldn’t have been so great for me or my baby. On that note, I would never recommend to stop asking. Sometimes, we need to ask and ask and wait and wait, while God builds our faith and patience, before he moves the pieces into place to grant our desires.
- Homeopathics. Following my midwife’s advice, I tried taking some homeopathic medicines that are supposed to encourage birthing. After doing more research on homeopathics, I’ve come to the conclusion that they really only work if you believe that they work (placebo effect). The concentration of the “medicine” in homeopathics is so diluted as to be nonexistent. That being said, the placebo effect is actually very powerful!
- Acupressure, essential oils, and targeted exercises with a doula. My doula offered a “birth encouragement” appointment as part of her services, and at 40 weeks and 6 days, I used it. She used essential oils, acupressure, belly sifting, and stretches and exercises to help encourage birthing. She had a variety of techniques up her sleeve, and we spent hours together trying them.
- Herbal induction. This is one that I actually didn’t try, because I had my baby before we got that far! It was next on my list. According to my midwife, it is a very effective method, which is why it should only be done with the supervision of a birth professional. It involves taking specific herbs at intervals over the course of a few hours.
- Castor oil. This is another one I didn’t try, but it would have been the last resort before I transferred care to an OBGYN. According to my midwife, this has never failed her. But according to my doula, it’s not a pleasant experience. Thus, why I would save this for a last resort and only use it under supervision of a birth professional.
As you can see, I tried a lot of different things to encourage my baby out. Unfortunately, most of them were not effective for me, at least not in any obvious way. It is possible that some of these things did work in a slow and delayed manner to prepare my body and baby for birthing. It would be impossible to know if the timing would have been different had I not tried any of these things. And for some women, these and other tricks may be very quickly effective! We are all different.
One thing I know is that while there may be things that will encourage baby out for some women, they will usually not work if baby and body are not ready, even if they seem or feel ready. Every body is different, and what works for some may not work for others. There’s no harm in trying, but women may not want to put all of their hopes on these remedies. There is a fine line between being hopeful and optimistic, and being desperate. Without patience and peace, we can easily become desperate and discouraged. Ultimately, the path that birthing takes, including the natural timing, is usually for the best and loving patience is key.
So natural birth induction techniques are something to consider for moms and babies who feel really ready (and are full term!). But, they should be taken with a grain of salt. The only thing that definitely works is waiting. On that note, unfortunately, the 42 week mark is not enough time for some moms and babies, who may need a little longer. In this case, families must make the best decisions for them, whether that’s medical induction or waiting while monitoring mom and baby for continued health. It is a sad reality that midwives are not legally allowed to care for women past this point (at least in California), and most doctors will push hard for an induction at the 42 week mark. Women always have the power to make their own decisions and act against medical advice, but this isn’t always easy and can be confusing. We all need to do our own research, hard thinking, discussing, and praying about the best decision for our own situation.
Fortunately for most women, birthing will begin naturally (or with a little bit of encouragement) before 42 weeks. Our bodies are made to do this, after all!