Labour and Birth, Latest news, Pregnancy

Inducing Labour Naturally

OK. That’s it. It’s eviction time. This baby has outstayed his or her welcome and now you’re desperate to go into labour. Are there any ways to start labour naturally at home? Your gran or best friend or work colleague has probably come up with some suggestions. What really works? Read on to find out more about inducing labour naturally.

Large pregnant tummy

Why do we go into labour?

There are lots of factors which seem to play a part in starting labour. Unfortunately, these factors work in differing amounts on different people. It is therefore impossible to give you a list of things to do which, once you’ve done them all, will start labour. I know this is frustrating. I wish it could be that simple, especially when I see ladies who are so very ready to see the end of pregnancy and meet their baby. However, I can tell you all the factors and you can see if any of them work for you.

Please do not attempt any of these ideas before your baby is ready to come out. This means not before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy. Even if you are really fed up, you need to keep baby safe inside you until that point if you can so that they are ready to face the world when they arrive.

Factor 1: Pressure

Here’s where I start talking biology again. Those of you who are regular readers know that I like to explain why something happens, not just tell you that it does. Sorry. You can skip this part if you want to. For the rest of you, here is the physiology behind inducing labour naturally.

The bottom of your uterus is where your cervix is. Your cervix is the baby’s exit. It is the cervix which dilates and reaches that magical 10 centimetres everyone goes on about!

We have discovered (not me, but some very clever scientists) that putting pressure on the inside of the cervix, where the baby is, causes your body to release oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone which cause your uterus to contract. Contractions push the baby down onto the cervix. Pressure on the cervix causes more oxytocin to be released. This is an example of a positive feedback cycle and is the reason why you keep being told to stay upright!

Diagram of fergusons reflex

So how do you make this reflex work for you? Here are some things to try:

  • Stay upright. Lying down or leaning back reduces the pressure on your cervix.
  • Try walking at a good speed, or bouncing on a birthing ball. These movements cause regular bumps to the cervix and can stimulate Ferguson’s reflex.
  • You can also try going up and down stairs sideways or doing some good bum wiggling!

Factor 2: Relaxing

I know what you’re thinking. You’re so uncomfortable and tired that you can’t relax. Perhaps your mind keeps going over what might happen and you’re worried about problems you might face in labour. These are very natural feelings. The problem is that all these feelings and overthinking can hinder labour.

You need to do whatever you can to stay relaxed. Our favourite hormone, oxytocin, doesn’t flow well when you are stressed. Have a look at the oxytocin vs adrenaline graphic below.

Oxytocin vs adrenaline

Ways to help you relax might include:

  • Taking time to pamper yourself. Read your favourite book, sing your favourite song, paint your toenails. Whatever works for you.
  • Trust your body. Look at how well your body has managed in pregnancy. Your body grew and supported a beautiful healthy baby all this way. It is designed to go into labour. It is designed to give birth.
  • Trust yourself. You are stronger than you know. You can cope with more than you think. Whatever happens during labour you will find ways to manage.
  • Don’t google it! The joys of the information highway can also bring some lows. Unfortunately people tend to share their negative experiences more readily than any positive ones. Don’t be tempted to read everyone else’s experiences. If some one starts sharing a bad experience, it’s OK to ask them to stop or to turn the page or click out of that site.
  • Surround yourself with people you trust. Choose birthing partners that are calm and positive. You need those who will encourage you when you are flagging and need a boost. Choose people who will stand up for you and what you would like if you can’t express it.

Factor 3: Oxytocin

As you can see from the points above, oxytocin is the key to inducing labour naturally. So lets looks at some ways you can increase the oxytocin levels in your body.

Oxytocin is known as the hormone of love. It is released at three main times.

  • When you have an org*sm (spelt this way to avoid website warning notices)
  • While you are breastfeeding your baby
  • When you have contractions in labour

Take a moment and consider the circumstances that usually surround this first instance of oxytocin release. I think I can assume that you are in a place that feels safe and secure. There probably isn’t a lot of busyness around you, and you are probably focusing on the matter in hand. You are likely to be with someone you love and trust.

Couple in candlelight

Use those circumstances when you want to encourage labour. Don’t invite all and sundry to your house for a labour cheer along. Be close, be intimate, be relaxed. If you feel like it, try having one or more org*sms, with or without the assistance of another person.

Your breasts can also be stimulated to encourage oxytocin release. You could try hand-expressing, whether or not you have noticed any milk production over the last few days or weeks. If you get any milk flowing, you can keep it in a sterile syringe to give to the baby when they arrive. Massage is another great way to stimulate the breasts. Rubbing, rolling and tweaking are all options. See what works for you.

Things I don’t recommend for inducing labour naturally

There are other options you’ve probably heard of for inducing labour naturally. Curry or castor oil for example. The idea behind have a strong curry or a teaspoon of castor oil is to give yourself an upset stomach! I suppose people think that as your uterus sits next to your intestines, if we can get the intestines contracting and cramping, the uterus might follow. It might have worked for someone you know but it isn’t very common. Most of the time, the only thing that happens is that you get a lot of pain and discomfort, and spend a while in the bathroom! In my opinion it’s not a method that is reliable enough to be worth those side effects.

One more thing to try

It is definitely worth considering having a membrane sweep if one is offered to you. Read all about membrane sweeps here to find out how it could work for you.

Hopefully, one or more of the suggestions above will help you get into labour. Don’t leave just yet! Why not read the post on early labour here to find out what happens next and help with some coping strategies.

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Labour and Birth, Latest news, Pregnancy

Raspberry Leaf Tea and Labour

Raspberry leaf tea occasionally comes up in discussions with mums about labour and induction of (starting) labour. What is the big deal about raspberry leaf tea and will it really help you? Read on to find out.

Cup of tea on table

First, a bit of biology. Try not to zone out, I promise to keep it simple and it will help you understand how raspberry leaf tea makes a difference.

The physiology bit

Your uterus is a muscle. As a muscle it is made up of lots of little muscle cells which all work together to contract. The muscle cells in the uterus need to work together to contract in a wave and help make the space inside your uterus smaller. This wave pushes baby down towards the exit.

The important point is that the muscle cells need to work together in a coordinated way. Think of a person trying to start a Mexican wave in a football stadium. If one guy on one side waves, but no one else around him does, no big wave happens. If two guys on either side try waving but aren’t looking at each other and those around them, you still won’t get a good wave.

A good stadium wave needs communication between everyone in the stadium. Everyone needs to be watching and they need to join in at the same time as those around them. When each person is watching those around them and moving in time with them, the wave moves efficiently around the stadium.

The same needs to happen with your uterine muscle cells. They need to work together and communicate with each other so that they coordinate their contraction with the cells next to them. This makes stronger and more effective contractions.

How does raspberry leaf tea help?

The amazing thing that scientists have discovered in recent years it that raspberry leaf tea seems to help your muscle cells communicate. Studies show that drinking raspberry leaf tea increases the number of gap junctions in your muscle cells.

Gap junctions are the communication channels between the cells. They spread messages from one cell to the next. Messages like ‘I’m contracting now. So should you!’. You already have gap junctions in your uterine muscles. The more gap junctions you have, the better the messages pass from one cell to the next. This may make a difference to improve the waves of contractions in your uterus.

Bring on the tea drinking!

The optimum time to start drinking raspberry leaf tea seems to be from about 34 or 35 weeks. This gives time for the gap junctions to develop ready for the end of pregnancy between 37 and 42 weeks.

Just one glass of raspberry leaf tea per day will make a difference. There is no need to drink 15 cups per day unless you really like it! Most women stick to a maximum of 3 cups per day. If you don’t like the taste of the tea, you can buy raspberry leaf tea capsules instead.

If you get any side effects, such as strong Braxton Hicks contractions, bleeding or nausea, please contact your local maternity services provider straight away!

Please be careful when using herbal remedies. Because they are not regulated in the same way as other medicines, the quality and concentration of the tea can vary between brands and between batches.

In conclusion, there may be a small benefit to drinking raspberry leaf tea towards the end of your pregnancy. However, the benefit seems to be in the coordination and efficiency of your contractions, not in making labour happen sooner. If you do not drink the tea, your body can and will still be able to go into labour, have contractions and deliver baby. It’s designed to do so, so trust it!

For more tips and tricks on making labour happen and coping when it does, have a look at the other articles on this site here.

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Latest news, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Problems

Morning Sickness – what you can do

Often the first sign of pregnancy, morning sickness can turn the most joyful news into an unpleasant experience. Don’t be surprised if you feel sick at any and every time of the day either. The hormones causing the sickness are a great sign but how do you handle them when some of those around you don’t even know you’re pregnant? Read on to find out what your options are.

Why you feel sick

As I’ve already said, morning sickness should more accurately be called pregnancy sickness because it can happen at any time of day. For some, it is the morning when they feel the worst, for others it might be the evening, and for some it can even last all day!

Some people just feel really really sick, while other will actually vomit. Neither is pleasant and both can really impede your ability to get on with your day. Unfortunately, sometimes if you tell your midwife about this she smiles! I’m not denying that midwives can be scary and unfeeling at times (mostly in labour when she tells you that you can have a baby but you think you can’t). However, let me explain why I am pleased when a woman tells me how sick she feels or how often she vomits during the day.

The physiology behind morning sickness

In the early days and weeks of pregnancy, the fertilised egg floats down into your uterus and finds a comfy spot to settle in. Once in that spot it wiggles itself in to the lining of the uterus. This lining is called the endometrium and is on average about 8mm thick. It is filled with gorgeous juicy tiny blood vessels.

The egg’s next job is to get itself linked in with you and your blood system. This means you can start feeding it all the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow and develop into the baby. It does this by developing some of its cells into the placenta, the baby’s life support system. The placenta provides a link between your blood vessels and the baby’s circulation. To do this, the cells of the placenta have to alter the cells and blood vessels in your endometrium. This creates a large surface area for oxygen and nutrients to cross from you to the baby. Waste products like carbon dioxide can cross from the baby to you, so that you can get rid of them for the baby. This is the beginning of the rest of your life where you are tidying up after your child!

Where the hormones come in

The way the cells of the placenta alter your endometrium to make this essential interchange between you and your baby is by releasing hormones. Hormones like prostaglandins help to change the structure and purpose of cells so that they can do new things. As the placenta changes more of these cells and grows larger, it produces more hormones which again change more cells and increase growth. The speed of this growth phase of pregnancy is incredible! The placenta can be larger than the baby at this stage.

The presence of hormones is therefore an important sign that the pregnancy is healthy. The placenta is growing strong to support the developing baby. For many women, these hormones also make them feel sick or vomit. That is why your midwife might pleased to hear that you have morning sickness.

Levels or degrees of sickness

Every woman will experience sickness in a different way and even different pregnancies can create different levels of nausea in the same woman.

Feeling sick without being sick is one way that women can be affected. I’m definitely not saying this is the least or easiest way to experience pregnancy sickness though. Feeling sick without being able to be sick can mean the feeling stays all day, reducing your ability to eat and drink.

Feeling sick at certain points during the day and then vomiting is another way that those pesky hormones make your life horrid. Now, I am certain that none of us enjoy throwing up. Often though, you start to feel a little better once you have vomited and can get on with your day a little easier. You can sometimes manage to eat a little snack or meal and drink enough to stay hydrated.

For some women, sickness and vomiting is an all day experience. No matter what time of day it is, you feel dreadful and the slightest thing can have you retching. I’ve even known women who have to walk around with a bowl in their hand as the need to vomit can hit them at any time. If you can’t keep any food or drink down, you may have the most extreme form of pregnancy sickness, called hyperemesis gravidarum. For those of you in the UK, it’s what the Duchess of Cambridge suffered with at the beginning of her pregnancies. If this is what you are experiencing, please contact your midwife or hospital care provider, as you may need extra help that you can’t get at home.

For the rest of you, read on to find out what strategies and solutions might be available to you.

Managing morning sickness

Being pleased that your pregnancy is growing well does not mean I think that you should feel horrid for weeks! There are plenty of options for managing pregnancy sickness no matter how intense or debilitating it becomes.

Natural remedies

The most important thing you must do is try to drink. Water may be best if the smell of tea or coffee makes you gag. Don’t drink a whole glass of water at once. Instead, drink little sips as often as you can. If you can’t manage sips of water, buy some ice pops. These are long sticks of frozen coloured water with some flavourings. If you can lick them they will help you keep hydrated. It might seem strange licking ice pops in winter, but sometimes that’s what you have to do!

If you can eat, stick to small carbohydrate based meals like pasta or potatoes. High fat food will make you feel worse. Plain toast or crackers are helpful. Having said that, don’t worry too much about your choice of diet at this point. Whatever calories you can get into you are good calories in my opinion!

If your sickness occurs in the morning, have a small snack before you venture out of bed to settle your nausea a little.

Some research studies find that eating ginger in various forms can help, so experiment with what makes you feel better. There are tablets, tea and biscuits forms of ginger available so you should find something that works for you.

Some people find that drinking fizzy or slightly flat previously fizzy drinks help when they are feeling sick. It may help to release gases and make you burp, making you feel less sick. If this doesn’t help you, don’t worry. Just try something different.

More recently, acupressure and acupuncture have been found to reduce nausea. Why not check for local trained practitioners near you? Some people find that wristbands sold as sea or travel sickness bands can be effective too.

Medication options

Firstly, let me say that you should only take medication under the guidance of a doctor. My recommendations below are only here as suggestions. You must check with your own doctor to make sure you get the right medication for you.

You should start with tablet forms of anti-sickness medications. There are lots of different options, and I’m not going to list them here. I don’t know all the brand names for every country and don’t want to give incorrect information. If you need tablets, speak to your doctor.

Thankfully, there are lots of anti-sickness tablets that you can use. You can be on one, swap to another or have a combination of several of them. Always return to your doctor if they aren’t helping and try another option or additional type. We have now got many years of experience of using these tablets in pregnancy so we will only give you ones that are safe for you and baby.

If you are unable to take tablets or you vomit them up as soon as you take them, try taking them at a different time of day. Some women find they can’t eat anything first thing in the morning, but the afternoon is better. Take your anti-sickness tablets in the afternoon with whatever you manage to eat.

If there is nothing you can eat or drink and no time of day that you can take tablets and not throw up straight away, you need more help. Contact your doctor or hospital immediately. They will need to give you anti-sickness medication via a drip into your arm to settle things down enough so that you can start taking tablets. They will also probably have to give you some fluids this way too as you will probably be very dehydrated.

Where to go from here

Please remember that for most women, pregnancy sickness will ease off by about 10-12 weeks. You may need to confide in your boss and friends about your pregnancy before this. They will then be able to help you with time off work or childcare of older children.

Have a look at the resources page for some other helpful websites. One I really like is Pregnancy Sickness Support. This has great articles and even an online forum for those struggling with this issue. You can also look at the UK’s national guidance for health professionals treating pregnancy sickness here . Alternatively, you can view a patient information leaflet from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists here.

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