by Sarah Das
There is no set formula to avoid this happening, but there are things you can do to help yourself and a big part of that is knowing that you did all you could to help things along – ‘you did your bit’ if you like.
A word about your due date
Let’s focus on your due date for a moment and how important it is, or not as the case may be! Most women will go into labour naturally between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy, as this is what the body is programmed to do.
This gestation period is based on calculating the date 7 days and 9 months after the first day of your last monthly period. This will give you an actual estimated date to go in to labour for example 30th August 2015. This equates to you having a 280 day pregnancy. But we all know that only 4 – 5 per cent of women will actually labour on this day, with the rest labouring sometime between 38 and 42 weeks – that’s a 28 day window where you will be left to guess when labour day will be – even IVF patients, who know the HOUR their baby was created, don’t have accurate due dates.
But the fact still remains that most women are extremely finely tuned to this due date in their mind and each day they go over seems endless, not least because those people close to them seem to find it endless too.
Why is Induction of labour viewed negatively?
There are a proportion of women that will be REQUIRED to have their labour induced due to very valid medical reasons. Statistically it is known that the risk of stillbirth increases after 42 weeks of pregnancy. There are other women that are very happy to be told that your baby WILL be born on x date by inducing their labour, they simply find it more convenient.
However, for most women, the prospect of going into labour naturally is still the most attractive – having the knowledge that you can do this yourself, that you don’t need the aid of drugs to make birthing your baby. The reason that most of us subscribe to this latter group is because we know that:
- induced labour is usually longer than labour that starts spontaneously
- that induced labour is more painful and you are more likely to opt for an epidural
- If you opt for an epidural you are more likely to have an instrumental birth for example needing a vacuum or forceps
- a vacuum or forceps birth means you are likely to have more perineal trauma and require more stitches
- more stitches in your perineum means it can be a bit harder to sit still in one place, especially when breastfeeding
- And then there are the possible effects of the induction and epidural drugs on your baby . . . .
All of this is commonly known as the cascade of intervention.
What happens when your labour is induced?
Briefly, as this is a whole other subject in itself, if you are booked to have your baby in an NHS hospital, you will have a discussion with your carers about what happens if you do not labour by your due date. Providing that your pregnancy is entirely normal this will usually involve having a sweep, or two, at 41 weeks, and if this is not effective a date will be set for you to be admitted to hospital for induction drugs to be used.
Usually a hormone based pessary is inserted very near your cervix to encourage it to efface or ‘thin out’ and dilate a couple of centimetres. If established labour does not follow this, then an intravenous drip of hormones is used to make contractions start. Your waters will usually be broken for you as soon as it’s possible, as this also speeds labour.
What can I do to get things going?
First of all some simple anatomy and physiology that you may find helpful
- The cervix is the bottom part of your uterus just above your vagina. It dilates (or opens) during labour to allow your baby to pass down on its way out of the uterus. The cervix is a bit like a gate that opens to allow the passage of the baby down and out through your vagina.
- Creating pressure or disturbing the cervix can encourage the release of prostaglandins (hormones)
- Oxytocin is the main hormone responsible for labour.
There are many natural ways that women have found helpful to encourage labour:
Method 1: Stimulating your bowel – foods that can work
Keep your bowel regular, as an empty bowel creates more space for the baby’s head to get low down in the pelvis and create pressure on your cervix. Constipation or being backed up takes up vital space for baby to manoeuvre into a good position for labour to start. A slightly irritable bowel, will often create the same effect in it’s very close neighbour – the uterus. This irritability can in turn become contractions.
So if you are not already doing so, eat a diet that will create very regular (even slightly loose stools) in the last couple weeks of pregnancy – hence the tales about eating curry. Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, which is thought to help soften your cervix and bring on labour. However, eating large amounts will probably stimulate your bowel, which could also help to get things going. In other words, anything that “gets YOU going” will do.
Method 2: Getting your baby into position (optimal fetal positioning for labour)
At about 38 weeks of pregnancy ask your midwife to check if baby’s back is in a good position for baby to nestle down into your pelvis with its head in the optimum position to create a snug fit and therefore pressure on your cervix.
A good position is anterior with baby’s back to the front or side of your uterus. Your midwife can easily assess this using her hands to feel your uterus. Exercises you can do include getting down onto all fours for short periods each day or swimming breast stroke, thereby encouraging baby’s back to the front of your uterus.
Remember you only want your baby to descend deeply into your pelvis once its in this anterior position, so in the last few weeks of pregnancy do not kick open your legs (whilst swimming) or do any deep squatting until you know baby is in place and ready.
Once in place by all means do exercises that open up the pelvis and encourage baby to nestle snugly in place for labour.
Method 3: Walking
Walking can have the same effect, as it encourages the baby’s head down onto your cervix whilst you are upright and mobile and this could stimulate the release of oxytocin.
Method 4: Complimentary therapies
Acupuncture and reflexology are both therapies that can work by stimulating the release of hormones that initiate labour, as well as inducing a combination of deep relaxation and well-being that creates the ideal energy for labour to take place
Method 5: Nipple stimulation
By gently rubbing, rolling or having your partner suck your nipples you are mimicking a baby suckling. When a baby sucks your breast, oxytocin is released, which also happens to be a hormone that initiates labour.
Method 6: Sex
Having sex is not for everyone in the latter stages of pregnancy, but it could trigger the release of oxytocin. Having an orgasm stimulates your cervix and so could also stimulate your uterus to start contracting. You don’t have to involve your partner to achieve an orgasm!
Important to note… .
Although some mums swear by use of homeopathic remedies to bring on labour they aren’t recommended by health professionals as they all carry potential risks for you and your baby. If you feel they are of benefit to you always discuss their use with your midwife of GP before trying them.