Many people don’t realize that babies, especially first time babies, don’t pay attention to “due dates.” The window for full-term delivery is 37-42 weeks (with the due date being set at 40 weeks). It’s a huge 5 week window of time. Some babies do spontaneously arrive prior to their due date, which is always fun and exciting. But many women become anxious as their due date comes and goes… as they become more uncomfortable with the weight of their belly, and everyone in their world is texting and calling to find out if baby has made his/her arrival yet. It’s a tough period, emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, many babies are born between 40 and 42 weeks. The medical community recommends a formal induction of labor no later to 42 weeks because the research is clear that there are significant risks to the baby after that point in time. Women frequently ask what they can do to encourage spontaneous labor and facilitate a smoother and easier labor. Fortunately, there are lots of tricks to try, at home or in office with Dr. James and I.
-Red raspberry leaf tea: Derived from the leaves of the red raspberry plant, this tea is loaded with great nutrients, has a taste similar to black tea, and has no caffeine. It’s a great tea for women at all stages of life, but particularly great for women at the end of pregnancy because it can strengthen the uterus and pelvic floor making for an easier and speedier labor. Research shows that consuming red raspberry leaf tea can lead to a shorter second stage of labor (pushing) and a significantly reduced use of forceps. Try a cup or 2 per day in the last month of pregnancy.
-Evening primrose oil: EPO is an herbal oil that comes from the seed of the evening primrose plant, and is usually sold in the form of capsules. When the oil is taken orally, some substances in the oils are converted to prostaglandins. Prostaglandins allows for “cervical ripening”, which means the cervix softens, thins out, and prepares for labor. The research is mixed on EPO, but in general I haven’t seen any issues with it. It’s recommended to take up to 2000mg/day once full term.
-Dates: Yes, dates! The fruit! Research shows that eating 6 dates a day is associated with increased cervical dilation prior to birth, shorter labors, and reduced need for Pitocin in labor. Try eating 6 dates per day in the month leading up to your due date.
-Sexual intercourse: We know – sex sounds terrible at the end of pregnancy! Most women roll their eyes when I mention this. That being said, sex is one of the easiest and safest ways to trigger labor. Sex can be helpful for a number of reasons. Semen contains prostaglandins and aids in cervical ripening, as discussed above. Orgasms lead to a release of oxytocin – the “love hormone” as it’s called – which can lead to increased uterine activity like cramping or contractions. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” is involved in both creating the baby and birthing the baby, and is needed for labor. So long as you are not on bedrest, pelvic rest, or have water bag broken, sex is safe throughout pregnancy, including the final weeks leading up to your birthing time. Enjoy! Wink wink.
-Nipple stimulation: Nipple stimulation produces oxytocin and can be a powerful tool to trigger contractions. Women can use their fingers or a breast pump to massage the nipples and areolas for a few minutes. It’s recommended to stop and wait 10-15 minutes before repeating to see what happens.
-Membrane sweeping: While not completely natural, membrane sweeping (also called membrane stripping) can be an effective way to stimulate labor. It is done by Dr. James or myself in the office once you are close to or past your due date. It entails separating the bag of water from the cervix via a vaginal exam, with the intent of triggering the release of prostaglandins. It can be pretty uncomfortable for many women, and can cause some spotting.
– Induction acupuncture & induction massage: These are great ways to not only relax but jumpstart labor. It shouldn’t be done any sooner than 39 weeks. We have some great local practitioners we would be happy to refer you to!
Ultimately, babies are going to arrive on their own timeline. Having an awareness of the normalcy of going beyond one’s due date seems to greatly reduce the amount of anxiety associated with it. Time and patience are key. As I always say to my mamas that are approaching their due date or who have passed their due date: Have patience with your body. Trust the process. Practice self-care. Go on romantic dates with your partner and enjoy the family dynamic you have now. This baby will come when he or she is ready!