Tips for bringing on labour
What happens if your due date arrives but your baby doesn't? And how can you get labour started naturally?
Curry, castor oil and sex: combined, they sound like some dodgy MP's idea of a cracking night out, but anyone who's gone beyond 40 weeks will know that all three help bring on labour - allegedly.
Babies have a habit of doing their own thing and more than one in five of them will hang on to 41 weeks or later. So what's the rush? Well, there's considerable evidence that from 42 weeks gestation the risk of stillbirth, while low, increases significantly along with the chance of the baby becoming distressed during labour and requiring an emergency caesarean section.
So here's the feedback on the most (and least) effective ways of getting labour started naturally.
Natural ways to bring on labour
Never mind what Stephen Hawking has to say on the matter: time does go excruciatingly slowly in the last few weeks of pregnancy.
If you've reached the point where you'd rather eat your own head than spend another night guzzling Gaviscon and getting up to wee eight times, then we feel your pain and suggest you try one or two of the following to get things moving.
They may or may not work - but at least they'll help pass the time.
Walking (or should that be waddling?) is claimed to help. The reasoning being that by staying vertical you're encouraging your baby's head to bear down on your cervix, which can stimulate the release of oxytocin - that all-important hormone for getting things started.
But don't overdo it - you're going to need your energy for the birth itself... oh, and the next 21 years. Similarly, if you're late and your baby's breech or back to back, it's thought that getting down on all fours can help shift your baby into a more 'labour friendly' position.
"Walking and sex worked for me both times... obviously not at the same time though." Pelvicfloornomore
"Manic cleaning of the kitchen floor got my second daughter on the way. Being down on all fours helped the baby get into the right position." Batey
"My NCT class teacher advised getting on all fours, which was kind of ironic... that was how I'd got into this state in the first place." Willow
Oxytocin, a hormone that causes contractions, is released in the body when the breasts are stimulated. But don't just have a quick tweak - the trick is to mimic the suckling of a baby and massage the areola (the dark circle around your nipple). You can do this manually, or get your partner to help out. (Although, frankly, the last thing we wanted to do at this point was get jiggy.)
Trials have proved that breast stimulation can be quite effective, but beware - you can overstimulate the production of oxytocin, resulting in very powerful contractions, very quickly.
"I heard nipple tweaking was a good way to get things started but that you need to do it for five or six hours a day! I wonder how they know that, surely it hasn't been tried and tested?" Art
Some mums swear by a hot curry to get labour started. It's meant to stimulate your bowel, which is served by the same nerve pathways as the uterus. The risk is you could just end up with chronic indigestion.
"I did ALL of these things and it still took gel, my waters being broken and a drip to get my labour started at 42 weeks. By the time I did actually go into labour I was bloody exhausted, so I really wish I hadn't bothered with all the effort and just put my feet up with a box of chocolates instead." Twofalls
Years ago this used to be prescribed by midwives, supposedly it does the same job as a good curry. But it tastes foul and having the runs during labour is miserable.
"As a midwife I would not advise castor oil. It is bad enough having labour pains without the discomfort of having to go to the toilet every five minutes. Try not to hurry things along - enjoy these last few days of peace and quiet. Stock up on sleep instead - you'll need it." Mears
The prostaglandins in the gels used to induce labour are very similar to hormones found in semen, so popular belief has it that having sex can sometimes help. It's a lot more natural way to get labour started if you can be bothered (we couldn't).
"The man has a duty to step up at this stage - I made sure DH did, as I didn't see why I should be the only one suffering!" Joolyjoolyjoo
"You would need to do it something like 14 times a day and then spend time on your back with your legs in the air after each time so that the hormones in his semen sit on your cervix. It's not the easiest induction method." TinkerBellesMum
Talking of getting fruity, if you can't face the above, try guzzling tropical fruit salad instead. Fresh pineapple, kiwi, mango and papaya all contain enzymes that may cause mild contractions - pineapple especially, as it's rich in bromelain, which some studies suggest can help to soften the cervix.
Problem is, you'll need to eat buckets of the stuff - so you could just end up with that castor oil feeling.
Complementary therapies to bring on labour
Despite the popular (mis)conception, there's no evidence raspberry leaf tea can help in getting labour started. However, it's rich in nutrients and contains fragine, an alkaloid thought to help strengthen the uterine muscles, so it may help make contractions more effective once they eventually get going.
Drinking raspberry leaf tea during and after labour may also help with milk letdown, reduce after birth bleeding and help the uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy state.
But check with your midwife before you start guzzling gallons as, in some circumstances, it should be avoided.
"I used raspberry leaf tea for the last two months of my pregnancy. I was in labour for 36 hours, and my daughter ended up being a ventouse delivery. Not sure I will bother this time round." Pie
"I drank raspberry leaf tea whilst in hospital with high blood pressure. I drank three cups in two hours and my waters broke five hours later. I went into 'established' labour very quickly and my son was born four hours later." Mum2toby
These herbal treatments are thought to strengthen uterine contractions (rather than start them) but it's important you don't self-treat with these, as both can cause problems.
For instance, black cohosh can cause blood to thin - definitely not what you want when you're just about to give birth.
All complementary therapies should be approached with care during pregnancy.
Even something as non-invasive as nipple stimulation can cause the uterus to become overstimulated, which can lead to your baby receiving less oxygen, causing their heart rate to slow.
Discuss any complementary therapies you're considering with your midwife and, in the case of actual treatments, don't self-treat. Instead, seek advice from fully qualified, registered practitioners who are trained in treating pregnant women.
There's only anecdotal evidence to suggest reflexology can be used to get labour started or even help give a slow labour a kick up the backside, but it can be wonderfully soothing (and few things are by the very end of pregnancy).
"Reflexology worked for me with my second child. I had two sessions then he came the next day, 12 days late. It could have been a coincidence and that it just helped me to relax, but the foot massage was heaven at the very least!" Loveverona
Not one for needle phobics, but nowhere near as scary as it appears (indeed, a good practitioner should be able to site needles with little or no pain).
Scientific research is thin on the ground, but anecdotal evidence suggests acupuncture can help start labour. Additionally, it's thought to be useful for helping realign babies into an optimum birthing position, which can in itself help bring on labour.
"I had three sessions of acupuncture on consecutive days when I was 10 days late. I went into labour just after the third session, despite my cervix being well and truly closed and posterior just before." Micky
"I remember complaining to my consultant that I was sure I was never going to give birth and he kindly assured me that there was no medical record of anyone ever getting to 10 months pregnant. Somehow my pregnancy addled brain found this comforting." SofiaAmes
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Last updated: 2 months ago