You may have heard about twiddling your nipples and eating pineapples in late pregnancy in the hope it will trigger labour to begin but let’s have a closer look at what’s going on in your body when labour starts, some natural induction methods and some old wive’s tales.
Most birthing people are well aware they have a cervix and that it needs to be 10cms (fully dilated) for a baby to be born vaginally. But what does that actually mean, what actually is a cervix, what does it does and can we do anything to help it along in the hope of kick-starting labour and in many cases potentially avoiding medical induction?
What is a cervix?
Your cervix is basically the gatekeeper of your uterus. A cylindrical shaped neck of tissue at the bottom of the uterus which is approximately an inch long.
What does “fully dilated” actually mean?
Usually the cervix is closed, allowing only the passage of sperm and menstrual blood to pass through it. However, when it comes to having a baby, the cervix needs to open wide enough for the baby to move down from the uterus into the vagina and this process requires the cervix to efface (soften and thin) and dilate (open) fully. Dilation is recorded by midwives in centimeters and when you are fully dilated this equates to roughly 10 centimeters.
How does this happen?
It’s all down to those clever hormones. Oestrogen, prostaglandins, relaxin and progesterone all help to “ripen” the cervix ready for birth and oxytocin, the love hormone causes regular contractions of the muscles in the uterus as well as stimulating the ripening of the cervix.
So how can we help the cervix along?
Induction is always a topic people are interested in during my Sobo Hypno courses and most people are aware of medical induction, when artificial hormones are introduced to start uterine contractions and stimulate the cervix. During the course we discuss what happens during a medical induction, as it’s good to know what to expect should you chose this path, and you’ll need to know what the risks and the benefits are of having this type of induction.
We also talk about natural methods of induction, in other words, what you can do to try and get your body into labour on its own. To kick-start your birth as it were.
Can sex help?
Not everyone who is pregnant will be interested in the idea of having sex and of course that’s your decision. However, although sex may be the last thing on your mind any intimacy like sex (penetrative or otherwise) kissing or nipple stimulation will promote high levels of oxytocin and let’s not forget that oxytocin is your best friend during birth.
Also, orgasms are well known as a great souce of oxytocin and if nothing else it will distract you from the nagging texts from Aunty Joan asking, “Have you had that baby yet??” every other day from week 37. Plenty of people will want to pleasure themselves in early labour and this is a massive booster for those feel-good hormones and contractions. Making babies and birthing babies are very similar, in that they both require a certain level of intimacy, privacy and being unobserved for best results. Just ask your doula to step out, put a “Do Not Disturb” sign up on the door and get those wonderful hormones flowing people.
Did you know that semen contains prostaglandin, one of the hormones involved in the ripening of the cervix? Don’t worry though, the receptors in the cervix won’t be activated before you are full term, so you won’t instigate early labour by having sex during pregnancy.
What about exercise?
Staying active and healthy is always going to benefit you during your pregnancy but especially as your baby’s birth day approaches. Gravity really helps, as an important role in the ripening of your cervix is your baby’s head applying pressure to the cervix. So walking, gentle exercise and even bouncing on your birth ball with your knees lower than your hips should all benefit you.
What can I eat and drink to encourage labour?
There are quite a few old wives tales you may have heard about eating hot curries and pineapples and even glugging spoonful’s of castor oil. But which ones might actually help you?
Well, there is an enzyme in pineapples called bromelain which is believed to soften the cervix and trigger contractions BUT there’s no actual evidence to back this up and the amount you would need to ingest is huge. As for hot curries and other spicy foods, well, they may cause some uterine irritation but there’s nothing to suggest this will help start or encourage labour.
It used to be quite standard a few decades ago that midwives would suggest having a spoonful of castor oil to “get things going” but now we know that this is only likely to give you an unfortunate case of the shits, not exactly what you need when about to give birth.
Something which you may hear about during pregnancy is the effectiveness of eating dates in the last weeks of pregnancy. There is some evidence to show that people who eat 6 dates daily for the last few weeks of pregnancy have better outcomes such as a spontaneous start to labour, shorter labour and less blood loss after their birth. The good news is there is no downside to eating dates and if you don’t like them on their own you may still be able to find a way to include them in your diet in smoothies or cooking with them.
What about alternative therapies?
Lots of people will try things like acupuncture or reflexology as the end of their pregnancy approaches. I do encourage my clients to book treatments, massages etc into their diaries in the last few weeks, as I know this can be a really tough time when you’re waiting for your baby to arrive. You may be feeling the pressure to be medically induced creeping in and friends and family are constantly messaging and asking if anything is happening yet. So this is a good time to book stuff in, keep yourself busy and benefit from some time spent indulging yourself.
These treatments tend to be very relaxing are a good way for you to promote the release of oxytocin. Whether they can actually cause labour to begin is unclear really. Often labour can start shortly after a relaxing reflexology session for example, but it may be that was because the client was able to truly relax and let go. Remember the power of the mind can hold us back in labour and that same mind may inadvertently impede labour if we are stressed or anxious. Also, if you book a massage at 39 weeks of pregnancy and then a few hours later labour begins how can we ever actually know if it was the massage or if you would have naturally gone into labour on that day anyway?
So DO we need to do anything?
Well, it’s absolutely your choice, just like everything in your pregnancy and birth. If you feel that trying some of these things is going to be beneficial for you then I’d encourage you to weigh up the pros and cons, make sure you are aware of the risks and make a decision which is right for you, always remembering to trust your body and your instincts to know when it’s the right time for your little person to make their entrance in the world.
At the end of the day, it’s your body, your birth and your choice but it sure helps to have some info and research to back things up and make sense of everything. That’s why my course incudes all you’ll need to know when it comes to making informed choices which will be best for YOU.