I have been fascinated with pregnancy, labour and delivery since before I was expecting. I took a weekend doula course two years ago now and my oh my did it ever change me. I knew absolutely nothing about the birthing process prior to this course. I walked in that door terrified of labour never wanting to experience such pain and I walked out after the first day with baby fever and a deep fascination for the woman’s body. Aside from the empowering knowledge I gained about the birthing process itself, I also learned of a few natural resources that can help support a healthy vaginal delivery. The few weeks leading up to a woman’s due date are considered a crucial time of opportunity. We all know that we are not in control of when or how our babies decide to enter the world but that doesn’t mean we cannot do everything we can to help prepare our bodies to the best of our abilities for that big euphoric moment.
Here are a few all natural tips that can help prepare us for childbirth. None of these are practiced for induction purposes; they simply just provide benefits that help support our bodies in different ways.
***Before practicing these methods yourself, please consult your obstetrician or midwife. Every woman and every pregnancy is different so these methods should only be introduced at a time when your care giver thinks it’s best for you and your baby. Also keep in mind that an obstetrician may not be familiar or supportive of these methods.
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea (or capsules)
Red raspberry leaf is a uterine tonic and benefits a woman’s reproductive system in all stages life not just pregnancy. For expecting mothers it has been used to ease morning sickness, leg cramps, swelling, and bleeding of the teeth and gums which in common during pregnancy. This herb can also lower blood pressure and increase overall circulation but its popularity stems from its effect on the uterus and pelvic floor.
Midwives believe that this herb leads to both shorter and easier labours. Working as a uterine tonic, the tea makes our contractions more effective encouraging a labour that progresses smoothly. The pushing stage has also been known to be quick as our uterus is again, strong and effective. Red raspberry leaf tea can also make for an easier delivery of the placenta as well as stop excess bleeding after birth. On top of all those momma related benefits, raspberry leaf is also known to help with nursing. The vitamin and mineral content encourages a nice rich supply of milk to come in. Raspberry leaf helps detoxify excess hormones which is a fabulous support for new mamas and helps decrease the chances of developing postpartum depression. Lastly, the herb also aids the uterus to shrink back to its original size as well as restores the strength of the postpartum pelvic floor.
Generally speaking, most expecting mothers are recommended to start drinking the tea in the last half of the third trimester but some women drink it all throughout. For ideal benefits, the consumption should be gradual starting with one cup and slowly making your way to three cups a day as you near the end of your term. Again, please consult with your obstetrician or midwife before you add this into your daily routine. There are certain circumstances where raspberry leaf is not advised for expecting mothers (for example if you are a mom who has a history of very quick labours).
Get my "Iced Red Raspberry Leaf Tea" recipe here.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is commonly used within the last few weeks of pregnancy. This special oil contains prostaglandins which are known to help ripen the cervix. The softening of the cervix makes for easier dilation and effacement (thinning) once the labour process begins. Evening primrose oil capsules can be taken orally or inserted vaginally. Many women do both. It can also be used to massage the perineal area. The bottom line is that EPO prepares the cervix for a smooth and progressive labour that tends to be shorter than average and it also helps to prevent perineal trauma (aka tearing).
Generally speaking, women tend to take EPO orally starting at 35 weeks and start inserting it vaginally around 37 weeks. Vaginal insertion is recommended at night time before bed as you’ll be lying down for a long period of time. The capsule does dissolve naturally however some residue may be excreted so it is best to wear a panty liner as well.
Please consult your care giver before starting EPO (especially if you are at risk of pre-term labour, postpartum haemorrhage or have a high risk pregnancy). Discuss if and when you can start taking it and what dosage would be best for your individual situation.
*EPO has been associated with an increased risk of postpartum haemorrhaging. Red raspberry leaf is known to decrease the risk of a postpartum haemorrhage so it is ideal to take both simultaneously if you do use evening primrose oil.
A what massage? The perineum is the area between our vagina and rectum. Massaging the area throughout the last weeks of pregnancy can relax and soften the perineum. The hands on technique is beneficial as it prevents tearing and prepares us for the sensations of childbirth. You can perform the massage yourself or get your partner to.
To perform the massage itself, it is ideal to use a safe lubricant. I already mentioned above that some women use evening primrose oil (simply prick a capsule open and go for it) but there are many options here. Almond oil, coconut oil, vitamin E oil, an organic olive oil, or non-petroleum based jellies are all great options. To help relax the area before the massage, some women sit in a warm bath or apply a warm compress to the area beforehand.
Make sure your thumbnails are nicely trimmed. Wash your hands thoroughly to prevent germs entering the birth canal. Get into a comfortable position (I’m not going to lie it is hard with that belly in the way but play around until you feel comfortable). Some women find it works best leaning back against pillows on the bed with bent knees but the toilet also works with elevated legs.
Once you are comfortable, hook your thumbs about an inch deep inside your vagina and press the perineum to the sides (left and right) and press downward toward the anus. To get used to the feeling, hold this gentle pressure. It may tingle or burn slightly. Once the area feels a little numb, lightly massage the lower half of your vagina. Picture a U movement where you glide your thumbs back and forth from the rectal area and up the sides. If the area feels sensitive and has reduced flexibility, start by massaging one side at a time. When pressure is applied, do your best to relax the muscles. Be gentle as these tissues are fragile. Continue the massage for about five minutes. The technique will mimic the same type of stretching sensation that the baby’s head will create during childbirth. Over a period of time you will feel the perineal area relax and have an increase in flexibility and stretchiness.
Generally speaking, expecting mothers start this technique around 34 weeks. Some start by incorporating it every second day and work their way up to a daily massage. Remember to be gentle and listen to your body. Just as a regular massage anywhere else on the body, there can be a swelling effect afterwards which would not be ideal for labour.
It has been said that eating 6 dates a day in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy leads to a healthier labour and delivery. Date eaters are more likely to reach dilation quicker, go into labour naturally (avoiding any induction method including Pitocin), and have a shorter labour. This may be hard to believe and may not ring to be true for everyone but in my opinion, it’s worth a shot.
Dates have an oxytocin-like effect on the body which helps ripen the cervix. Dates can also aid in uterine contractions and promote healthy bowel movements (which many women pray for at this time in the pregnancy). At the end of the day, the fruit is hella delicious and nutritious so even if it does nothing for childbirth-it’s a win win situation.
I personally have no problem munching on dates alone but they are especially delicious with an all-natural peanut or almond butter on top. Dates can also be used as an all-natural sweetener in any recipe such as homemade milks, dressings made from scratch, and of course-baked goods. Energy balls or bites are another great way to use dates and they freeze well too.
Other Helpful Resources
I am not here to debate or push opinions on childbirth. Although I admire the confidence and power behind an all-natural birth, I realize that every labour is different. The pregnancy journey holds a ton of surprises that can spring up out of nowhere, leaving us in situations we never anticipated. Plans can change quicker than we can blink our eyes and realistically, we will never know what we need until we are in that moment. As I mentioned above, we are not in control of when or how our babies decide to enter the world but that doesn’t mean we cannot do everything we can to help prepare our bodies. Whether our delivery happens to end up medicated or not or even with an interventional surgery-we are all women and we all deserve the chance to support our bodies for the biggest marathon of our lives.
Above all else, let’s rid of the fear. Childbirth is the most empowering experience of a woman’s life and it should be embraced and admired. Pride should take over every fibre of your being after any kind of delivery because you did it mama! If you are consumed with fear of birthing just as I was two years ago, here are some tips that can help make you feel powerful and more inclined to make your experience suit the comfort of you and your family:
-Hire a labour support provider/doula (Read my "WTF is a Doula Anyway?" blog post here)
-Research your caregiver options (obstetrician or midwife)
-Research your birth location options (home, birth centre, hospital)
-Research and practice birth position options (squatting, all fours, side lying and in a bed or tub)
-Read Ina May Gaskin’s "A Guide to Childbirth"
-Take prenatal classes
-Ask questions (you have that right-your questions matter)
Did you try any of these natural recommendations? If so, how did you find they worked for you? I personally did not experience any bit of a short labour haha-mine was well over 60 hours! But I can't help but wonder if it would have been even longer had I not treated myself to these tips...either way, it was worth a shot. I would still try them for my next pregnancy if that happens.
*I personally did not insert Evening Primrose Oil, I only took it orally.
*Now that it's all over, you can read my loooong birth story here.