Feeling like you’ve been pregnant forever? In those final days, swelling with anticipation and just plain swelling, it’s only natural to want to get the show on the road! “After about 36 weeks, women seem to hit a hump,” observes Dr Gino Pecoraro, a Brisbane-based obstetrician and gynaecologist and the immediate past president of the Australian Medical Association Queensland. “They feel uncomfortable, they’re ‘over it’ with pregnancy and they want to meet their little person.”
In a survey of women 37 weeks pregnant or more by Ohio State University, just over half of the women admitted to trying to kick-start things themselves, mainly using methods such as having sex, eating spicy food or getting acupuncture.
While the best and safest option is to let Mother Nature take her course, says the author of the recent study, Associate Professor Jonathan Schaffir, “if doing something innocuous – and perhaps enjoyable – also helps an anxious woman feel more empowered, it’s not a waste of time.”
There are certainly plenty of approaches to choose from. While proving any particular method works is tough, anecdotal evidence still suggests certain tricks might help, and as long as they do no harm (and ‘harm’, Dr Pecoraro points out, means not just physical harm, but financial harm, the protraction of false hope or the delay of appropriate treatment), there’s nothing to lose by giving them a go.
Spicing it up
Some of the classic labour-starters include eating spicy curry (thought to stimulate the bowel and so encourage contractions in the nearby uterus) and drinking castor oil (another laxative, but one with the potential to dehydrate the mother, so not recommended). However, there are some more unusual suggestions doing the rounds, including drinking hot water that’s had cinnamon sticks steeped in it.
While there’s no science to back this one up, “in oriental medicine, cinnamon’s thought to have a warming effect and it could be nurturing,” says Pernille Powell, a doula and childbirth educator from the Sunshine Coast. Likewise, there’s no proof that drinking balsamic vinegar works, “but eating it on a salad won’t do any harm,” says Hannah Dahlen, a practising midwife and national spokesperson for the Australian College
Meanwhile, the eggplant parmigiana at a particular Italian restaurant in the US has gained almost legendary status. Scalini’s claims that 300 of its pregnant diners have gone into labour within 48 hours of eating the dish – and they have a wall of ‘eggplant-parmigiana baby’ photographs to ‘prove’ it!
“The restaurant is now probably attracting a disproportionate amount of pregnant people at term, who have a high probability of going into labour anyway,” explains Hannah, “but if you think it’s going to work, the effect that has can sometimes be enough.”
At the business end
Many couples try sex to bring on labour. “Semen contains prostaglandins, which can soften the cervix,” says Dr Andrew Bisits, lead clinician in birthing services at the Royal Hospital for Woman in Randwick, Sydney. “However it’s in such a low concentration, there’s no convincing evidence there’s enough of it to do the trick.”
Sitting on the floor with your feet up on the wall and doing 100 Kegels (pelvic floor exercises) is a less-frequently-heard-of method. “Good for the pelvic floor, but not for triggering labour,” is Hannah’s assessment. It certainly won’t hurt to pass the time doing them while you’re waiting, but “lying on your side is a better idea than on your back, which can make you feel dizzy and uncomfortable,” says Pernille.
Steaming coffee grounds is another of the more unorthodox ideas out there. You place a plastic bowl in the toilet, put some ground coffee into it, pour hot water on top and, according to one commentator on an internet forum, “squat over the bowl and steam your hoo-ha for about 20 minutes.” Could there be anything in it? “Caffeine’s a stimulant, but it’s usually taken orally,” says Hannah. “I can’t imagine it’d have any impact externally. It may be that the warmth of the steam is relaxing for the woman. This method probably doesn’t work, but it won’t hurt as long as you’re careful not to get scalded by the steam!”
Acupuncture has many devotees and, for bringing on labour, Pernille is one of them. “I did it for three days in a row and then went into labour. I think it’s what tipped me over,” she says. Nicola Marishel, a Sydney-based acupuncturist, says for pregnant customers wanting to induce labour she uses “points in the lower back and hands which help start uterine contractions, and others in the shoulders that help descend the baby.”
The day before her baby was born, Karen Burn had a session of reflexology, where pressure was applied to points around her body, including her feet. “I felt great and I went into labour just hours later,” reports the midwife from the Birth Centre at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for Women and Babies in Sydney. Rubbing mandarin oil into your heels is a more weird-sounding suggestion, but Pernille thinks it works on the same theory. “The points for the womb and ovaries are on either side of the heel and in aromatherapy mandarin is energising. It could be effective,” she says.
As well as physical touch, what about getting in touch with your emotions? Putting on a movie and blubbing your heart out or laughing until you cry (oops, watch that pelvic floor) don’t sound like very convincing methods, but, says Hannah, “releasing emotions can lessen tension, relax you, and might help take your mind off the fact you’re overdue” – which could, in turn, help things along.
Let’s get physical
If getting moving is more your cup of tea there are plenty of suggestions, but experts do caution against several of them, including driving along bumpy roads and jumping on trampolines (“This one’s just asking for trouble,” says Dr Pecoraro). Curb walking sounds odd and looks even stranger – you put one foot up on the curb and the other in the gutter and walk in a lop-sided fashion along the road. Though many women try it, “it’s a recipe for falling over, resulting in damage to your joints, pelvis or hips,” cautions Dr Pecoraro.
Galloping like a horse might make you look similarly comical, but it might just help get bub’s head into a good position. “We often get women to walk using exaggerated steps, for this purpose,” says Hannah, “but it’s usually in the privacy of a birthing suite!” Walking up and down stairs, holding onto the stair rail is definitely worth a try. “It gets the pelvis moving heaps,” explains Pernille.
Mowing the lawn is another unusual technique doing the rounds on internet forums. “Hmm, the partners might be the ones advocating this one!” reckons Hannah, who adds that “a good walk is probably just as effective.”
While it may sound like another male conspiracy, getting down on all fours to scrub the floor might actually have some benefits.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily good for inducing labour, but it can be good for getting the baby into the right position, if, for instance, he’s in the posterior position and you’re trying to get him into the anterior position,” says Hannah. If you’ve lost your scrubbing brush (oh well!), you can always try squats. “These may help get the baby’s head down lower into the pelvis and it’s good for the legs, but not to bring on labour,” says Hannah.
Relax to the max
If you can, try not to get too hung up on trying to bring on labour yourself. “The whole issue of the ‘due date’ can have a counterproductive effect,” says Dr Bisits.
“The pervading mentality in our culture is that it’s like a bus timetable and there is enormous pressure on women for something to happen at that point. We get so anxious about it, but in a normal pregnancy it’s best to leave things alone until 41 weeks. None of these methods should be attempted with the mindset of trying to force open the tap when it’s not ready. A pregnancy can last up to 42 weeks and be perfectly normal,” he explains.
It might just be this relaxed mindset you need. After all, as they saying goes: a watched kettle never boils. Or, of course, you could always just book in for a medical induction.
“I do notice with some women that when a plan is made, there’s relief, they relax and labour starts on its own,” says Dr Bisits. Stranger things have happened.