As I am nearing the end of my own pregnancy, my mind has been focused a lot on labour and ensuring that it goes as smoothly as possible. I’m sure this is a common concern for many mothers-to-be which is what has prompted the creation of this blog post on research-proven ways to reduce labour complications.

In this blog post, I will outline the research on three methods of preparing your body to have the most efficient, uncomplicated labour possible using completely natural therapies including Chinese Medicine, food, and and a well-known herb!

1

Acupuncture

Many women have heard of using acupuncture for labour induction; however, most people are surprised to hear that starting acupuncture once a week around 36 weeks gestation is also a great tool for labour preparation.

The research on pre-birth acupuncture shows a multitude of beneficial effects including reducing the mean duration of labour, the incidence of induction, the rates of epidural use and cesarean delivery, as well as increasing the chances of spontaneous labour around the due date! An additional benefit of pre-birth acupuncture is that it has been proven to be an effective treatment to rotate a breech presenting baby by using specific points alongside a treatment called moxibustion.

One of the earliest studies on using pre-birth acupuncture by pregnant mothers dates back to a study done in 1974 which showed that acupuncture decreased the mean duration of labour by almost an hour and a half (8 hours and 2 minutes in the control group vs. 6 hours 36 minutes in the acupuncture group). A more recent follow-up study from 1998 also showed similar results where the median duration of the first stage of labour (the time interval between 3cm cervical dilation and complete dilation) was reduced from 321 minutes in the control group to 196 minutes in the acupuncture group; in other words, this study showed that acupuncture may reduce the duration of the first stage of labour by over 2 hours!

In 2004, an observational study on 169 women showed even further benefit to women who received pre-birth acupuncture. This study showed that there was a 35% overall reduction in the number of induced labours; in first-time moms, the benefit was even greater with a 43% reduction in the incidence of induction compared to those who never received acupuncture. Further, there was a 31% reduction in the rate of epidural use, a 32% reduction in emergency cesarean delivery and a 9% increase in the chance of a normal vaginal birth. Additionally, the women who received pre-birth acupuncture were more likely to go into spontaneous labour around their due date without increasing the chances of early labour (in case you are concerned that acupuncture could send you into labour too early!). This study also found that if induction was required, the women who had received pre-birth acupuncture responded well to induction acupuncture and were less likely to need a medical induction of their labour.

2

Date Fruit

Yes, you read that correctly – eating dates may help ensure a smoother, intervention-free labour. A 2011 study showed that women who consumed six dates per day (60-67 grams) for 4 weeks prior to their estimate due date had significantly higher mean cervical dilation upon admission to the hospital (3.52cm vs. 2.02cm), and a significantly higher proportion of intact membranes (83% vs. 60%). Further, spontaneous labour was experienced by 96% of those who consumed dates compared to only 79% of women who did not consume the dates. Additionally, the use of oxytocin (a medication that aids in ripening the cervix for labour augmentation) was significantly lower in women who consumed the dates compared to the control group (28% vs. 47%). Similarly to those who use acupuncture, the mean latent phase of labour was significantly shorter in women who consumed dates prior to their due date compared to those who didn’t (510 minutes vs. 906 minutes).

Caution: This method of labour preparation is not advised for those women who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes or for women who have difficulty controlling their blood sugars due to the high sugar content of date fruit (a whopping 43g of sugar in 65 g of dates).

3

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus) tea is a herbal therapy that has been used traditionally during pregnancy to help tone the uterus. According to traditional herbalists, red raspberry can be used as a uterine tonic in preparation for childbirth, can reduce post-partum hemorrhage and the after-pains of labour, as well as increase milk production. Many pregnancy teas on the market use red raspberry leaf as a base for these reasons.

One study on red raspberry leaf tea does show some benefit to its use. A retrospective observational study from 1999 showed that women who consumed red raspberry leaf tea in their pregnancy were less likely to receive an artificial rupture of their membranes, or receive a C-section, forceps, or vacuum birth compared to women in the control group who did not consume the tea. It also showed that red raspberry leaf tea may decrease the likelihood of both pre- and post-term gestation.

Despite all the possible benefits to drinking red raspberry tea, the use of it in pregnancy is actually quite controversial! Although human studies show no adverse effects to either the mom or the baby, there has been a rat study that has shown possible long-term consequences on the health of the baby. The 2009 study showed that the offspring of the mother rats who were given red raspberry leaf tea in their pregnancy reached puberty faster than the control offspring and THEIR babies had growth restrictions.

At this point, the use of red raspberry leaf tea in pregnancy is considered to be likely safe for the use in humans during pregnancy. The general guidelines are that you should not consume red raspberry leaf in the first trimester of pregnancy but rather, restrict its use to the tea form (not capsules) only in the second and third trimesters.

However you decide to prepare for your labour, I congratulate you on the upcoming new addition to your family. Good luck!

Dr. Nicole Hartman

About Dr. Nicole Hartman

Dr. Nicole Hartman is a naturopathic physician, a world traveler, a hiker, and a blogger. She focuses her practice in fertility and women's health and takes an integrative, evidence-based approach to healthcare.