“Natural” Labor Induction?

In the past two days, a lot of buzz has been going on about a study that linked labor induction to increased rates of Autism.   The response to this has been interesting. There are those who say that this simply means that more research needs to be done, and those who say that suspicion has existed all along that labor induction and augmentation are perhaps higher risk decisions than originally thought.

I’m also seeing, within the natural birth community, a lot of feedback about using herbs and essential oils for “natural labor induction”, promoted as though these options are much better or safer. Here’s where I part ways with the pack.

Induction is induction is induction. Making labor happen before mother and baby are both ready is, in and of itself, a risky procedure. These studies aren’t just showing us that Pitocin is risky, or that Cytotec or any other labor-inducing medications carry risk, but that forcing a baby to be born before the baby has initiated labor is a procedure that carries risk.

Though medical science has developed ways of getting the baby born when a concern is present, science has as of yet found no explanation for exactly what makes labor begin on its own. What we do know, from studies in recent years,  is that the last stage of fetal development happens in the baby’s brain, and that this triggers the cascade of events that leads to baby being born. The most recent study, released yesterday, shows that induced labor may increase the likelihood of  a child later developing autism.

Going past a predicted due date is, for many, a problem with impatience far more than it is one of medical safety. Science has shown that the length of a normal pregnancy varies by up to five weeks.   Going past a due date by two weeks is perfectly normal. Being “tired of being pregnant” is not worth the risks involved with forcing labor before the baby and the mother’s body are ready. This is true whether the agent used for induction comes from a plant purchased at the health food store or a chemical carried in a hospital pharmacy. There is no such thing as a “natural” induction – forcing the process of labor is, itself, not natural.

As both a doula and a practicing herbalist, I’m often asked if there’s anything one can do to get labor going. My answer is to rest and hydrate. Store up your strength. Eat well. Laugh a lot – laughter releases oxytocin and makes you feel better. Snuggle with your partner. Cry if you need to. Do whatever needs to be done to get to an emotionally ok place with being in the temporary “in between” space of growing a baby and becoming a mother.  Getting comfortable with the discomfort of the unknown is just one of many life lessons that carrying a baby brings the opportunity to learn. Babies come when babies are ready. Don’t push the river – it flows all by itself.

5 thoughts on ““Natural” Labor Induction?

  1. A month ago I would have agreed with you, without a doubt. I believe medical “induction” at the hospital is a ridiculous way to get a baby out and create a mother out of a woman. It is unnatural, difficult to cope with, and often causes more trouble than it’s worth. I am a natural labor advocate and with my first baby I thought I was making the right choice – birthing in a hospital, with a “midwife” (who would help me make more natural choices and advocate for me as a woman and a mother). But within the walls of a hospital, even “midwives” are bound to rules – rules that often don’t make sense for healthy women, healthy pregnancies, having babies. I was 42 weeks with my first and “had” to have an induction that led to a snowball of things I never intended….and have always felt guilty about. It certainly wasn’t the best, most confident way to enter into the rite of passage that was Motherhood. The thing is, I believe, pitocin makes a baby come out – regardless of whether or not he or she is ready.

    Second pregnancy. I have a “big” baby. At 41w 2d I was offered a membrane sweep (this didn’t work with my first baby). So I said, sure, if it works, then the baby was ready to come…if it doesn’t, then, well, it doesn’t. I was in labor that day, unbeknownst to me (I didn’t know what spontaneous labor felt like because I was medically induced the first time) – I labored at home as long as I could before going to the hospital to get my antibiotics (I was group strep b +) . Got there at 8.5 cm and had her 8 hours later. She was 10 lbs 2 oz.

    Third pregnancy. I just delivered my third baby. This time I did it at home. Still, a natural birth advocate, having lost confidence in my body the first time – having reclaimed my natural labor the second time – I decided to do it at home this time – with a midwife. My baby was big, again. We passed 42 weeks. At 42 w 4 days I decided to do some things to coax our baby out. I don’t believe baby would have come out if he wasn’t ready. In fact, I tried castor oil on Monday and it did nothing. But Saturday I got in the mindset, I set an intention candle, I took castor oil and we tried to get things going. I was not comfortable going past 43 w so I knew I would be going in for a medical induction on Monday if labor didn’t kick in by then. (something I absolutely didn’t want to do). Thankfully, a combination of “natural” things helped and my baby boy was born Saturday evening. He was 10 lbs 12 oz and he got stuck. It was a little scary, actually, but I eventually got him out and everyone was fine (and I didn’t tear!). I can say the difference between my second at 10 lbs 2 oz and this baby 10 lbs 12 oz was huge. That 10 oz extra made it so much more difficult.

    For me, having a “natural” induction at home was far better than having a medical induction in the hospital. Or a c-section (which is what the perinatalogist said I would need if I went to the hospital). I also am really not confident I could have gotten him out had he been *any* bigger without tearing or being cut.

    So, yes, I agree that induction should not be taken lightly – especially pitocin or cytotec augmentation — because I truly believe they will get a baby out whether or not he/she is ready. I think many of the “at home” things won’t work unless the baby is ready. However, I don’t think they should be used until the baby is at least at “term” or later. And I also agree that there is nothing better to get a labor going than to clear your mind – get out your worries – set the intention – laugh – love – snuggle – and cry. Do what you need to do to prepare your mind, body, and spirit for the transformation of motherhood…whether it is your first baby, second, third, fourth, fifth….you need to allow your primitive brain time to do its thing without letting thoughts get in the way.

  2. I agree with Jessica–

    I patiently waited until 42 weeks and 5 days before we induced with pitocin. I gave up my home birth because he simply would not come on his own. I waited as long as was safe before I gave up my need for a healing, unmedicated second birth. I still did It without the pain killers but unfortunately HAD to induce to keep my child safe.

  3. The preceding two posts actually prove rather than disprove the point about ‘natural induction’. The induction with castor oil is no more or less an induction than that with pitocin, and both were done it seems for the same reason many medical inductions are – because of fear of going past an arbitrary date.

    I would suggest that the recent paper by Mandruzatto ( http://www.pqcnc.org/documents/sivbdoc/sivbeb16MgmtofposttermpregnancyguidelinesJournalofPerinatalMedicine2010.pdf ) be used as the reference for anyone interested in the medical evidence. It concludes, I quote: ‘It is not possible to give a specific GA at which an otherwise uncomplicated pregnancy should be induced.’

    It is very likely that women like the above would go into labor naturally within a week, and experience no more and perhaps fewer problems on average than by inducing. In a healthy pregnancy there is practically no such thing as ‘never’ going into labor.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

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