“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.

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