When I was first pregnant, I considered my due date an immoveable goal that I would reach at exactly 40 weeks gestation. After all, it had been calculated by proper, white-coated doctors using mystical cardboard wheels and confirmed by various scans, so I never doubted for a minute that it might not be my baby’s actual birth day. Although all the pregnancy books, ante-natal classes and online forums said labour might begin two weeks before or after the so-called due date, I stuck to that date as though it were an unbreakable pact between me and my baby.
At 38 weeks pregnant, when my baby was medically considered full-term, I idly wondered whether she might make an early appearance. But essentially, I was still fixated on that magic date I’d been given so many months before. I spent the next two weeks laundering new babygros, wallpapering the nursery and practising my deep-breathing, ready for the big day.
So when D day came and went without a single twinge, it was naturally a massive anti-climax. When another week passed, I felt very put out – as well as increasingly impatient to meet my baby! The midwife started suggesting membrane sweeps (this can stimulate the cervix to release prostaglandins, which may kick-start labour) and asking when I wanted to be booked in for induction.
Whilst I accepted a sweep, I was not keen to induce my baby since I’d been planning a home birth (following a medical induction, you must stay in hospital to have your baby). So I started exploring the various old wives tales reputed to either actually encourage labour or simply ‘ripen’ the cervix…
When I went overdue, a friend who’s baby was due after mine but had given birth two weeks early, felt so sorry for me that she took to leaving pineapples on my doorstep every day. Apparently it’s the enzyme bromelain in fresh (not tinned) pineapple which is thought to help soften the cervix and so encourage labour. I ate three a day in a desperate bid to get things going but nothing changed overnight. Either I’m resistant to pineapple or three a day is just not enough!
I know plenty of women who’ve checked in to their favourite curry house and headed on to the maternity ward straight after. I think the theory is that curry tends to stimulate intestinal (and bowel) movement, which because of the close proximity of the internal oragns, can then stimulate the uterus into action. For me, even super-spicy Bird’s Eye chillies didn’t encourage a single tingle…but it was a great excuse to order a take-away!
Raspberry leaf tea
Raspberry leaves (just raspberry flavoured herbal teabags) are supposed to stimulate the uterus. For this reason, you shouldn’t take them until the last two months of pregnancy. Whether it kickstarts labour or not, some women love this tea for its deeply relaxing properties. For that reason, you might wish to sip it once labour is actually established too!
When you are upright and active, gravity alone can encourage your baby into a better birthing position. The gentle pressure of your baby’s head on your cervix can also stimulate the birthing hormone, oxytocin. My midwife even suggested a bumpy car ride but I think we were both getting pretty desperate by then!
When you’re heavily pregnant and deeply uncomfortable, sex is definitely a last resort. Prostaglandins in semen are supposed to soften the cervix and prepare it to dilate. Orgasm may also trigger uterine contractions. However, if your waters have already broken or you experience vaginal bleeding, sex should definitely be avoided.
I have to say, I tried all of the above but, given that I ended up going 24 days overdue before labour naturally started, I can’t say any were an overwhelming success. Still, they certainly whiled away the time and made me feel proactive. So if you find yourself in the Ten Month Mama club, which is 4% of all mothers, you may find these suggestions more helpful than pacing the room wondering if that last contraction was the beginning of established labour or just another Braxton Hicks.