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General characteristics

General characteristics

Labour is the final stage of pregnancy when the baby moves down the birth canal in preparation for the birth. A condition of pre-labour can exist for several days before actual labour, with more gentle Braxton-Hicks contractions, changes in vaginal discharge and strong urges to 'nest' and prepare the house.
The stages of labour are the first stage, when the cervix dilates and the baby moves into the birth canal; the second stage is when the cervix is fully dilated and the baby is born; the third stage is when the placenta is expelled. The cervix can take a while to 'ripen' ready for birth, it becomes softer when it is ready to begin dilation. Waters may or may not break during labour, sometimes leaks in early labour are from the hind waters (at the top of the baby) whilst the forewaters (below the baby) can be more forceful. Sometimes the waters have not broken well into advanced labour and a midwife will offer to burst them for you.
The first signs of labour include regular contractions that get closer together and last longer, the 'show', when the mucous plug at the entrance to the birth canal is shed, backache, waters breaking, nausea or vomiting, diarrhoea and backache.
No two pregnancies are the same and any of these signs may or may not occur, though pain is almost surely a definite!

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

In the past it was thought that eating during labour can prolong the labour process and even present a higher risk of assisted births or Caesareans. Now it is thought that there is no real link to these events and that it is safe to eat something light such as a yoghurt, fruit, scrambles eggs, plain biscuits, piece of bread etc. If labour is long them eating will provide valuable energy and nutrients.

However, if you are having painkillers such as pethidine then eating is often not advised as the drug causes the digestive system to relax.

Some women find that eating fresh pineapple helps to bring on their labour. Pineapple contains enzymes that help to ripen and soften the cervix in readiness for labour and birth.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Raspberry leaf tea is an excellent way to prepare the womb for labour. Its high calcium levels feed and strengthen the uterus and make contractions stronger and more efficient. I have used raspberry leaf tea throughout both of my pregnancies and was fortunate enough to have relatively quick (7 hours for the first labour, 2.5 hours for the second labour) and trouble free births. Some debate continues as to how far into pregnancy one should be before drinking raspberry leaf. Some say only after the first trimester, some say only after the second. Personally I drank it from about 6 weeks into pregnancy with nothing but positive results. The high vitamin and mineral content makes it a valuable nutritional drink too. Drink at least 1 cup to begin with and work up to 3 cups daily.

Another tried and tested formula to start taking 4 weeks before your due date consists of equal parts of the tinctures of squaw vine, holy thistle, black cohosh, pennyroyal, false unicorn, raspberry leaf and lobelia. Take 1 teaspoon daily for the first week, 2 teaspoons daily for the second week, 3 teaspoons daily in the third week and 4 teaspoon daily in the fourth week. Many women and professionals may be scared of this preparation as it contains many herbs that we are advised not to take during pregnancy due to their stimulating action on uterine muscles. I can only give my own story, I used this formula in both of my pregnancies with good results in terms of speedy and efficient labours. I actually took it from 6 weeks before my due date until the day my babies were born, both 2 weeks late! For me, it did not induce early labour but your discretion and common sense is advised as to how long and how much you take.

Herbs such as chamomile and valerian, sipped as a tea can help to relax you through the early stages of labour but be careful not to relax the body too much as labour may slow down.

For pain during labour try making a formula from the tinctures of motherwort, skullcap, black cohosh and st johns wort. Use 3 parts st johns wort and 1 part of skullcap, black cohosh and motherwort. Premix the tincture in a bottle with a dropper top and add a dropperful to  a small glass of water every hour or so. Again, watch for over-relaxation and the potential slowing of labour if too much is taken.

Lobelia tincture is a classic for softening a rigid cervix as it is a powerfully strong voluntary muscle relaxant.The dose is 60 drops in water, then repeat half an hour later if needed.

Crampbark tincture can act as a remedy to help deepen the contractions towards the final stages, help dilate the cervix and prepare for birth. It can also help ease the painful cramps after the birth.

Tincture made from fresh shepherds purse can stop postpartum haemorrhage very rapidly. Take 20-40 drops in a little water.

Comfrey leaves (fresh or dried) can be added to a bath or used as a poultice to speed up healing of the perineal area of rips, tears, trauma and swelling.

Marshmallow root and slippery elm can also be used to help lubricate the birth canal when sipped as a tea in labour and to help expel the placenta and heal any perineal tears or rips when addd to a bath after the birth.

Always inform your midwife or other knowledgeable professional before using herbs during labour (include a list of possible herbs in your birth plan perhaps), just so they are aware of the various medicinal actions of any herbs you are taking.

Natural healing

Natural healing

To initiate a labour (after 39 weeks and with the go ahead from your midwife) try rubbing castor oil over the belly.
To prepare the body for labour take evening primrose capsules (1000mg a day) from about week 35 or so. The prostaglandins in evening primrose oil will help to ripen and soften the cervix in readiness for labour and birth.
Nipple stimulation (rolling the nipples between the fingers) can help to bring on labour. The action induces hormonal releases which help to ripen the cervix.

Child watering plants




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