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Preparing for Labour

Everything you need to know about preparing for labour from arnica to yoga.

Raspberry Leaf Tea

Raspberry leaf is a reproductive tonic specific to pregnancy and childbirth. Herbalists called it a “partus preparator” and claim it is one of the best herbs for use in preparing for labour. It controls bleeding, is high in calcium and magnesium, stimulates the release of oxytocin and strengthens and calms the uterine muscles in preparation for labour. In preparation for childbirth, drink raspberry leaf tea daily.

In a concentrated form raspberry leaf tea can cause uterine stimulation. It is not recommended for women at risk of miscarriage or preterm labour. In most cases it is fine, but if you experience any stomach pain consult a medical practitioner.

Make Love

Studies have found that sexual intercourse during the last few weeks of pregnancy can help soften the cervix in preparation for labour. Some women are highly sensitive to the prostaglandins in semen.

Prostaglandins are fatty acids made naturally in the body and are found in semen in a higher proportion than anywhere else in the human body. Women secrete prostaglandins during the latter stages of pregnancy both to soften the connective tissue of the cervix and increase oxytocin production in the muscle cells of the womb in preparation for labour. Synthetic prostaglandin gel is often used to soften the cervix and womb to induce labour. Many medical professionals recommend sex during the last few weeks of pregnancy for these reasons.

Birth Plan

Many women consider making a birthplan as psychological preparation for childbirth. Although some perceive a plan as a “wildcard” it may be useful to have an outline of which you, your birthing partner and your medical professionals are able to work towards. Check out how to make your own birthplan.

Perineal Massage

The perineum is the area of tissue between the anus and the vagina. This area stretches tremendously during labour and birth and although pregnancy hormones help prepare the perineum for this, many women find it beneficial to massage this area regularly during the last few months. Such preparation can be helpful in minimising possible tearing or the need for an episiotomy. It is possible to massage this area yourself. Click on perineal massage for more information.

Be Active

Remaining active encourages circulation and the production of natural hormones, enhances energy levels and strengthens muscle tone in preparation for childbirth. It has been proven that women who are fit have safer and more positive birth outcomes. Health and fitness experts confirm that exercising regularly is more beneficial than exercising randomly. Regular exercise builds strength and stamina and reduces the possibility of injury.

Nipple Stimulation

Breast and nipple stimulation can produce a strongly contracting womb and for this reason is sometimes encouraged to restart a labour that has stalled. Nipple stimulation is also though to enhance the ability to breastfeed both in milk production and particularly for women with inverted nipples.

Water

Many women have discovered that being immersed in water can be comforting in the lead up to labour. Lying in warm water increases venous pressure promoting the return of blood to the heart more efficiently. It also enhances cardiac action and slows the pulse rate. Total relaxation in the warmth and comfort of a bath may also help the uterus to contract more effectively. Water counteracts the force of gravity and reduces pressure felt from inside the body.

Meditation

Meditation is a most powerful way to relax the mind and promotes a greater ability to cope with stress, shock and trauma. The increased awareness experienced during meditation is medically supported by a definite pattern of electrical activity in the ‘thinking’ part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. The brainwaves associated with this electrical activity are called alpha waves. Similar waves are found in calm, dreamy states, such a sleep. It is thought that these brainwaves have a beneficial effect on the body’s natural control processes, slowing the heart and lowering the blood pressure.

According to English Childbirth Educator Sheila Kitzinger, ninety percent of childbirth is determined by what is going on in the head. A clear and focussed mind has a greater chance of leading to a positive labour. If you view the pain as productive and with a purpose, your body and mind will be more dynamic in its response.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine has been used for centuries to help women prepare for childbirth. The following herbs are noted for their medicinal value in inducing labour and preparation for childbirth:

Squaw vine tones the uterus, urinary tract and bowels and is used to prevent bleeding, enhance labour and promote lactation.

False unicorn root tones the uterus, aids delivery and balances hormones.

Wild yam regulates hormones, is anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, reducing cramping and toning the liver.

Dong Quai is noted in traditional Chinese medicine for its ability to encourage blood flow to the uterus.

Peony is known as a foetal calmer and is used with Dong Quai to regulate hormones and soothe the uterine muscles.

Withania is a traditional pregnancy tonic helpful to relieve stress, promote sleep and boost energy.

St Mary’s Thistle helps digestion and cleanses the liver.

You or your herbalist may prepare the following 200 ml formula for use after the 34th week of pregnancy:

Herbal Formula for Labour

Red Raspberry Leaf 20 ml
Nettle 20 ml
Squaw Vine 30 ml
False Unicorn Root 20 ml
Withania 50 ml
St Mary’s Thistle 30 ml

During the 34th week, take 2ml daily, the 35th week take 2 ml twice a day, the 36th week take 2 ml three times daily, the 37th week take 5 ml twice daily, the 38th week take 5ml three times daily, the 40th week take 8 ml three times daily. If the practice contractions are too strong, stop and start from the beginning with 2ml daily again.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils as a healing tool. It works through olfactory stimulation, the sense of smell, to directly affect the limbic system that controls emotions. It can be applied via massage, compresses, inhalation, bathing, oil burner or room spray.

Jasmine is noted for its properties in preparing the uterine muscles for labour. Prepare the following blend for use in the labour room:

Labour Blend

50 mls base oil (either grapeseed, sweet almond or coconut oil)
3 drops jasmine essential oil
3 drops rose essential oil
3 drops neroli essential oil

Reflexology

Reflexology uses pressure points on the feet to help induce labour and numb pain. Based on the concept that the entire body is reflected in the feet, it is viewed as an effective but non-invasive method to stimulate the body’s natural processes. Although it has not been possible to successfully explain why it should work, there is proof that it does. According to studies in England, regular reflexology treatments from mid pregnancy seem to lead to shorter, easier labours. It is believed reflexology stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin that helps contraction of the uterus. Some midwives in Australia are familiar with the reproductive reflex points located around the ankles.

The point located in the natural depression on the inside of the ankle helps the uterus prepare for birth. In the final month of pregnancy, you or your partner can massage and press into this point.

Rest

Tension and fatigue tend to increase labour pain. Many women find it necessary to sleep separately from their partner in the final few weeks of pregnancy. While any women experience disrupted and uncomfortable sleep in the last few months of pregnancy, it is common for women to enjoy a most extraordinarily satisfying night’s sleep the night before labour begins.

Pressure Point Therapy

Acupressure, acupuncture and shiatsu involve stimulation of pressure points along the body. The concept is based on the principle that separate lines called meridians supply energy or “chi” to related organs. Pressure points are located where the meridians run close to the surface of the skin allowing access to the flow of “chi”. Scientists agree that activating pressure points encourages the release of endorphins and enkephalins within the body. As well as promoting wellbeing, they induce relaxation and are affective forms of pain control during labour.

Self -help acupressure points useful in preparing for labour:

  • Spleen 6
  • Bladder 32
  • Kidney 3
  • Bladder 67
  • Bladder 23
  • Gall Bladder 21
  • Stomach 36

All these points are to be avoided up until the 34th weeks of pregnancy and then can be used a frequently as desired and during labour. For exact location of these pressure points see Using Acupuncture, Acupressure & Shiatsu

Bach Flower Remedies

The Bach flower remedies are extracts of plant sources preserved in a small amount of alcohol. Although medical research has failed to come up with an explanation of the effectiveness of the Bach remedies, it is accepted that there is a physiological basis for its benefits. Many people use the remedies and swear by their effectiveness. Dr Edward Bach developed his remedies primarily for self-help use. There are several ways in which you can use the remedies. The most common is to put two or three drops under the tongue every four hours to dissolve slowly, or alternatively add two or three drops to water or juice and sip slowly.

The following remedies are particularly useful in preparation for labour:

Rescue Remedy

A compound of five of Bach’s original essences, cherry plum, impatiens, rock rose, clematis and star of Bethlehem. Take a few drops on the tongue every hour during labour. Rescue Remedy can be used as a compress following caesarean section, tears or episiotomy. It is also available in a cream for bruising.

Cherry Plum

For panic and fear of losing control

Clematis

To enhance concentration and focus

Gentian

For confidence and courage

Hornbeam

To renew mental and physical vigour

Olive

For complete exhaustion

Rock Rose

For extreme fear, panic, terror or hysteria

Walnut

To ease all transitions in life and protect from outside influences

Bush Flower Essence

The history of flower essences can be traced back thousands of years with many cultures recognising the benefits of flower essences to treat emotional health and wellbeing. The following essences are useful in the latter stages of pregnancy:

Wild Potato Bush

Wild Potato Bush is recommended to relieve frustrations that may arise due to physical restrictions and limitations. It is also useful to induce sleep when sleeping becomes uncomfortable.

Grey Spider Flower

Encourages calmness, courage and faith. Useful for feelings of fear or terror about the coming birth process.

Kapok Bush

Recommended for use during labour for persistence, strength and determination when you may feel like giving up.

Macrocarpa

Ideal to promote stamina and endurance during labour.

Confid Essence Drops

To inspire confidence in ability to cope.

Emergeency Essence Drops

Recommended to reduce panic, distress and fear, Emergency Essence Drops is a popular combination for use during labour, after difficult labour or where there has been big loss of blood.

Arnica

Arnica is a well-known homeopathic preparation used to heal bruising and promote a rapid recovery. Homeopaths and naturopaths recommend taking arnica once a day as an oral preparation four days before your due-date. Taken as a 30c potency, the dose should be repeated at the start of labour and again just before delivery. It is thought to speed labour and aid muscle relaxation, reducing pain.

Massage

Massage is one of the oldest forms of healing. Both medical professionals and alternative therapists acknowledge the profound benefits of massage. Positive psychological, physiological, emotional and spiritual effects can be achieved.

Massage assists the body’s natural healing process by boosting circulation, improving the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, and draining the lymphatic system of toxins and lactic acid. When combined with acupressure, it is an effective pain relief tool during labour. Ask your birthing partner to deeply massage your lower back, buttocks and feet.

Massage on the lower back and sacrum eases pain and the reproductive system receives blood and nerve supply from lumber 3 and lumbar 4 in the lower spine.

Yoga

Yoga is a relaxing, safe and effective form of exercise during pregnancy in preparation for childbirth.

Janet Balaskas, a pioneer in Active Birthing, incorporates yoga in her philosophy, believing it provides the key to a comfortable and healthy pregnancy, improving strength, vitality and flexibility.

Yoga promotes stillness of mind, creating a greater capability to focus. It relieves stress and anxiety, encourages hormonal balance and increased stamina. Many women consider yoga a most empowering way to prepare for labour, childbirth and becoming a parent. It helps lower blood pressure, aids efficient digestion, strengthens the pelvic floor muscles and reduces constipation.

Practitioners claim one session can promote a bowel movement within the subsequent hour. Yoga also increases muscles tone and helps back pain.

Pilates

Pilates is a body conditioning discipline that focuses on the breath to achieve improved flexibility and strength for the whole body. The emphasis is on developing a strong central core from which to move with particular focus on the abdominal, back and buttocks. Because it is a non-aerobic, no-impact system, the basic exercises are ideal during pregnancy and childbirth because they are gentle and slow.

Pilates helps improve posture and teaches body control and stress management. It strengthens the pelvic floor muscles in preparation for childbirth. Pilates can be practised from the beginning of the second trimester.

Breathing

Breathing techniques are an integral part of labour and childbirth. Most antenatal classes teach a form of breathing that encourages focus and concentration during labour.

There are various types of breathing but there are no rules about how you ought to breathe. When you are in labour your body will tell you what to do. Tune in to your own breathing pattern and do what works for you.

Many women say that adopting a particular breathing pattern has helped them control labour pain almost up until the delivery. In most cases the emphasis is on lengthening the out-breath, following it the very end. Ideally, breathing techniques should be practised from mid pregnancy. 




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