Everything You'll Need for a Successful Postpartum Recovery

Everything You’ll Need for a Successful Postpartum Recovery

Giving birth is an amazing and empowering experience that will forever change you, but what about afterwards? You may have a very detailed birth plan, but the first few days and weeks postpartum is an unscripted time that is just as important. I think that being prepared for what will happen to your body after giving birth will help to make the postpartum recovery process much easier.

As I reflect on my most recent (and quite wonderful) postpartum experience (after baby #5), these are the things that I wish I had known ahead of time with my other postpartum recoveries. I felt completely blindsided by some of these things, and completely unaware of others, and now that I know what I know, I wanted to share the knowledge, resources, and accessories that have been helpful to me. *You may also like to check out my best advice for having a peaceful postpartum recovery here.

1. After Pains

After you have a baby, your uterus will continue to contract until it is back to its normal size. You might not even feel this after your first baby, but with each child after that, the pains will start to get progressively more noticeable. These pains floored me when I first felt them after baby #3 (Ophelia). For the first day or two, it felt like I was in labor all over again! After babies #4 (Julian) and #5 (Jack), I was prepared to deal with the pains.

  • Heating Pad – Applying this over my uterus whenever I would nurse was a lifesaver! I had one plugged in by my bed and one by my favorite nursing chair.
  • After Ease Tincture – Made with crampbark, black haw bark, yarrow flower, and motherwort leaf extract, this tincture made my after pains melt away. You’re supposed to put 2-4 drops in water, but I would just take it straight and repeat the dosage until the pain subsided.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Red raspberry leaf contains an alkaloid called fragrine that helps to tone the muscles in the pelvic region including the uterus (Source). I like drinking this regularly during pregnancy as well as during my postpartum recovery.

2. Bleeding

In the first few days after birth, the lining of the uterus will shed resulting is some pretty heavy bleeding. During this time, diapers are so wonderful! After that, the blood will taper off and turn brown as the placental site heals, but you can still have bursts of blood and spotting for 4-6 weeks. If you notice bright red blood after it has turned brown, it’s probably a sign that you are doing too much. (This is a great resource that does a wonderful job explaining the bleeding from both the lochia and placental site.)

  • Women’s Diapers – These are soooooo nice for the first few days. You don’t have to worry about pads slipping around, ruining your underwear, or leaking onto your bedsheets. Seriously, get these.
  • Overnight Maxi Pads – I have tried several different brands, and these are my favorite. basically, you want something for a heavy flow, super long, and with wings. You can wear these the entire duration of your bleeding, or getting something thinner like this, or smaller like this.
  • Mesh Underwear – This can be nice for the first few days (with a pad of course) so that you don’t have to worry about staining your nice underwear. They pull on really easily too if you’re dealing with a painful recovery.
  • Comfortable Underwear – You want something snug, but not too tight. Maternity underwear are really comfortable. These are nice too if you don’t want maternity underwear.

3. Pooping

Nobody told me about the pains of my first postpartum poop with my first birth, and boy oh boy did I learn my lesson! After Ruby was born, I just chuckled and said, “No,” when they asked me if I’d had a bowel movement at my two day postpartum check up. A couple more days went by until I finally got the urge to poop, and let me tell you, it felt like I was giving birth all over again! What I’ve learned since then is that after birth, it takes the intestinal tract a little while to function normally again, and these are the things that helped me along. (This is a great story about postpartum pooping, and this article has a lot of great information.)

  • Fiberwise – I love this because it comes in single serving packets and makes me go almost immediately. I took this right before I gave birth to make sure I was cleaned out!
  • Psylliam Husk – This helps to bulk up the stool and makes elimination easier. This is good to take this daily after birth until you’re regular again.
  • Prunes – This is another good way to keep you regular.
  • Drink Lots of Water – It’s very important to drink lots and lots of water to get things moving! I like using glass mason jars (I cut out plastic lids to make tops and add a straw) and have them set up around the house or you could get something like this.
  • Eat Lots of Fiber – Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and beans.
  • Avoid Laxatives – While they may provide temporary relief, they are a crutch you don’t want to have to rely on.
  • Hemmorhoids – Thankfully, I’ve never had hemmorhoids, but if you did, you might find relief with a sitz bath and sitz bath salts, hemmorhoid ointment, and hemmorhoid cushion. (*Here’s a good article about how to avoid hemmorhoids and what to do if you have them.)

4. Your Vagina

Without the pressure of the baby on your bladder, you’ll lose the urge to pee temporarily, and to avoid urinary tract infections and damage from a bladder that is too full, you’ll want to remind yourself to pee often. A good rule of thumb is to pee every time before you nurse. I never had an episiotomy, but I did need a few stitches after Ruby’s birth plus I had a lot of what they called “skid marks” inside from what we think was her hand being near her face when she was delivered. The first time I peed, it burned like the dickens, so the following is what I used to help me heal downstairs.

  • Herbal Afterbirth Sitz Bath – After every birth, I have soaked in one of these. This mixture is full of healing herbs and salts and is a great way to treat your whole body after birth. I always enjoy nursing my new babes in the bath, and they love being in the water.
  • Perineal Cold Packs – You crack these to release the cold inside and they also double as a maxi pad. They provide great relief, but I can’t imagine needing more than a handful.
  • Witch Hazel on Pads – Witch hazel extract is an astringent or hydrosol made from the witch hazel shrub and used to treat a variety of skin problems. After Ruby, I put it on my pads, put my pads in the freezer, and then used them like a normal pad.
  • Repair Spray – This spray is full of natural healing oils and herbs and will help your nether regions to heal.
  • Peri Bottle – Fill the bottle with warm water and spray on your vagina while you pee to relieve any stinging or burning.
  • Bactine – This provides pain relief, cleans the area, and helps with healing. After Ruby’s birth, I sprayed on my vagina after peeing.
  • Arnica Tablets – These are a natural way to deal with the pain of swelling and inflammation.

5. Sleeping

The first two nights of sleeping after birth will be crazy as you adjust to life with your tiny human being outside of your body rather than inside. The first night you’ll be flooded with endorphins and may feel too excited to sleep, but as soon as you settle in, you’ll crash and your baby will be so tired that you’ll probably get a nice chunk of rest. You’ll also sweat like crazy for the first two nights and for up to two weeks as your body gets rid of the extra water it was retaining. This always made me either really hot or really cold and I’ve enjoyed either sleeping with a robe or shrouded in extra blankets that I could remove. *In this article, I want the focus to be on the mamas, so if you want to see all of my sleep recommendations for babies, check out my favorite baby items blog.

  • Salt Lamp – Keep this by your bedside or wherever you’ll be nursing in the night so that you can see what you’re doing without fully waking up or waking up your baby.
  • Lots of Pillows – I like making a big tower of pillows to sleep on to support my back and arms for nursing in the night.
  • Silkies – Not only do I love wrapping up my babies in my handmade silky blankets, but when I’m falling asleep while nursing and my arms are cold, these are great. If you don’t have any silkies, I highly recommend keeping a few small throw blankets like this nearby while you sleep.
  • Robe – I love having a robe like this to sleep in during the nights when my top half is shivering, and I love wearing it around the house – especially for the big pockets!
  • Sleeping Shorts – I love my mesh shorts with pockets for sleeping. They are super comfortable, and I like being able to carry my cell phone, baby monitor, etc. in my pockets.

6. Breastfeeding

I’ve heard many first time moms wonder if they need to do anything to “toughen up” their nipples, and I would say the answer to that is no. It may feel a little strange at first and there may even be a little bit of pain when your baby first latches on (for like 5-10 seconds), but it should subside after that. If it doesn’t, it’s an indication that something else is wrong (thrush, bad latch, etc.). By the time your baby is about two weeks old, your nipples should be used to nursing.

Your breasts will produce colostrum for the first few days, and then on day three or four, your milk will come in. You will feel engorged and beyond full, but I would recommend resisting the urge to pump to relieve the pressure and instead let your baby nurse as often as he or she needs otherwise you’ll be dealing with oversupply, engorged breasts, and possible mastitis. *See my blog about breastfeeding for more information about breastfeeding and my baby items blog for all of my favorite breastfeeding items.

  • Nipple Cream – If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
  • Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions.
  • My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
  • Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing on any rocking chair.

7. Nursing Clothes

I don’t know if this is a me thing or an everyone thing, but my nipples get really sensitive when I first start breastfeeding and having a loose fitting shirt that lightly brushes against them is enough to drive me mad! So I always like to wear things that give me a little pressure and bind them in. At night, I’m looking for clothing that can easily let me nurse while half asleep, and during the day, I’m looking for clothing that will prevent leaking and keep my nipples out of sight.

  • Sleeping Bra – I love sleeping with this bra because it protects my nipples and is very easy to get boob access when half asleep.
  • Tank Top – I love sleeping in a long tank top like this. I’ll either pull the top down or lift it up to nurse.
  • Nursing Tank Top with Built in Bra – I am really in love with this tank top and wear it during the day instead of a bra. I love the padded cups that really cover my nipples and catch any leaks, I love how long it is and how it covers the belly when I lift up my shirt to nurse, and I love the spandex material and snug fit. You can also buy just the bra.
  • Nursing Tank without the Padding – While this doesn’t cover the nipples as well, it’s still really comfortable and a great bra alternative for around the house.
  • Nursing Hoodie – There aren’t many nursing shirts out there that I like, but this one looks really cool!

8. Drinks

I cannot stress enough the importance of putting coffee aside when you are breastfeeding, especially in the first three months. Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed on to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby).

With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times. Here are my favorite alternatives to coffee plus my other favorite drinks.

  • Teeccino  – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
  • Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
  • Glass Water Bottle – Of course drinking lots of water (especially while breastfeeding) is very important.

9. Babywearing

It takes about 4-6 months for a baby to hold its head up on its own, so having a special carrier around to keep your baby close to you and support his or head will be much appreciated. With a nice carrier, your baby can stay close to you while you get a few things done with both hands, and trust me, you’ll need this! The following carriers are specifically beneficial for newborns.

  • Ring Sling – A friend of mine recently got this for me, and I love it! It’s easy to put on and carry a small infant around in. (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
  • Moby Wrap – I have enjoyed using this with every one of our babies. I love the way it snugly hugs my babies into my chest and allows my hands to be free. (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
  • Ergo with Infant Insert – This carrier provides the best back support of any carrier. It’s best used for older babies and toddlers, but the infant insert makes it a perfect fit for small babies too! (See how to use one with a newborn here.)

10. Postpartum Depression

The sudden drop in estrogen, progesterone, and endorphins after birth is a huge hormone crash that can lead to postpartum depression after birth. The surge of oxytocin (the love hormone) that comes after birth may be enough to counteract this, but if not, here are some things that can help to lift your mood. Postpartum depression can also hit long after birth as well…especially during weaning. *For more information about postpartum depression, check out my article here.

  • Placenta Pills – By steaming, dehydrating, and pulverizing the placenta, you can take it in the form of a pill. Women who take them report balanced hormones, more energy (probably from the extra iron), feeling happier and more relaxed, increased milk production, less post natal bleeding, and better sleeping. You can make your own or find a midwife or doula to do it. I have really enjoyed doing this with my last three placentas.
  • Baby Blues Mood Support – This powerful combination of herbs helps to balance hormones and improve a new mother’s mood after birth.
  • St. Johns Wort – This is a natural way to reduce stress anxiety. It may be a good idea to wait until your baby is over two months old (if breastfeeding) before taking (Source).
  • Motherwort Extract – A few drops in water will help with anxiety.

11. Belly Binding

After my second pregnancy, I got a really bad case of diastisis recti (where the stomach muscles separate) and never really figured out how to heal it until after my third pregnancy. Our midwife pointed out that it’s not really possible for the muscles to heal if they’re not touching, and I was like duh, how had I not known that before? After Elliot, I was doing all of these sit ups and such, and they were just making things worse, but after Ophelia, I used a girdle to bring the muscles together, did some appropriate exercises, and healed my diastisis recti within three months.

I did a lot of research about belly binding and have tried many different girdles. I’ll tell you right now that the cheap ones are a waste of money. These Bellefit girdles may seem expensive, but for how well they work, they are worth every penny! I like wearing mine as soon as possible after birth for as long as I can stand it (usually by day 3 or 4 postpartum). I generally start out a few hours a day, then work up to half a day, the entire day, and even at night if I’m feeling super motivated.

  • Pull Up Girdle – I am a pretty average frame/build and the medium worked well for me. The pull up is the easiest and most comfortable, but the sides do dig in a bit so I wear mine with one of my nursing tank tops underneath.
  • Corset Girdle – Once the pull up started not being very tight, I purchased a size small corset girdle. It takes a while to get everything hooked, but it can get much tighter than the pull up and is a good next step to healing. You can also get one with a side zipper, but I’ve never personally tried it, and it’s the most expensive one.
  • Exercises – This video series is designed to specifically heal diastasis recti. It is easy to follow and really works.

12. Chiropractor

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the chiropractor until baby #5, but boy am I glad I did! With Jack being posterior, my hips and lower back were still killing me a week after birth. After one adjustment, my pain melted away. I just wish I had made an appointment before the birth (specifically with the Webster Technique), it probably would have helped Jack to get into a better position.

I also got an adjustment for Jack, and it was so wonderful! I highly recommend an adjustment for all newborns! Going through the birth canal can be rough on a little one’s alignment. Jack was having trouble nursing on the left side, but after his adjustment (which was very gentle by the way), he was even more calm and nursed beautifully on both sides.

In Conclusion

I hope that this has been helpful in preparing you for your postpartum experience. It’s so easy to get hung up on just preparing for the birth, but by being just as prepared for this postpartum recovery time, it will help to ensure that it is as pleasant as possible. You only get one first chance to recover, so make it a good one!

If you’re reading this before you give birth and plan on having a baby shower, consider adding your favorite items to your baby registry (Create an Amazon Baby Registry). If you’re not an Amazon Prime member already, check out Amazon Family where you can get things like 20% of diapers (Join Amazon Family 30-Day Free Trial). You can also give someone the gift of Amazon Prime (Give the Gift of Amazon Prime).*I get commissions on each of these promotions, so if you choose to take advantage of these offers, thank you for supporting me!

Our Fifth Born: Jack's Home Birth Story

Our Fifth Born: Jack’s Home Birth Story

 Jack Phoenix Maaser

Born: 3-3-2017 (Friday)

Time: 4:54 a.m.

Measurements: 7 lbs 9 oz , 21.5 inches long, 13.5 cm head circumference

In a lot of ways, I view Jack as a miracle or a gift. We really thought we were done with four children and even traded in our 15 passenger van for a bells and whistles minivan thinking that the diaphragm would keep us safe. It did not, however, and the entire pregnancy, birth, and time with our sweet little Jack has seemed so surreal, as if it were all part of a dream that I never want to awaken from. He is our bonus child. (Read our thoughts about finding out we were pregnant for baby #5 here.)

The Pregnancy

Finding out we were pregnant this time around was a shock, miracle, joy, and beautiful surprise. As we began making preparations for prenatal care and birth, we were thrilled that we would actually be having another baby in the same home and with the same midwives for the first time ever. (Ruby was born at the Mountain Midwifery Center in Colorado, Elliot was born at our condo in Colorado attended by DeAna Durbin, Ophelia was born at our rented Reed City home attended by Sarah Badger with Simply Born from Grand Rapids, and Julian was born here.) Laurie Zoyiopoulos with Faithful Guardians Midwifery and Jillian Bennett now with Family Tree Maternity attended Julian’s birth and would also be attending us during this new journey as well.

Just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was so busy with all of our kids, routine, and life, that I kept forgetting that I was pregnant! Life just carried on with the exception of a few additional supplements and a more careful diet. Also, just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was measuring quite large at first, so we scheduled an ultrasound to be sure there was only one baby in there. I was feeling a lot of morning sickness and fatigue, but it wasn’t because I was having twins, it was just that I needed more sleep and more food! I always love the idea of twins, but the reality scares me, and I was actually quite relieved that it would be just one.

The ultrasound showed that everything was normal and that my expected due date was Feb. 18th (we predicted Feb. 14th, so pretty close). Based on the way I was feeling and what I was craving, I was CERTAIN it would be a girl, but at our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that we would be having a boy! We had never had two genders in a row and were very excited for Julian to have a little buddy.

The entire pregnancy flew by, and I started to feel like being pregnant was just a part of who I was going to be for all of eternity.

But just like with all of my other pregnancies at about 35 weeks along, I started feeling Braxton Hicks contractions very regularly. It made me fear that I would go into labor early and be forced into a hospital delivery, and all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks that this baby was coming soon! I started getting more serious about doing my prenatal yoga videos, tackled a deep cleaning/organizing project just about every day, started gathering all of my birth and baby things, and most importantly, I started to visualize what my birth would be like.

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

As my due date drew closer, I was relieved that my little guy had made it full term, but devastated to see that everyone in our family was getting sick when we had worked so hard to keep everyone healthy throughout my entire pregnancy. Scott got a REALLY bad stomach virus that made him miss a bunch of work and left him bedridden. I kept feeling like labor was right around the corner and thankfully my mom was able to stay with us and help me around the house until he was better.

We viewed each day that labor didn’t come as a gift that allowed everyone to gradually get better, for my mom and I to tackle more and more cleaning projects, and for our sweet little boy to continue to grow stronger inside my womb.

When I was about a week overdue, Scott got really sick again with a different virus that once again left him bedridden and with a high fever. At this point, I was getting a little mad. I mean, we were eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking high quality supplements…and I couldn’t figure out why he was not only getting sick repeatedly, but worse than I had ever seen him before.

It wasn’t until after the birth when I was rereading our old birth stories and noticed that the exact same thing happened to him right before Julian’s birth, and then it dawned on me the amount of stress he was under and how it really took a toll on his immune system. Seeing the way he is so calm and at ease now makes hindsight 20/20 as I look back and see all of the signs that he was getting stressed out. I mean, not only was he nonstop busy at work, but to have something looming in the future that is so life changing and that comes with such a huge responsibility, but you have no idea WHEN it is going to happen is enough to drive anyone mad!

37 Weeks Pregnant

37 Weeks Pregnant

At any rate, up until about 37 weeks, I would have truly been content to stay pregnant forever, but after that, things started getting really uncomfortable, sleep was difficult, my back was killing me, none of my clothes were fitting, my leg cramps were always just one bad stretch away, I was always cramping from Braxton Hicks and out of breath, and I was just ready for it to be done. As I saw my due date come and go, there was a part of me that was excited to tackle the birth and anxious to finally meet our sweet little guy, but happy at the same time knowing that he needed this extra time to grow and that he would come when he was ready.

Even though people kept asking me when I would be getting induced, I knew that being overdue wasn’t a bad thing, especially since the midwives were continuously monitoring me to make sure everything looked good.

Leading Up to Labor

Scott came home from work about an hour early on Monday (Feb. 27th) feeling awful with a high fever. I put him to bed for the rest of the afternoon and we hoped that with the extra rest he would be feeling better on Tuesday. But on Tuesday he felt just as bad, and at 10 days overdue, I didn’t know how much longer our son could wait to be born! I was getting a little panicky because I really and truly didn’t think I could go through labor without Scott by my side, and I could feel that things were getting closer. All of the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having left me at about 80% effaced, at least 3 cm dilated, and I could feel that he was very low.

I mean, at some point, it felt like he was just going to fall out!

Scott took Wednesday off as well and was finally starting to feel better. That night, I was feeling a lot of cramping and thought things might progress in the night – but they didn’t. We figured that it was probably best for Scott to take Thursday off to ensure a complete recovery and so that he could watch the kids while I went to my chiropractor visit on Thursday at noon. I was trying everything I could to get our little guy out of his posterior position, but nothing was working, and I started to wonder if his position was preventing labor from getting started. My midwife, Jillian, thought that a chiropractor visit would help us get him into an optimal position. We had planned on keeping the big kids home from school on Thursday, but as luck would have it, school was canceled due to the snow and ice!

Early Labor

At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday (March 2nd), I texted my mom to say that my contractions were coming back, but that it still felt like it would be quite a while yet. She said she was caught up at work and could come and just hang out with the kids even if things didn’t happen for awhile. When she got here and took over, I went and hid in our room to bounce on my ball during contractions and was determined to finish my blog about being overdue (12 days at this point) before our baby was born. Scott helped me edit my final draft, and I got it published just in time!

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

All morning, my contractions were very erratic and had no pattern. It felt like labor was in a cycle where it was continuously starting and stopping, and it was really messing with my mind. I even wondered if what I was going through was prodromal labor (labor that starts and stops…more intense than just Braxton Hicks contractions), and it made me feel like I was stuck in a loop that would repeat endlessly like in Groundhog’s Day.

It was nice having my mom around, all of the kids home, and Scott there to keep me distracted. At one point, Scott had all of the kids outside and was pulling them in the sled in our new (used) riding lawnmower, and I decided to take over. There is definitely something to be said for the whole “bumpy car ride” getting labor started, and I could feel my contractions spurred on with each jarring bump!

After that, Scott and I stayed bundled up and went for a walk to Vics to get a few groceries while my mom watched the kids. It felt like so many other pregnancies when we would try to “walk them out”. (We even went to Vics when I was in early labor with Julian!) Each contraction that came would make me stop, and Scott was there to support me through each one.

Walking to Vics

Walking to Vics

 

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says "She's a thing of beauty"...love that man!

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says “She’s a thing of beauty”…love that man!

When we came home and still nothing was progressing, I started feeling really discouraged. I had been keeping my midwife, Jillian, in the loop and she really lifted me up when I started messaging her with all of my fears (i.e. What if the baby is posterior? What if he is stuck on my pubic bone? Why am I starting and stopping labor? What if I never give birth? etc.). I told her how I was trying everything under the sun to get him to turn if he was posterior, and she said that she saw no reasons for concern, and that I was doing all of the right things. This helped me to release most of my frustration, anxiety, and pending panic.

My mom took Julian and Elliot for an excursion to McDonalds which left the house considerably quieter with just Ruby and Ophelia who were playing independently. Then our friend LeeAnn showed up to deliver our milk, and even though I slipped into our bedroom to bounce on my ball during contractions, I stopped thinking about whether or not I was in labor. It felt like it was just another day as I putzed around in the kitchen while LeeAnn told Scott about her recent cruise. Then my dad stopped by, on his way home from doing business up in the U.P., my mom brought Julian and Elliot back from McDonalds, and as the house became full of tickles, laughter, and love, my contractions seemed to have been put on the back burner and totally subsided.

When my dad was getting ready to leave, I encouraged my mom to go home as well,

“I really don’t think anything is going to happen for awhile,”

I told her with defeat, but she insisted on staying nonetheless. By the time we put the kids to bed, my mom was already tucked in for sleep. The kids were very helpful during our bedtime routine.

After we put the kids to bed, Scott and I stayed up to watch most of La La Land and then headed off to bed around 10:00 p.m. I was starting to feel contractions again, but I just wanted to get Scott into bed so that he would be well rested if indeed the end was near. Even though I didn’t think that I would be able to fall asleep, I did. When the contractions came, they were enough to wake me up and I had to moan softly, but not get me out of bed.

Finally at about 11:30 p.m. I couldn’t take lying in bed anymore. Not only were the contractions getting too strong, but I suddenly realized that I hadn’t pooped yet that day (TMI maybe, but hey this is a birth story…what did you expect?). So first things first, I drank a Fiberwise and then putzed around the kitchen until I needed to poop. After that, the contractions started coming on stronger and more quickly. I even had to get on my hands and knees to rock through them. It was really sweet though because our cat Storybelle would crawl under my belly as I did this, and focusing on the softness of her fur really distracted me and made the pain melt away.

After a particularly painful contraction, I hurried into our bedroom to grab my birthing ball and came out to the living room to watch the parts of La La Land that we had skipped. (Sidenote: I really love how this movie shows how love and family are more important than a career and dreams of individual happiness via external achievements.) I sat behind the couch in our living room, bouncing on my ball, watching the movie, and moaning softly with each contraction.

At about 1:30 a.m., I started to feel like I needed Scott’s support. The contractions were getting a bit more painful, but with all of the delays, I still wasn’t convinced that anything was really going to happen. When I gently woke up Scott and said,

“I need you now. I can’t do this alone anymore,”

he bolted out of bed like it was a fire drill and stumbled into his sweat pants and shirt in about 3 seconds. I gathered up a nightgown, told Scott to grab my birthing kit box, and we crept past a soundly sleeping Elliot and out into the living room.

As Scott sat on the couch watching me expectantly, I almost felt foolish when after minutes and minutes nothing was happening. He asked me if I had called the midwives yet, to which I curtly responded,

“Now with you here, I don’t think anything is going to happen again.”

But seconds later…something did.

Active Labor

All of a sudden, the waves of a very powerful contraction washed over me, and I yelled to Scott, “My hips!” He immediately sprang into action and expertly began rubbing my hips and back like he had done with every other birth. The pressure from his hands was strong and soothing and helped to dull the pain of the contraction, but it was still painful enough that I moaned loudly. When it was over, Scott sternly said,

“You need to call the midwives now! This could be happening fast!”

After another powerful contraction, I called Jillian and told her that things were happening and that they were happening fast.

“We might have the baby before you get here!” I stammered while completely failing to sound calm.

In between contractions, Scott started laying down chux pads while I unpacked the birth kit. As I visualized giving birth unassisted, my mind switched from just getting through each contraction to worrying about all of the possible things that could go wrong. (Would he get stuck in the birth canal? How could I get him to rotate if he was indeed posterior? What if he got tangled in the cord on the way out? etc.) Jillian called me when she was on the road (later she told me she could hear the panic in my voice) and reassured me that they were on the way and to let her know if we needed her to walk us through anything.

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laurie and Jillian were each about 45 minutes away on a good day and now the roads were icy and it was the middle of the night. But just knowing that they were on their way put my mind at ease, and I went back to focusing on my Enya mix and getting through one contraction at a time. In between contractions, the pain melted away, and I continued putzing around. I really wanted to get more videos of me going through contractions and of the birth, but this (below) is all that we managed to record!

Laurie was the first to walk through the door at 2:30 a.m., and Scott and I joked that she was our babysitter there to give us a night on the town. She unpacked her bag and checked on me right away. The baby’s heart rate was good and after watching me have a contraction, I could tell by the way that she hovered that she thought things would be happening soon. Jillian arrived shortly after Laurie and after about twenty minutes, their assistants Sarah and Stephanie arrived. It was about 3:00 a.m. at this point, and frankly, I was completely surprised that he hadn’t been born yet.

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Transition

Transition is defined as the dilation of the cervix from 8 cm to 10 cm and typically lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours with really intense contractions typically occurring every 2 minutes and lasting from 60-90 seconds. It’s hard to say when transition really began for me because right up until the end, my contractions were anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes apart and lasting about a minute. But even with my erratic pattern of contractions, I could tell with an internal check that I was pretty much dilated all of the way and just waiting for that pushing sensation.

The midwives kept coming in to check on me to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing, and at one point it dropped to 116 beats per minute (from about 138 I think). Scott knew that with the lowered heart rate, I needed to pick up the pace. He gently encouraged me to walk around in between contractions to get things going, and I did so with shuffled feet and tearful eyes.

With every contraction, Scott was right there by my side to expertly massage my hips and back, but it wasn’t making the pain melt away like it had with all of my other births. As each contraction came and went, I was getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t getting the urge to push. I started to feel a sense of panic creep into my psyche as once again that feeling of being stuck in this moment for ever and ever and ever penetrated every ounce of my being.

The contractions were wearing on me, and I started crying when they came, not sure how much longer I would be able to hang on. “Why am I not feeling the urge to push???” I asked in exasperation. The midwives could tell I was having a hard time, and even though the baby’s heart rate was back to normal, they wanted to encourage me to move things along. I felt like I need to do something different, but I didn’t know what. I asked Jillian if I should squat she said, “NO!” (*If the baby was posterior…which we weren’t sure of at this point, but suspected, then squatting would have made him descend posterior and could have led to over an hour of intense pushing.)

Jillian recommended instead that with the next contraction I get on my hands and knees and sway my hips back and forth. So with the next contraction, I did just that.

With my hands out in front of me and my butt up in the air, I gently swayed my hips back and forth, and as I did, I felt his head turn about 90 degrees in my pelvis.

The pain was excruciating beyond all measure of belief, yet I somehow managed to bring my hands up to the edge of the couch and buried my face in the cushions so that I could scream with reckless abandon. Scott was still expertly massaging my hips and back, but at this point, nothing was helping with the pain.

It felt as though time was standing still and this pain and this moment were somehow holding me captive to live in this experience for all of eternity. But then a little voice inside me whispered,

“I promise that this is the last time you’ll ever have to do this.”

And somehow knowing that this would be the last time ever, gave me the grit to see that the end was near.

Birth

The previous contraction was about 90 seconds of the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life, and after that I was immediately racked with another one.

I felt like I was spinning out of control and that my body was being turned inside out, but I kept telling myself over and over that this would be the last time and that it was almost over.

With a pop and a gush, my water broke, and FINALLY I got the urge to push. It was such a relief!!! The feeling of his head coming down the birth canal consumed the cognition of every cell in my body, and I pushed with all of my might like a sprinter reaching desperately to break the final ribbon at the finish line.

I heard everyone frantically clamoring behind me trying to process the sudden uptick in the pace of things. Jillian asked Scott (who was still massaging my hips while I was on my hands and knees) if he wanted to catch the baby. “Yes, of course!” he said.

“Well then get ready,” said Jillian, “here comes the head!”

Scott looked down in shock to see that yes indeed here came his head! With every other birth, after the head is delivered I have waited until the next contraction to push out the rest of the body, but I just wanted things to be over so badly this time that I reached into my primal core and used the reserves of all the strength I have ever saved to push his entire body out in one go…and so out came his head, shoulders, and hips all in one big strong push.

After the Birth

After he was delivered, I awkwardly spun around while Scott listened to directions for how to hand him through my legs and up to my chest. I glanced at Jillian and noticed the look of concern on her face when he didn’t cry right away. Typically, the passage through the birth canal will help to aspirate the lungs, but with our little guy coming out so quickly, he was having difficulty taking his first breath. With the cord tugging at the placenta still buried inside of me, I brought him up as far as I could and patted his back while Jillian tickled his feet and massaged him a bit trying to get him to cough or cry.

After the longest 20 seconds of my life, he coughed a wet raspy cough, gave a little cry, and I could immediately see him pink up. Right away, I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.

I nestled him to my bosom, skin to skin, and finally said hello to my son. I cannot even tell you in words the feeling of elation, wonder, and joy upon first meeting a child after getting to know him over nine long months in every way possible except for sight. To see his little body, sweet face, and big eyes looking up at me, recognizing my voice, and feeling a complete flood of oxytocin love hormones as snuggled on my chest rooting for my breast, well it was enough joy to fill a thousand lifetimes with happiness. When I looked at our little boy and felt his warmth, I caught a glimpse of him taking his first steps, learning to ride a bike, falling in love, having children of his own, and being by his side every step of the way. What an endless miracle a new life is!

Scott quickly ran to wake up Ruby who had been anxiously waiting for this day to come. She came and sat down beside me simply in awe of her new little brother. I suddenly got the urge to deliver the placenta, and I could see her eyes widen in shock as she watched it come out. When the cord had stopped pulsing, the midwives clamped it in two places and handed Ruby a pair of special scissors. With one snip, a little blood spurted out and with a some encouragement, she went back in for two more snips to complete the job.

In that moment, I saw Ruby’s maternal instincts awaken and blossom…she was so tender and loving, and it made me remember what it was like to cut my sister’s umbilical cord some 30 years ago. It was a moment of pride for me and a special memory that I have not only cherished but that has helped to shape me into the person I am today.

Ruby Cutting the Cord

Ruby Cutting the Cord

The midwives helped me up to sit on a chux pad lined couch, and we gathered around our son as he latched on to nurse. I asked Scott to wake up my mom, and she was thrilled to meet her grandson! We enjoyed telling her all of the details of the birth, and she couldn’t believe that she had slept through it all! When we noticed the meconium poop all over our nice swaddling cloths, we realized we should have put him in a diaper. So we quickly cleaned him up, put him in a diaper, and continued to bask in the glow of what had just taken place.

Ruby, Scott, Jack, and I

Ruby, Me, Scott, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Baby Jack

Baby Jack

While Ruby and my mom went to boil the herbs for my herbal bath, Scott and I talked about names. We originally really liked the name Reed and thought about Reed Scott or Reggie Reed. We also liked the names Kurt, Easton, Bradbury, Landen (Ruby’s idea), and Alex or Alexander (Elliot’s idea). But when we were driving to Chicago for Christmas, we heard one of our favorite bands come on shuffle right while we were passing under an overpass with the street name the same as the band’s name…Phoenix. We both looked at each other with eyes wide saying, “It’s perfect!” But then we remembered some friends of ours had a son named Phoenix, so we were torn. A few weeks later, Scott finished a Steven King book about JFK whose nickname was Jack. He really loved the story and we have both always been in awe of JFK, not to mention Jack White from the White Stripes and all of the nursery rhymes featuring Jack. Plus, Jack has such a versatile and regal resonance to it that can allow for any path that our son may choose in life.

When we met our little boy, we knew that the name Jack Phoenix Maaser suited him perfectly.

Jack passed the newborn screening with flying colors, and after inspecting him (practically no vernix, just a little in the crease of his thigh) and seeing his placenta (many spots of calcification showing its age), we knew that he was definitely overdue!

Newborn Screening

Newborn Screening (Me with a pinkie in his mouth, Stephanie checking him over, my mom watching, and Sarah charting)

After going over some information with the midwives, Jack and I took a nice relaxing herbal bath. He nursed hungrily on both sides and soon we were all tucked in bed right as the sun was rising. Ruby cuddled up inbetween us as we reflected on the birth.

After awhile, she went to go play, Scott and I stayed in bed to sleep, and my mom stayed up to take care of all of the kids as they woke up one by one. (We had the big kids miss school.) I was prepared this time around with my After Ease Tincture and a heating pad to help with the after pains (which started to become tremendously painful after baby #3.)

Family Cuddles with Jack

Family Cuddles with Jack

At about 9:30 a.m., Elliot crept into our room like he always does on the weekends to cuddle us in bed, and he was thrilled beyond belief to discover that there was a baby in there with us! He was so sweet and kind as he snuggled up to his new little brother, and then he ran through the house saying, “There’s a baby! Mom had her baby!” The other kids soon came in after that. Ophelia was so happy to see the baby, but right away wanted to call him Jude (her friend Adeline’s little brother’s name) and said, “Awwww, he really likes you!” Julian was excited too and said, “That’s a baby in mom’s tummy!” When Ruby came to cuddle us, she didn’t leave for hours, and we had a very sweet conversation. Scott and I were able to take another nap and woke up feeling very rested. My mom stayed long enough to help put the kids to bed, and then she went home. Life was feeling very sweet.

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

Life with Jack

Since Jack was born on Friday, we were all happy to head into the weekend together. Scott took over the house on Saturday and let me rest and stay in bed. On Sunday, we had our two day visit from Jillian. Jack was looking really good, and Jillian was happy to see that I was resting and mostly staying in bed. (I can’t even tell you how amazing it has been to have had all pre and post natal appointments at our home.) Most babies lose weight at first and then come back to their birth weight by two weeks, but Jack had already gained 3 ounces! I was kind of having difficulty getting him to latch at first (which all started right after we gave him a pinkie to suck on, which soothed him at the time, but probably created a bit of nipple confusion), and so I had been pumping and feeding him colostrum in a dropper which probably really helped him to gain some weight!

Jillian Weighing Jack

Jillian Weighing Jack

Just like after Julian’s birth (and all of the others probably), but to a WAY worse extent, my hips and lower back/top of my butt were in terrible pain following the birth. This made any type of sitting very painful and difficult. (Someday when I’m fully recovered, I’d like Scott to rub me again like he did towards the end of the birth to see just how hard it was.) At any rate, after going through about 3 hours of intense contractions with Scott’s special hip, back, and butt rubs plus going through a posterior labor, it just took a toll on me. When my midwife suggested a chiropractor visit, I was determined to get an appointment. We went to Family Chiropractic Health Center with Dr. Tracy Morningstar, and I was overjoyed that she was able to bring my pain level down significantly and immediately. (My pelvis was really out of whack.) She was also able to do some work on Jack who was having trouble latching on the left side, and he went from being a calm baby to the calmest baby ever who could now nurse on both sides!

Jack at the Chiropractor

Jack at the Chiropractor

Not only has Jack been our sweet little miracle bonus baby, but he has been the easiest baby, and what a wonderful gift that is to have with baby #5! He nurses well, poops and pees like a champ, is alert and awake during the day, sleeps wonderfully all night, sleeps in most days so I can shower, naps wonderfully, takes a pacifier, doesn’t spit up, hardly ever cries, and brings joy to every single member of our family and everyone he meets.

We love you Jack Phoenix Maaser! Welcome to the family.

Jack Phoenix Maaser

Jack Phoenix Maaser

What To Do When You’re Overdue

So here I am, 12 days overdue with baby #5, and of course I’m feeling a crazy mixture of emotions that range everywhere from excitement to fear.

I’m full of anticipation and wonder as I think about meeting my sweet little boy, but I’m also very thankful for every day that he decides to stay put because I know that he’s active, growing, and doing well while I’m busy taking care of a sick household.

When I was ten days overdue with Elliot (our second), we were living in Colorado, and they had a law about not being able to have a home birth when you were past two weeks overdue. That (in addition to the fact that I was working full time and had limited maternity leave that I was using up with the end of my pregnancy) motivated me to try everything under the sun to get him out (including castor oil…do not do this ever!!!).

Now with this pregnancy, I am a stay at home mom with no agenda or timeline and no laws about timing out of a home birth. The midwives and I continuously monitor things to make sure he is still growing, active, and that I continue to remain healthy, but now as I approach the two week mark of being overdue, I want to be prepared if I DO need to “encourage” him to come out and know with certainty what my risks and options are.

How is a Due Date Calculated?

Before I get into induction methods and such, I wanted to reflect on the accuracy of a “due date” and take a minute to look at where it came from.

A woman’s due date is calculated by Naegele’s rule, which states that the due date should be approximately 280 days (40 weeks) from the start of the last menstrual period. The median found by Naegele’s rule merely shows that half of all births occur before 280 days and half occur after with birth data typically clustering around the “due date”.

A standard deviation diagram of human gestation showing the curve's center is at 280 days (40 weeks) past the last menstrual period.

A standard deviation diagram of human gestation showing the curve’s center is at 280 days (40 weeks) past the last menstrual period. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, 2009, Nasha)

Naegele’s rule doesn’t take into consideration that women don’t always have menstrual cycles lasting 28 days with ovulation occurring precisely on day 14, so those with a shorter cycle could have a shorter pregnancy and those with a longer cycle could have a longer pregnancy. In addition, studies show that first time mothers are more likely to be overdue and that women of African and Asian descent tend to deliver about a week before Caucasian mothers (Source).

Ultrasounds used to measure the size of the developing embryo before the 12th week of pregnancy are 95% accurate within an error margin of six days and those in the second trimester have an an error margin of 8 days.

When I was in my tenth week of pregnancy, we had an ultrasound (basically because I was wondering if we were having twins…like I do!) and they gave us a due date of Feb. 18th. So if you add six days to that and then two weeks, that would make March 10th as my latest date of arrival. Being that it’s only March 2nd right now, I’ve still got plenty of time!

Risks of Being Overdue

No one really expects to give birth ON their due date (only 5% are in fact), but with most births being clustered around that time, when you reach one week overdue, it becomes common practice for strangers to start telling the mother that she should eat spicy food/go for walks/have sex, and at two weeks overdue, an induction is absolutely expected. Am I right?

So why do we expect induction at two weeks past the due date anyways? Well, in one case, researchers looked at ten studies involving 6,000 women, and they found that when labor was not induced after a certain time, about 9 out of 3,000 babies died and when labor was induced after 41 completed weeks of pregnancy, 1 out of 3,000 babies died. So basically, without knowing any other factors in these individual cases, we could say that inducing labor after 41 weeks of labor reduces the chances of infant death by 8.

When looking at the risks to the baby when the mother is overdue, these are the main concerns (Source):

  • Aging Placenta – The main risk with being overdue is that the placenta might stop providing the baby with the nutrients or oxygen that he or she needs.
  • Infections – The risk of infections in the womb and unexpected complications during childbirth increases too.
  • Meconium Aspiration – The risk of breathing in meconium is decreased with induction (from 11 out of 1,000 to 7 out of 1,000). When the baby’s bowl contents are released into the amniotic fluid during labor and the baby becomes distressed, he or she may breathe in the meconium and it can cause breathing problems.
  • Stillbirth – The risk of stillbirth between 37 and 42 weeks is 2 to 3 per 1,000 deliveries and increases slightly to 4 to 7 per 1,000 past 42 weeks (Source).
  • Health Problems with the Mother – If the mother is overdue and at risk for preeclempsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or any other health complications, it could lead to an emergency Cesarean section.
  • Baby is Too Big – Macrosomia is the medical term for a big baby and some researchers consider babies over 8 lbs. 13 oz. to be big while others say anything over 9 lbs. 15 oz. is big. Trying to predict whether or not a baby will be “big” can be difficult and researchers have found that ultrasounds are only accurate at predicting “big babies” 50% of the time and that women suspected of having “big babies” have higher inductions, Cesarean sections, and maternal complications. If you don’t have type 1, 2, or gestational diabetes, then the risks of vaginally delivering a “big baby” (such as perineal tears and shoulder dystocia) are not statistically significant to warrant any intervention (Source…this is a good one!).

I have heard many stories of women who have had “ten month pregnancies” and they feel like their babies just needed to “cook” longer. Many practitioners feel that we should actually be advocating for 43 weeks to be considered the definition of late. Basically, reaching your due date (or getting close to it) is not reason enough to force an induction.

Making Sure Everything is Safe

Although some sources say that medical examinations are not typically able to detect problems when women go past their due date (and use this as justification for inducing ALL women who go past their due date), there are several things that my midwives check for to ensure the safety of both myself and my overdue baby.

  • Fetal Kick Count – This is the most effective assurance that the baby is doing fine. Every baby will have his or her own patterns of movement, and if a mother is in tune with the times, duration, and frequency that her baby moves, that is the best way to ensure that everything is fine. Basically, when your baby is active, you should feel at least ten movements in two hours (Source).
  • Fundal Height – The measurement from the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus is the fundal height. After 16 weeks of pregnancy, your fundal height measurement (in centimeters) should match the number of weeks you’ve been pregnant. So if you’re 40 weeks, you should measure 40 cm. Just keep in mind that you will lose some ground when the baby drops!
  • Low Amniotic Fluid Levels – This is known as oligohydramnios and affects about 12% of pregnancies that go past 41 weeks. Low levels of amniotic fluid could be an indication of declining placental function and lead to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) where the baby doesn’t grow as it should (Source). Trained midwives are able to use abdominal palpation (feeling with their hands) in order to detect the amount of amniotic fluid. Basically, the baby would be very easy to feel and in some cases you could see limbs, the uterus would be smaller than expected, and there may be fewer movements (Source).
  • Fetal Non-Stress Test (NST) – The goal of this test is to measure the heart rate of the fetus in response to its own movements. Healthy babies will respond with an increased heart rate during times of movement and the heart rate will decrease when the baby is at rest. This test is an indicator that the baby is receiving enough oxygen and uses electronic fetal monitoring (Source).
  • Auscultated Acceleration Test (AAT)– This is an alternative to the fetal non-stress test that doesn’t involve any electronic fetal monitoring. Basically, you’re listening to the baby’s heart rate for 6 minutes and looking for at least one acceleration (Source).
  • Swelling – Some swelling is to be expected during pregnancy, but excessive swelling could be a sign of preeclempsia, and if a woman were to show signs of preeclempsia (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, retaining water) after she reached her due date, she would definitely want to deliver very soon. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications for the mother including liver or renal failure and future cardiovascular issues. It can also prevent the placenta from getting enough blood which will deprive the baby of oxygen and food (Source).

Baby’s Growth Towards the End of Pregnancy

I am thankful for every day that my baby is growing inside of me. During the final days and weeks of pregnancy, some amazing growth and development is taking place (Source). If you were to rush into an early induction, your baby could be missing out on some of the following.

  • Passage of Antibodies: During the last weeks of pregnancy, maternal antibodies that will help fight infections in the first days and weeks of pregnancy are passed on to the baby.
  • Putting on Weight: Starting at about 35 weeks, your baby will start to gain weight rapidly at the rate of about half a pound per week.
  • Growing Brown Fat: Brown fat is found in hibernating animals and newborn babies and develops in the final weeks of gestation to help regulate the newborn baby’s body temperature.
  • Building Iron Stores: In the final weeks in the womb, babies build up a reserve of iron stores.
  • Developing Sucking and Swallowing Abilities: Oral feeding that requires coordination of sucking, swallowing and breathing is the most complex sensorimotor process for newborns sensorimotor process for newborns and develops in the later part of pregnancy.
  • Lung Development: The final phase of lung development occurs during the final weeks of pregnancy. If a baby is suspected to be premature at the time of delivery, the mother can be given a steroid injection to speed along the lung development process (Source).
  • Brain Development: The last three months of pregnancy provide your child with the basic brain structure that he or she will have for the rest of his or her life. The brain grows rapidly during this phase and roughly triples during the last 13 months of gestation (Source). Every day in the womb allows the brain to grow and develop even more.

Risks of Inducing Too Early

Many women breathe a sigh of relief at 37 weeks because that has typically been considered “full term”, but now the true definition of full term is considered 39 weeks for the best chance of optimal development. Not only that, but you may think that you’re 37 weeks based on inaccurate measurements and really only be 33 or 34 weeks along. Yes, the later part of pregnancy is uncomfortable, but inducing a baby to be born before she is ready can bring about way more problems. If a baby is born premature, there are several risks involved (Source):

  • More Interventions: Interventions tend to lead to more interventions. If you are induced before your body is ready and labor doesn’t begin, it can lead to a Cesarean section and other interventions that might not have been necessary.
  • Stay in the NICU: Babies born too early can have problems breathing, staying warm, dealing with jaundice, sucking and swallowing, and may require a stay in the NICU.
  • Long Term Health Problems: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); and as adults, they are more likely to get diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Medical Methods of Induction

According to birth certificate data in the US, 23% of labors (in 2012) were medically induced, but this is not something that is always reported on a birth certificate. Survey data shows that number to be more like 41%. Here are the possible medical methods of induction (Source).

  • Prostaglandins: You can be given a medication containing synthetic prostoglandins inserted into the vagina to thin and dilate the cervix or an oral dose of misoprostol that will do the same thing. *Note: there are MANY natural ways to do this, see next section.
  • Foley Catheter or Cervical Ripening Balloon: By inserting a thin tube into the cervix with one or two tiny uninflated balloons on the end and then filling these balloons with water, the pressure on the cervix stimulates the body to release prostoglandins which can ripen the cervix. Then when the cervix opens, the balloons fall out and the tube is removed.
  • Strip or Sweep the Membranes: If the cervix is already somewhat dilated, a finger can be inserted and manually separate the amniotic sac from the lower part of the uterus. This will cause the release of prostoglandins as well. This can be a bit painful and uncomfortable, but can stimulate contractions. *This is something a midwife can do or you can do if you are familiar with your body.
  • Rupture Membranes: This is otherwise known as “breaking the water” and involves inserting a small hooked instrument through the cervix to break the amniotic sac. There’s a small chance that this will stimulate contractions, but if it doesn’t, then pitocin will be given.
  • Pitocin: The synthetic version of oxytocin (the hormone released that naturally stimulates labor) is called pitocin and can be given through and IV pump to stimulate contractions.
    • Oxytocin versus Pitocin: During natural labor, oxytocin is released into the mother’s body in a pulsing action that provides for breaks during labor, but pitocin is given in a steady stream through an IV so it causes contractions that are longer and stronger than your baby or placenta can handle which can deprive him/her of oxygen. It also prevents the mother’s body from releasing endorphins (that will prevent and counteract pain), is not as effective at dilating the cervix as oxytocin so more is required, lacks the peak that oxytocin provides allowing for a faster easier birth, and interferes with the release of oxytocin…otherwise known as the love hormone that helps promote bonding after birth.

Natural Ways to Induce Labor

If your body is ready to go into labor and just needs a helping hand, then there are many natural methods that can help to spur things along. Some are very gentle and safe while others carry a certain risk and must only be used with extreme caution (Source).

  • Get the Baby into Optimal Position: Ideally, a baby will be LOA (left occiput anterior) when engaged for labor, meaning that if the mother looks down at her belly, the baby’s head will be down and the back can be felt on the mother’s left. If the baby is in an OP (occiput posterior) position with its back lined up with the mother’s spine, it can prevent a mother from going into labor or make labor start and stop. Spinning Babies is a wonderful website and goes into great detail about baby positions, when it’s recommended to turn them, and how to go about doing this.
    1. Bouncing on a Birthing Ball – This can help tremendously to get the baby into an optimal position. I must have a uterus perfectly designed for posterior babies because they have all started out this way and then turned during labor. But I have always relied heavily on my birthing ball to help me bounce and swivel my hips at the same time. My husband has also been a great help by pushing on my hips or on my lower back…it really helps to be very vocal about what feels good and you want your partner to do!
    2. Kneeling on all Fours  – I love getting on my hands and knees to release the pressure of the baby. It also helps to stick my butt up in the air to let the baby move more freely into an optimal position.
    3. The Miles Circuit – This is a series of positions and movements involving lunges, walking on an uneven curb, and side stepping up stairs to open your pelvis and get the baby into an optimal position. (Read more here.)
    4. Chiropractor Visiting a chiropractor trained in working with pregnant women can help to align the spine and joints to help the baby be able to get into optimal position for birth.
    5. What About Deep Squats? The idea that squatting with your knees higher than your hips may seem like a good idea to get the baby further into the pelvis, but really should be avoided in later pregnancy because it can cause the baby to get settled into an unfavorable position. (Read more here.)
  • Walking – With every baby, we always talk about “walking it out”. The bumping up and down can help to move the baby into the birth canal. Walking up and down stairs, especially two at a time while lifting your legs up really high can also help to move the baby downward. Swimming can also be a nice low impact way to help move things along.
  • Sex – What you did to make the baby can help the baby come out too! As long as your waters haven’t broken, it is still generally safe. Also, have fun talking to all of your coworkers and friends about all of the raunchy details of your sex life when they suggest this method of induction. 🙂
    1. Sperm – Sperm contains prostoglandins that can soften the cervix. May be taken orally or vaginally. 🙂
    2. Female Orgasm – The uterus contracts during orgasm and this can help to stimulate labor.
  • Nipple Stimulation – You can gently rub or roll the nipple in order to release oxytocin to help stimulate contractions. But it can make contractions very strong, so use with caution! (Read more here.)
  • Stretch or Sweep the Membranes – By inserting a finger into the cervix and doing a gentle sweep between the uterus wall and amniotic sac, it can help to stimulate labor within hours or days. (I’m not sure how many women would feel comfortable doing this to themselves, but I did this to get Elliot’s birth going. Here’s some more info on how to do it.)
  • Oils to Ripen the Cervix – Instead of synthetic methods or sperm, there are other ways to soften the cervix. Borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and black current oil are natural sources of prostoglandins which are fatty acids that can soften the cervix and increase the flexibility of the pelvic ligaments that will help with effacement and dilation. You can take them orally starting at about 35 weeks and with the evening primrose oil, you can insert it vaginally (just do it at night and use a panty liner).
  • Meditation, Visualization, and Yoga – I recently wrote another blog about this because I think that having a peaceful mindset is very crucial before giving birth. Recently, everyone in my family has been sick and needing me, and I have certainly felt the signs of labor stop when I am needed or stressed out.
  • Acupressure – There are accupressure points in the ankles and webbing between the thumb and forefinger that can cause muscle contractions in the uterus and help to stimulate labor. (Read more here.)
  • Herbs to Take Towards the End of Pregnancy
    1. Motherwort – This herb makes contractions more effective, regulates Braxton Hicks contractions, and stops false labor. If taken before birth, it can calm nerves and potentially help to prevent postpartum depression. (Read more here.) *Get the herb here and the tincture here.
    2. Red Raspberrry Leaf – Starting at about 34 weeks, this herb can be taken as a tea or a pill to strengthen the uterus and potentially lead to a shorter labor, especially the pushing stage (Additional source). *Get some in bulk here or in tea bags here.
  • Foods to Help Stimulate Labor
    1. Bananas – Bananas have a lot of potassium which is crucial for muscle contractions, so being low in potassium could potentially delay labor. *Don’t overdue the potassium or take supplements as they can be poisonous when taken incorrectly.
    2. Basil and Oregano – These herbs are emmenagogue that can help to bring on a late period and in higher doses can cause uterine contractions. You can make food with these herbs or steep them in a tea to get things going. (Read more here.)
    3. Dates – Six dates a day leading up to your delivery date can make labor start sooner, make it shorter, and help with dilation (Additional source).
    4. Pineapple – Fresh raw pineapple contains a small amount of an enzyme called bromelian which can soften the cervix and get labor going.

Natural Methods That Might Do More Harm Than Good

  • Castor Oil – Because castor oil causes severe diarrhea, the theory is that these bowel movements will stimulate contractions. I actually got desperate enough with Elliot and tried this method, and let me tell you IT WAS NOT WORTH IT! Yes, my body was ready to go into labor and it probably did help to kick things off, but my butt hurt worse than my vagina after labor, plus I ran the risk of dehydration. No thanks.
  • Licorice rootLicorice root and licorice extract contain an ingredient called glycyrrhizin, which can cause uterine contractions but also have some negative side effects, so beware.
  • Spicy food – Even though there is no scientific evidence that spicy food can bring on labor, many women swear by it. The theory is kind of the same as castor oil in that it can upset your digestive system enough to cause cramps that may lead to contractions. Personally, I’d like to avoid the discomfort, but if you’re really desperate, it can’t hurt too bad!
  • Black/Blue Cohosh – If you’re past 40 weeks and already experiencing contractions, these herbs can help to strengthen and regulate uterine contractions. While generally regarded as safe, there was an isolated incident of it causing heart trouble in a new baby, so use with caution. (Read more here.)
  • Clary Sage Oil – By mixing with a carrier oil and rubbing on your belly, it can help to promote labor and relieve pain, but it should only be used under the guidance of a trained professional as there can be other complications if not used correctly.
  • Golden Seal – Golden seal can be taken orally in tablet form and has hydrastatine and berberine that have been known to induce labor. Because of complications, however, it is recommended that you only take it with professional guidance.

What Causes Labor to Start

Labor will typically begin when the maturing baby and aging placenta trigger an increase in prostoglandins that will soften the cervix and get it ready for effacement and dilation. Estrogen will rise and progesterone will increase which will make the uterus more sensitive to oxytocin. The baby will move down into the pelvis and contractions in the last weeks of pregnancy may start the effacement and dilation of the cervix. Women will typically feel a burst of energy to help them make the final preparations before labor begins (Source).

In addition, the uterus has an increased number of immune cells (macrophages) there to help to fight lung infection that begin to migrate to the wall of the uterus during late pregnancy (called surfactant protein, aka SP-A). Once there, a chemical reaction takes place stimulating an inflammatory response in the uterus that starts the process of labor. So basically, when the baby’s lungs are developed, labor will begin (Source).

In Conclusion

Even though I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of our precious little guy, I am in no hurry to “make him” come before he is ready. I have viewed each additional day as a gift where I get to accomplish one more task or cuddle with one more child before my little guy enters this world and demands my full attention. I have also enjoyed eating special meals, treating myself to organizational tools for my home, doing yoga daily, nesting in every possible way, getting caught up on things I would have never dreamed I would get caught up on, reading, journaling, spending time with my husband, and taking lots of time to reflect and enjoy every aspect of life.

Now that I am knowledgeable in all of the risks of being overdue and aware of a variety of methods of induction, I am ready to turn this part of my brain off as I listen to my body, become aware of my baby, and prepare for this miraculous journey that will bring a new life into the world.