Why You Shouldn’t Use Birth Prep Formulas

admin August 15, 2017

It’s pretty common in the natural community — using herbal “birth prep” formulas for several days or weeks to help your body “prepare” for a fast and effective labor.

The more I’ve learned about herbs, as well as health in general, the more I’ve become extremely wary of these.  In fact, in general, I’d recommend that you skip these!  If used incorrectly or if the wrong person takes them, they can be dangerous.

Why Do We Need a “Birth Prep” Anyway?

The majority of women who are trying these formulas are looking for shorter, easier labors.  Wouldn’t that be nice!  Unfortunately, labor is going to be a big deal no matter what…it is a huge thing for your body to go through.

There is also a complex interplay of factors that affect how your labor goes.  Things like your overall health, your levels of key vitamins and minerals, your baby’s position, the alignment of your spine and pelvis, and more.  There is no way to 100% predict what will happen, nor to “prepare” in such a way that you are guaranteed a quick and easy birth.

There are things you can do to make labor and birth a bit “easier” on you and baby…at least, as “easy” as birth ever is!  (Even then, remember — no guarantees.)

We’ll get to those later.  First, why not the birth prep formulas?

Why You Shouldn’t Use Birth Prep Formulas

Most birth prep formulas contain a few key ingredients:

  • Black Cohosh
  • Blue Cohosh
  • Pennyroyal
  • False Unicorn
  • Lobelia


They vary, and some will also contain nettles, raspberry leaf, squawvine, and others.

Most people don’t know what these herbs are…or what they’re really for.  But once you do, you will probably be more hesitant to try this kind of thing!

First, black and blue cohosh.  These are typically used together, and basically — in the right doses, they can trigger labor.  This is not something you want to do prior to your due date, or really any time before baby is ready.  There is a time and a place to use them (post-dates, when an induction is indicated), but even then you need to talk to a trained midwife and an herbalist and use this under close supervision.  In that situation, they’re usually used in tincture form and given a few times over a period of hours to start contractions.  These herbs should not be used daily for several weeks!

Pennyroyal is a known abortifacient (can cause pregnancy loss) and is contraindicated in pregnancy.  At term, it, too, can induce labor before it is the right time.

False unicorn?  This herb is usually used to promote fertility and help with menstrual difficulties.  It also can increase estrogen in the body, which is not something most women need!  Plus, if taken in large doses, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and even heart problems.

Lobelia is often used to help start labor, as well.  In large doses, it can be toxic — or even fatal.  In very small doses, it can lead to nervousness and anxiety (not something you need right before labor!).

Basically, these are not herbs that anyone should be using casually.  They are herbs that have potentially serious side effects, and which should be used only where truly indicated, where no milder herb will work, and under the care of a trained professional.

It’s irresponsible that these are marketed as regular-use formulas for all pregnant women!

Why You Shouldn't Use Birth Prep Formulas

But Lots of Women Use These and They’re Fine!

First of all, we hear that excuse from women about mainstream stuff all the time, and many of us recognize that they are not fine…so this is not an argument worth making.

More importantly, if these herbs are used in very small doses, then the effect is going to be little to none — maybe some nervousness from the lobelia, but not a whole lot else.

If the herbs are used in larger doses, then it can start labor prematurely or cause toxicity.

Every single women would need a different dose, depending on her metabolism and situation, so what might be a “good” dose for one could be toxic for someone else!  And you wouldn’t know which it would be for you…until you tried.

Where is the benefit here?  These herbs are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing!  There are far safer ways to prepare for labor than using these herbs.

There is no proof that taking these formulas is beneficial.  Women will tell you, “Well, I took it and my labor was fine.”  But there are many women who will tell you they did not take it, and their labors were also fine.  There is no way to attribute the way labor went to the formula itself — because as I mentioned earlier, how your labor goes is a complex interplay of factors!

What Can We Do to Prepare for Labor?

I don’t want to give you the impression that there is absolutely nothing you can do.

Personally, I take the path of “least intervention” — and this includes with natural, as well as conventional.  The first step is to support the body using food and nutritive herbs so it can do what it is supposed to.  If needed, step up to stronger measures…but only where needed.  We don’t start with the strongest and potentially dangerous things!

Safe, Nutritive Herbs

It is safe to use herbs like raspberry leaf and nettle leaf.  These are very nourishing herbs with no known contraindications.  Take them as a tea (preferably) or a tincture throughout pregnancy.  They are rich in magnesium, calcium (two minerals that play a role in muscle function, including the uterus), phosphorus, vitamin K, and a lot more.  Raspberry leaf helps to tone smooth muscles.  Enjoy a cup or two hot or cold, especially in the final 4 – 6 weeks.

Light Exercise

Most of us sit too much, and that is not good for our bodies.  Sitting leaves us with trapped fluid in our lymphatic systems (this system is how our bodies naturally detoxify in many ways), it gives us poor posture, and can leave our bodies misaligned — and our babies malpositioned!

Spend some time each day walking as briskly as you feel comfortable, and stretching lightly.  Be careful, because your ligaments are loose and you don’t want to hurt yourself.  Prenatal yoga is a good idea if that’s your thing.  Swim if you have a pool available.  Just move your body!

Chiropractic Care

A good chiropractor can help your body to stay in alignment as it’s naturally shifting to accommodate your growing baby.  Staying in alignment can relieve some pregnancy aches and pains, as well as promoting better labor/birth (which tends to take less time if baby is in a good position).

Supplemental Foods

I hesitate to call these “supplements,” although I suppose they are, but they are actual foods, not isolated nutrients.  This is what I recommend throughout pregnancy, but especially in the final 6 – 10 weeks:


These will support normal health and development, and will be beneficial to you and baby — they may not promote an easier labor, but the healthier you are, the better it should go!

Healthy Foods

Obviously, eat as well as you can!  Enjoy lots of fresh fruits and veggies, brown rice, quinoa, various types of beans, raw milk, grass-fed butter, grass-fed meats, etc.  Choose the foods that work best for you, but eat a wide variety.

Stay Hydrated!

A lot of women don’t drink enough fluids.  Dehydration can actually cause pre-term contractions, it can make fluid retention worse (ironically), and it can even make you more nauseous.  During labor, dehydration can lead to your uterus not functioning as effectively and feeling more “crampy,” which can make labor pain worse.

Drink water, or try this homemade electrolyte drink.  Skip the herbal teas during labor (or include plenty of other fluids) because some are diuretics, which can make dehydration worse.

That’s it.  Keep your nutrient stores up, drink plenty of water, keep your body moving, and things will be as good as they can be!

Do you or would you use any birth prep formulas?  Why or why not?

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This is the writings of:

  1. Thoughts on medjool dates? I have read some a couple sources that they are a good choice to have from 36 weeks on. 🙂


  2. Kate, you only briefly mentioned raspberry leaf which seems to be the most popular herb for late pregnancy even among those who otherwise don’t use herbs, at least in my experience. Can you tell us more about that, including drinking the tea during labor, or have you written about that elsewhere?


  3. As a birth doula, independent childbirth educator and homebirth midwife for almost 30 years, I have found my best practice is to encourage families to do their own research when it comes to any birthing options, supplements, induction, self-care, etc. You mention herbs not to take, then prescribe others which I also have misgivings about. And, when dealing with the high rate of hospital inductions in the US using cervidil, cytotec, pitocin, Foley catheters, stripping of membranes, AROM, all of which can have severe impact on the labor and birthing experience for Mom and baby..then I feel parents deserve balanced information to make informed decisons looking at the benefits and risks. This is their parenting journey of learning and choice. Your article concerns me due to your prescribing what to take, what not, without also including the realities of induction options in the hospital, which now happen more then labor starting on its own. This is the harsh reality, and why independent childbirth classes are so important.


  4. I have to disagree with you here based on personal experience. I live in a Christian community where large families are the norm and I can’t tell you how many mothers I know whose labors have been drastically changed for the better by using birth prep formulas – namely Gentle Birth. Labors are shortened with less post partum bleeding, mothers are less likely to give birth to babies with post term symptoms (meconium in amniotic fluid, aging placenta etc) and are more likely to have an “easy” short labor with positive results. I’ve rarely heard anyone who disliked them and even then there were no serious side effects, more like a lack of effects. People who object to black and blue cohosh can order formulas without those herbs. I’ve had 5 great labors using birth prep formulas and I’ll definitely continue to use them and recommend them


  5. Hi! Thanks for answering some of these questions for me, before I even asked :). I have wondered about some of these already since I’ve had 3 very long, overdue labors, but I could never quite bring myself to buy them and it’s been good to read such an informative answer to them. Thanks!


  6. There is a whole lot more that you can do to prepare for a natural less painful pregnancy. Take the Bradley method classes, trained teacher will show you safe and effective exercises that are beneficial for staying healthy during pragnency and open your pelvis 10-15% more! Bradley gives information about nutrition and why to eat balanced diet as well as how to make your labor less painful by practicing relaxation technics and be informed about the medical interventions that are not needed but are forced on women today. There is so much more into this wonderful method! It’s impossible to cover everything in a little post. Perhaps knowing that taking this course will benefit your relationship with your husband could convinced you? Yes your husband becomes your personal coach! Find out more about at


  7. I was hesitant to continue my cod liver oil supplement in the final weeks of pregnancy because I read it can act as a blood thinner and possibly be dangerous during delivery. What are your thoughts?


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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