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
- False Unicorn
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. Using them for weeks doesn’t better prepare your body to do the right thing at the right time — and you don’t know how you’ll react to the herb until after you’ve taken it.
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.
There are legitimate uses of these herbs. Many of them, in fact. But they are potent, and pregnancy is not the time to experiment if you don’t know how you’ll react to them. There are much safer ways to support a healthy pregnancy and prepare your body for labor with nutritive, mild herbs. Personally, I would never use something so strong when there are safer options available — herbal or otherwise.
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. Again, pregnancy is not a time to experiment.
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. (You can also consider this tincture.)
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 mal-positioned!
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!
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).
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:
- 1/2 tsp. cod liver oil (omega-3s, DHA, ARA)
- 1/2 tsp. pumpkin seed oil (omega-3s and 6s; ALA; vitamin E)
- 1/2 tsp. hemp seed oil (GLA)
- 1 – 2 tsp. magnesium lotion (200 – 400 mg mag)
- 1 tsp. whole foods vitamin C powder
- 50 – 100 billion CFU probiotics (or a variety of probiotic foods)
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!
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.
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. Prior to labor, pregnancy tea is a great option (buy it here, or try this DIY option).
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!