Short on time? Then the key things to know are:
- Most women in the UK will be offered an induction of labour before 42 weeks - but you can chose to continue your pregnancy for longer
- There are many ways to naturally induce labour with scientific evidence to back them up such as walking, making love and eating dates
- Whilst going overdue can make you feel a little impatient, it will be a long time before you have so much to yourself again - so try to enjoy it!
A normal time to be giving birth is anywhere between 37-42 weeks. Around 4.4% of babies are born on their due date - suffice to say it’s not impossible, but it’s not very likely!
By the time they reach 42 weeks of pregnancy, most women are ready to give birth and are simply ready to not be pregnant anymore. But sometimes your little one needs a bit of encouragement to come out into the world.
So what can you do when you’re overdue? Here we share our top tips for inducing labour naturally.
How far overdue is safe in pregnancy?
In the UK the NICE Guidelines recommend that women are induced to give birth before 42 weeks. However, women are well within their rights to continue the pregnancy as long as they want, provided the baby continues to move in their normal pattern and there are no other health issues.
It is generally thought that the placenta may become deficient after 42 weeks, which is why so many health professionals will start to twitch if you choose to continue the pregnancy beyond 42 weeks. With regular monitoring it is possible nowadays to allow the pregnancy to continue a little longer should you wish to.
What happens next?
If you do get to 42 weeks pregnant, you are likely to be offered something called an induction of labour. This starts with a membrane sweep where a doctor or midwife will attempt to stir up the membrane sac in your cervix. It’s a little uncomfortable but can help to start labour.
If this doesn't work, a vaginal pessary is inserted behind the cervix to help soften and ripen it, in order to help start labour or at least get the cervix to a point where the waters can be broken.
Artificial rupture of membranes is the second step in an induction process. It involves a doctor or midwife breaking the membrane sac for you with a small hook, in the hope that this will speed up labour or start the contractions.
The third step is when the doctors prescribe an infusion of oxytocin. This will be slowly administered via an intravenous catheter and usually causes women to start having uterine contractions.
Tips for inducing labour naturally when you’re overdue
In the lead up to being 42 weeks pregnant, there are a few things that you can try at home to help kick start labour. There are a lot of old wives tales surrounding natural inductions of labour, but some do have actual scientific evidence to back them up. Here are some of our most recommended:
1. Get moving
Walking, squatting, climbing stairs (sideways!) and prenatal yoga are all great ways of helping to widen the pelvic brim. By doing this you are encouraging the baby's head to enter the pelvis a little more and to put more pressure onto the cervix, which in turn can encourage labour.
Walking in nature also has its own benefits. Get yourself to a green area and enjoy the natural stress reducing chemicals that trees emit to double down on your endorphins.
2. Making love
The benefits to making love are twofold. Firstly making love, soft touch or simply kissing your partner can start the release of oxytocin (the love hormone). If you have an orgasm there is a huge surge in the amount of oxytocin produced in your body and this love hormone is what we need to get the uterus to contract in the first place.
Secondly, there is a hormone called prostaglandin in semen which can help soften and ripen the cervix, which again can help to encourage labour to start. In fact synthetic prostaglandins are used in most hospitals across the UK to induce labour.
3. Masturbation/nipple stimulation
If the practicalities of making love are too ambitious when you are over 40 weeks pregnant, a simple self administered orgasm can also do the trick. Also any form of nipple stimulation at this later stage of pregnancy can cause the uterus to start niggling as this too can trigger a surge of oxytocin.
4. Spicy food
Spicy food can work, in that it can have a habit of irritating the bowel. As the bowel sits right next to the uterus in the abdominal cavity, this bowel irritability rubs off on the uterus and can in turn, start to make the uterus niggle, and start contractions. It is however, not the most effective way of naturally inducing labour and can often just give you a bit of a dodgy tummy - so tread carefully!
5. Raspberry leaf tea
Raspberry leaf tea can be found in most health food shops and some supermarkets. It is safe to drink after 36 weeks of pregnancy and has been linked to stimulating uterine contractions. It doesn’t taste unpleasant and so can certainly do no harm to try it.
Whilst eating dates will not necessarily help to start off labour, there has been some research to suggest that eating 6-8 dates a day will help reduce the chances of going over your due date and to increase your chances of having a quicker natural birth.
7. Take time to relax
In the meantime, whilst waiting for these little babies to arrive, we strongly recommend that you take some time out. Try to enjoy this period of time as it might be a while before you have so much of it to yourself again! Activities we recommend include:
- Eating out and eating the whole meal with two hands
- Going to the cinema
- Taking a walk
- Taking a nap when you want to
- Watching a box set
- Go swimming or join a local aquanatal class
Want to speak to someone about your pregnancy or birth? Book an appointment with one of our private midwives at a time that suits you to get specialist advice with any concerns.
Kate, Naytal Midwife
Kate has been a Midwife within the NHS for more than 15 years and supports women to work harmoniously with their bodies and tune into their intuitions.