Pre-term labour is defined as labour that begins earlier than 37 weeks of gestation. If you are reading this, then I’m guessing that you’re already experiencing some contractions earlier than what’s considered “normal” and that you know the benefits of keeping your baby inside as long as you can.
But what if it feels like your uterus has other ideas? Well there is a number of natural ways that you can encourage your uterus to relax and calm down.
This post is meant to offer you some alternative therapies. I hope these ideas will help keep your little one inside, where he or she can grow best.
Rest and Relaxation – First, the best thing you can do is relax and take it easy. Relaxation in cases of pre-term labour means calming the uterus and stopping or weakening the contractions (or surges, as I like to call them).
Very likely your doctor or midwife will take you off work. This does not mean that you are now free to work at home. REST is what is required by your body to help grow your baby. If you have other small children, get help with childcare or keep them in their day home or daycare. At home, spend time RESTING rather than “getting stuff done”. Your most important job right now is to grow your baby. Make sure your family knows this so they can support you. If your midwife or doctor has prescribed bedrest, let your friends and family know so that they can provide support and entertainment. Days spent on bedrest can sometimes feel very long. Friends and family can help with that.
Use every trick in your toolbox to keep your stress levels low. Talking with friends or journaling about the way you are feeling are both good and safe ways to release difficult emotions. Reducing your stress and taking care of your emotional health will increase your chances of going full term. One review of 15 different studies found that increased level of cortisol (an important stress hormone) is correlated with increase risk of preterm labour. If you have any access to counselling or hypnotherapy, this is the time to take advantage of it. I offer a complimentary online training for dealing with worry & anxiety – you can watch it now – get access here.
Baths –Taking a bath is a really effective way to get your uterus to calm down when it starts to become active. This is especially helpful when you notice an increase in the frequency or intensity of the contractions or surges. Whenever this happens (often in the evenings), draw yourself a nice, relaxing, warm bath. Often this will be enough to settle things down. Remember to keep the water at body temperature (36 degrees Celsius). You might enjoy a hotter bath, but since that runs the risk of overheating your baby, it’s wisest and safest to stick with body temperature. Adding some Epsom salts to your bathwater is an easy way to add magnesium to your body as it is easily absorbed through the skin. Keep reading to learn about the importance of magnesium.
Guided Relaxation – A recording with a guided relaxation can be wonderful. It’s effective because it works on two levels. As you listen, your body becomes physically more relaxed, soft and loose, and your mind releases stress and worry. The more often you listen, the more quickly and easily you’ll slip into that comfortable, relaxed state. I’ve created a wonderful pregnancy relaxation album specially designed to support a healthy pregnancy and birth. You can listen to the introduction (which explains exactly how it works here) and listen to a sample of the pregnancy relaxation by clicking on the play button just below. Purchase the entire digital album right now.
Visualization Practice – Your mind and your body are intimately connected. You can create physical change in the body by changing the thoughts and feelings in your mind. Often when women are diagnosed with pre-term labour, they simply accept that their baby will come early, when in reality, this is only a possibility. It is also possible that you will carry your baby to term. So why not focus on the positive outcome and put your mind’s energy in that direction?
Beautiful blue satin ribbons can be used to represent the internal muscles of the uterus, which run in concentric, horizontal circles around the cervix up toward the top of the uterus. In labour, you typically visualize these muscles swirling up and out of the way. In the case of pre-term labour, you visualize the opposite happening—the ribbons/muscles stay tight and secure, holding your baby in place. When you visualize your beautiful blue ribbons, instead of them being loose and soft, imagine instead that they are neatly and securely tied in bow, hammocking and protecting baby and keeping the cervix closed until they are required to open.
If you are familiar with hypnobirthing, use the control valve—but change it so that the valve controls the uterine surges. Imagine a dial like the control knob on your stove, then move the dial, from surges being high, medium, or low, to off. Some days you might have to “check in” with your subconscious mind and make sure the surge control valve is still set to off. If you experience a day with more surges (contractions), then check in, and if you find the valve has moved over to the on position, create a “hold button” so that the surges stay off. I have worked with many women who were able to hold off their labour using this technique. The power of our own minds never ceases to amaze me!
Affirmations – Be attentive to your own self-talk. See if you have unconsciously adopted beliefs such as “My baby is coming early.” Change those to affirmations or positive statements of belief, which help to keep baby in, rather than exacerbating the problem. Write affirmations pertinent to your situation, such as, “My uterus is calm and quiet.” “My baby is growing and maturing to be ready for life outside my womb.” “Staying calm and relaxed helps my body to keep my baby safely inside.” “My body takes care of my baby.” “My baby stays safe inside until I’m at least 38 weeks pregnant.” You’ll think of many others. Repeat these affirmations to yourself continually.
Diet – What you eat affects your baby. Colonization of the vagina by certain “bad” bacteria can also increase the chances of pre-term labour, so re-establishing good bacterial flora is advisable. Natural yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir are excellent sources, as are probiotics. Probiotic bacteria (the “good” bacteria in your gut) need fiber in order to thrive, so make sure you are getting as much fiber in your diet as you can. Research has shown that eating a diet rich in vitamin C seems to help keep the amniotic sac (bag of waters) intact longer, so eating an orange a day is a wholesome habit.
In fact, re-examining your diet to make sure you are meeting all your nutritional needs is a fine idea. Stay away from inflammation-increasing foods, such as refined sugars, polyunsaturated vegetable oils (including safflower, soy, sunflower, and corn oil) and processed meats. Eats lots and lots of fruits and veggies. They reduce inflammation, which has been linked to preterm labour. Increase your consumption of omegas from safe fish. No tuna, ladies—it’s got too much mercury.
Also talk to your doctor about the amounts of calcium and magnesium you are taking in. Some research shows that preterm labour may be affected by how your body is dealing with calcium and magnesium. Magnesium and calcium must be maintained in their proper balance in order to function correctly, but the average modern North American consumes far more calcium than necessary and not nearly enough magnesium. That excess calcium can disrupt many important functions. Too much calcium without the balance of magnesium seems to contribute to an increased risk of preterm labour. The normal daily amount of calcium recommended during pregnancy is 1000 to 1500 mg, and 350 to 450 mg of magnesium. As an aside, magnesium sulfate is sometimes used in hospitals to stop labor. Nettle-leaf herbal tea is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium (96 mg), and vitamin C, as well as many other phytonutrients, and it is safe for pregnancy. You can also add foods that are rich in magnesium to your diet. Magnesium is most plentiful in seeds, whole grains, some fish, leafy green vegetables, and some legumes. Here are the most common food sources:
1 ounce pumpkin seeds: 151.9 mg
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds: 127.4 mg
1 cup cooked millet: 105.6 mg
3 ounces chinook salmon, baked or broiled: 103.8 mg
1/2 cup bran cereal: 93.1 mg
1/3 cup wheat germ: 90.9 mg
3 ounces halibut: 90.0 mg
1/2 cup cooked quinoa: 89.3 mg
1 cup spinach spaghetti: 86.6 mg
1 cup cooked brown rice: 86.0 mg
1/2 cup boiled Chinese long beans: 84.3 mg
1 ounce dry roasted almonds: 80.0 mg
1/2 cup frozen spinach, cooked and drained: 78 mg
1/3 cup tofu: 76.1 mg
1 ounce dry roasted cashews: 75.0 mg
1/2 cup cooked soybeans: 75.0 mg
1/2 cup cooked spinach: 75.0 mg
1/2 cup boiled Swiss chard: 75.3 mg
1/2 cup cooked black beans: 60.2 mg
1 cup fortified instant oatmeal, prepared with water: 55.0 mg
1 medium baked potato, with skin: 50.0 mg
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter: 50.0 mg
1/2 cup cooked navy beans: 47.0 mg
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt: 45.0 mg
1/2 cup vegetarian baked beans: 40.0 mg
Add Juice Plus to Your Healthy Eating Plan. Juice Plus is the concentrated (dehydrated) juice powder from 25 fruits, berries and vegetables. The fruits and veggies are pesticide-free and vine-ripened, allowing them to grow to maximum nutrient density. Then they are pressed, and the juice is extracted. (If you are unfamiliar with juicing, it’s an excellent way to get more nutrients into your body). Finally, using low temperatures to preserve the enzymes, the water and sugars are removed, leaving only the concentrated juice powder behind. The remaining juice powder contains all the phytonutrients, such as the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. We know this for sure because Juice Plus is backed by research. There are currently 22 published studies in respected, peer-reviewed medical journals about what Juice Plus does in the body. These studies are done at the highest level of research—placebo-controlled and double-blind. You can read the research here. Most importantly for those of you struggling to keep your baby inside—the study that was done with pregnant moms. The study involved 356 mothers. Half took prenatal vitamins, the other half prenatal vitamins and Juice Plus. In the Juice Plus group, there were NO premature babies. You read that right. None of the Juice Plus babies was born before 37 weeks. In the control group – 20% of the babies were born premature. In addition, none of the Juice Plus babies needed the NICU or had respiratory distress. None of the Juice Plus moms developed pre-eclampsia, as compared to 21% of the vitamin-taking moms. That to me is amazing. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense—everyone agrees that eating more fruits, berries and vegetables makes us healthier. Healthier moms mean healthier babies. And best of all, adding 25 veggies, fruits, and berries to your diet every single day is affordable. Juice Plus costs $3 a day. You couldn’t eat that much fresh fruit for that price. You can download your own copy of the pregnancy study here. If you want to start Juice Plus, I can get it to your doorstep in three days! Get started here! Just make sure to go to the upper right hand side, click on the globe icon and select your country for shipping.
Water – It seems so simple—and it is—but drinking enough water and making sure you are well hydrated at all times can definitely make a big difference. The recommendation is that you take your body weight and divide it by half. Then drink that amount in ounces each day. So if you weigh 180 pounds, half of that would be 90. You should be drinking 90 ounces of water—or 11 8-ounce glasses—a day. A really good tip is to actually pour all the glasses of water in the morning and leave then on your counter or bedside table (if you are on bedrest). The visual reminder is a great way to actually drink that much water each day.
Lavender Essential Oil – Essential oils can be a powerful tool for supporting a healthy pregnancy if used correctly. Lavender is the oil of all things calming. It’s safe to use throughout pregnancy and has a calming effect on your emotions and your muscles. In order to use it safely during pregnancy, you’ll need a very high dilution rate. Add one drop of pure lavender essential oil to a tablespoon of carrier oil and then rub it over your abdomen anytime your uterus starts contracting. This may encourage the uterine muscles to calm down and relax. When used on the isolated rat uterus, it in fact reduced contractions (Lis-Balchin and Hart, 1999). Lavender oil has no apparent adverse effects during pregnancy and childbirth. It was one of ten essential oils offered to 8,058 women in an eight-year study at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK. during which time to was shown to reduce the need for pain medication during labour.
A Glass of Wine – I know this seems crazy since you have hopefully been abstaining from alcohol during your pregnancy. However, these days many doctors and midwives advocate the limited use of alcohol to forestall labor. Studies have shown that a glass of wine can relax the muscles enough to lower uterine activity. This small amount of alcohol late in the pregnancy will not harm your baby. Stay off your feet and relax as much as possible afterward. And as always, it’s always best to check with your care provider first.
Homeopathic Remedies – There are several homeopathic remedies that are said to help in this situation. Most traditionally trained doctors won’t know what to make of these remedies and will often dismiss them offhand. That, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. In fact, I have known many women who took homeopathic remedies in conjunction with the above techniques and held off labour until term. They are safe for pregnancy, but it is a good idea to take them in the dosages recommended by someone trained in homeopathic medicine. Ask around in your area for a good naturopathic or homeopathic doctor. If you live in my area (Regina, Saskatchewan), contact me directly; I will point you in the right direction.
Some remedies to ask about are Black Haw tincture, Valerian root (a herb that promotes healthy sleep), Wild Yam (which also discourages contractions), and Crampbark. Flaxseed oil is not difficult to come across and is believed to be helpful, too. As mentioned above, PLEASE take these remedies only under the supervision of a trained care provider.
Polar Bear Position – Spend time (a lot of time) in the polar bear position—see picture to the right. This will take pressure off your cervix. I personally know a woman who had early surges and cervical change, and her cervix actually closed again due to the polar bear position. It’s a position that moves the baby closer to your lungs and away from the cervix. Spend some time (15 minutes, four times a day) in this position every day.
Avoiding Oxytocin and Prostaglandin – These are two of the major hormones responsible for labour. Your midwife or doctor may have already recommended that you limit your release of these hormones. You can do this by using a condom during sex, since semen contains prostaglandins, the hormone that softens the cervix and lead to contractions. Also avoid breast or nipple stimulation and having an orgasm, all of which release oxytocin, the hormone that initiates contractions.
Finally, I want to state that pre-term labour is a serious issue. Please make sure that you are getting the medical help and support that you need. My deep hope is that care providers will begin to use natural methods to stop pre-labour in conjunction with their typical treatment protocols. Remember, the more ways that you come at this, the more likely you are to change your health for the better.
If you begin to experience sudden, strong pre-term labour, do not try to self-treat. The March of Dimes urges:
Call your health care provider or go to the hospital right away if you think you are having preterm labor. The signs of preterm labor include:
- Contractions (your abdomen tightens like a fist) every 10 minutes or more often
- Change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding from your vagina)
- Pelvic pressure—the feeling that your baby is pushing down
- Low, dull backache
- Cramps that feel like your period
- Abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea
If a preterm birth seems imminent, then your doctor or midwife may prescribe medications that stop the uterus from contracting. Currently none of these medications has long-term effectiveness. At most, they seem to be able to stop the uterus for a maximum of two to seven days. Generally, they are used to create a window of time in which you can be moved to a hospital that is equipped to deal with a preemie and to give them time to administer drugs to help your baby’s lungs develop, which is critical to your baby’s health. One of these types of drugs are calcium channel blockers. Here is the latest Cochrane review (which looks at all research to date on a particular subject) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24901312, and one other review.
Once you are getting medical care, add the natural methods I’ve listed above that are appropriate for you.
And may your birthing day be blessed!
P.S. If you have any stories or tips to share, please do so by responding to this post.