Susannah Birch is a certified birth doula, journalist, and owner of Trimester Talk, a leading pregnancy website.
Before You Try to Shorten Your Labor
Although the end of pregnancy is usually eagerly awaited, especially when even the lithest woman feels like a whale, there is also often a hint of fear about the oncoming pain of childbirth.
One of the biggest fears is related to the length of the labor—too long, and the mother may end up exhausted and need medical intervention. Here are some ways to decrease your labor time; however please remember the following:
- Try these at your own risk. If you have a high-risk or complicated pregnancy, it's always best to seek medical advice before trying any type of natural or homeopathic remedy.
- These are not guaranteed to work. Although many women have found these to be successful, unforeseen complications such as pelvic position, medical problems, or baby's position (for instance a posterior baby can take longer to birth) can result in a longer labor.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil can be used from 35 weeks. The oil is high in the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is converted in your body to prostaglandin, a natural form of the gel that is often inserted during a medical induction of labor (and is also contained in sperm). Its main function is to ripen the cervix, meaning that your body will have to do less work to dilate you to the full requirement for birth.
You can take the pills orally and also insert one internally; this is best done at night with a pad in place.
Raspberry Leaf Tea or Pills
Raspberry leaf has long been used to treat a variety of women's problems including menstrual issues; it also has the added benefit of strengthening the uterus and decreasing the risk of bleeding and hemorrhage during and after birth. Stronger uterine muscles achieve more with each contraction, which generally shortens labor times.
The best option is to take raspberry leaf in tablet form, as it is far stronger than the tea and therefore more likely to have the desired effect. You can start taking the tea or pills as early as 32 weeks starting too late will decrease the chance they will help when labor begins. Be aware of taking too much—it can also cause mild contractions.
It should also NOT be used before 35 weeks if you are at risk of preterm labor or have an irritable uterus.
Try your best to sit up straight and with your legs as wide as possible—slouching can be bad for two reasons:
- Baby is more likely to move into a posterior position if you slouch, causing painful back labor.
- Correct posture helps your body open up, push baby into the correct position and align your pelvis correctly.
Don't Have A Bath or Shower
Although hot baths or showers are a common recommendation to help speed up labour, they can actually have the opposite effect in early labor. It's important to not have a bath or shower till you are in full-established labour—otherwise, contractions can slow down, or in some cases, stop altogether.
Don't avoid showers altogether though—you may get a bit smelly! But if you are having intermittent contractions or think you are in early labour, hold off for a while.
Avoid Labor Pain Relief
Although the idea of labor without pain relief can be quite scary to many women, if you're able to manage it, it can help shorten your labor.
Read More From Wehavekids
Drugs can interfere with the body's natural ability to contract properly and therefore increase your labor time. Epidurals in particular are infamous for slowing down labor. But if you can't go without pain relief, don't stress. Sometimes you need it to help you get through the most painful contractions, especially if you have a prolonged early labor.
45 Methods For Natural Pain Relief
Want a natural drug-free birth but not sure if you can take the pain? Check out this guide on natural ways to relieve labor pain.
One of the worst positions to labor in is lying down—the pelvis is decreased in size and the body doesn't have the power of gravity to push baby down because the birth canal slants uphill.
During labor, walking around and squatting help the baby move down into the birth canal and allow gravity to assist with speeding up the process. Although it's not always possible, try to remain as active as possible during labor to decrease its length.
Induction forces baby to come out whether baby is ready or not. Although an induced labor can go fast if your body is ready, if your body and baby aren't ready, your body will not be at the optimum state for pushing baby out.
Medical inductions are useful if there is a medical risk, such as preeclampsia.
However medical inductions for babies past a certain gestation stage or because of a suspicion of size often have more risks than benefits.
A pregnancy is not overdue till 42 weeks, and risks don't noticeably increase until 43 weeks. Ultrasounds are also highly inaccurate at predicting baby's size.
Induction is risky because each separate method used (breaking the amniotic sac, pitocin, cerdavil, cytotec) has its own set of unique risks, so in combination, induction can often be much riskier than spontaneous birth.
An inversion takes weight off of the mother's pelvis and helps create more room in the lower uterine segment so baby can move into a better position.
Many women "twist" during their daily activities, which can displace muscles out of their natural position and decrease room for baby.
Here are complete instructions for doing a daily inversion.
Position, Position, Position
The optimal position for delivery is occiput anterior—basically bum up, head down, their spine facing your stomach.
If your baby is breech, sideways, transverse, or posterior, it can slow the labor or cause complications because the baby can't press down on the cervix correctly to help it dilate.
If you know your baby isn't in the best position, I highly recommend visiting Spinning Babies for advice on baby positioning.
Eating & Drinking in Labor
Some hospitals still maintain a policy of not allowing a woman to eat or even drink during labor. However, this is an outdated practice based on something called Mendelson's syndrome, a rare condition that involves aspiration under general anesthesia during the 1940s. Mendelson's syndrome is an incredibly rare event these days due to changes in anesthetic techniques.
- Women who don't eat and drink during labor are more likely to feel tired, stressed, and unable to deal with labor.
- Their bodies sometimes react to this by having fewer contractions and labor slows, especially in longer labors.
- Some studies indicate that being able to eat and drink during labor can decrease its length by up to 45 minutes or more.
Most women who are close to giving birth naturally stop eating, and this is something that should be controlled by the mother, not medical staff.
Uterine Muscle Exercises
The uterus is made of muscles, and these muscles need to be at their best to push your baby out successfully. Like all muscles, you can work them in a variety of ways to increase their tone and strength.
It's best to exercise them in some way at least once per day. The three best ways are:
- Kegel exercises
- regular squats to strengthen your pelvic floor, and
- orgasms (either by yourself or with a partner).
These techniques also help your pelvic muscles stay toned so you have fewer issues with 'accidents' after baby is born!
There are certain pressure points on your body which can put you into labor; this is why many massage practitioners won't give massages to pregnant women without special training.
Although often used to induce labor, these acupressure points can also be used to help baby engage or help intermittent contractions speed up. The video shows some of the main acupressure points that can be used.
Lower Your Stress Levels
Stress is one of the leading causes of labor slowing down. The three most common causes of stress during labor are:
- Changes in environment (such as journeying to the hospital).
- Being unsure of what's happening (a doctor or midwife who doesn't full explain what's happening).
- Being made to feel like you are going against your own preferences (such as being in a position you're uncomfortable in, or taking drugs you don't really want to).
This is one reason that women are told to wait at home as long as possible before going into the hospital birthing suite—often, contractions will happen further apart when they arrive, and in some cases, they are sent home to continue laboring until the contractions are closer again.
To avoid stress during labor, there are several things you can do:
- Stay home for as long as possible, in a familiar environment.
- Have a birth partner who knows exactly what you do and don't want and you trust to make the right decisions for you when needed.
- A birth plan which outlines what your preferences are in different situations.
- A discussion with the doctor or midwife about hospital and birthing procedures so you're aware of what to expect.
- Requesting that as few people as possible be present during labor and that there is minimal noise (or bring some calming music) and the lights are turned down so you can relax and concentrate on the labor and impending birth.
- Consider having a doula (a trained advocate and birth assistant).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
email@example.com on January 19, 2016:
Thank you for sharing in this hub
Erin Jade from South Australia on August 11, 2014:
I really enjoyed reading this! At 30 weeks pregnant with my second child and having a really horrible experience first time around with an induction I was getting really nervous however I will definitely apply some of these techniques over the next few weeks and fingers crossed all goes well. Really interesting post :)
Beth Perry from Tennesee on May 17, 2014:
I avoided pain meds with my first two and the labors went on, mercilessly, for hours on end. (With the second they eventually had to do a C-section). With my third, I asked for an epidural, got it, and the labor was a snap! So you can guess which route I took for the fourth.
Annie on April 26, 2014:
You cannot induce labor by working certain massage points unless the body is ready. As a massage therapist of 9 years, I've had plenty of experience and have talked with others who have similar experiences.
Brittney on March 15, 2014:
I drank Rasberry Leaf Tea and toke EPO both orally and inserting it the last month of my pregnancy. My labour was only two hours and I only pushed four times before my little one came out. My family has really fast labours, my Mom was never in labour longer than six hours, and both my sisters no longer than four and a half hours. Maybe the EPO and RLT helped to speed things along, or maybe it's good genetics. Who knows! Every woman and every labour is different!
Musu Bangura from Nation's Capital on March 14, 2014:
Really interesting information. Thanks for sharing. Voting up!
Samita Sharma from Chandigarh on October 17, 2013:
Very interesting hub..
M K Paul from India on September 05, 2012:
Thanks for sharing the info :)
Beth on September 01, 2012:
If I had gone without the epidural I never would have dilated. I did not dilate past 2cm after 8 hours of labor, then I could not take it anymore and I got an epi. Thank god! I slept and slept..when I woke up I was at 10com and ready to push. It was a godsend. Never tell people to not get pain relief. There are no heroes in labor except the doctors!
oh and fyi i had been up all day and went into labor at 11pm so it was like torture being away those 8 hours without pain relief. I believed the same propaganda on here and tortured myself.
Every woman is different and so is every labor!!!
Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on July 21, 2012:
Very wonderful information! I did some of these things on my last two labors, much better! Great hub, thanks!
StephenCowry on June 02, 2012:
Raspberry Leaf Tea or Pills sounds new to me. My sister just delivered a baby boy and it's really good news because everything's normal. She went out of the hospital a day after the baby came out, that's really great! The information you've shared here is something that could be of help to many of the women today who are pregnant. Great job!
Jesse b on May 02, 2012:
I had quite a speedy labour for a first labour. with my first child my labour lasted 4 1/2 hours! I was so shocked! I only had gas and air and that was only after I was fully dilated. so perhaps the lack of pain relief did help? but that day i had done lots of walking around and had sex with my partner in an attempt to trigger labour as it was the day after my due date and I was impaitient. I stayed at home until last minute when my my told me the contractions are pretty close together now we should go get my progress checked at the hospital and I didn't have a birth plan. labour is very unpredictable so I never wrote a birth plan so I could just relax and think "hey the baby has to come out so let's see what happens" the whole thing was so straight forward my second pregnancy was home birth
bushraismail from ASIA on April 25, 2012:
Oh thanks for this lovely hub..labour sounds so easy while reading this...but love to hear experience from women..I have heard of 5 minute labours and also about days of labours..mm...Thank you.