The truth about those labour myths

labour myths

You have probably heard lots of Old Wives’ Tales about labour and birth but which have some basis in fact and which are just plain rubbish? Here’s our helpful guide…

Will I go into labour when there’s a full moon?

Some people believe that women go into labour around the time of the full moon. This may be linked with the idea that the menstrual cycle may be timed around the lunar cycle too. However, scientists have looked into this and have said that there is no correlation between the full moon and giving birth.

Is there something I can eat to bring on labour?

Some people tell you that there are foods or substances you can eat to bring on labour. Are they effective or just wishful thinking?

Castor oil and pineapple are often cited as ways to bring on a baby when you’re a few days overdue and also a strong, hot curry. Whilst it is unlikely that eating anything can actually cause labour – otherwise, why wouldn’t this work at any other time of pregnancy – there may be an effect of these foods that may help if you’re overdue. Putting it rather crudely, one of the earliest things your body does when you go into labour is try make you get rid of waste in the bowel, so you’ll often be on the loo during the first stage of labour. So perhaps if you eat foods that have a similar effect and you are already overdue, you may trick your body into labour? Sounds unlikely from a scientific point of view but then the mind is a powerful thing! It’s also a great excuse to have a curry. Castor oil? No thanks!

Pineapple contains the enzyme Bromelain that is believed to soften the cervix but again, this is unproven.

Raspberry leaf tea is said to bring on contractions and many women turn to it to help bring on labour. A study in 1998 said that a group of women who drank the tea in the last few weeks of pregnancy were less likely to need their waters breaking, has shorter labours and were less likely to need a Caesarean or assisted birth. However, this was a very small survey and very little scientific study has been done.  Herbalists believe that the raspberry leaf tea helps soften the cervix in preparation for labour and that it can shorter the duration of labour but it pays to be cautious. The tea can be quite powerful, so you need to avoid it before you are in the final few of weeks (after the 32nd week) before labour and then only drink in small amounts. Avoid it altogether if your baby is breech, if you are having twins or more, if you had a previous labour that was very quick (under three hours). If you have had any bleeding in pregnancy, had a previous premature labour or have high blood pressure. If you have had ovarian cancer, fibroids or endometriosis you should also steer clear.

What about having sex to bring on a baby?

This one actually has some scientific basis. Semen contains a substance called prostaglandins, which can actually help to ‘ripen’ or soften the cervix. It can also cause contractions.

I’ve had a ‘show’ so I must be in labour

First, you need to work out what a show is and how you can work out if you have had one, because this is quite difficult.

Having a ’show’ does mean that labour is not too far away, perhaps a few days, but it doesn’t mean that you are in labour. Sorry!

I should go for a long walk

Exercise is really good for you during pregnancy and it’s to be encouraged, to keep you in good shape mentally and emotionally. A long walk is another Old Wives’ Tale that’s supposed to bring on labour and you may well find yourself itching to get out for a hike. There’s certainly no harm in it but a word of caution – you’re going to need all the energy you have in labour, so don’t tire yourself out just before it all happens! If you do go for a walk, sway your hips to help guide baby (together with gravity) into the birth canal.

When my waters break, it will be like Niagara Falls.

Many of us worry that our waters will break in an inconvenient or frankly embarrassing place such as the middle of Waitrose or in bed but in many cases, it can be more of a slow trickle that a gush. Many women find that their waters don’t break at all until they are actually in well-established labour or need them broken for them by the midwife to help labour progress more quickly.

If your waters do break and you fail to go into labour, you should speak to your health team, as there is a higher risk of infection. You may need to go into hospital and may be offered an induction of labour.

My waters have broken so I will go straight into labour

If you feel your waters break, it’s no guarantee that you will immediately start getting contractions. It may take some time!

 “You’ll have an easy labour because you have child-bearing hips.”

Some people tell you that women with wider hips will have an easier labour. That’s actually rubbish and most women will give birth with no problems. Only something like five per cent of women carry babies that are too big for their birth canal to cope with and your medical team will be able to advise on giving you a Caesarean. When you are heading toward the last few weeks of your pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin will start to flood your body. Its effect is to literally relax your joints so that your pelvis can expand to allow your baby to pass out.

My second labour will be less painful than my first

It’s not true that a second labour will be less painful or intense. It is generally true that second and subsequent labours are sorter, as there is some kind of ‘muscle memory’ here. Your pelvic floor, cervix and birth canal have been stretched before by labour and your body seems to remember this. The first stage of labour from your first contraction to full dilation is quicker. The second stage of labour, the pushing stage, is often quicker too. Just remember that every labour if different.

Stimulating the nipples can bring on contractions

This one might be true but there’s no actual evidence for it and some health professionals say that it might lead to a longer labour.

And finally – a myth that needs de-bunking

Some people will tell you that as your baby gets bigger, especially those last weeks before the birth when you feel as if you can’t actually stretch any further, that your baby’s movements will lessen. They tell you that this is due to the lack of space inside you. Well, this myth is not just untrue, it’s downright dangerous. Your baby should continue to move, kick you in the cervix, push feet and hands out at your ribs and have hiccups all the way through pregnancy and if you feel that your baby’s movements have slowed down, you should go to your midwife or obstetrician immediately, as it can be a sign of a serious problem. Keep a note of your baby’s movements during pregnancy – you can get a helpful wristband counter from the charity Kicks Count – and if you think you haven’t felt as many motions for a while, seek help. Nobody will mind if you pop in for a quick check up but it important that you act.

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