Do "natural" methods work for pregnancy and labor?

You know the look. The one where someone is thinking “That doesn’t really work.” Perhaps there is a comment about placebo effect or a barely hidden eye roll when we start talking about “natural” anything for pregnancy and birth.

(Just to be clear-I’m using a fairly wide definition of “natural.” I basically mean anything that isn’t made by a pharmaceutical company and doesn’t include the words stripping, rupturing, or “foley.”)

Let me just tell you-as long as the products being used are pure and high quality (others have covered these concerns so I’ll leave them out of my post) "natural" interventions are rock solid tools for labor and birth. 

But like anything, there are some things that can limit their success.

Is the person labor sensitive?

Just because you’re past the 37 week mark, doesn’t mean your body is ready to start labor. You could be days away or you could still be weeks away. There is no way to tell.

Even if you’re dilating, you could still be days or weeks away. Dilation is unpredictable (and some say random.) We know you go from closed to complete before the baby is born, but when and how quickly is anyone’s guess.

What I’m getting at is that being 37+ weeks doesn’t give you the green light to use any means necessary to induce labor, natural or not. Because if your body isn’t ready, you could be setting yourself up for a few disappointing and emotional weeks or a really hard labor of forcing your body to do something it’s not ready to do.

This applies to all induction means-even pitocin. Research shows elective induction leads to a higher risk of cesarean compared to waiting for the body to start labor on it's own. Supporting your body as it makes its way towards sensitivity is the best place for your efforts. This can be done through chiropractic care, massage, nutrition, and movement/positioning.

What are the birthing person's emotions?

Never underestimate the power of emotion. People who feel safe and calm have smoother labors than those who are anxious and fearful. Think about the way your back, neck, and hips feel when you’re overworked, tired, and stressed. You may not feel it, but you’re probably tensing a lot of other muscles too.

You’re giving your body the signals that something isn’t safe and your body knows better than to happily carry on with a birth if it isn’t safe.

I recently had a client who agreed to an induction. Her nurse was an eye-roller when she saw us using acupressure. The acupressure worked to establish contractions, but this mom had a lot of fear. She’d get rolling and enter into the fear cycle which would stop it. She was on a mental roller coaster of “What if…” “Did I make the right choice?” “Will…happen?”

So the acupressure didn’t work as well as it could have if she had felt calm, confident, and supported by her team. And guess what-neither did the pitocin or any of the other interventions they threw at her during her long labor. Never underestimate the power of emotion.

Most people don’t really know what they’re doing when it comes to natural measures.

I believe this is a huge problem. They hear "natural" and interpret it as safe and easy-no experience necessary. Maybe a friend had a good experience with an herbal tea or pressing on the toe. They might read a little on the internet or hear a passing comment from an educator. Then they try (insert natural thing here), it works improperly or doesn’t work at all, and they walk away thinking “That is a load of bull." 

Case in point: I am and was a practicing, board-certified music therapist when I had my first son. I TRIED to use music therapy principles to create my playlists. But, like many people, I got about half way through without pain meds and suddenly my music started driving me nuts. I seriously couldn’t stand to listen to it. I believe I said “Turn that sh*t off,” and asked for the epidural.

Had I not known better, I could have walked away thinking music doesn’t work. Happily I didn’t. Because that’s my job and I knew there had to be something I missed.

When I pursued specialized training in music for birth, pieces started coming together. Things that make sense, but aren’t COMMON SENSE.

For example, I didn’t know the brain functioning changes during birth-we didn’t cover that in my birth classes or birth books. And I sure as heck didn’t know how to use music to support that brain change. I just knew that suddenly my music wasn’t working and I needed it off. Once I learned those two pieces of information, I was like “Of course that didn’t work! Operator error.”

So if a music therapist doesn’t know how to use music for birth until she gets specialized training, how can we expect the average person to know? Even a doula with years of experience, but no training in music therapy wouldn't truly know.

“if a music therapist doesn’t know how to use music for birth until she gets specialized training, how can we expect the average person to know? “

The same goes for acupressure. We learned exactly one point in my doula training. We learned it incorrectly and we didn’t learn the contraindications for it.

Since becoming an acupressure comfort measure instructor, I’m blown away by the power of these techniques. Sadly, many couples learn the points from people who haven't seen the effectiveness and don’t know appropriate use (including when NOT to use certain points.)

My point is that “natural” methods are powerful, but because many don’t understand their power or how to appropriately use them, they get written off as placebo effect, tossed in the proverbial “bull” bin, or just not given the proper investment they deserve (i.e. getting information from practitioners experienced in that method.)

So if you’re interested in using “natural" methods for pregnancy or birth, invest in getting the correct information from the correct sources.

  • For acupressure go to an acupuncturist or a trained acupressure instructor (like me!)
  • For music go to a music therapist trained in birth (like me and my team!
  • For hypnosis go to a birth specialist with training in hypnosis for birth (not me)
  • For partner meditation go to someone who knows about that (not me)

Find someone who has experience to help you sort out what you need, when, and how to use it. To specifically learn about using music and acupressure effectively for your birth, register for our coming workshops here.