Whoops - I totally flaked on last month’s article. You could say I had slightly underestimated the workload involved in looking after a newborn baby...
So while I’ve spent the last two months up to my elbows in washable nappies and electric breast pumps, I’ve also been half-thinking about what to write about when I ever find the time.
I’ve settled on ‘herbs for a home birth’ since the subject is fresh in my mind and will at least keep me awake long enough to finish the article!
About home birth
Every woman should choose the type of birth that most suits her and her needs, and the herbs below can be equally used to prepare for a hospital birth.
I opted for a home birth mainly because I met the amazing midwife Els Bellemans who inspired and supported me in my choice, and because I had also heard that a hospitable birth doesn’t always mean a safer birth.
I also had the fortune of meeting many women during my pregnancy who told me tales of wonderful, empowering home births. I read books like Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan, Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin and the Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill, and generally made sure I was prepared for the big day.
My labour progressed smoothly and quickly and I am sure my months of preparation had a lot to do with this. However, as I needed an episiotomy and quite a lot of stitches, my midwife’s expertise turned out to be invaluable too, and I would say to anyone considering a home birth: make sure you have a midwife you know and trust.
I would say to anyone considering a home birth: make sure you have a midwife you know and trust.
If I had to make the decision again, I would choose a home birth in a flash. Below are the five herbs I relied on most before, during and after my labour.
Red raspberry leaf
Probably the most well-known pregnancy herb, the leaves of the raspberry plant have been used for centuries as a mineral rich tonic tea to “tone” the uterus in preparation for childbirth.
They contain minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorus that nourish the uterus and enable it to contract and relax effectively – they’re also rich in a plant chemical called fragarine which is thought to stimulate uterine muscle.
In one study raspberry leaf was found to decrease the likelihood of premature labour as well as reduce the chance of going too far past your due date. It also lowered rates of interventions like caesareans and forceps delivery.
Several studies have shown that taking 1-2 cups of raspberry leaf tea a day in the third trimester can make labor easier. I started around week 34, mixed 50:50 with nettle leaves for their iron content and to disguise the taste.
One or two cups of raspberry leaf tea a day in the third trimester can make labor easier
You can also drink raspberry leaf during active labour - I just didn’t fancy it by that stage and was too busy crawling around the living room counting floor tiles!
Delicious dates are chock full of nutrition - they contain fats, proteins, carbohydrates, a range of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In the Middle East they are a common remedy for preparing for childbirth, and many recent scientific studies support their traditional use.
Dates are associated with better cervical “ripening”, increased cervical dilation on admission to hospital, reduced rates of induction, and a greater likelihood of induction working if it’s needed.
One 2011 study found that eating 6 dates a day nearly halved the length of the first stage of labour - that is, up until the cervix is fully dilated. The hardest part!
As well as being one of the yummiest ways to prepare for labour, eating 6 dates a day (or 4 of the Medjool variety) may be the best way to maximise your chances of a quick and easy birth.
Eating 6 dates a day nearly halved the length of the first stage of labour
Here’s a great video summarising all the research.
Hay flowers (Flores graminis)
From 37 weeks on, at the request of my midwife, I did a sitz bath/vaginal steam of these flowers twice a week. I had never heard of this herb, but apparently it is traditionally used in Germany to help ripen the cervix, enabling it to dilate quicker.
Preparing a vaginal steam is easy - just put a few handfuls of the herb in a big glass/ceramic bowl of just boiled water and place the bowl inside the toilet bowl. Then sit on the toilet with a big towel covering your legs. It’s actually very relaxing!
This is the only herb I used during active labour. As the name implies, it is traditionally used as a nerve tonic for giving strength and courage to those going through strenuous times, such as new motherhood or indeed, childbirth.
A few drops of the tincture on the tongue in between contractions really helped me remain calm and focussed. I think of motherwort as the strong, reliable matriarch who comforts and nurtures - it was my female ally until my midwife arrived on the scene.
Shepherd's purse is a tiny weed found in the hedgerows all over the Algarve. The herb is an extremely quick and effective anti-haemorrhagic, and is traditionally used to control heavy menstruation.
I took a few swigs of the tincture after my baby had been born, just to prevent any post-partum haemorrhages or too much blood loss from stitches. A handy herb to have at hand just in case.
You can pick the herb yourself and make it into a tincture simply by adding vodka/medronho and leaving it to sit for 4 weeks. Pack as much as you can into a glass jar, pour enough vodka/medronho to cover the herb and leave in a cool dark place, shaking occasionally and finally, straining it to remove the plant matter.