Herbs for childbirth.

To: herb.franklin.oit.unc.edu
Subject: Re: herbs for labor induction; was castor oil
From: Elfreem.aol.com
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 10:43:21 EST

I was intrigued by the recent study involving castor oil for labor induction and did a little more research into the obstetric literature for other references on herbal use ...and found some interesting bits of information in some very recent journals. In a survey of certified nurse-midwives in North Carolina, 60 of 82 recommended herbal therapy for a variety of indications including labor induction. Black cohosh (17) and blue cohosh (16) were preferred more often for inducing labor than castor oil (11). [1] In contrast, a number of direct-entry midwives have stopped using blue cohosh due to an increased rate of meconium stained fluid, fetal tachycardia/distress, or inconsolable neonatal cry. According to the article, black cohosh and cottonroot are considered by contemporary and Native American herbalists to be much safer. [2]

These articles piqued my interest on the use of herbs for inducing labor and wondered if there are a few practicing herbalist/listers that had pregnant clients and can share their experiences. Do listers' opinions match those of the articles above? What are the best herbs for labor induction? Which are not so good? Is black cohosh better than blue cohosh considering the quality of labor and risk of side effects?


Elliot Freeman RPh, Managing Editor
Midwest Shared Newsletter

1. Allaire AD. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Pregnancy
Obstet Gynecol 2000;95:19-23
2. Belew C. Herbs and the Childbearing Woman.
J Nurse-Midwifery 1999;44:231-52

From: Miriam Kresh <miriam_k.netvision.net.il>
Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2000 22:33:37 +0200

Hi, Elliot,

I have been a qualified doulah for many years, that is a person who educates/accompanies/supports women during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and post-partum. I regularly use herbal teas, tinctures and infused oils (sometimes essential oils as well) for a variety of purposes.

Although I favor a very "soft" approach, where labor progresses according to the mother's understanding, sometimes a situation might call for encouraging contractions to become more intense, or indeed to start labor. My standard treatment is a tincture combination of black/blue cohoshes and birthroot, combined with a gentle yet stimulating full-body massage using oils of chamomile, geranium, or rose.A hot shower later on, more tinctures every 3 hours. I discontinue the tinctures once I'm certain that labor is established. Alternatives may be a hot bath with a liter of rosemary infusion added to it, or a rosemary sitz bath (as long as the amniotic sac is intact).

Emotional resistance to can be a factor to stalled labor. Its origins are sometimes clear to the attentive listener who spends time just hanging out with the mother (fear of death, for example); sometimes it's mysteriously rooted in the woman's memories. I once spent an entire night listening to a woman discuss her parent's divorce and her emotionally deprived childhood; only on coming to some sort of resolution with her feelings did she allow herself to give birth (after two weeks of frustrating, post due date contractions which would stop cold after several hours, to resume a day or so later). Here, herbal preparations are helpful additions to the psychic work: relaxing tincture of motherwort for the mother; coffee for the doulah! The best is really Bach flower remedies, however.

I confess to having used castor oil to induce labor. I would advise against its use for a woman with high blood pressure (incidentally, blood pressure should be monitored also where blue cohosh is used), or if the woman is especially nervous. I'm not fond of administering castor oil, but a woman might prefer this uncomfortable laxative, which is usually effective in starting labor, to dealing with the agenda of her doctor, who might be pressuring for induction if the baby isn't born by a certain date. I haven't seen incidents as horrible as that reported by Amy from using castor oil. On the other hand, it's my business to be fully supportive of my clients; I don't get grossed out accompanying a woman to the toilet if that is her wish, for example. In other words, it's my feeling that if the woman feels mothered and accepted, even while experiencing an explosive bowel movement, it's more likely that she'll get only the good of the castor oil treatment, which is said to be more than laxative, but also an opener of pelvic energy. Again, I usually recommend other means to start labor, as childbirth is stressful enough.

I encourage my clients, and have myself used, raspberry leaf/nettle infusions to promote easier labor and for post-partum recuperation. In addition, shepherd's purse infusion is most helpful to control bleeding once the placenta is safely delivered; echinacea taken by the mother is great for protecting the nursing baby from infections floating around the baby ward and helps to heal her perineum where there has been tearing or stitches: nothing new here. Many other herbs come into play as situations arise: angelica is effective to loosen up a placenta reluctant to detach from the uterus; catnip is good for pain of post-partum contractions; ginger tea for energy (or coping with nausea at transition); and more.

I realize that your questions related to the issue of herbs for labor induction specifically, but really, there is hardly a phase of the entire process of childbirth which can't be enhanced by the judicious use of herbs.

Miriam Kresh