Bring it on: Chinese tips for inducing labour naturally

I never thought I would be writing an article about how to induce labour.  My first child came into the world quickly and unexpectedly — two months early.  So with this pregnancy, I have been anxiously monitoring the weeks and counting (and praying) to see if I could hold on as long as possible. 

But this baby is big.  I won’t know his exact size he is until he is born (despite the scary estimates I’ve been given based on ultrasound measurements — confirmed through a second opinion with a different doctor).  With such a protruding belly, I look like a tank compared with the petite pregnant Asian ladies I see at hospital checkups.  But jokes about my less than svelte appearance aside, given the risk-adverse policies in most of Taiwan’s medical facilities, a large baby will likely mean a lot of unnecessary intervention during birth.  Unless the baby just happens to comes by himself — soon.

I should caution at this point the obvious: you should not try to induce labour except on medical advice from your obstetrician or midwife.  And this is really only something to be attempted in the final trimester, when it is clear that the baby is fully ‘cooked’.  In my case I have the full support of my obstetrician, friends from the Taiwan Doula Association and my good friend and Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner, Claire Shen, to prod baby to come out.  So far the advice I have been given includes: 

  1. Red bean and barley soup.  In Chinese medicine, red beans (aka adzuki beans) are prized for their health benefits, specifically for improving blood supply and circulation — of benefit to pregnant women.  And barley, especially the water in which barley has been cooked, is a natural diuretic that can help with fluid reduction — especially swelling in the legs, a common issue during pregnancy.  According to my obstetrician, clinical studies in China have shown that barley water is effective in helping to induce early labour.  But as its anti-fluid retention effects are powerful, do not consume in large quantities without first obtaining medical advice.  For induction purposes, eat a small bowl of red bean and barley soup made with Chinese rock sugar three times a day.
  2. Shoulder massage.  Massages are usually avoided during pregnancy as an unexperienced masseur might inadvertently trigger miscarriage.  Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners believe that there are some key acupressure points are linked with oxytocin production.  (Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the labour hormone, is produced in large quantities both during and after childbirth.  Synthetic oxytocin is also sometimes used to stimulate induction.)  So a good shoulder massage by a trusted professional in late pregnancy might help to get baby moving — or at the very least help the expectant mother feel more relaxed.
  3. Green papaya salad.  Unlike ripe papaya, green papaya contains enzymes that can trigger uterine contractions and induce early labor.  Some studies indicate that unripe papaya latex acts like prostaglandin and oxytocin, both of which are sometimes used to induce labour.  And I suspect the chillis in Thai-style green papaya salad might help to promote early labor as well.  A few shreds of green papaya are not likely to produce dramatic results; for induction purposes, eat a bowl of salad three times a day.
  4. Reflexology.  Chinese medicine practitioners believe there are meridian lines that run through the body, linking certain parts of the body together.  The feet and ankles, in particular, are key acupressure points.  A good foot massage can help to stimulate key areas that will help induce labour, while also helping to reduce edema swelling.  With summer temperatures here in Taipei soaring as high as 38 degrees celcius in recent days, I was amazed at the almost immediate relief following 40 minutes at the hands of a skilful (yet painful) reflexologist.  For one thing, my feet slipped effortlessly back into my previously tight shoes.  The main reflexology points for helping to encourage the uterus to open are in the inner calf (about a third of the way up) and on the outer leg (just above the knob near the heel).
  5. Hand massage. According to Claire, an important acupuncture point is the juncture between the thumb and the forefinger.  Make a ‘V’ with your fingers, and massage down into the reverse side of your hand.  You will know when X marks the right spot because it will tingle and hurt.

Hopefully a combination of these tips will help coax my baby out before he gets too fat and comfortable.  But I would love to know more about any natural tried and successful natural induction methods people have used.  What worked and why?  And would you try it again?

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About taiwanxifu

‘Taiwanxifu’ (pronounced ‘shee foo’) means ‘Taiwan daughter-in-law’ in Chinese and has been my nickname ever since I married my Taiwanese husband, Sam. I love sampling Taiwanese food, even local specialties such as stinky tofu, pigs blood cake and Taipei beef noodle soup with offal. But there are many other options on the menu. Promise!
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