Childbirth & Labour

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Finding a good herbalist

I have some personal comments and suggested herbs come at the end. Firstly, the following notes comprise some quotes (in italics) taken from some prominent herbal authors on the subject of childbirth.

If the reader has some health concerns that need further help, or if they want to be sure of getting high quality extracts of the herbs discussed here, then it is recommended they find a good herbalist and some suggestions on how they might go about finding such a person are found here

Thomas Bartram

From Bartram's Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine

'One of the areas in which herbal medicine proves safe and effective is childbirth. Before days of modern medicine herbalism was the only method of assistance. Although the modern hospital has taken over the management of the case, powerful plant parturients (agents that aid birth) are still available for the enlightened physician

Raspberry leaf tea should be taken in the last 3 months of pregnancy... taken hot at expectation of delivery the tea favourably assists.

For last month of pregnancy to ensure easy delivery Blue Cohosh should also be taken. It strengthens the muscles of the womb and pelvis. Assists labour pains and all aspects of childbirth (Bartram adds that it was an old veterinary standby to reduce piglet mortality!) Where labour is delayed or for rigid, painful spasms, or when 'all worn out by fatigue' take up to 20 drops of the tincture every half hour as needed.

Pulsatilla; for inefficient labour, to accelerate delivery. Safe and reliable for weak and distressing pains. Thirty drops tincture in water every 15 minutes to half hour, even if ineffective, its action is harmless.

For severe haemorrhage; Yarrow tea, as much as tolerated. Also, a sponge-down saturated with Calendula infusion after delivery is most comforting to the new mother.


Rubus idaeus (Raspberry leaf)

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Amanda McQuade-Crawford

From Herbal Remedies for Women

During early labour - have Raspberry leaf tea already made into ice, broken up into chips to suck on when your mouth feels dry, instead of drinking lots of liquid. Try doing nothing, a basically healthy woman does not need much herbal help with labour.

Long or stalled labour - Have a nap, walk around... stalled labour is often due to exhaustion, it describes normal labour that has stopped progressing as expected. If pathological problems have been ruled out, relaxation is most important.

Tinctures are more convenient than teas at this stage. Note that the following formula may lower blood pressure, this amount is usually within the safe range though a sensitive woman may feel dizzy if she stands too quickly.

Stalled Labour Formula

Blue Cohosh root 16mls
Black Cohosh root 16mls
Mitchella (Partridge berry) 32mls
Raspberry leaf 32mls
Cinnamon bark 8mls

To make 104 mls, which will easily fit into a 100 ml amber pharm round. I have converted the proportions of Amanda's formula given in dried herb - ounce dosages into this tincture form - an effective dosage could be 4 mls every 15-45 minutes in some warm water or as needed. She notes to only use Blue Cohosh in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy.

Painful labour/Contractions

Black Cohosh root 25mls
Blue Cohosh root 25mls

Take 2 mls of this tincture every twenty minutes or as needed. If the medicine is not effective, use any of Skullcap, Passionflower, Valerian, this is usually a short-term problem.


Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh)

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Anne McIntyre

From her book 'the Complete Women's Herbal

Once contractions have started or the waters have broken, you can continue to use herbs to relax or tone, depending on what you need. In the first and second stages of delivery the birth can be delayed, mainly because of inadequate uterine contractions (uterine inertia) and here herbs have a great part to play.

Sometimes the uterus takes a long time to get going - contractions may occur at irregular intervals, about every 10-30 minutes, and are weak and ineffectual. As a result, the cervix dilates only slowly, and labour can become very prolonged and tiring.

Poor contractions at the second stage may be the result of a long and tiring first stage, or be caused by sedation with drugs, or over-distension of the uterus because of a multiple pregnancy.

On the other hand, uterine inertia can also occur when the uterus contracts strongly and fiercely, but only for a few seconds at a time. Sometimes this is because of the way the baby is lying and this can cause quite severe backache.

Frequent, short, sharp uterine contractions are not as efficient as normal contractions. Again, the cervix can take a long time to dilate and the birth is prolonged. This kind of inertia may be a part of a fear-pain-tension syndrome, where fear and anxiety about the birth can cause tense muscles, and increased pain, and thus can further increase tension and anxiety.

Many women feel anxious, especially with a first baby, as they do not really know what to expect. Some fear they will not be able to cope with the pain of childbirth. Many worry about performing what is essentially a private act in a public place.

Anne recommends Black and Blue Cohosh for weak, irregular contractions. She says they 'help to establish a normal birth with regular and strong contractions'. Sip teas or dilute tinctures (10 drops in a little water) every 15-30 minutes as necessary.

One drop each of tinctures of Myrrh and Cayenne, taken in a little water and repeated as necessary, helps to promote regular and effective contractions, increases circulation, and helps prevent post-partum haemorrhage (note to reader - even at this lowest possible dose, try beforehand to check for tolerance)

For over-strong painful contractions, fear and tension;
Blue Cohosh can be very effective to relax the uterine muscles, soothe the nerves and relieve restlessness or irritability. At the same time, its tonic action increases tone and vigour to help with the birth effort.
Black Cohosh promotes relaxation and helps to regulate contractions, making them less painful and yet more productive. Black Cohosh is very helpful to calm pain and relax you if you get very tense or panicky.
Raspberry leaf relaxes the uterus, calm and strengthen the nerves, normalise contractions and reduce pain.
Wild Yam is specific for those who are tense and nervous.
Cramp bark is a general relaxant and also reduces uterine tension.

One herb worthy of note during the second stage, when you are trying to push the baby out, is Ginseng. If you are feeling stressed, tired or even so exhausted that you can't find the energy or the enthusiasm to push any more, try chewing good quality Panax Ginseng root. It can have quite miraculous healing effects, imparting a burst of energy just when you need it to complete the birth successfully. I have recommended it many times and tried it myself with amazing results.


Panax ginseng (Ginseng root)

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Personal Comments

There are many other excellent and experienced authors in this important area, but I wanted to share some viewpoints of just three great herbalists before making my own comments so that you, the reader, would get a sense of the rich tradition and broad potential for herbal medicines to help in this great moment of life, the birth of a child.

To my continuing joy, I have always had a lot of pregnant women coming into my practice for one reason or another. Perhaps I knew them from working with them in the past, perhaps they came in because they knew that there are very few drugs that can be safely taken during pregnancy but that they would still be able to find good medicines from Nature to use when needed.

When the birth is coming up, I usually ask the woman to come in for a visit about 6 weeks or so before they were due. The reason for that timing is to give them a pre-parturient tonic and to have a chat with them about trusting Nature and about how their body will know what to do when the time comes! This topic, about helping to ensure an excellent chance of a healthy birth are written up in detail here

A key point to convey, and a very good thing to talk through, is that we need to understand how to face our fear of pain and to trust that it will always pass and that we just need to stay in the moment and listen to what we need to do, how we best need to breathe, how we best feel to move etc. plus there are all the natural hormones and pain-relieving endorphins that the woman's body will produce when she is in labour!

Anyone who would like to read a lot further on the subject of facing fears and even making friend with them is invited to start reading the chapter on emotional healing that begins here

Further to all that, there are some great herbs that can give much help to bring the labour along and to help ease pain and tension when needed. None of these herbs are mind-altering, the woman's ability to be with her process and in her labour will never be reduced or displaced by using these herbs.

Childbirth Formula

Black Cohosh 40mls
Raspberry leaf 40mls
Wild Yam 40mls
Cramp bark 40mls
Licorice root 30mls
Peppermint 20mls

To make 210 mls, which will easily fit into a 200ml amber pharm round. Bearing in mind with these dosage recommendations, that these are tinctures that we make from dried organic herbs in our clinic, so a different preparation made by another practitioner or company might need more or less, to help the labour along and relieve pain or distress, I would give 4-5 mls every 20-40 minutes, or as needed.

Most women have plenty of this formula left over after the birth and, as the herbs in it can be of much benefit to her general condition and to help restore the uterus to good form and health, I then suggest taking 5 mls once or twice a day until it is finished.

The effects of these herbs are not to dull her senses or to make her detached from her experience, rather they work to support the mighty force of Nature that is coursing through her as she gives birth. These herbs, these essences of Nature, will help her to bear down into the process, to relax between her contractions, to be there as a living part of something much greater than herself. They can be trusted to safely support and help her as much as she needs on her greatest of journeys.


Botanical drawing of Viburnum opulus (Cramp bark)

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd