Do Herbs Induce Labor?

Do herbs induce labor?  Since the time of medieval midwives, certain herbs have been used for their beneficial properties during pregnancy. Most herbs used during pregnancy actually tone or help prepare the uterus for birth rather than actually starting labor.


Use caution when using herbs to induce labor. There can be inherent dangers in ingesting herbs as some quantities and interactions can be toxic. Most early medicines originated from plants. While most are now synthetically manufactured, the original chemical formulas used as building blocks came from plants or herbs.


Some herbs are harmful in high doses but safe in lower doses. The FDA does not regulate the herbal industry, so the same herb from two different companies may differ in potency. Also, there may be other chemicals and/or preservatives present depending upon each manufacturer's process. Organic herbs are preferable when possible or another reputable source.


Do not attempt using herbs to induce labor until after 41 weeks with the guidance of your care provider.


BLACK COHOSH

Using black cohosh to induce labor may regulate the contractions to make them more effective. It comes in a tincture and can be purchased in a water-based or alcohol-based formula. Do not take the capsule form.  Unfortunately, no studies have determined whether herbs induce labor, are safe, or whether all versions of the herb are of equal potency.


Black cohosh is contraindicated with any of the following conditions: anemia or any blood clotting disorder. Black cohosh has been shown to cause blood thinning which can lead to excessive blood loss during delivery.


BLUE COHOSH

Blue cohosh is similar to the black although its primary function is to strengthen uterine contractions. A protocol for use is as follows:

  • Take 10-15 tinctures of the blue every hour. 
  • Then take 5-10 of the black cohosh every half and hour. 
  • Do this until labor starts, or for one full day. 
  • Take a rest the next day and try again on the third day.


Whether or not herbs induce labor, there are other alternatives to prepare the uterus. A widely used choice is red raspberry leaf tea. It is a uterine tonic used by Native Americans and midwives for thousands of years. It does not start contractions and can be safely used throughout pregnancy. After delivery, it helps the uterus shrink back to normal size more quickly and reduces bleeding.


If the cervix is not ready, these herbs will not help start labor.



References

Smith CA. Homoeopathy for induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD003399. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003399.

McFarlin BL, Gibson MH, O'Rear J, Harman P. A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse-midwives for labor stimulation. J Nurse Midwifery 1999;44:205-16.

Belew C. Herbs and the childbearing woman. Guidelines for midwives. J Nurse Midwifery 1999; 44:231-52.

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