Birth and Labor

Can I Use Herbs During Labor?

Yes, herbs can be very useful during labor and after birth to ease pain, calm emotions, and help speed recovery. The following herbs have been use for years by midwives and birthing women. See our Resources/Plants page for photos and more detailed information on several of these herbs.

  • Blue cohosh and black cohosh are two herbs that work synergistically to bring on labor (but do not use them before the last two weeks of pregnancy). During labor they can make contractions more efficient in a long, stalled labor, and help the uterus clamp down after birth.
  • Raspberry leaf (tea or tincture) is one of the best uterine tonic herbs to prepare uterine muscles for an efficient labor. Its astringent action slows bleeding and helps to expel the placenta. Have the tea on hand or make raspberry tea ice cubes to suck on during labor.

Many herbs can help ease the pain of contractions:

  • Crampbark can be used for uterine cramping during labor, and after birth to eliminate after birth cramping pains.
  • Scullcap and catnip relieve pain, as well as calm and relax the body.
  • Chamomile helps control pain during labor by relieving tension.

Other herbs help with emotional balance during labor:

  • Motherwort is one of the best herbs to give immediate emotional balance during the ups and downs of labor, but it may increase uterine bleeding.
  • Rescue Remedy, a Bach flower remedy, is excellent for bringing one quickly into focus when under stress or shock during a difficult labor. It can also be put on the baby’s forehead or wrist after a stressful birth.
  • A massage oil, enhanced with herbs, will relax the muscles and ease back labor pain. Use relaxing, aromatic herbs such as chamomile, rose, and lavender. Rubbed on the perineum, it helps prevent tearing as the baby crowns and ease swelling and burning.
  • Essential oils in a mister can give clarity and focus. Clary Sage gives a sense of well being and combats mental fatigue. During birth it helps focus breathing and calm anxiety. Geranium essential oil balances emotions and works well for perineal massage, as it stimulates circulation. Lavender is calming and strengthening, relieving depression and irritability. Citrus essential oils are clean, refreshing and uplifting. Be sure that essential oils are used in a carrier oil or mister and not applied directly to or on the skin.
  • Shepherd’s Purse tincture is the best herb to quickly stop postpartum hemorrhaging. Every midwife should have it with her in case an emergency situation arises.
  • After the birth, use a sitz bath to soak the perineum, heal any tears, shrink swelling, and slow bleeding. It helps the perineum to heal quickly, and makes walking more comfortable. Herbs to use include yarrow, uva ursi, witch hazel, Shepherd’s purse, and garlic.
  • Fill a plastic squirt bottle with a strong herbal tea of these herbs to squirt on your perineum as you urinate to lessen any burning and heal tears.
  • Homeopathic arnica pills, taken every few hours for several days after the birth, help reduce bruising and swelling of the perineal tissue. Be sure you are taking arnica internally only in homeopathic form, as arnica tincture prevents clotting and should not be taken internally.

Kathryn Higgins writes on the births of her three daughters:

I decided on a home birth with my first child, but we lived in the mountains in Colorado, far from a hospital. When my water broke and I went into labor, my husband and I drove to my midwfe’s home in town, where we would be closer to a hospital in case of any unforeseen emergency. An intense, 30 hour labor, gave me plenty of opportunity to use pain-relieving tinctures of crampbark and scullcap. But I had only dilated to three centimeters, and it was time to go to the hospital because of the increasing chance of infection. Now, hooked up to fetal monitors and pitocin, my cervix still would not dialate. Our first daughter (Silencia Deva) was born by cesarean with her head tilted back, and the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck three times. I was told she would have suffocated had she ever entered the birth canal. I was grateful for the herbs that helped me through a long labor, as well as for the medical expertise that saved our lives. As soon as I returned home from the hospital, I put mashed comfrey leaves on the cesarean cut and today I happily have no visible scar.

I was confident that I could have a successful vaginal birth with my second child, but my husband was not willing to try a home birth again. The local hospital had beautiful birthing rooms, where I was encouraged to use my herbal tinctures during labor when I needed them. Soon after the birth of our second daughter (Zenna Serene), I took crampbark tincture to prevent any afterbirth cramping and slow after birth bleeding. I continued to take this tincture several times a day for three days.

Zenna’s heart defect was discovered the day after she was born. The sitz bath and homeopathic arnica were invaluable to me, as I walked and sat comfortably through three days of tests and many appointments.

I was two weeks overdue in my third pregnancy. After consulting with my nurse midwife, I took a dose of blue cohosh tincture. Six hours later I went into labor. When we arrived at the hospital, once again I was only dilated to three centimeters. But in less than an hour of soaking in a warm tub, with my oldest daughter pushing the pressure points on my lower back, I was ready to push. The birth of our third daughter (Jasmin Jencine) went very quickly. I walked and squatted as we waited for the placenta to expel. But unknown to us at this time, the placenta had adhered to the uterine wall at my previous cesarean scar, and I was hemorrhaging internally. The warm blood came gushing out as the doctor on call prepared to do an emergency hysterectomy. My husband squeezed a dropperful of fresh shepherds purse tincture into my mouth. Almost instantly the bleeding “miraculously” stopped, and an incredulous doctor removed the placenta with a D&C, instead of the planned hysterectomy.

So remember to call on herbs to help you, as they did me, minimize the pain, promote rapid healing after the birth, and reduce the need for drug interventions, as you go through this joyous time of transformation.

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