Long before Pitocin became the go-to drug for inducing labor, legend has it that Charlestonians chose a more natural method of stimulating a mother to begin childbirth.

Induced births on the rise

The rate of medically induced birth rates grew between 1990 and 2008 (the latest data available).

1990: 9.6 percent of births

1995: 16.1 percent

2000: 20.1 percent

2005: 22.7 percent

2008: 23.1 percent

At 37-38 weeks

1990: 7.9 percent

2008: 22.1 percent

At 40-41 weeks

1990: 10.7 percent

2008: 28.1 percent

41 weeks and up

1990: 14.9 percent

2008: 27.3 percent

Source: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, “VitalStats,” August 2010, (www.cdc.gov/nchs/vitalstats.htm): Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces.

A ride down cobblestoned Chalmers Street, aka “Labor Lane,” was supposed to do the trick.

Today, as more mothers, including the Duchess of Cambridge herself, seek natural childbirth, they are looking for alternative birth-induction methods that don’t involve drugs or cesarean section. Some get anxious when obstetricians start talking about drug induction at 37 weeks.

Among the methods some are turning to include reflexology, acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments. Even eating dates in the final month.

Reflexology results

Sam Johnson of Mount Pleasant and her husband were expecting their first child on Jan. 21.

“I really wanted a natural childbirth, in part, because I have a fear of needles and the thought of an epidural was scary,” recalls the 30-year-old.

After the due date came and went, her obstetrician started talking about inducing labor.

Johnson did not want to take Pitocin, which a preliminary study recently linked to unexpected admissions to neonatal intensive care units and lower health scores on a test performed on newborns.

Johnson, who had taken classes in The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, had heard about using reflexology to induce labor.

Reflexology involves a certified therapist applying pressure on points in the feet, hands and other parts of the body to stimulate activity in different parts of the body. In the case of reflexology induction, it stimulates the thyroid, digestive and reproductive systems.

At 3 p.m. Jan. 26, she went to the MoM Spa in Mount Pleasant and had a reflexology induction. Three hours later, she started having her first contractions.

A little after noon the next day, she gave birth.

“I really think it (reflexology) helps,” says Johnson, adding that psychology may have played a role in getting the baby moving.

Not a massage

Johnson described the reflexology as “uncomfortable” but not painful.

Christy Croffead Schachte, owner of MoM Spa and a licensed massage therapist, stresses that reflexology is not a massage in the conventional sense of the therapy.

“I have to use deep pressure to stimulate these different areas and it can be uncomfortable, depending on an individual’s pain threshold,” says Schachte. “Reactions from clients range from falling asleep to practically jumping off the table.”

She adds, that women who typically choose natural childbirth have a high threshold for pain in the first place.

Schachte says that many women who choose natural childbirth get upset when a doctor suggests inducing labor with drugs and the added anxiety makes matters worse for them.

Since reflexology is not chemical or surgical in nature, it’s safe for most pregnant women.

Schachte will not perform reflexology induction on women with a history of miscarriages, pregnancy-induced medical conditions or who have been put on bed rest, without permission of their doctor.

Other methods

At Family First Chiropractic, which has a focus on prenatal care, it offers an array of natural induction methods, including massage and acupuncture.

“The premise behind the chiropractic adjustment involves a specific sacral analysis called the Webster Technique,” says owner Tara Miller, noting the technique assesses any pelvic biomechanical dysfunction.

“The sacrum and supporting musculature, ligaments and joints must be free of restriction and imbalance to be ready for the birth process,” says Miller. He adding that after detection of abnormalities, an adjustment will consist of correction of the sacral rotation and then a gentle trigger point pressure of opposite side round ligament.

Still, the point is not to try to rush the mother or baby.

“We really want the baby to come on her or his own time schedule and believe the body should be rested and in a relaxed state. We feel the combination of chiropractic, massage therapy and acupuncture allow the pregnant woman to achieve this state.”

When ready and not stressed, the baby will signal to mother and labor will start. “We believe that is the most natural way to induce labor,” Miller says.

No harm done

Certified nurse midwife Lesley Rathbun, owner and director of the Charleston Birth Place, says she’s been referring some clients for reflexology, acupuncture and chiropractic procedures for quite some time.

“Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. If you and your baby are ready, almost anything will work,” says Rathbun.

Rathbun adds that she doesn’t recommend induction therapies before 41 weeks (37 is considered full term).

She noted that other natural remedies also are available. She pointed to a study, published by the National Institutes of Health in 2011, that determined eating six dates (as in the dried fruit) daily starting four weeks before the delivery date reduced the chances of having to be induced through drugs.

Interest in alternatives to chemical induction is growing as more women become interested in natural childbirth and avoiding C sections, says Rathbun.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postandcourier.com.