We are all familiar with the fruit, the Raspberry (Rubus idaeus). What we are perhaps less familiar with is its extraordinary ability to dramatically shorten the average labour period and turn a confident journalist into a quivering wreck of a make-shift mid-wife. Last Friday, my little Claudia entered the world as a budding horticulturist in the back of a Hyundai by the side of the road.
Her arrival was five minutes short of the hospital. Her first taste of life was the sound of driving rain and smell of road-side pollen. A kookaburra found the whole event most hilarious. I am confident that from her somewhat auspicious and dramatic arrival that she will be writing her own horticultural blogs in a few years’ time given her first taste of life. I think it’s safe to assume that from my recent events I must write of lordly praise to the legend that is now the raspberry leaf. Three cups of tea was all that was required.
The raspberry is native to Northern parts of America and some parts of Europe. The properties of the leaf have of course been used in medicinal capacities for centuries. The use of this herb for remedial purposes dates back to the sixth century and its benefits in childbirth have been recorded as a proven aid in maternity in the most ancient of herbal books.
The leaf is thought to have beneficial properties for pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
Without wishing to list too many properties in the proclaimed benefits of the tea as you may well be consuming dinner whilst reading this blog, but evidence has some proof and I’m happy to back them up now. According to research by Burn & Withell, 1941 the components of raspberry leaf is able to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus when it is contracting along with assisting with the birth of the baby and the placenta, reduce cramping of the uterus and providing a rich source of iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. The magnesium content is especially helpful in strengthening the uterine muscles.
20% of pregnant women take some form of raspberry leaf with women believing that it will shorten labour and make the birth easier. Much of this evidence has come from research on the effects of raspberry leaf extracts on animals and on women in the last week before birth (Burn & Withell, 1941; Whitehouse, 1941). It was believed that the relaxant effect of the raspberry leaf caused the uterine contractions to be more efficient and with better co-ordination, and therefore shortening labour. Some evidence also shows that women who take raspberry leaf throughout labour will have an improved second and third stage of labour. It appeared that my wife skipped the second stage altogether. By having a faster process and somewhat smoother journey for the baby, there is a reduced risk of bleeding after birth.
Although studies have been few and far between, a pair of mid-wives from Sydney took the theory seriously and were the first to carry out a study on women who were currently taking raspberry leaf in pregnancy. These were then compared with women who did not take any raspberry leaf. (The control).
There were 108 women in the study. (57 on raspberry leaf and 51 were the control (took only water)). Some women started taking raspberry leaf as early as 8 weeks and others started at 39 weeks. Most women however, started taking raspberry leaf between 28 and 34 weeks into their pregnancy. The first findings of the study showed that raspberry leaf can be consumed with no identified side effects for the women or their babies. The other major finding in this study was that the women who consumed raspberry leaf were less likely to require any artificial rupture of membranes (often used in induction), a caesarean section or the use of instrumental delivery devices in the form of forceps or via vacuum birth.
Raspberry leaf is available in tablet form, teabags or as loose leaf tea. Raspberry leaf can be purchased from many health food stores or from a health care practitioner and is often
recommended by naturopaths and herbalists as well as some midwives and obstetricians.
Although of course this blog has turned more into a medical journal than perhaps a plant soiled journey from seed to fruit, it reminds us all that even some of the most memorable events in our lives can be turned in a whim from the most unlikely of sources and more often than not, are aided and abetted by the wonders of horticulture.