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Can Labor Be Induced Naturally?

Childbirth experts don't think most at-home methods work.

It's just a week until your due date. You're scouring the Internet for some way to coax baby out on time -- or maybe even a couple of days early. The message boards are full of suggestions for inducing labor "naturally." They range from eating spicy foods to spooning down castor oil. 

But does anything really work? Childbirth experts say there's no good proof.

"There are no proven non-medical ways for inducing labor naturally," says New York midwife Elizabeth Stein, CNM. The only safe and reliable methods for starting labor involve medications given at the hospital. Most other techniques are rumors, unlikely to help at best and potentially harmful. Only a couple show any promise, and the jury is still out on those.

Inducing Labor With Acupuncture

Acupuncture might help bring on labor, but it's too soon to say. In parts of Asia, it has been used for centuries to jump-start labor. 

One small study at the University of North Carolina found that women who got acupuncture were more likely to go into labor without a medical "push."

The study included 56 women who were 39.5 to 41 weeks pregnant. (Forty weeks is full term.) Half of the women got three acupuncture sessions, while the other half did not.

Seventy percent of the women who got acupuncture went into labor on their own, compared to 50% who received standard care. The women who got acupuncture were also less likely to deliver by cesarean section -- 39% compared to 17%.

"We had almost a 50% reduction in the C-section rate," says researcher Terry Harper, MD. Harper, who now practices maternal fetal medicine in Albuquerque, says the small size of her study means more research is needed. She hopes acupuncture might one day help more women give birth vaginally.

Can Sex Bring on Labor?

Another strategy that gets positive reviews from doctors and midwives is inducing labor the same way you started your pregnancy -- by having sex.

"I tell my patients to do that all the time," Harper says. Although there's no proof sex can start labor, there is a good reason why it might. Harper says sex releases prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that are like the medications used to induce labor.  And it won't hurt to try!

"I think sex is a great idea," Stein agrees. Make sure your water has not broken and your doctor or midwife has given you the green light. She adds that it's important for the man to ejaculate inside the vagina. "This ejaculate contains prostaglandins which stimulate the cervix ... possibly leading to contractions."

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