Natural Ways to Induce Labor

Can Labor Be Induced Naturally?

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.

The only safe and reliable methods for starting labor involve medications given at the hospital. Only a couple of non-medical techniques show any promise, but the jury is still out on those. Most other techniques are rumors, unlikely to help at best, and potentially harmful.

Possible Ways of Inducing Labor Naturally

When it comes to inducing labor, the following methods draw mixed reviews from childbirth experts. Either there's no evidence to support them or they might work, but carry risks. If you plan to try any of them, consult your doctor or midwife first.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture may help bring on labor. In parts of Asia, it has been used for centuries to jump-start labor. Some studies suggest it can help women who are 40 weeks or less pregnant, but may not help bring on labor in women who are post-term, or 41 weeks or more pregnant. More research is needed.

Sex

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

Although there's no proof sex can start labor, there is a good reason why it might. Sex releases prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that are like the medications used to induce labor. If you’re comfortable with having sex, it won't hurt to try. Make sure your water hasn’t broken and your doctor or midwife has given you the green light. 

Other Methods

  • Long walks: Going for a walk is good exercise but experts don’t think it will help bring on labor. 
  • Spicy foods: It's a popular theory, but there's no direct connection between the stomach and the uterus. So, there's no reason to think a particular type of food will bring on contractions. 
  • Castor oil: Some experts recommend taking a small amount of castor oil after the 38th week. But castor oil brings on diarrhea and could cause dehydration.
  • Cohosh: Some women try starting labor with cohosh, but doctors caution that this herb contains plant-based chemicals that may act like estrogen in the body. 
  • Evening primrose oil: This herb has substances that your body changes into prostaglandins, which soften the cervix and get it ready for labor. 
  • Red raspberry leaf tea: Some people think this herbal tea helps bring on spontaneous labor. The verdict is still out, but the tea is chock full of iron and calcium, which can be healthy for mom and baby. Studies show it’s safe to drink during pregnancy.

Continued

Inducing Labor in the Hospital

If you pass your due date, your doctor or midwife may recommend inducing labor in the hospital. Women with high-risk pregnancies may be induced very close to or just before the due date. Some risks of complications require induction well before the due date. For low-risk pregnancies, your doctor may want you to go to 42 weeks before inducing labor.

Inducing labor usually starts with taking prostaglandins as pills or applying them inside the vagina near the cervix. Sometimes this is enough to start contractions.

If that's not enough to induce labor, the next step is Pitocin, a man-made form of the hormone oxytocin. It stimulates uterine contractions. Pitocin should only be given once the cervix is open and ready for labor. 

As the due date approaches, many couples are eager for labor to begin so they can finally meet their little one.

And though that's the most exciting moment of your life, you might want to slow down and not rush through things.  Save your energy, rather than wearing yourself out with schemes for starting labor sooner.

In other words, get some sleep while you can!

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 06, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:
Elizabeth Stein, CNM, owner,Ask Your Midwife, PC.

"A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for initiation of labor in nulliparous women," The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, August 2006.

Terry Harper, MD, obstetrician and maternal fetal medicine specialist, Perinatal Associates of New Mexico.

Cleveland Clinic: “Truth or Tale? 8 Ways to (Maybe) Move Labor Along Naturally.”

PubMed: “Acupuncture to induce labor: a randomized controlled trial,” “Effect of acupuncture on induction of labor,” “Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labor at term--a randomized controlled trial.” 

Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry: “Acupuncture for the induction of labour: a double-blind randomised controlled study.”

 
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