April 9, 2002 -- Folk remedies about how to induce labor continue to flourish among pregnant women, regardless of their age, race, or education level. And the fact that many are just plain untrue doesn't seem to deter most women from believing in them.
A new survey shows two out three pregnant women believe walking helps induce labor, and almost half think having sex will also speed up the process.
As expected, friends and relatives were the most common sources of information for alternative advice on the subject. But researchers were surprised to learn that 12% of the women said they heard about the techniques from doctors or nurses.
For the study, Ohio State University researchers asked 102 pregnant women about their awareness of 10 popular folk suggestions for inducing labor and whether or not they believed they worked. The findings are published in the March issue of Birth.
Walking and intercourse were the most frequently heard recommendations, followed by heavy exercise, using a laxative, eating spicy food, and nipple stimulation. Although 84% of the women had been told that walking would help induce labor, 64% believed it would actually work. Nearly half of the 74% of women who had heard sex was a labor inducer believed it.
The study found age, race, or educational status didn't seem to affect the women's beliefs or exposure to these old wives' tales. Women who did not complete high school did not believe in any more folkloric recommendations than those with a diploma.
Researchers say it's important for healthcare providers to be aware of these remedies because some of the activities may actually be harmful to the mother and her unborn child. For example, vigorous physical work and exercise has been linked to premature births, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and limiting growth of the fetus.
"While it's important to maintain some level of physical activity throughout pregnancy, an otherwise sedentary woman might run into trouble if she decides to start an exercise program at the very end," says study author Jonathan Schaffir, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University, in a news release.
Researchers say some of the old wives tales to induce labor may be biologically plausible, such as sexual intercourse and nipple stimulation, but there is little scientific evidence to support any of them.