How to Induce Labor Naturally

Inducing Labor Overview

 A pregnant woman tries to induce labor at home.
A pregnant woman tries to induce labor at home.

If you are pregnant and your due date is here -- or near -- it’s only natural to feel anxious about when labor will start. Perhaps you’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to speed things up by eating certain foods, such as eggplant parmesan, chili peppers, or pineapple. Or maybe you’ve heard that you can kick start things by having sex or jogging around the block.

These natural methods are certainly popular. In one study, about half of pregnant women said they’d tried to induce labor naturally. Walking was the most common method followed by sexual intercourse and spicy food. But does any of it actually work?

Many, but not all, activities that aim to get the baby here faster are harmless enough for most women in pregnancy. But before you bother to hit that restaurant or gym, it’s worth checking the evidence as to whether any of these methods really help. Spoiler alert: In most cases, they probably don’t help or at least not much.

Foods That Induce Labor

You can find lots of online lists of foods said to bring on labor. That includes pineapple and spicy foods. Maybe you’ve come across a recipe for labor-inducing eggplant parmesan or cookies laced with cayenne pepper. Spicy foods might cause stomach upset but probably not labor.

Can pineapple induce labor?

The idea for eating pineapple is interesting, but it’s also off base. Fresh pineapple has enzymes that can break down proteins. One theory suggests those enzymes might soften the cervix to get labor started. But there’s no evidence for that.

One recent study did find that pineapple extract makes muscles of the uterus contract. But that only happened when researchers put the extract right onto the muscles. So, eating pineapple isn’t going to make labor happen any sooner. 

If you like eggplant parmesan or pineapple, go ahead and eat them. Just know that these foods are more likely to lead to heartburn than labor. 

Labor Inducing Herbal Supplements

People sometimes use herbal supplements -- including raspberry leaf tea, blue cohosh, and evening primrose oil -- to try to hurry labor along. But a recent review of hundreds of articles reported that there’s too little evidence for using almost any herbal supplement in pregnancy for any reason, including making labor happen faster.  

Recent studies found no evidence that evening primrose oil or raspberry leaf made any difference in labor. Midwives often use blue cohosh to help women with labor. But rare case reports have linked this herb to serious health problems.  

It’s worth remembering that herbal supplements can cause serious side effects, and researchers haven’t tested most of them for safety in pregnant women. So, use extreme caution with supplements.

Castor Oil to Induce Labor

People often use castor oil as a laxative and labor inducer. Most pregnant women who take it don’t have any problems, although it may cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. In one clinical study, pregnant women who took castor oil after their due date did more often go into active labor within a day or two compared to women who didn’t take it.

Most doctors don’t recommend castor oil to induce labor. It could also make you sick, and it tastes terrible.

Exercises to Induce Labor

Aerobic exercise is a good idea for most healthy women during pregnancy. One recent study showed it may shorten labor by about 20 minutes. But there’s no evidence that exercise makes pregnant women go into labor any sooner. Still, if you are up to it, go ahead and take a walk.

Sex to Induce Labor

Studies looking at whether sexual intercourse helps to induce labor are mixed. One study found that pregnant women who reported having sex gave birth sooner. But a clinical trial that had women either have sex twice a week or not have sex didn’t find any difference in when labor started. 

Unless your doctor says otherwise, intercourse is usually safe in pregnancy. So it’s OK to try this one.

Acupuncture or Acupressure to Induce Labor

There’s some evidence that acupuncture (but not acupressure) might help to get the cervix ready for labor. But experts say that there’s not enough evidence yet to support the use of acupuncture

In a study, most women who tried acupuncture in pregnancy say they were satisfied. But, for speeding up labor, you might want to save your money.

Nipple Stimulation to Induce Labor

Nipple stimulation causes the release of a hormone called oxytocin.  This release makes muscles in the uterus contract. It’s not clear whether this really makes labor start sooner, but there’s evidence it can speed up and strengthen labor. 

Some experts worry it may cause severe contractions and fetal distress. So ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to try.

Membrane Stripping to Induce Labor

Membrane stripping is a natural method that your doctor might use to get labor started about a week before you’re due. Your doctor might use a finger to sweep across the opening of your cervix and help to separate the membranes. 

This process can help get labor going sooner, but it also may be uncomfortable and cause bleeding, cramping, or other complications. If you want to try this, ask your doctor if it’s a good idea. It’s not something you’d do at home.

Why You Should Wait

If your baby’s due date is coming up, you’ll go into labor soon no matter what you do. While many of these options may be safe to try, most of them aren’t likely to speed up labor. Some of them might also come with risks. 

It’s best to check with your doctor before trying to induce labor at home. And remember, the most natural thing to do is to relax and wait for labor to start on its own. Your baby will be here soon.

References
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