Natural Ways to Induce Labor

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Natural Labor

If you've made it to 40 weeks of pregnancy, chances are you are ready to be done and have your baby in your arms. No doubt, you may be uncomfortable, find it difficult to sleep and consequently, feel like you want to help nature along a litte. The jury is out as to whether or not the following natural induction methods work. While the scientific community remains skeptical, thousands of women do swear by them.

Have Intercourse

The best, and perhaps the most fun method of inducing labor naturally is to have sex. It is also an activity that your OB/GYN is likely to endorse if you are in good health. Having sex at this stage certainly won't harm anything, and your partner is likely to be thrilled.

How It Starts Labor

Intercourse is thought to encourage labor along by two methods. First, human semen contains prostaglandins which help ripen the cervix. In fact, if you go to the hospital to be induced, the first method your doctor might try is to give you a drug called Cervidil. Cervidil contains synthetic prostaglandins.

Sex can also help get contractions started. Both nipple stimulation and orgasm will cause your uterus to contract. Now, whether or not those contractions are strong enough to actually induce labor - that's another story.

Studies

The jury is out as to whether or not sex actually induces labor. A recent study suggests that it doesn't; however, another study suggests that it may in fact shorten your gestation if you are post-term. With that said, having sex is certianly preferable to other methods like drinking castor oil. It won't give you any side effects, and everyone gets to have fun.

Acupunture

In some parts of Asia, acupuncture has been used for centuries to help jumpstart labor. The practice involves inserting and manipulating needles at certain points to help aid in the relief of many conditions.

Does Acupunture Start Labor?

It possibly does. Research conducted at the University of North Carolina followed 56 women who were at least 39 1/2 weeks pregnant. Of the women who received acupunture treatments, 70% went into labor without any type of medical intervention. The size of the study is small, so a larger study is being conducted. However, if the results hold true and acupuncture can in fact help some women go into labor without any medical intervention, acupunture could be a viable alternative to kick starting the labor process.

Is It Safe?

If you decide that you're going to try acupuncture during the end of your pregnancy, make sure that you visit a licensed acupuncturist with a three to four year training program and experience in treating pregnant women. Acupuncture is considered safe during pregnancy; however, there are some contraindications and points that shouldn't be used. A trained acupuncturist will know whether or not it's right for you. As with all health decisions, you should also consult the physician responsible for your pre-natal care to discuss acupuncture.

Tricks Women Swear By

While sex and acupuncture seem to be the only two natural methods of inducing labor that are backed up by any sort of researched evidence, women everywhere have other tricks to bring about the onset of labor. Be sure to discuss any induction method with your doctor or midwife.

Can Castor Oil Induce Labor?

How someone ever thought to drink this thick, disgusting oil to help spur on labor is circumspect, at best. However, women have been using it for years, and you may even hear a midwife, nurse or experienced mom swear by its effectiveness. What you need to know about castor oil are the potential side effects of taking it, which include the following:

  • Diahrrea
  • Dehydration (especially if the diahrrea is excessive)
  • Uterine contractions (but not necessarily labor)
  • Fetal distress
  • Baby passing meconium

At best, it will require you to be on the toilet for a while after taking it. At worst, it can put you and your baby's health in jeopardy. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that taking castor oil works to induce labor.

Walk That Baby Out

Many women believe that the more they walk, the more they bring the baby down so that his head will engage and push on the cervix. There is a modicum of truth to this. If you are already in labor, staying upright is generally likely to help. In fact, there have been studies that show that in cultures where women do not have the idea that it's best to lay down during labor, they will naturally stay in an upright or semi-upright position throughout labor. However, walking alone will not start the process of labor. It won't do you any harm either, so if you feel an urge to get out of the house, do it! Just listen to your body, and don't go overboard. Walking too much is not likely to induce labor, but it is likely to make you very tired.

Spicy Foods

pregnant belly

You may hear tales from mothers who went out for Mexican food for dinner one night and woke up in labor. Since the stomach and uterus are not connected, there is no real basis to think that spiciness will get you where you want to be. However, if you find that you are really craving something, there's no reason not to go out and enjoy and evening with your partner before the baby comes.

Black or Blue Cohosh

Black and Blue Cohosh have been used for centuries to induce labor in women. They may work; however, due to the potency of these herbs and the lack of scientific study on them, most health professionals do not like to use them. While effective, they can also cause distress to the baby and possibly brain damage or liver damage to the baby. Always consult your doctor or midwife before trying herbal remedies.

Nipple Stimulation

Nipple stimulation is another way to induce labor naturally. Extended stimulation of the nipple makes the body produce oxytocin, a hormone that can cause uterine contractions. In order for this method to be effective, it may require extensive stimulation, such as fifteen minutes every hour for several hours. This method may be uncomfortable for many women, particularly those with sore or swollen breasts.

Massage and Acupressure

Massage and acupressure, placing pressure on certain "trigger points" on the body, are also linked to inducing labor. Visit Dr. Marsha Connor's acupressure page for specific techniques to use on the hands and feet. Whether or not the pressure from body massage will actually induce labor, it does serve to relax the body which may expedite the labor process.

T Touch

T Touch is a physical therapy designed by therapist Linda Tellington-Jones in 1983. This therapy was originally designed for animals, but has been adapted to help people cope with physical pain as well as anxiety and other issues. Its use in labor helps the body relax, which, similar to massage, may allow the labor to progress more easily. Visit the T Touch website for more information and techniques.

Relax

The best thing you can do is relax. The end of your pregnancy is the time to spoil yourself rotten and really enjoy your time before your baby arrives. While there a few methods you can try that are linked to scientific studies, the reality is most babies tend to come when they are good and ready to do so. The best thing you can do is keep up with your end-of-pregnancy appointments and let nature take its course.

Natural Ways to Induce Labor