Pregnancy can be a very happy time. But as the months wear on, a mixture of anticipation and exhaustion can make it hard to wait. And when you’re at full term and the little one hasn’t shown any signs of making an appearance, it is tempting to try and induce labor. But are there ways to naturally move things along? Is it even safe to do so?
Should You Induce Labor?
It is understandable that you’re tired of waiting, especially if your due date has come and gone. However, it may not be a good idea to try and induce labor on your own, warns the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Medically, inducing labor is valid if the baby or mother’s life is at risk. It is also a legitimate option if the baby’s presence in the uterus poses potential problems. This may happen if the placenta isn’t properly delivering oxygen and nutrients or if the baby is well past term. It may also be needed if the mother has heart disease, hypertension, gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia. Otherwise, it is usually better to wait for nature to run its course. To induce labor artificially, doctors may use prostaglandin (administered by a vaginal suppository) or oxytocin (through an IV). They may also artificially rupture the amniotic membrane to bring on labor.1
If You Need To Induce Labor Naturally
Should the need arise to induce labor, you can use natural methods to encourage contractions or supplement a conventional medical method.
1. Nipple Stimulation
The American Pregnancy Association suggests nipple stimulation to help naturally induce labor. To do this, you need to manually stimulate the nipples. Alternatively, a breastfeeding pump can be used to stimulate the tissue in a way that replicates the suckling of a nursing baby. This should cause your body to produce oxytocin, a hormone that also causes contractions.2 A patent has also been filed for a device that mechanically stimulates the nipple for the purpose of accelerating labor.3
Stimulating specific pressure points around the body is believed to help bring on contractions and labor, according to traditional acupuncture practice. With limited clinical studies, evidence for its effectiveness remains largely anecdotal. Also, women who had success with this method still needed multiple sessions of acupuncture to induce labor. The British Acupuncture Council recommends (and permits) the use of acupuncture to help hasten or bring on labor. This can only happen once a medical need is established, though. It is usually done during the time leading up to the scheduled medically induced labor, after consultation with your doctor or midwife. The big difference between the acupuncture approach versus a drug-induced labor is that the former happens slowly. It is also gentler on the body. Drugs tend to kick in faster and act more intensely.4
In one study, the effects of acupuncture on 56 first-time mothers revealed that the treatment helped lower chances of needing a Cesarean section. The mean time to delivery was about 21 hours less than that in the control group. However, as the researchers cautioned, this was not statistically significant and would need further larger studies. What they did confirm was that acupuncture could help reduce the need for interventions during post-term childbirth.5 Research has also shown that acupuncture can shorten the first phase of labor.6
One survey of methods used by certified nurse-midwives found that 64 percent had used blue cohosh. Red raspberry leaf was almost as popular, at 63 percent. Nearly everyone (93 percent) in the group using alternative natural methods had used castor oil. Around 60 percent tried evening primrose oil.7 Additionally, fenugreek is recommended in both Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to stimulate contractions and induce labor.8 Yet, while numerous herbs are mentioned in traditional medicine, it may not be the best idea to experiment unless you have a trusted, long-standing doctor to guide you. Most importantly, do not try and self-medicate.
What About Exercise Or Sexual Intercourse?
Chances are that someone has suggested exercise as one way to induce labor. And while staying fit is a good idea, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to back this claim. So, contrary to popular belief, you may not be able to jump-start labor by simply taking a walk. Nonetheless, it can certainly help some women cope better with the stress of labor.9
Sexual intercourse doesn’t call for any pills or concoctions. Those who back this method say that the prostaglandin in semen plays the same role of the prescribed suppository form. Others suggest that the lower level of the uterus is stimulated. Another theory is that it causes the body to release oxytocin when you orgasm, inducing contractions.10 Unfortunately, there isn’t adequate solid evidence to confirm this yet. But as many who use this method say, you don’t have much to lose. Just don’t get too feisty and take the usual precautions of intercourse.
|↑1, ↑2||Inducing Labor, American Pregnancy Association.|
|↑3||Larsson, Karl OOAH. “Method for inducing uterine activity through nipple stimulation.” U.S. Patent 4,794,915, issued January 3, 1989.|
|↑4||Inducing labour with acupuncture, British Acupuncture Council.|
|↑5||Harper, Terry C., Remy R. Coeytaux, Wunian Chen, Kathryn Campbell, Jay S. Kaufman, Kenneth J. Moise Jr, and John M. Thorp Jr. “A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for initiation of labor in nulliparous women.” The journal of maternal-fetal & neonatal medicine 19, no. 8 (2006): 465-470.|
|↑6||Zeisler, Harald, Clemens Tempfer, Klaus Mayerhofer, Monir Barrada, and Peter Husslein. “Influence of acupuncture on duration of labor.” Gynecologic and obstetric investigation 46, no. 1 (1998): 22-25.|
|↑7||McFarlin, Barbara L., Mary H. Gibson, Jann O’Rear, and Patsy Harman. “A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse‐midwives for labor stimulation.” Journal of nurse-midwifery 44, no. 3 (1999): 205-216.|
|↑8||Talbott, Shawn M., and Kerry Hughes. The health professional’s guide to dietary supplements. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.|
|↑9||Inducing labour, NHS.|
|↑10||Kavanagh, Josephine, Anthony J. Kelly, and Jane Thomas. “Sexual intercourse for cervical ripening and induction of labour.” The Cochrane Library (2001).|