How to speed up early labor

Brian Levine, MD, MS, is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology as well as in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

Labor is unpredictable. While worrying that you won’t make it to the hospital in time is common during pregnancy, you may also find yourself in the opposite situation: your labor is progressing very slowly.

Having a slow or stalled labor can increase the likelihood of needing medical intervention, such as a Cesarean (C-section).   However, there are several methods you can try to help labor along in the first stage or speed up a labor that is not progressing.

Moms Share What Labor Was Actually Like for Them

Standing and Walking

One of the main benefits of standing positions during labor is gravity, which helps increase pressure on the cervix and supports your baby’s descent into the pelvis. If you are able to get up and walk around, you get the added benefits of movement.

In fact, women who are upright and moving around during labor typically have shorter labors, report less pain, receive less intervention and are more satisfied with their birth experience.   Many women find that swaying, rocking, or even dancing eases their pain.

Breast Stimulation

Breast stimulation releases oxytocin into your bloodstream, which can bring on contractions.   A breast pump can be used to stimulate your nipples or it can be done manually with your own fingers or help from a partner.

Some women find getting in the shower and letting the water beat down on their chest is enough to encourage the flow of oxytocin.

Pressure Techniques

Massage and acupressure can be very beneficial in helping to speed up a stalled labor. A general massage may help you relax, decrease your pain, or just be a nice change of pace.

Specific techniques in acupressure can hit points that allow your body to produce more oxytocin as well, thus increase contractions.   This can be done by an acupressure specialist or a birth doula with special training. You can also talk to your massage therapist or acupuncturist to see if they have any helpful suggestions you or your support person can use yourselves.

Changing Positions

If your baby's position is slowing down the progression of labor, changing your position can make it easier for them to get into the best position for moving through your pelvis as labor progresses.  

Try sitting on a birth ball or rocking chair. A type of exercise therapy ball called a peanut ball can also be used to ease labor and help speed things along, particularly if the baby’s position is delaying progress. If you have an epidural and are not able to move around easily or safely on your own, ask your support person or nurse to help you move from side to side or sit up.

Getting a New Perspective

While it won't exactly speed up your labor the way standing or walking can, a change of scenery can provide distraction from the discomfort of labor, perhaps at least making it seem like the clock is moving a bit faster.

Getting into a new environment, even just for a little bit, can also help ease some of the mental stress that comes along with this process.

If you are at the hospital, try taking a walk down to the nursery to take a look at the newborns. You might even be able to leave the building for a short time; some hospitals have special areas on the property where you can get some fresh air and take a stroll.

If you are at home, try getting outside—even if only to stand in your own backyard. Too tired for a walk around the block? Try simply changing rooms. If you've been in the living room, get in bed for a while. Or if you've spent most of the day in bed, take a bath or try other relaxation techniques that use water.

Medical Intervention

Most experts recommend avoiding medical interventions unless they are necessary for the health or you or your baby.   There are times when medical intervention might be the best choice for you and your baby if your labor has slowed down or stopped progressing.

Medical interventions for stalled labor can include:

    (IV Pitocin), often used with amniotomy
  • Breaking your water (amniotomy) , including an epidural  

You and your doctor or midwife can discuss which intervention is right for you. The decision will depend on the point you're at in your labor and how close you are to being able to deliver, as well as other factors.

However, even if your labor is progressing more slowly than you expected, you may not need to intervene. As long as you as your baby are both doing fine, you may not have to do anything but wait.  

Brian Levine, MD, MS, is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology as well as in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

Labor is unpredictable. While worrying that you won’t make it to the hospital in time is common during pregnancy, you may also find yourself in the opposite situation: your labor is progressing very slowly.

Having a slow or stalled labor can increase the likelihood of needing medical intervention, such as a Cesarean (C-section).   However, there are several methods you can try to help labor along in the first stage or speed up a labor that is not progressing.

Moms Share What Labor Was Actually Like for Them

Standing and Walking

One of the main benefits of standing positions during labor is gravity, which helps increase pressure on the cervix and supports your baby’s descent into the pelvis. If you are able to get up and walk around, you get the added benefits of movement.

In fact, women who are upright and moving around during labor typically have shorter labors, report less pain, receive less intervention and are more satisfied with their birth experience.   Many women find that swaying, rocking, or even dancing eases their pain.

Breast Stimulation

Breast stimulation releases oxytocin into your bloodstream, which can bring on contractions.   A breast pump can be used to stimulate your nipples or it can be done manually with your own fingers or help from a partner.

Some women find getting in the shower and letting the water beat down on their chest is enough to encourage the flow of oxytocin.

Pressure Techniques

Massage and acupressure can be very beneficial in helping to speed up a stalled labor. A general massage may help you relax, decrease your pain, or just be a nice change of pace.

Specific techniques in acupressure can hit points that allow your body to produce more oxytocin as well, thus increase contractions.   This can be done by an acupressure specialist or a birth doula with special training. You can also talk to your massage therapist or acupuncturist to see if they have any helpful suggestions you or your support person can use yourselves.

Changing Positions

If your baby's position is slowing down the progression of labor, changing your position can make it easier for them to get into the best position for moving through your pelvis as labor progresses.  

Try sitting on a birth ball or rocking chair. A type of exercise therapy ball called a peanut ball can also be used to ease labor and help speed things along, particularly if the baby’s position is delaying progress. If you have an epidural and are not able to move around easily or safely on your own, ask your support person or nurse to help you move from side to side or sit up.

Getting a New Perspective

While it won't exactly speed up your labor the way standing or walking can, a change of scenery can provide distraction from the discomfort of labor, perhaps at least making it seem like the clock is moving a bit faster.

Getting into a new environment, even just for a little bit, can also help ease some of the mental stress that comes along with this process.

If you are at the hospital, try taking a walk down to the nursery to take a look at the newborns. You might even be able to leave the building for a short time; some hospitals have special areas on the property where you can get some fresh air and take a stroll.

If you are at home, try getting outside—even if only to stand in your own backyard. Too tired for a walk around the block? Try simply changing rooms. If you've been in the living room, get in bed for a while. Or if you've spent most of the day in bed, take a bath or try other relaxation techniques that use water.

Medical Intervention

Most experts recommend avoiding medical interventions unless they are necessary for the health or you or your baby.   There are times when medical intervention might be the best choice for you and your baby if your labor has slowed down or stopped progressing.

Medical interventions for stalled labor can include:

    (IV Pitocin), often used with amniotomy
  • Breaking your water (amniotomy) , including an epidural  

You and your doctor or midwife can discuss which intervention is right for you. The decision will depend on the point you're at in your labor and how close you are to being able to deliver, as well as other factors.

However, even if your labor is progressing more slowly than you expected, you may not need to intervene. As long as you as your baby are both doing fine, you may not have to do anything but wait.  

How to speed up early labor

Labor induction or inducing labor is usually done to start contractions of the uterus or to prepare the cervix to soften and/or dilate for a vaginal birth. It usually involves the stimulation of uterine contractions during pregnancy before labor begins on its own to achieve a vaginal birth. It also may be recommended when labor has not started on its own and may be recommended when there are concerns about the health of the woman or the fetus. In addition to some conditions for which labor induction is recommended, new research suggests that induction for healthy women at 39 weeks in their first full-term pregnancies may reduce the risk of cesarean birth.

When will a doctor induce labor?

Women that have high blood pressure, preeclampsia, diabetes, low levels of amniotic fluid, a uterus infection, or a baby that is too big for vaginal delivery may be candidates for labor induction. Babies who are past their due date may also be induced. Each of the above conditions, if going on too long, may put mom and her baby at risk, so when they occur doctors will generally choose to induce labor. New research suggests that induction for healthy women at 39 weeks in their first full-term pregnancies may reduce the risk of cesarean birth.

How is labor induced?

When labor is induced, a woman is given special medications to jumpstart the process. This is typically only done when a woman is going to give birth vaginally. There is no need to induce labor before a cesarean section, though it sometimes happens if the cesarean section is an emergency one and delivery was induced prior to the doctor deciding that a surgical delivery was necessary.

When inducing labor, a doctor has a number of options available. He or she may insert a special medication into the vagina which jumpstarts the labor process. The doctor might manually break the soon-to-be mom’s water. Pitocin, which is a synthetic form of the naturally occurring hormone, Oxytocin, may also be administered. This helps cause contractions so that labor begins.

How fast does delivery occur after labor induction?

There is the mistaken belief that once labor is induced, the birthing process will proceed quickly. This isn’t always the case. A woman may be induced and not give birth until 3 days later. She will go through labor all of that time, but she may not deliver the baby right away.

The speed at which a woman gives birth after being induced depends on a number of factors. Much of it will depend on whether or not the baby is ready to be delivered. If, however, the labor fails to progress, the doctor may be forced to perform a cesarean section.

Labor is the painful eternity between feeling your first real contraction and the time you actually get to hold your new child. Understandably you’ll want it to go by as quickly as possible, and here are ten different ways that you can help speed it up naturally.

10 Hold off On Going to the Hospital

The first way to speed up your labor is to hold off on going to the hospital. During early labor your body will naturally move things along quicker is you stay home where it’s familiar and comfortable. As an added bonus, you will have multiple distractions to help you deal with the discomfort at an easy reach, so even if it takes longer than you would like you’ll have something to do.

Not sure when to head to the hospital? Call your health care provider for advice. The standard advice seems to be when your contractions are regular (3-5 minutes apart), painful, and lasting for 45-60 seconds.

9 Go for a Walk

Another way to help speed up your labor is by walking around. According to Birthing Naturally, the reason walking helps keep things moving is because it’s constantly changing the position of your pelvis with will help the baby find the best position to work her way out of your body. As an added bonus, walking around will help the time move faster since you will be less bored.

8 Change Positions

Another way for you to speed things up a bit is by changing your position. For instance, Spinning Babies recommends you try sitting on the toilet, bathtub edge or birth ball for three contractions, and then stand for three.

7 Dancing

Speaking of changing positions, you can always try dancing like this Georgia mom. Like squatting, dancing helps your pelvis get into a better position so it can open more fully. It also helps your baby turn so he or she is facing the right way, and move through the canal.

6 Raspberry Leaf Tea

A surprising way to speed up your labor is by drinking raspberry leaf tea. You can also take a raspberry leaf capsule, but drinking the tea sounds more enjoyable. While this won’t shorten the first stage of labor, a study did find that it helped shorten the second stage.

5 Have a Bath (Or Don’t)

If you’re in early labor, you’re going to want to avoid taking a bath. At this stage it will only slow down the frequency you of the contractions you’re currently having. However, if you hit the “five centimeter slump,” a bath might be just what you need to relax yourself mentally and physically.

4 Acupressure

One way to get things moving along smoothly is acupressure. There are three main acupoints that are helpful in simulating contractions, spleen-6 (about four finger-widths above the inner ankle bone, behind the leg bone), large intestine-4 (back of hand, between thumb and index finger), and gall blader-21 (on top of your shoulders).

Have someone press these points while you are breathing out, and get them to release the tension when you breathe in. As an added bonus, acupressure will also help you cope with the pain.

3 Squatting

If going for a walk or bathing doesn’t seem active enough for you during your contractions, you can try squatting. According to Birthing Naturally the reason squatting works is that it “realigns the pelvis to increase the opening at the bottom by up to 15%.” Gravity will also work in your favour when you’re squatting, because it will help pull your baby down the birth canal. However, Birthing Naturally does point out that you should wait until you’re in the second stage of labor to do squats, or else it can actually make your labor longer.

2 Have sex

As your due date approaches, one way that may help your body get things started is by having sex. While this hasn’t actually been proven scientifically, it’s still a recommended method of inducing labor. One of the reasons is that you’ll have some contractions when you orgasm.

Also, orgasming releases oxytocin which is the hormone that causes contractions and keeps labor moving along. In addition, semen has prostaglandins, which work to soften your cervix.

1 Nipple Stimulation

Right up there with sex, is nipple stimulation. You can have all of the fun at once and get your partner to do this while you’re intimately engaged, or you can do it yourself or use a breast pump. Either way, stimulating your nipples will release oxytocin to help your contractions along.

There you have it, ten different ways that you can try and speed up your labor naturally and easily. Since some of them are certainly more enjoyable than others, you can pick and choose which ones you’d like to try based on how much fun you want to have, or how much energy you have at the moment.

Now when people tell me that I don’t look the same, I respond by saying thanks.

If you’re already experiencing some contractions, walking is a great way to encourage them to continue. Walking helps to move your baby into your pelvis, and gravity puts pressure on your cervix, which may soften it or help open things up. Walking is something safe and easy that anyone can try to bring on labor.

Pressure points

Pressure points are points along the body that when pressure is applied they can relieve stress or pain, or even stimulate contractions. This may sound a little far-fetched, but many women have tried pressing on one of two pressure points, the webbing between your thumb and fingers and the second pressure point is just above the ankle, to bring on contractions. It actually does cause contractions; however, the contractions may fizzle out once you stop applying pressure. If you are already having contractions though, this is a good way to strengthen them or keep them coming.

Squatting or Stair Climbing

When you step up or squat, this puts you baby in just the right position to help speed up contractions. Gravity and squatting down applies pressure on your cervix. This help to move your baby into the right position for birth and may move her further down into your birth canal.

Sexual intercourse helps to speed up labor in several ways. Sex can cause the woman to relax and also to have an orgasm, both can help to strengthen, bring on, or speed up labor contractions. In addition, a man’s semen contains prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help to ripen the cervix, which in turn can cause it to dilate and efface.

Nipple stimulation

Nipple stimulation can be done manually or with a breast pump. The reason nipple stimulation works is that it triggers the release of the labor hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is released when you go into labor and it causes your body to have contractions. By stimulating your nipples you can bring on contractions. If you are having contractions already, try rolling your nipples with your fingers or using a breast pump to bring your contractions closer together or to keep them coming. Once you pump for a while and have gotten a couple good contractions, take a break and see what happens.

Change positions

If you are starting to get contractions but they aren’t regular, try changing positions. Don’t lie around in bed if you want to speed up labor. Get up and move around or try getting on all fours. Getting on all fours may help if your baby is in a posterior position. Gravity may assist and allow him to move into the right position for labor.

Basil and oregano tea

Sounds yummy, huh? It’s not, but it could help speed labor along. Basil and oregano are emmenagogues, which mean they help improve the blood flow to the uterus. In some countries they are used to help with menstrual problems. It is believed that these two herbs might also help stimulate or speed up contractions. To try basil and oregano tea, just drop some basil and oregano leaves in hot water and let it steep. Sip on the tea throughout the day.

Take a warm bath

A warm bath will help you to relax and may soften your cervix. Relaxing is one key to getting those labor contractions going. Take a warm bath and when you’re feeling relaxed you can wait to see if your contractions pick up or you can try walking, sex, or one of the other suggestions to speed up labor.

The labor induction rate is at an all-time high in the United States. It is common for women nearing the third trimester to feel pressure for their baby to come out before his/her “due date”. Although induction is only recommended for medical necessity (when the benefits of a quick birth outweigh the risks for continuing pregnancy), elective induction has become the norm in our country.

In addition, many women who begin labor on their own feel pressured to deliver the baby within a certain amount of time. When progress is not moving along as quickly as the hospital allows or is comfortable with, inducing labor with various synthetic methods, like Pitocin, is often discussed.

There are natural ways to speed up a stalled labor that are proven to be more effective and also a healthier option for both mom and baby. For women who experience prodromal labor or frequent stalls, there are various methods to try and move labor along.

It is proven that inducing labor can increase the numbers of complications in the labor and with the baby. I always encourage my healthy, low-risk clients to wait until the baby is ready to come on their own. If the momma is feeling pressured by her medical provider or she is beyond 41 weeks gestation, she may want to consider natural methods of induction to avoid more risky interventions. I recommend safe, natural methods to get labor going over synthetic for many reasons. Here are just a few:

  1. With natural methods of induction, labor will not start if it is not supposed to – these methods only work when the baby is supposed to come – there is no cascade of bad side-effects
  2. It will produce the proper hormones that your body needs to effectively move labor along in a natural manner

These are my favorite natural ways speed up a stalled labor:

Help the baby assume proper position (optimum fetal positioning)

One cause of postponed or stalled labor is misalignment of the baby. If the mother is full term in her pregnancy, she can help natural labor progress through various activities which attend to the round ligaments, muscles and fascia surrounding the pelvis. Spinning Babies suggests a series of activities including sifting with a rebozo, forward-leaning inversions, pelvic floor release or sidelying release, and/or an abdominal lift.

Depending on how the baby is positioned, certain exercises can open the pelvic floor giving the baby more room to get into proper position. Other activities that can align the body and bring it into balance are prenatal chiropractics, specifically the Webster Technique, and acupuncture,

If the baby is occiput posterior, the head may be deflexed (extended, chin up) and not in position to fit into the pelvis. Due to the fact that the baby’s head is not engaged, dilation will not occur and labor will not progress properly.

If the baby is breech, labor can pause or stop while the baby is trying to manage his waist into the pelvis. Labor may stop at any point if the uterus gets fatigued while the baby is trying to travel further down the pelvis. According to Spinning Babies online resource, pelvic tilts, brisk walks and the motion of hula hooping while sitting on a birth ball may all help to tuck the baby’s chin thus engaging the head into the pelvis. In addition, rest for her body and her lower uterine segment may be just what this mother needs to encourage true labor.

How to speed up early labor

Image by eyeliam

Get your mind in the right place – peace of mind

Psychological barriers quite often play a role in stalled labor. If a woman has any barriers or fears subconsciously, they can hold her back from letting her body go into labor. Exploring any possibilities and talking out feelings and thoughts or even crying can be a great help if this is the case. If she is worried, stressed or fearful, labor cannot functionally take place.

A woman must feel safe and guarded in order for labor to occur. Finding exercises and habits that support the mother’s well-being are her best bet in progressive labor. Examples include drinking hot tea, lighting candles and/or listening to calming music.

Make yourself at home

Interruptions are a common cause of a stalled labor. For example, arriving to the hospital or having new people (partner, doula, nurse, etc.) arrive onto the scene of a birth. Any interruption of environment, subtle or obvious, can change the mood of the birth for the mother.

The hormone oxytocin encourages labor and contractions, and even something like a change of the scene can trigger this hormone to cease. If a woman does arrive at the hospital and labor stops for a long period of time, she may be induced using pitocin, cytotec, cervadil or another labor-inducing drug to get things moving along. If you’re giving birth in a hospital or birth center, tour the location ahead of time and think of some things you can bring/do that will make it more comfy when you’re in labor.

Natural induction

If a full-term mother is experiencing stalled labor and feels rested and ready for progression, there are a number of things she can do to enhance labor. Coffee is a uterine stimulant, as well as red raspberry leaf tea (buy it here). Other recommendations include getting an enema to stimulate the bowels and the uterus. Oxytocin, the labor/love hormone, can be stimulated by kissing, cuddling, nipple stimulation, sex, and even just relaxation.

Having sex can bring on labor for a couple of reasons: the prostaglandins found in male semen softens and ripens the cervix and orgasm in sex can trigger uterine contractions. It is commonly said “what got the baby in, gets the baby out,” referring to making love and the hormones triggered through that intimate process. In addition, uterine contractions increasing in strength, frequency and duration require a lot of fuel. It is wise for the mother not to “run out of fuel” by staying hydrated and well fed, even if it’s just little nibbles of food and sips of fluid here and there.

What are your tricks for speeding labor up?

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Our experts weigh in on natural ways to induce labor and reveal which home remedies really work when it comes to speeding things up.

You patiently await your due date, eyeing it on your calendar and instructing loved ones to prepare for it days in advance. But when the date comes and goes with nary a contraction, you might be tempted to take matters into your own hands and research how to induce labor yourself.

"I see a lot of people who are tired of being pregnant, want it to be over and ask, 'What else can I do?' " says Jonathan Schaffir, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus. 

  • RELATED:Signs of Approaching Labor: How to Tell Your Baby is Coming Soon

According to a study by Dr. Schaffir and his colleagues, more than half of pregnant people turn to non-pharmacological approaches to hasten labor as they approach or go past their due dates, but fewer than half tell their doctors or midwives what they're up to. That's troubling, doctors and midwives say, because although some folk methods may work, some come with unintended consequences.

Critical fetal development continues to take place even in the final weeks of gestation. So despite the nagging backaches, sleepless nights, and countless bathroom trips, moms-to-be are advised to wait until after 39 weeks pregnant before considering any induction methods (including pharmacological) unless an induction is medically indicated. 

Even then, you should know the pros and cons of each method and discuss them with your healthcare provider. Here's a look at the natural ways to induce labor at home.

Nipple Stimulation to Induce Labor

Prolonged breast stimulation prompts the pituitary gland to release contraction-inducing oxytocin, the same powerful hormone that initiates your milk let-down response and can lead to severe cramps when a newborn suckles. Its synthetic form, Pitocin, is the most common drug used to induce labor, and studies indicate that stimulating it naturally can be effective as well. A Cochrane Database review that included 719 women at 37 weeks pregnant or beyond found that nearly 40 percent of those who stimulated their nipples for one to three hours daily had their babies within three days, while only 6 percent of the control group gave birth.

But aside from the impracticalities (who has time to do this for hours on end?), this method comes with serious risks: "We know it works," says Suzy Myers, C.P.M., a certified professional midwife and chairwoman of the department of midwifery at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. "But you have to be very careful that you are not overstimulating the uterus and making the contractions too strong or too close together. You also have to make sure the baby is tolerating it well by having your health care provider monitor his or her heartbeat."

  • RELATED:Stages of Labor: What to Expect When You Give Birth

Sex to Induce Labor

Although research results are mixed, anecdotes abound about late babies making an entrance soon after a love-making session. Semen contains cervix-softening fats called prostaglandins (also used in medical induction) and a woman's orgasm can lead to strong uterine contractions. 

One study of 200 healthy women found that those who had sex after 36 weeks pregnant were significantly less likely to go past their due date or require labor induction. But another study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found no difference between sexually active and abstinent moms when it came to length of gestation. "If a woman has a low risk for premature labor and no placenta previa, it won't hurt to try," says Dr. Schaffir.

  • RELATED: The Best Sex Positions for Pregnant Women

Castor Oil and Spicy Food

Midwives have long recommended inducing labor naturally by drinking castor oil (2 ounces in a glass of orange juice or mixed with ice cream). The idea is that castor oil can stimulate the smooth muscle of the bowels, promote the release of prostaglandin, and nudge the nearby uterus into action.

Research results are varied, but two recent trials showed that full-term pregnant people who were given castor oil were more likely to go into labor within 24 hours. But the side effects—including nausea, explosive diarrhea, and dehydration— can be grueling, Myers says.

A safer bet for those past 39 weeks? Load up on spicy food, which could have similar results without the nasty side effects (but be prepared for heartburn and puffy ankles, because spicy food taxes your digestive system).

  • RELATED:8 Ways to Manage Labor Pain

Herbs and Acupuncture

Midwives most commonly suggest evening primrose oil and blue cohosh as natural ways to induce labor. Though each herb has a plausible mechanism for working, they also come with potential downsides.

Evening primrose oil, which is prescribed in capsule form to be taken three times a day or rubbed directly on the cervix, is believed to help soften the cervix and ready it for labor. However, the few published studies that have looked at its effectiveness failed to find that its use caused labor to begin any earlier. But one study suggests it may actually prolong the active phase of labor and boost the incidence of certain labor complications (such as arrested descent of the fetus in the birth canal). 

Both blue (Caulophyllum) and black cohosh (Cimicifuga) have been used to treat menstrual ailments for centuries. However, some studies have suggested that blue cohosh can have some dangerous side effects in pregnancy, so it should be avoided.

Meanwhile, raspberry tea is often recommended in the weeks before a due date to tone the uterus but hasn't proved to have any effect on labor. And numerous studies have suggested that using acupuncture to induce labor naturally is promising, but other studies link it to prolonged pregnancy.

  • RELATED:What Does Labor Feel Like?

Exercise and Patience

Forty-three percent of the respondents in Dr. Schaffir's study said they exercised more in the final days of pregnancy in hopes of bringing on labor. But although good for you, exercise hasn't proved to speed labor, Dr. Schaffir says.

His best advice to past-due women longing for that first contraction? Skip the home remedies to induce labor, eat right, rest, and enjoy those last few days of pregnancy as much as possible. "The safest and healthiest labor is one that starts spontaneously," Dr. Schaffir says. 

Toward the end of pregnancy, most women are tired and ready to meet their babies. As their due date nears, my patients often ask about natural ways to induce labor.

There are plenty of urban legends about natural remedies that supposedly move things along. Some of these methods are harmless; others may have risks or unpleasant side effects. Most don’t actually work at all.

Let’s look at the truth behind nine of these “natural” methods of inducing labor at home, and why you may or may not want to try them out:

1. Castor oil

Caster oil to induce labor is one of the more popular, supposedly “natural” suggestions. Because castor oil is a laxative, it does cause uterine irritation or contractions – but often as a result of GI upset and diarrhea, not labor. In randomized studies (the gold standard in medical research), women who ingested caster oil were no more likely to go into labor than women who had taken no castor oil.

There are some foods and recipes out there – such as this infamous salad or eggplant parmesan – that are rumored to cause labor and likely contain castor oil or something similar as their “active” ingredient.

But the oil itself has generally fallen out of favor given the significant side effects (again, GI upset and diarrhea) and its inability to induce true labor.

2. Exercise

Moderate exercise is safe – and highly recommended – during pregnancy. Unfortunately, there aren’t any exercises that have been shown to induce labor. I have a friend who walked 40 city blocks unsuccessfully attempting to coax out her little one.

3. Acupuncture or pressure

Randomized trials have failed to show that acupuncture or pressure (like massage) will induce labor. Given this remedy can be quite pricey, I suggest you skip it and save that money for diapers.

Some people still buy into it, however, so don’t be surprised if your favorite pedicurist refuses to perform a foot massage when you’re pregnant. Many people believe massage of the inner leg above the ankle can cause miscarriage or preterm labor.

4. Pineapple

Fresh pineapple – the core, in particular – contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is commonly used as a meat tenderizer. This enzyme breaks down the proteins in tissue and is what makes your tongue tingle or mouth develop sores when you eat pineapple.

The popular theory is that somehow the bromelain from the pineapple makes its way to your cervix and causes the breakdown of tissue there, causing the cervix to soften and stimulating labor.

There is no evidence to support this theory, however. The enzyme is not active in your acidic stomach and is only partially absorbed by the body.

There’s no harm in enjoying a serving of pineapple at term – although the fruit is known to cause significant heartburn.

5. Sexual intercourse

It’s not clear whether or not sexual activity at term will help induce labor. One study has even shown that having sex might actually reduce the likelihood of going into labor.

Intercourse generally isn’t harmful during pregnancy. However, with certain conditions, such as placenta or vasa previa, your obstetric provider may recommend “pelvic rest” or “nothing per vagina.” Not following these recommendations could lead to hemorrhage and endanger your health and the health of your baby.

6. Herbal remedies

Herbs such as blue and black cohosh, raspberry leaf tea, and evening primrose oil have been sold as a way to “prepare” your uterus for labor.

Not so fast. Cohosh has been associated with fetal heart failure and stroke as well as maternal complications during labor. Randomized trials have shown no increase in likelihood of labor onset with any of these herbs, and the safety is unknown. Avoid these supposed remedies completely during pregnancy.

7. Nipple stimulation

Nipple stimulation causes oxytocin release, which in a lactating mother causes the “letdown” of breastmilk. It also causes uterine contractions and return to normal uterine size (called “involution”), which is why women who breastfeed generally have heavier bleeding for a shorter amount of time compared to women who bottle-feed their babies.

Nipple stimulation during pregnancy will also cause uterine contractions, although it may not cause the onset of true labor. It may also cause severe, prolonged contractions that cause fetal distress and harm. That’s why I don’t recommend using nipple stimulation to induce labor.

8. Spicy food

Spicy foods affect the body the same way as castor oil – GI upset leads to uterine irritation and contractions. As with castor oil, these contractions rarely result in true labor.

Spicy food can also lead to significant heartburn, which pregnant women are predisposed to anyway. Bottom line: you may regret those tacos later.

9. Membrane stripping

Your obstetric provider may begin membrane stripping about a week before your due date. This process – where a finger is inserted through the cervical opening and swept to the left and right in a clockwise motion to separate the lower part of the membranes from the uterine wall – may be uncomfortable for some women and is only possible if your cervix is dilated.

The available data does show an increase in spontaneous labor onset following this procedure – but it is also associated with vaginal bleeding, cramping, and occasional membrane rupture.

With my second child, I experienced heavy bleeding after membrane stripping that required a trip to labor and delivery to evaluate my baby – with my toddler in tow. This made me feel anxious, was inconvenient, and did not bring on labor.

If you are interested in membrane stripping to induce labor, discuss it with your provider, and he or she can help you decide if it is the right choice for you.

The medical community studies drugs and interventions (such as oxytocin for labor induction) both before and after implementation to ensure their safety and efficacy and to ensure no unexpected complications or side effects have occurred.

Many women swear by a certain natural method, but a woman close to her due date is extremely likely to go into labor no matter what she is doing – or eating – at the time.

Many of the above natural ways to induce labor are probably harmless. Others, however, may have unwanted side effects or could be unsafe for you or your baby. Talk to your obstetric provider beforehand about any method you intend to try and get his or her opinion on what is safest.

We recommend you take the true “natural” approach to labor – let it happen when it happens. After all, only about 2 percent of women remain pregnant more than 1 to 2 weeks past their due date.

Think of it as your first demonstration in patience – something you will undoubtedly require often as a mother!

For more information about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, sign up to receive Your Pregnancy Matters email alerts when we publish new stories. You can also make an appointment to see one of our specialists by calling 214-645-8300.