Come on, baby!
When you're pregnant, you're pregnant for *almost* a full year. It is wonderful, yes. It is amazing, yes. It is a miracle, yes! But, it also can feel like a looooong time. So if you are wanting to try to induce your labor at home, we totally feel you, mama.
The good news is that there are some ways that you can try to start to get labor going. But first, there are some important things you need to know.
First, if labor hasn't started yet, there's probably a good reason for it. As we share in The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama, we believe that babies send a signal of sorts when they are done cooking and ready to be born, so it's possible that your baby just wants to bake a bit longer. Or maybe your body isn't quite ready yet. It can feel so discouraging at the end, especially as you watch your due date pass by, but be confident that your body knows what it's doing!
Dr. Shannon M. Clark, a double board certified OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist, advises that people wait until week 39 before starting any at-home induction techniques. Induction before 39 weeks of gestation—unless medically indicated—is not recommended, whether via induction in the hospital or via natural methods.
If you're trying natural ways of inducing labor at home, let your obstetric care provider know. They may have important suggestions or precautions based on your personal medical history.
Last thing: Inducing labor can take days. No matter the method, induction of labor can take a long time, especially if this is your first time laboring. You should not expect immediate results, nor should you get discouraged if things don't happen as expected.
Okay, so you've checked in with your provider and gotten the green light. Now, it's time to start! But which method of natural induction will you choose?
Here are nine ways that women try to naturally induce labor:
1. Nipple stimulation
Nipple stimulation prompts the pituitary gland to release oxytocin, the same hormone that initiates the milk let-down response with breastfeeding and can cause uterine cramping during breastfeeding. The synthetic form of oxytocin is pitocin. This drug is used in hospitals to induce or augment labor.
Gently massaging your nipples can may effectively start labor—and make it happen faster. One small study found that it actually increased the odds of having a vaginal birth. It's important to note that since the studies have been small, we can't say for certain whether it is safe and effective (the concern is that it could generate too many contractions, which could cause fetal stress).
There are a variety of ways to do nipple stimulation, including with your breast pump or by gently rubbing or rolling the nipple with your fingers. Check in with your provider to learn their recommended method if you are interested.
2. Sexual intercourse
Sexual intercourse is often recommended by providers to start labor naturally.
If your partner produces semen, it could help get labor started since semen contains prostaglandins, which can cause uterine cramping and contractions. Different forms of prostaglandins are used in the hospital setting to induce labor.
In addition, a woman's orgasm during intercourse may lead to uterine cramping or the onset of uterine contractions.
One important caveat: sex is not recommended if there's any chance your water might have already broken. In addition, if there has been any bleeding or your doctor has instructed you to abstain from intercourse for any other reason, sexual intercourse is not recommended.
Taking long walks to induce labor won't hurt (unless you have a medical reason not to, of course). The theory is that the weight of the baby's head pressing down on the cervix can stimulate the release of oxytocin and induce uterine cramping or contractions. Moving can also help the baby get into a better position for birth.
It's important not to exhaust yourself walking in order to induce labor. Labor is exhausting enough once it starts! Make sure you stay hydrated, rest when you get tired and bring your phone; you don't want to be far from home, alone and suddenly in labor.
Sometimes if the cervix has dilated some but you are not yet in active labor, going for a walk may tip the scales and cause cervical change or kickstart labor.
A variety of herbs and teas are thought to potentially stimulate labor. These include:
Clary sage oil: While it should not be used earlier in pregnancy, once you're at full term, clary sage can work its uterine magic. Herbal practitioners have used it for ages to induce contractions and improve the effectiveness of contractions in labor. However, it has never been clinically evaluated for this use, so you should always consult your practitioner before trying a new remedy.
Evening primrose oil: There's no evidence to support that it works, but it also has not been found to be harmful.
Red raspberry leaf tea: There's no evidence to support that it works, but it also has not been found to be harmful.
Be aware that a couple of commonly recommended herbs for stimulating labor are not proven safe: Blue and black cohosh and comfrey root have no evidence to support that they work, and they may be dangerous for the baby.
There is some data to show that acupuncture can help induce labor at term, but more research is needed. If you opt to try acupuncture, find a professional who specializes in acupuncture during pregnancy.
Some chiropractors use a labor induction technique late in pregnancy that combines chiropractic adjustments that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (your relaxation response) and release the ligaments around the uterus and pelvis. As with acupuncture, it's important to find a provider who specializes in caring for pregnant people.
7. Castor oil
The theory behind advising women to take castor oil is that it stimulates the intestines, causing the release of prostaglandins from the smooth muscle of the intestinal walls, which can indirectly cause the smooth muscle of the uterus to contract.
However, castor oil is not very pleasant and can have significant side effects, including nausea, diarrhea and potential dehydration. Dehydration is never good for a pregnant woman. So this one seems like a method to steer away from, unless your provider recommends it and you are okay to try it.
8. Spicy foods
Spicy foods may also cause uterine cramping or contractions, but it is not known how this works. Unfortunately, there is no data that shows eating spicy food works to consistently induce labor. But if you like spicy food, go for it!
Enemas can be used to induce labor. Enemas can stimulate the intestines much like castor oil, but without the side effects. But the side effects are quite unpleasant, so most medical professionals don't recommend you use them.
Hang in there, mama. These last days of pregnancy are tough. But your baby will come, and we promise that it will be so worth the wait.
Some of the content of this article is excerpted from The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama.
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