Around 38 weeks into their pregnancies, I start to see a shift in my expecting patients. The excitement of being pregnant has worn off. They are sore, uncomfortable and often feeling a great deal of pregnancy fatigue.
This is also usually when I start getting questions about natural ways to induce labor.
“Is it true that eating spicy food will get things going?” “Does drinking castor oil really work?”
Some of my expecting moms are willing to try just about anything at this point, and the internet provides endless ideas. However, I always caution that very few methods have been proven effective in getting labor started. And some methods can actually be dangerous for both mom and baby.
Here are six natural ways to induce labor that I get questions about from my patients, and the advice I share with them. I recommend that you first get your doctor’s permission before trying any of these methods as a way to induce labor.
Walking and exercise often make it to the top of the list of things to try. While there’s no research that says it will induce labor, 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week can be helpful in any stage of pregnancy. And, it’s safe to use a birthing or exercise ball to stretch and help relieve some of the pressure in your pelvis, hips and back (unless you’ve been instructed otherwise by your doctor). Staying fit can help improve sleep and your mood. It can also decrease your risk of cesarean delivery and gestational diabetes.
2. Spicy foods
Spicy foods can make you sweat, but they won’t induce labor. That’s an old wives’ tale. Research has shown that eating spicy food can trigger heartburn and indigestion, but as for labor, there has been no documented research to prove this theory.
3. Sexual intercourse
You might be wondering “How would sex induce labor?” For starters, it can release oxytocin from the brain – the same chemical that causes contractions. And it can also release prostaglandins, which help the cervix naturally soften and prepare for labor. Be sure to ask your doctor whether you have the go-ahead to give sex at this time a try. If you’re given the okay, it’s certainly one of the more fun ways to try and get labor going.
4. Acupuncture and acupressure
Using acupuncture, acupressure or massage to induce labor is somewhat controversial. The belief is that stimulating certain pressure points in the body can release oxytocin and induce labor. While the effectiveness of this method is still up for debate, a foot massage is still enjoyable, especially at the end of pregnancy. And massage therapy can help treat the hip, back, ligament and musculoskeletal pain you might feel while pregnant. Both are very safe as long as the care professional has experience in taking care of pregnant women. Here at Park Nicollet, we’re lucky to have massage therapists specifically trained to work with pregnant women and their much more loose and relaxed muscles and joints.
5. Nipple stimulation to induce labor – discouraged
Some of my patients ask me whether using a breast pump can help start labor. Similar to sex, nipple stimulation can lead to oxytocin release. However, there is no research that shows using a breast pump to induce labor is safe or effective, so I discourage my patients from trying this method.
6. Castor oil to induce labor – highly discouraged and potentially dangerous
Castor oil can cause uterine contractions. But, the contractions may or may not be labor. The theory is that castor oil stimulates the bowels, which irritates the uterus and causes contractions. This can lead to side effects like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting – all of which can lead to dehydration. I highly discourage my patients from trying this method.
Be patient, and remember these methods for later
At the end of the day, your baby will come when they are ready. But once you’re in labor, some of the things listed above may actually help it progress. Walking, acupuncture, massage and more can also be used as natural ways to manage labor and delivery pains.
Until then, try to stay comfortable and be patient. And know that, if needed, your doctor can help you get your labor started safely and effectively.