How can I make myself go into labor?
OB-GYN explains if it’s possible to induce labor naturally – and what’s safe and what’s dangerous to try
Around 38 weeks into their pregnancy, I start to see a shift in my expecting patients. The excitement of being pregnant has worn off. They are sore, uncomfortable and often exhausted from not sleeping well.
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 in fact can be dangerous for both mom and baby.
Here are 6 of the top techniques I get questions about from my patients, and the advice I share with them.
- Exercise – okay to try with doctor permission
Walking and exercise often makes 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 5 times a week can be helpful in any stage of pregnancy. And it’s safe to use an exercise/birthing ball to stretch and help relieve some of the pressure in your pelvis, hips and back, too. (Unless, of course, you’ve been instructed otherwise by your doctor!) Staying fit can help improve sleep and your mood. It can also decrease the risk of cesarean delivery and gestational diabetes.
- Spicy foods – okay to try with doctor permission
Spicy foods can make you sweat, but they definitely won’t induce labor. That’s an old wives’ tale. Research has shown eating spicy food can trigger heartburn and indigestion. As for labor, there has been no documented research to prove this theory.
- Acupuncture/acupressure – okay to try with doctor permission
Using acupuncture or acupressure to start labor is a bit controversial. The belief is that stimulating certain points in the body can release oxytocin and cause labor. While the effectiveness of that is still up for debate, the vast majority of women do enjoy a foot massage at the end of pregnancy. And massage therapy and chiropractic care can indeed 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 and chiropractors specifically trained to work with pregnant women and their much more loose and relaxed muscles and joints.
- Sexual intercourse – okay to try with doctor permission
Sex could potentially help mothers prepare for labor. Why? 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.
- Nipple stimulation – discouraged
Some of my patients ask me whether using a breast pump can start labor. Similar to sex, nipple stimulation can lead to oxytocin release. However, there is no research that shows using a breast pump to start labor is safe or effective. So, I discourage my patients from trying this method.
- Castor oil – 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 nasty side effects like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting – all of which can lead to dehydration. I highly discourage my patients from trying this method.
At the end of the day, your baby will come when he or she is ready. Try to stay comfortable and be patient. And know that, if needed, your doctor can help you get your labor started safely and effectively.
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About Megan Schmitt, MD
Dr. Megan Schmitt has been a Park Nicollet OB-GYN since 2014. Originally from northern Wisconsin, she completed college and medical school in Milwaukee before moving to Minnesota for her residency training. Dr. Schmitt enjoys caring for the whole person and involving women in making health care decisions that are right for their lifestyle. When she’s not escaping to the lake with her husband to fish, ski and swim, Dr. Schmitt keeps active by running, biking and traveling.