What Natural Ways to Induce Labor Actually Work?

Spoiler alert: Science says just one!
Uncomfortable pregnant woman

Your due date says your bundle of joy is overdue — but clearly, baby prefers to stay on the inside. You want to stage a coup, evict the tiny dictator and restore the balance of power, but are there any natural ways to induce labor that actually work?

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“There’s a difference between what’s on the internet, old wives’ tales and what’s actually been studied and shown to be helpful,” says Ob/Gyn Jonathan Emery, MD. He gives the lowdown on some of the most common methods. 

How to induce labor naturally

Nipple stimulation to induce labor

Nipple stimulation is a natural way to increase oxytocin levels. You may be familiar with this hormone’s synthetic doppelgänger, Pitocin, which doctors often use to induce labor. Oxytocin kicks childbirth into gear by sending signals that tell your body to start contractions and labor. 

Dr. Emery says that nipple stimulation is the only method with data to back it up. “In one trial, more of the women who did nipple stimulation were in labor after three days than those who didn’t. That’s a statistically significant change,” he reports. “And it does not appear to increase C-section rates or bad outcomes for mom or baby.”

Acupuncture and acupressure to induce labor ineffective

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Acupuncturists insert tiny needles into specific locations on the body to kick-start labor. Acupressure follows the same principles — but swaps the needles for firm pressure and massage. 

“There’s some data to suggest that they might be effective, but the studies haven’t been big enough or well-designed enough to prove it,” relates Dr. Emery. File these two under: Feel free to try, but keep your expectations low.

Labor inducing methods that are ineffective

But what about the methods your Aunt Linda, best friend or even doctor swears by? “I tell my patients jokingly, ‘You can have extra spicy Chinese food, take some castor oil and go for a walk. But you’ll just end up with reflux, diarrhea and sore muscles — not labor.’”

With that in mind, Dr. Emery says these methods are at best ineffective, and at worst, risky:

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  • Bumpy car rides: Seems like gravity and jostling should help … but they don’t.
  • Castor oil and spicy food: “These often induce diarrhea, which stimulates the intestines. The intestines then may release hormones or mediators, which could stimulate contractions in the uterus. Diarrhea can also cause dehydration, which may do the same. But neither will put you into labor,” Dr. Emery adds. “And you should avoid anything that causes significant dehydration.” 
  • Herbal medicines: There’s no evidence that herbal remedies, such as evening primrose oil and red raspberry leaf tea, work. And they may not even be safe for mom and baby.
  • Hypnosis: Some people try deep breathing exercises, visualization and a gentler way of speaking about childbirth. (No swinging pocket watch needed.) While these methods may help you get through the process, they won’t get you into labor.
  • Sex: A persistent old wives’ tale, it also assumes sex during pregnancy is safe, which may not be the case, notes Dr. Emery. “Women who have placenta previa, bleeding or other complications in pregnancy shouldn’t have intercourse.”
  • Membrane stripping/sweeping: A doctor or midwife may perform this procedure if you already started dilating. They move a finger around the cervix to separate the amniotic sac from the uterine wall. “Membrane stripping can increase contractions, but it does not produce significant labor,” says Dr. Emery. “And a woman should be Group B strep (GBS) negative for this procedure because of the infection risk to the baby.”
  • Walking: It’ll feel nice to get out, but there’s no data to suggest walking is effective, says Dr. Emery.

He also cautions against women taking illicit substances. While they may cause pre-term labor, they are incredibly dangerous for both mom and baby.

Is it safe to induce labor naturally?

Not everyone should try to give Mother Nature a nudge. Dr. Emery cautions that you should not consider natural induction methods unless:

  • You’re 37 weeks pregnant or more.
  • You have received approval from your doctor or prenatal provider.
  • Your baby is head down.
  • You and your baby don’t have existing complications that would make these methods unsafe.

“And be careful in situations where vaginal or unmonitored labor might be risky — like if you’ve had a previous C-section, a placenta issue or any pregnancy-related complication,” says Dr. Emery.

The good news? No pregnancy lasts forever. Junior will arrive (eventually). One look at that cute little face, and you’ll forgive the fashionably late arrival.

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