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Inducing Labor Naturally: What Works And What Doesn’t

[Note of caution: Banner Health does not endorse anyone trying to self-induce labor before 37 weeks, as the baby’s brain is still developing]

You’re tired, your ankles are swollen, and you feel like your stomach may pop. If you are close to your due date – or a few days past – you may find yourself searching the internet for sure-fire ways to self-induce labor at home. While there are plenty of old wives’ tales and “natural” remedies that supposedly help nudge labor along, most don’t work and even worse, they can cause some undesired side effects.

“Unfortunately, most of the potential techniques don’t work and can be downright unpleasant on the digestive tract, but a few are worth a try,” said Linda Nelson, a certified nurse-midwife at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, Colorado. “Before you try any of these though, make sure you get the OK from your midwife or physician.”

Below, Nelson weighs in on which methods are safe to try, and which aren’t worth the negative side effects.

Give It A Go … With Your Doctor’s OK

Sex

While it may the very last thing you want to do at this point in your pregnancy, sexual intercourse isn’t harmful unless your doctor has ordered pelvic rest for placenta or vasa previa. Although there is no proof it will start your labor, sex can help prime your cervix and make it more favorable for labor.

“When your partner ejaculates during sex, his sperm releases prostaglandins which can stimulate the cervix,” Nelson said. “So, it’s worth a try, if you are up for it!”

Walking

Unless otherwise advised by your doctor, it’s important to stay active during pregnancy—for you and the baby’s health. Although staying fit during pregnancy won’t induce labor, some studies have shown spending time upright can shorten labor.

“By walking and doing regular upright exercises, particularly toward the end of your third trimester, gravity can help your baby get in a good position for birth and it may help bring on contractions but not necessarily help labor progress,” Nelson said.

Nipple stimulation

Nipple stimulation, which involves gently rubbing a nipple between your fingers, using a breast pump or a combination of both, can help release oxytocin. But Nelson cautions doing this unsupervised.

“The reaction to nipple stimulation is very unpredictable, so if done incorrectly, you could give yourself too many contractions,” Nelson said. “If you want to try this method, make sure you only do it under your provider’s supervision.”

Dates (the fruit)

New studies have shown that six dates a day starting at 36 weeks can help soften the cervix, reduce the need for medical induction and help promote a shorter labor.

Evening Primrose Oil (EPO)

Used after 37 weeks, EPO does have substances that your body changes into prostaglandins, which can help soften your cervix and help it thin, but there are no formal studies to show its impact on labor.

Membrane stripping

If your cervix is favorable, your doctor or midwife, using a gloved finger, can separate the amniotic sac from the area around the cervix. This action releases prostaglandins, which can potentially help the body to go into labor.

“This process can be quite painful and isn’t without risks, such as rupturing the amniotic sac, cramping, bleeding and risk of infection,” Nelson said. “But for some women, it can reduce the chances of needing a formal induction.”

Don’t Try These

Castor oil: Unless you want horrible diarrhea, forgo the oil. It can also cause uterine irritations and contractions, but not the kind that result in labor.

Spicy food: This has the same effects as castor oil and can give you horrible heartburn.

Pineapple: There’s no harm in enjoying some throughout pregnancy, but this won’t help induce labor. Overindulging could produce diarrhea and heartburn.

The Takeaway

Most are safe to give a go but be sure to check with your midwife or OB/GYN beforehand to ensure the safest path to take.

“Truly the safest ‘natural’ approach is time,” Nelson said. “Only 2% of women remain pregnant more than one to two weeks past their due date. Just be patient and enjoy your last few days of your pregnancy.”

For any questions or concerns, contact your provider or call the Banner Health Nurse-on-Call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 844-259-9494. If you still haven’t taken a CPR or childbirth class, you can also schedule at bannerhealth.com/calendar.

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