The average gestation for a first time parent (according to US data) is 40 weeks and 5 days. That means roughly half of first time birthers have their baby before 40 weeks 5 days, and roughly half have their baby sometime after 40 weeks 5 days. As a birth worker, I notice a big shift in the mentality of parents around the 38 week mark. I’m often asked about natural induction techniques usually prefaced by, “what can I do to get this baby OUT OF ME?!”
Well friends, I’m here to deliver some sobering news. If your body isn’t ready to birth and your baby isn’t ready to be born, no amount of natural induction methods are going to put you into labor. However, there are some things that can help edge your body in that direction, if your body and baby are both ready. That’s right. We’re talking about natural induction methods.
Please note that this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. I am not a medical provider. Please consult your medical provider before considering anything in this post.
Natural Induction Methods
Old Wives’ Tale Induction Methods
We all have a mom, an aunt, or a well-meaning older woman in our lives who loves to hand out advice to get that baby on the move. Coincidentally, ladies handing out this advice often happen to be those who just can’t wait to pinch some little baby cheeks. Coincidence? I think not. 😉
You’re told to eat spicy foods, to watch the moon cycle, eat pineapple, go on bumpy car rides, and exercise. Unfortunately, most of these are all hype and no action.
Some birth pros really do swear by moon cycles. I personally haven’t noticed a notable pattern, but I do think there might be something here that we just don’t understand yet. For example, all 4 of my mother’s children were born on the New Moon and the majority of our children (7 of them) were born within a couple of days of the New Moon. Coincidence? Maybe.
Exercise is one that I’d like to shed a little more light on because I think this one can swing either way. Just exercise for the sake of exercise isn’t going to promote labor, but things like The Miles Circuit or The Three Sisters of Balance may very well help encourage your body to go into labor if the stars are aligned. These exercises can also help if you’re “stuck” in early or pre-labor.
Data-Driven Natural Induction Methods
There are a number of natural induction methods that have some amount of data to back them up. Induction techniques I’m aware of are:
- Castor Oil Consumption
- Date Fruit
- Nipple Stimulation
- Membrane Sweeping
Castor Oil to Induce Labor
Castor Oil to induce labor is a favorite among midwives. For those who are inching nearer and nearer the 41 or 42 week mark, castor oil may be a method suggested to try to induce labor. Your health provider will give you a dosage to take. They’ll likely suggest you mask the oil with a milkshake or something else to make it easier to stomach.
Castor Oil works notably as a laxative. The theory behind why it works as an induction agent is that it aggravates the smooth muscles in the GI tract (think intestines) which may also cause uterine muscles to spasm. As a result of this GI upset, more time on the toilet is spent which may also help encourage your body to relax and let go… a necessity for birthing a baby!
Sex to Induce Labor
Seriously? Yep. Seriously. Sometimes sex is just not on the table at the end of pregnancy, and I get that. However, if you’re desperate to try to get things moving at home, it may be a good method to try. Sex can be beneficial for a number of reasons, but oxytocin and prostaglandin production rank right at the top.
During sex, you produce oxytocin — the “love hormone” — which is also the hormone that kicks off labor! You produce oxytocin when you feel safe, happy, and well… satisfied. Sex with your partner (or by yourself!) can tick all of those boxes.
So what about prostaglandin? What is prostaglandin? Prostaglandins are lipids that act very much like hormones. At the end of pregnancy they help to ripen the cervix which help make it soft and squishy so that it can thin and then dilate. If you’re wanting to have a baby, prostaglandins are a must. In hospital inductions, many times they begin with a synthetic prostaglandin to help ripen the cervix before starting dilating medicines like pitocin (synthetic oxytocin). Funnily enough, semen has a natural source of prostaglandins.
Dates to Induce Labor
So, these are technically less labor “inducing” agents and more body preparation. 6 dates a day has been suggested to help ripen the cervix when started around 36 weeks pregnant. In a 2007 study, it was found that date consumption towards the end of pregnancy was found to correlate to higher dilation and more cervical ripening — all great things when you’re trying to get labor going.
Nipple Stimulation to Induce Labor
Similarly to sex, nipple stimulation produces oxytocin production. As we discussed previously, oxytocin is the hormone of love and labor. Nipple Stimulation may be done manually, but most of the time a breast pump is used in a specific protocol. For example, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off for 1 hour. Evidence Based Birth has a great article on nipple stimulation.
Acupuncture to Induce Labor
Why acupuncture works is still somewhat of a mystery in Western Medicine. Acupuncture has been used for over 2000 years. Studies on acupuncture for labor induction show that although acupuncture hasn’t been shown to lessen the need for Pitocin or use of epidural, it has been shown to help cervical ripening. I may sound like a broken record at this point, but if a cervix isn’t ripe, it cannot dilate. Ripening is absolutely something to look at if you’re hoping to induce labor naturally.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, your provider may offer to check your cervix. If you’re dilated enough, they may also offer to sweep your membranes. Membrane Sweeping is done by inserting a finger into your vagina and, if your cervix is dilated enough, manually separating your bag of water from the sides. There is some pretty good evidence about membrane stripping in regards to labor induction. Although it’s not necessarily a fool-proof induction method, studies show that those who opt to have their membranes swept are less likely to carry to 42 weeks.
Natural induction techniques may seem appealing when comparing them to medical induction techniques. Although most of these methods can be done at home, it’s always a good idea to discuss your options with your doctor or midwife. Natural induction techniques aren’t necessarily risk-free. Knowing your options and acting on the best plan for your situation is what’s best.