NOTE: this post was first written in 2015 when I was post due with my second daughter and desperately looking into how to induce labor naturally. Spoiler alert, she came out… eventually.
Today marks 40 weeks + 5 days pregnant.
Not cool, baby, not cool.
While I have no trust in due dates, it is still incredibly frustrating to watch yours come and go.
Needless to say, finding out how to induce labor naturally is high on my to-do list.
Below is my list of nine natural induction suggestions pulled from the magical, not always scientific, wilds of the internet. And I, of course, had to go and ruin the fun and look at the science behind them.
How to induce labor naturally (and what science has to say about each technique)
In no particular order…
1. Spicy food —
Everyone and their mother suggests this one to me but there does not seem to be any bit of science behind this. I still ate spicy food last night and hoped for the best. No labor but I did have some kickass heartburn.
2. Evening primrose oil —
This homeopathic falls into the category of “cervical ripening agent” because it mimics prostaglandins. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to do a very good job of it.
A study in 1999 found that oral intake of evening primrose did not hasten, or even shorten, labor.
3. Sex —
In case you find yourself wondering “Hmmm… I wonder how much prostaglandin semen contains?” Here is your answer: A lot. Some have suggested that semen has the highest prostaglandin concentration of any biologically derived source. Read: excellent cervical ripener.
In practice, well, this one lacks the right scientific experiment to prove or disprove. Probably because you’ll have a hard time finding pregnant volunteers (and even harder, their partners) to have carefully monitored sex for the sake of science.
4. Nipple stimulation —
Think baby suckling, not foreplay. This technique stimulates oxytocin, the “love hormone”, the hormone that also jolts the uterus into action.
Compared to women who did absolutely nothing, women who practiced nipple stimulation had a greater likelihood of going into labor within 72 hours. Time to bust out the breast pump or give self-expression a go!
5. Castor oil —
Midwives have been using this trick for centuries, it even shows up in papyrus scrolls from ancient Egypt. The magic relies on intestinal breakdown of the oil components to release of ricinoleic acid which then hits up those prostaglandin receptors to get the labor ball rolling.
Only problem is that the same receptors line the intestines and cause a serious laxative effect. Since diarrhea and labor do not exactly compliment each other, most health professionals advice against this method of natural induction. I would agree.
Don’t do it. Just don’t.
6. Acupuncture —
Ancient Egyptians drank castor oil, ancient Chinese employed tiny needles. Although this technique remains widely popular even in Western culture, the exact mechanism for how it may work remains murky at best.
Some thinking points to stimulation of the nervous system for a natural release of oxytocin. While that sounds promising, a review of studies investigating the link between acupuncture and labor induction found some evidence that it may improve cervical readiness but also evidence that it may extend time in labor.
Hoping for the cervical readiness, I have a few acupuncture appointments all set up.
7. Black/Blue cohosh —
Homeopathics sound so much nicer than getting a pitocin drip while stuck in a hospital bed. Unfortunately, the exact nature of mixing these herbal induction concoctions may dull the effectiveness of a dose and render the usefulness of their consumption for labor rather impossible to study.
Collection of any and all research evidence shows a high likelihood of limited effectiveness.
8. Membrane sweeping —
This doctor-conducted mechanical maneuvering separates the membrane from the bottom section of the uterus and works by stimulating local production of prostaglandins. It requires that a finger (your doctor’s!) makes its way through your cervix to the other side so it’s no shocker that most women report discomfort.
Temporary discomfort, however, may totally pay off, as research suggests that membrane sweeping/stripping reduces your chances of pregnancy extending into 41 or 42 weeks.
9. Dates? —
Yeah, this one seemed weird to me too. From an oddly specific study, women who ate 6 dates per day for the 4 weeks leading up to their due dates were less likely to require medical induction.
Since I am WAY past the mark of required date consumption, I guess I’m out of luck with this technique.
One more thing about those natural induction techniques…
A bit on the science of labor
Labor requires two main hormones — oxytocin and prostaglandins — and almost all of the natural induction techniques rely on stimulating or mimicking these key hormones. Oxytocin acts on the uterus to amp up those contractions and push that baby out while prostaglandins also help contractions but mainly play a role in changing the cervix from a tightly closed bundle of connective tissue to an opening as wide as a human head (ok, a baby head, but still… a freaking human head!).
Natural induction techniques rely on stimulating or mimicking oxytocin and prostaglandins – The Two Main Hormones Required For Labor
How mom’s body acts in the initiation of labor, requires an important shift between two phases of readiness:
The uterus and cervix are given the green light to move ahead and release your tiny human. This phase marks the point when uterine and cervical tissue gets the tools in place to respond to the hormone signals that will facilitate labor. An essential “priming” step for your baby booting machinery.
Only once all the machinery is primed can the parts respond to the hormones, oxytocin and prostaglandins, that will guide labor progression.
This brings me to something that bothers me about pretty much all posts about labor induction — the required priming step.
Getting Ready for Labor
Since almost all of the natural induction techniques rely on stimulating or mimicking the key hormones oxytocin and prostaglandins, the activation phase is essential to make sure the uterus and cervix can even respond to the signals sent down.
Expecting a result from an unprepared uterus/cervix is like placing a call to the fire department, not having anyone on the other end to pick up the phone, and then wondering why the firemen didn’t show up with their giant water hose.
The activation phase is essential to make sure the uterus and cervix can even respond to the signals sent down.
For me and my baby booting dreams, let’s hope someone is on the line to answer my call because I about give #4 the ‘ol college try.
Who knows what worked. Maybe it was #4, maybe it was #6 or #8. Perhaps a combination of everything plus a little bit of patience (ha!)
Little E arrived 30 minutes before her scheduled induction… 11 days late. Little stinker.