Natural Techniques to Kickstart Labor
One of the most common questions that I hear from expectant moms (especially those who are nearing or past 40 weeks pregnant) is "How do I get this baby here ASAP without medical interference!?". Anyone who has been pregnant (or been around a pregnant woman) knows how uncomfortable those last weeks of pregnancy can be. Days start to feel like weeks, and the time drags on! So if there are some things we can do at home to encourage baby to make their grand entrance, great, right? Well, usually. Let's talk about some "natural" induction techniques, whether they are effective, and their potential side-effects. We are going to rate the safety and efficacy of each "induction" method listed below. Please note that this blog post is not written with the intention of giving medical advice, and that all pregnant women should consult with a medical care provider before attempting any of these methods.
Sex: Some 40-week pregnant women can hardly roll over in bed without getting out of breath, so the idea of a romp in the hay at this stage in pregnancy makes some people balk. But it's true! Sex is one of the most effective at-home labor-kickstarting techniques. The sperm of the male contain prostaglandins that help to ripen the cervix, a huge player in labor getting started. If the pregnant woman is also able to reach climax, you also receive the awesome benefits of oxytocin and uterine contraction. This technique gets a 4 on the efficacy scale, and a 4 on the safety scale. So get sexy and get moving in the bedroom!
Curb Walking: Some people swear by walking with one foot on the curb and one foot on the street. This helps off-set the pelvis, which can help babies head engage. Optimal fetal positioning is very important for labor to start. Walking is an important exercise for pregnant mothers as it is, because it is a great exercise for the pelvic floor. If you decide to do this technique, make sure you are switching sides regularly (every 100 feet or so), and ensure that you aren't straining yourself. This technique gets a 2 on the efficacy scale and a 4 on the safety scale.
Nipple Stimulation: Many mothers who have given birth share a similar sentiment, breastfeeding and the after-pains associated with it can sometimes be worse than labor! Why is this? Our bodies are biologically designed to contract the uterus during breastfeeding. This is a direct result of the oxytocin rush we experience during breastfeeding, and helps the uterus to stop bleeding and returns it to its pre-pregnancy size. Because of this biological reaction, many woman have contractions during pregnancy when they experience nipple stimulation. These contractions can be very strong, and have the potential to put a baby in distress if labor does not start. Because of this, this technique should never be attempted without the supervision of a medical care provider. This technique gets a 4 on efficacy and a 2 on the safety scale.
Evening Primrose Oil: Some women and some providers swear by inserting evening primrose oil capsules (a widely available health supplement) into the vagina to help ripen the cervix. Evening primrose oil contains linolenic acid which helps trigger a prostaglandin response in the body. There has also been evidence showing that this technique can help shorten labor, though all evidence available is limited and seems to be primarily anecdotal. The downside of this technique is that it can act as a blood thinner, leading to a heightened risk of hemorrhage after birth or other complications during labor. On a more mild note, it can also lead to headaches and stomach upset. Similar to nipple stimulation, due to the possible complications associated with this technique, a health care provider should always be consulted. This technique gets a 3 on efficacy and a 2 on safety.
Black/Blue Cohosh: Black and blue cohosh is highly controversial as a labor induction method. Some sources claim that it is highly effective and that the potential risks only present when taken over a long period of time, while there have been some serious adverse reactions reported in conjunction with using this technique. If you use this technique, it should be under direct supervision of a midwife or doctor and a certified herbalist. This method involves taking some of each herbs tincture to help to induce labor. Dosage varies greatly based on strength and individual experience. I encourage anyone considering this method to research the possible side effects. This video from Evidence-Based Birth is a great place to start. This technique gets a 4 for efficacy and a 1 on safety.
Eating Spicy Foods: Some people claim that the stomach upset that comes from eating spicy foods can help kickstart labor. There is some truth to this, in fact, it's the same general idea utilized in the 'Castor Oil' and 'Eating Pineapple' techniques listed below. In early labor many women experience lower stomach cramping and digestive upset, usually including diarrhea and occasional nausea/vomiting. This technique attempts to kickstart labor by bringing on the stomach discomfort in hopes that contractions will follow. For most people, the quantity of food required to actually cause a cramping response is nearly impossible to achieve. If you enjoy spicy foods, give this a try! But don't risk making yourself sick over a technique that isn't very effective. This technique gets a 1 for efficacy and a 4 for safety.
Eating Pineapple: Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which in large quantities causes the stomach to cramp, then leading to contractions. Similar to the Spicy Foods method, this must be consumed in large quantities to be effective. The enzyme is also most heavily concentrated in the core of the pineapple, which most people choose to avoid due to its stringy, tough texture. Similar to the spicy foods method, give it a go if you feel so compelled, as there is little to no risk associated, but don't expect it to be the most effective option. This technique gets a 1 for efficacy and a 5 for safety.
Chiropractic Adjustments: I am a huge proponent for chiropractic care during pregnancy. If you are seeing the right chiropractor, they can help relieve prenatal aches and pains, assist in getting your baby in an optimal position by manipulating your pelvis and ligaments, and ultimately lead to an easier birth. That all sounds great to me, and most pregnant women! The stage at which you start your chiropractic care during pregnancy is a huge factor in how effective it will be, with the earlier being the better. It's also important to see a Webster certified chiropractor because they are trained with manipulating a pregnant woman and know the right adjustments to make to the pelvis. This technique gets a 4 for efficacy and a 4 for safety.
Massage: Getting a massage is not only a great activity for late pregnancy thanks to the muscle and mind relaxing benefits, but some also claim it can help kickstart labor! It's true that a relaxed mind is the mind that most easily goes into labor, due to feeling safe and having rushes of hormones that encourage contractions. This is why moms so often start labor in the middle of the night. So a massage may be a great way to encourage those benefits while also making mom feel pampered and soothing her (probably aching) muscles. Make sure to see a trained prenatal massage therapist as there are certain positions and techniques that should not be performed on pregnant women. This technique gets a 2 for efficacy and a 4 for safety.
Essential Oils: There are some who claim that certain essential oils can get labor started or progressing more quickly. Some of these oils include Clary Sage, Rose, and Jasmine, which are all said to encourage uterine contractions (and should all be avoided by pregnant women unless closely monitored by a care provider). The downside of this technique is that it's hard to be very clinical about dosage, so sometimes too much oil can lead to too strong of contractions, which can then lead to problems for mom and/or baby. If you are inclined to use essential oils during labor, consult with your healthcare provider first and foremost, then be very conservative with the amounts used. This technique gets a 3 for efficacy and a 2 for safety. (A great way to use essential oils without most of the risk is to use them with the intention of relaxing body and mind. Oils like lavender and frankincense can be great for this purpose, but again, be sure to consult with your care provider.)
Jumping, Running, or Other Exercises: While it's true that intense activity can often result in an uptick of contractions, these are generally short lived and will die down as soon as mom relaxes again. The downside here is that these jarring activities can actually be dangerous to mom and baby, causing things like premature rupture of membranes, placental abruption, musculoskeletal damage to mom, and more. If mom is already fit and has been exercising regularly during pregnancy and is adept at listening to her pregnant body then exercises like this are more likely to be safe, but they should be done with the intention of enjoyment, not with the intention of inducing labor, as it most likely wont work anyways. This technique gets a 1 for efficacy and a 2 for safety.
Castor Oil: A technique that is reported to date back to ancient Egypt and a favorite among many hoping to avoid medical induction, this technique involves the mother drinking castor oil, which has been shown to cause intense intestinal cramps, which can in turn kickstart labor contractions. It is worth nothing that this is one of the techniques listed here with the most clinical evidence. Most mothers who take part in this method report intense cramping in the lower stomach, as well as diarrhea (and sometimes vomiting) that cause extreme discomfort. This is a method that should never be done without the close supervision of a medical care provider as there are many risks associated with this method. This technique gets a 4 for efficacy and a 1 for safety.
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea: Many women start drinking a cup of RRL tea per day as soon as their second trimester starts. Then once the pregnancy has reached full term, many will make stronger doses of the tea to continue to tone their uterus in preparation for labor. It is important to note that there is almost no clinical evidence to back up the efficacy of this practice, but it has been used since the sixth century to support laboring moms. Go ahead and give this one a try if you enjoy drinking tea or are interested in herbal medicine, but don't expect ground-breaking results. This technique gets a 1 for efficacy and a 4 for safety.
Fear Release and Meditation: One of the simplest techniques on the list, fear release and meditation can be a great way to prepare for labor and birth. I encourage my clients to meditate throughout their pregnancy, both with and without their partner, to encourage relaxation and a good state of mind when it comes to labor and birth. We talked already about how important mindset is for a women to start labor, and labor is such a fear central event thanks to it's portrayal in pop culture and media. There are many great guided meditations and fear release exercises surrounding pregnancy and birth, and this can be a great place to start to encourage a positive and healthy mindset. If you find that your fear is deeply rooted and is causing you a lot of distress, it may be worth talking to a therapist. While it's true that meditation isn't going to cause your body to go into labor, it can be a powerful bonding and relaxation activity. This technique gets a 2 for efficacy and a 5 for safety.
Have you tried any of the techniques listed above? Were they successful or unsuccessful? Do you have any that you would add to this list?