Labor & Delivery

How Can I Induce Labor Naturally?

I've heard so many different tips for inducing labor naturally. Does anything actually work?

Sorry, but no, not really — at least, nothing that's been proven both safe and effective. Some of the methods you may have heard about:

Having sex

True, orgasms may bring on contractions, and there’s a hormone called prostaglandin in semen that’s also in the popular induction medication Pitocin. But according to a study from BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, having sex hasn’t been proven to jump-start labor. Plus, it’s the more concentrated, synthetic version of prostaglandin in Pitocin. That being said, most doctors will tell you if you have a partially softened and effaced cervix and are at full term, there’s a chance sex could put you over the edge. Hey, this could be your last chance to roll in the hay for a while — nothing wrong with taking advantage.

Eating spicy food

The common old wives’ tale says spicy food could cause enough stimulation to trigger uterine contractions. But nothing has been proven yet, except a good chance of heartburn.

Gulping down castor oil

The reasoning behind this one: Castor oil is a strong laxative, and bowel stimulation caused by drinking it (yeah, gross) may make contractions kick in. Still interested? A recent study found that it does increase the chances of labor after 24 hours of consumption, but it also can increase the chances of baby passing meconium in the amniotic sac, which can lead to respiratory problems for baby. So not worth it.

Stimulating your nipples

Labor-inducing oxytocin, also found in Pitocin, is released when your nipples are stimulated (with your fingers, your partner’s fingers or even a breast pump), but experts say this is pretty risky to try at home. Conclusions published in the journal Midwifery found it’s possible to overstimulate your uterus with nipple stimulation, which means your contractions and baby's well-being would need to be monitored.

Taking a long walking

The theory here is that being out and about and upright will lower the baby, and the resulting pressure on your cervix will lead to dilation. It’s not a sure thing, but it could do the trick. 

Getting acupuncture

Some moms swear they induced labor with acupuncture, which supposedly regulates blood flow and can help dilate the cervix (although all treatments are purely external). But a recent study out of Denmark found no difference in spontaneous labor between women at 41 weeks treated with acupuncture and those not treated.

Having your “membranes stripped”

Here’s how this works: Your doctor will sweep a finger around your cervix to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac, releasing prostaglandin hormones. Bumpies say this can be pretty uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but it could be worth it; at least one study found significantly more women went into labor after a sweeping than those who didn’t receive one. Results can be immediate — many reported going into labor just hours after having their membranes stripped.

Taking an herbal remedy

Echinacea, red-leaf tea, blue cohosh… The general rule for whatever herbal remedy you're offered: There's no evidence that it works, and you should definitely talk to your doctor before taking anything. According to a study in the journal Current Opinions in Obstetrics and Gynecology, several adverse effects have been reported from taking things such as evening primrose oil, like ruptured membranes and longer labor. Like nipple stimulation, some herbs carry this risk of overstimulating your uterus. One herbal remedy the study deems okay is ginger — but it helps to alleviate nausea, not induce labor. Don’t worry — baby can’t stay in there forever.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Signs You're Going Into Labor

Craziest Places Moms Went Into Labor

Tool: Contraction Counter

By The Bump Editors