Are you done with being pregnant and ready to have your baby? Whether your due date is quickly approaching or it’s already come and gone, you’re probably eager to get things moving along. But sit tight, experts say. A full term pregnancy is anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks, and most women will go into labor naturally between 41 and 42 weeks. And if your cervix isn’t ripe, your chances of having a C-section increase.
“We know if someone goes into spontaneous labor they’re more likely to have a successful vaginal delivery,” said Dr. Myra J. Wick, a board-certified OB/GYN at the Mayo Clinic and co-editor of the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy.
Once your provider has given you the green light, there are some things you can try. Find out what works and what doesn’t.
The prostaglandin in semen can soften the cervix and get it ready for labor, and an orgasm can definitely cause the uterus to contract – but it may not lead to labor, Wick said. In fact, there is no evidence that sex can induce labor, but it’s not harmful either, according to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. If your membranes are ruptured, you have bleeding or your doctor told you not to have sex because of other complications, then heed that advice and hold off.
“Anytime a woman can be upright, it’s optimal for labor,” said Dr. Michelle Collins, a certified nurse-midwife and director of the nurse-midwifery program at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, Tenn. Although walking won’t start labor, if you’re already in labor, it can definitely make the contractions more frequent.
When the nipples are stimulated, the pituitary gland releases oxytocin, the hormone that makes the uterus contract. According to an article in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, women who had a ripe cervix were more likely to go into labor within 72 hours if they used nipple stimulation than those who didn’t.
There are actually a variety of ways to stimulate the nipples, according to Collins, who said your provider might suggest using a breast pump, standing in a hot shower, or stimulating your nipples like you’re winding a watch. Be sure to get the OK from your provider first.
Tempted to go out for Mexican food in hopes that it might jumpstart your contractions? Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down collagen and can ripen the cervix. However, you would have to eat a ton of it for it to work. Some restaurants even tout special dishes made with eggplant, vinegar or spices that claim to induce labor, but there’s no scientific data to suggest that it actually works, Collins said.
Acupuncture and acupressure
Known to promote healing through the energy pathways of the body, some research suggests that acupuncture and acupressure may help to induce labor. If you opt for these methods, be sure to use a practitioner who specializes in pregnancy.
Evening primrose oil
Taken orally or massaged on the cervix, there are NO benefits to using evening primrose oil to induce labor, Collins said. In fact, women who use the oil are at increased risk for prolonged rupture of membranes, arrest of descent—or the baby not coming down the birth canal despite having contractions—and higher rates of vacuum assisted births, according to a report in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Evening primrose oil can also put you at risk for having seizures so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
A prenatal massage can do wonders for back pain, soreness and stress, especially during labor when the contractions get stronger. But unfortunately it won’t help to start labor.
“When you stimulate the bowel, it can stimulate the uterus,” said Collins, who also noted that drinking castor oil is one of the most overused and unsafe methods women have used. Not only can it cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but you can also become severely dehydrated.
A study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found castor oil didn’t affect the time it took for a woman to go into labor nor did it have any adverse effects. Yet there have been case reports of fetal distress, and it can potentially increase the chances of the baby passing meconium.
Black and blue cohosh
These herbs may start contractions, but they’re not safe and using them can actually be potentially life threatening to you and your baby, Collins said. In fact, babies whose mothers used these herbs suffered heart and cardiovascular complications, seizures and kidney damage, according to an article in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Red raspberry leaf tea
Used by Native American women for centuries, red raspberry leaf tea can help to tone the uterine muscles, and it may shorten labor and reduce hemorrhaging – but it won’t start labor. Collins suggests drinking the tea three times a day at 36 or 37 weeks of pregnancy to reap the benefits.
Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.