If you’re reading this article, it's likely that either your estimated due date has come and gone, you're tired of being pregnant or you're trying to beat an induction of labour.
Perhaps it's even all of those things!
Many women try and bring on labour naturally. According to a study, around 50% of pregnant women attempt to get labour going themselves, compared to letting labour take it's own course.
It's important to remember that only 2-5% of babies are born on their “guess” date, and around 40% are born in the two weeks after that. Full term is up to 42 weeks of pregnancy – after which time you may need a medically aided induction of labour, if either baby or mother is showing signs of problems.
It's not advised to try most natural methods until you've at least reached your due date.
But if you're trying to beat an induction or c-section date, trying to get labour going sooner may sound enticing.
Another thing which is important to remember is you’re not designed to be pregnant forever. Have a little faith that your body and your baby will be able to do what it's meant to do.
Find out what causes labour to start.
Each day your baby spends in your womb is valuable, because he is preparing for life on the outside. This is especially true for his lung and brain development and readiness. You see, your baby doesn’t know a date has been set for him to get out. Telling a healthy, developing baby to leave before they are ready can result in all sorts of complications and interventions, when right now, they are safe, happy, healthy and comfortable inside of you.
Inductions appeal to some women because they are fearful about going over their estimated due date and ending up with a stillbirth. However, two of the biggest maternal causes of stillbirth are smoking and obesity. If you're a smoker, see our article on how to quit smoking during pregnancy (or afterwards).
If you do decide to go ahead and get things moving, you may find some of the below methods effective and others not. None of the methods have a 100% success rate or evidence behind them. Even medical inductions can and do fail. This is mainly because babies like to come when they are well and truly ready, be it earlier or later than your estimated due date (which is a date based on an average cycle, not your unique cycle). But if your uterus doesn't have enough oxytocin (labour hormone) receptors, it can have a hard time getting going.
Before You Try To Bring On Labour Naturally
Important points to note prior to trying the below-mentioned methods are:
#1: Get A Green Light First
No matter what, always get the all-clear from your care provider, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition. You should let them know you're thinking of trying something so they are aware of what's happening, and in case there are any risks you're not aware of.
#2: Make Sure Complementary Therapists Are Qualified And Experienced
If you choose a method requiring a health provider, ensure that the person treating you is qualified and knowledgeable in pregnancy specific treatments. You increase your risk if they don't have training and experience working with pregnant women.
#3: Be Informed
It’s important to make sure you're well informed as to the effectiveness and side effects for any method. Research is ever changing, and some methods may not be suitable for you, especially if you have a pre-existing condition. A properly qualified therapist may have some information or recommended reading for you. Do not start any induction methods until you have reached your estimated due date.
#4: Remember That Any Form Of Induction Is An Induction
Once you stimulate labour either medically or naturally, you can become susceptible to further interventions or complications. Please don’t take any form of induction lightly. Weigh up the pros and cons, and opt for choices that are designed at relaxing you and opening your mind and body to labour. Don’t get caught up forcing your body and baby into labour if it's just not meant to be – your baby may not like it and you could end up needing help.
How To Bring On Labour Naturally
Here are 11 different ways you can try and stimulate labour naturally:
Sex is a commonly suggested method of natural induction due to semen containing prostaglandins, which help to ripen the cervix. Recently, a study has found that intercourse made little difference to inducing labour, and no cervical changes were evident.
However, I wouldn’t expect any changes to happen when you're aware that you're part of a study. We know emotions and feelings impact birth, so surely it would be a little clinical and strange to be told to report for an internal after having sex. Our bodies are very sensitive to hormones. Just like our blood pressure can shoot up when we visit the dentist or a doctor, labour can also be inhibited, stall and stop altogether.
The study also cited an analysis of 59 studies whihc found no association between sex and pre-term birth, premature rupture of membranes (PROM), or low birth weight in low-risk pregnancies, so rest assured it is safe to have sex throughout pregnancy.
Of course if you are high-risk and your doctor has recommended otherwise, it's best to abstain.
Sex can a great way to relax, and contrary to the study, many mothers have gone into labour after having sex. During early labour, some women may find their labour will step up a notch after having sex. Even Ina May Gaskin, the world's most famous midwife, doesn’t think too much of this study, as she has seen otherwise. Especially if you are stressed and anxious, sex may just tip you over the edge if your body is ready, but your mind is fighting it.
Another common method of natural induction, the female orgasm, may be more useful. Any complaints? When a woman experiences an orgasm, she produces oxytocin – the labour, love and bonding hormone. So while having intercourse may not be of much help, it can still play a role in the bigger scheme of things. Sex and orgasm has so many health benefits, it's worth a try!
If you have a fear of needles, it might be easy to quickly scroll past this one. However, acupuncture needles are so very fine, you really don’t feel a thing – as hard as that is to imagine.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to induce women who are post dates in their pregnancy. While studies are often low quality, not detailed enough or conflicting, there seems to be some evidence that acupuncture may be beneficial.
Women's health and reproductive specialist, Doctor Andrew Orr, has researched his findings extensively, and has had them published in several leading medical journals. He says, “Most of the time one treatment is all that is needed to get the process going. Sometimes a second treatment may be needed. Through continual research, we have found that induction using acupuncture generally works within 6-48 hours of having your treatment.”
There have been some studies on acupuncture and it’s effect on inducing labour – see an Australian research report here which showed that using acupuncture to stimulate labour in overdue mothers to be had a success rate of 88%.
Although acupuncture has been, and still is, a very useful tool for induction, Andrew admits that acupuncture isn’t effective 100% of the time. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work effectively enough. As they say in China: ‘When the fruit is ready, it will fall off the vine’. Sometimes this saying applies to pregnancy.”
Andrew says his 88% success rate with induction using acupuncture is mainly due to clients receiving regular treatment throughout their pregnancy and specialised expertise in this field. Andrew says that such fine tuning allows them a much easier and pain reduced birth, as well as making it easier for them when it comes to induction.
To be eligible for induction acupuncture you must be at your estimated due date or after, unless otherwise recommended by your doctor or midwife. Whilst there is no risk from having acupuncture for induction, it does help speed up your natural processes. Therefore you must consult with your doctor or midwife before any induction. This is to protect all persons involved, most of all your baby.
Check out the BellyBelly directory for acupuncture and Chinese medicine professionals listed by state.
Debra Betts has put together a brilliant document on acupressure for pregnancy, labour and post birth, with solutions for all sorts of situations, from encouraging labour to vomiting and nausea in labour. You can download a copy here and if you see a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, they can show your partner how to apply acupressure as well as treat you at the same time with a variety of great techniques which TCM practitioners use.
#4: Evening Primrose Oil (EPO)
Evening Primrose Oil is another ‘cervix ripening’ method. EPO helps by imitating prostaglandin can be used orally and/or internally. Of course, EPO is not as strong as medical prostaglandins that are used to induce labour.
A usual oral dosage is 2-3 of 500mg capsules daily from 36 weeks. If you are taking EPO internally, you can do this from 36 weeks – simply insert 2-3 capsules directly to the cervix before bed. You might like to wear a pad or liner as it can get messy when you get up.
#5: Nipple Stimulation
Nipple stimulation produces oxytocin and can produce some strong effects, so you can try stimulating your nipples (including your areola, as a baby would when sucking) with your fingers, massaging one at a time. An alternate option is if you are still feeding a toddler, let him attach and the sucking action will do the same thing.
Massage the first nipple for 5 minutes (when there are no contractions), then wait to see what happens (around 15 mins or so) before doing more. It’s a good idea to take your mind off things by getting on with your usual duties than sitting and waiting for something to happen – so try and keep busy!
Once labour is well established again, stop the stimulation. For more information, see our nipple stimulation article.
#6: Castor Oil
BellyBelly does not recommend castor oil for labour induction. It can cause nausea, diarrhoea and sometimes vomiting for some women.
If you do go into labour, who wants to spend it on the toilet? Dehydration can be a problem too, impacting not only how you feel, but it can also alter the course of your labour, especially if you feel you don't have the strength or energy to go on.
Often in early labour you will already have diarrhoea, which is the body’s way of clearing out and making space for baby, but sometimes this doesn’t happen, especially if baby isn’t yet ready and given the signal for labour to start.
On the other hand, I have heard stories where a post-dates mother had been suffering from terrible constipation and labour had stalled – upon taking the castor oil, she was able to go to the toilet, labour progressed and all went well.
Studies on the topic of castor oil for labour induction are few and of low quality. The most recent Cochrane Review on available studies for castor oil states:
“There was no evidence of a difference between castor oil and placebo/no treatment for the rate of instrumental delivery, meconium-stained liquor, or Apgar score less than seven at five minutes.”
The review also found castor oil caused nausea in all women who ingested it.
#7: Sweeping Membranes / Stretch & Sweep
While not completely natural, it is drug free. Sweeping the membranes involves your care provider separating the membranes (bag of waters) from the cervix via vaginal exam. The procedure may feel quite uncomfortable for some women, however others have said they didn’t feel much at all. Some spotting or bleeding may occur as a result. and Some women find they have irregular contractions after a sweep, which may be uncomfortable and may or may not progress into labour.
A stretch and sweep can be performed on women who are at term and have no other complications.
This method should be your last resort of all of these methods, as it's invasive and not really natural. It also gives bacteria the opportunity to grow when you have objects unnecessarily inserted into your vagina, right up to your cervix.
#8: Raspberry Leaf
Raspberry leaf is believed to be a uterine tonic with other postnatal benefits, including breastmilk production and recovery from childbirth.
Women use raspberry leaf in the weeks leading up to labour, believing it may help them to have a shorter, easier labour. There's not a great deal of research about raspberry leaf for labour, however there is one older study from 2001. Researchers found there was no difference with the first stage of labour (contractions), however the second stage of labour (pushing) was shorter amongst the raspberry leaf group, as well as significantly reduced use of forceps (19.3% vs. 30.4%).
Some women enjoy drinking raspberry leaf tea, whereas others don't like the taste or want to know the exact dose they are taking. You can purchase raspberry leaf tablets from your health food store or naturopath. It’s generally recommended to take it any time after 12 weeks for low risk pregnancies.
#9: Spicy Food Or Curry
Spicy food and curry gives some people the runs, so use with caution! However, some women swear by spicy food for getting their labour started.
#10: Induction Massage
As with induction acupuncture, induction massage can be given on or after your due date.
The massage therapists (who should be experienced in induction massage) work on acupressure points which are normally avoided during pregnancy, in the hope it can help to trigger labour. As with normal massage, induction massage helps to relax and calm your body, easing tension and helping to create a clear and grounded space.
The therapists also may use essential oils which can assist with labour induction. It’s generally a very successful form of labour induction if the mind, body and baby is ready and willing. Perhaps this is because it forces pregnant women to stop, relax and slow down.
#11: Eat Date Fruit
According to a study, consumption of date fruit in the four weeks prior to labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour. Researchers found it produced a more favourable birth outcome.
The study involved 69 women consuming six date fruits per day for four weeks prior to their estimated due date, compared to 45 women who consumed no date fruit.
They found the women who consumed date fruit:
- Had significantly higher mean cervical dilatation upon admission compared with the non-date fruit consumers (3.52 cm vs 2.02 cm, p < 0.0005)
- Had a significantly higher proportion of intact membranes (83% vs 60%, p = 0.007).
- Spontaneous labour occurred in 96% of those who consumed dates, compared with 79% women in the non-date fruit consumers (p = 0.024).
- Use of prostin/oxytocin (for inducing/augmenting labour) was significantly lower in women who consumed dates (28%), compared with the non-date fruit consumers (47%) (p = 0.036).
- The mean latent phase of the first stage of labour was shorter in women who consumed date fruit compared with the non-date fruit consumers (510 min vs 906 min, p = 0.044).
The researchers believe the results warrant a randomised controlled trial to investigate the labour inducing properties of date fruit.
Other Things To Remember
If you are in early labour or trying to get things moving, remember these things:
- Rest at night as best you can. Use the day to get things moving, but don’t exhaust all your energy in early labour – it’s like sprinting in the first 5 kilometres of a marathon. You have a long way to go, and more energy will be required in the latter stages. Being exhausted later makes the seduction of pain relief or intervention stronger and more likely.
- Walk – especially through contractions – it’s the best thing you can do!
- Stairs – climbing stairs is a great way to get things going and to help get that baby down and into a good position.
- Avoid the bath or swimming – it counteracts gravity. Jump in the shower instead and if you need to sit down on a chair in a shower that’s okay. If it’s comfortable to do so, sit on the chair backwards as it will encourage baby into a better position if you can get your hips higher than your knees. If you're uber stressed, then do have a bath to relax your mind.
- Keep upright where possible – make use of gravity. When the uterus contracts, it contracts forwards. So lean into your contractions, bend your knees and have your knees apart. About a 45 degree angle is good.
- Keep yourself busy – find yourself a project to do to distract yourself to help with the anticipation. Sort your recipes in an album, store photos, have lunch / dinner with friends or family, do scrapbooking – anything to keep your mind off going into labour or it can drive you mad!
- MOST IMPORTANTLY REMEMBER: baby will come when he is ready. The greatest gift you can give your baby right now is the gift of choosing his own birthdate, if there is no evidence of any problems.
Thinking About a Medical Induction of Labour?
Don’t forget to inform yourself about medical inductions see our article – induction of labour: to induce or not induce? for more information on what's involved in a medical induction, as well as natural labour vs induced labour – 6 main differences.