Labor Induction: On Your Own

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Before your due date it’s especially important for the baby to stay in as long as possible.  Once you reach your due date you should know that many medical providers will not allow you to go into labor beyond 42 weeks. In fact, many will ask to schedule a labor induction around 41 weeks.  This is because the medical risks for mother and baby increase after your due date (infection of membranes and uterus, placental abruption, preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, forcep usage, c-sections, tearing, low Apgar scores, NICU care, etc.).  In this blog post I wish to explain the different options for you that are available over the counter / at your home.

Anything that can successfully induce labor can also successfully abort a labor if done too early in pregnancy.  Therefore these things while recommended to induce labor after your due date, are also recommended to avoid early on.

Welcome to Try

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1.  Exercise and movement

Walking more, climbing stairs, doing prenatal yoga, dancing, moving on an exercise ball.  Anything that can get your pelvis to move more can allow your baby to come down further and potentially start labor naturally.  None of these have harmful effects unless your doctor has specifically told you otherwise.

2.  Doing things to help you relax

Some people may not be able to go into labor until they relax and / or stop thinking about it quite so much.  The more time that has passed since your due date the greater the likelihood that you'll be thinking about it.  Therefore sometimes we need things to help us along the relaxation lines.  I recommend you find little things to look forward to each day or every couple of days after your due date.  A labor induction massage (though I don't believe there are many studies done on them) may help you get into this relaxed state.

Sex and orgasms can also help you relax but they also have the ability to produce oxytocin and prostoglandins, two hormones used during labor.  The only potential con is that it won’t help to start labor.  Otherwise it’s not harmful or inadvisable.  There have only been a few studies done on its effectiveness and they’ve shown less need for medical induction and less likely to go beyond 41 weeks (with participants in one study).  Overall it’s very difficult to single out those who can and can’t have sex and see its exact side effects so the scientific studies aren’t super effective.

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3.  Eating certain foods

In general there aren't a lot of studies done on whether certain foods work or not.  However, these have a lot of other potential nutritional benefits so you're welcome to try them anyways.   Eggplants and pineapples are the two most commonly discussed.  Red Raspberry Leaf tea is also common.  One study showed potential decreased complications at birth for mother and baby after the mother ingested the tea form but this was not enough data to be statistically significant.

Dates: While eating dates may not do anything in terms of helping with labor, the studies that have been done on them have only shown potential advantages.  These advantages have included less augmentation with pitocin, more likelihood of spontaneous labor, shorter phases of labor, more cervical ripening and dilation, more likelihood to have vaginal births, less blood loss than pitocin if ingested immediately postpartum.  None of the studies were conducted on women with gestational diabetes so we don’t know what effect if any there would be for these women.

Spicy foods are the only potential one that may induce labor for some but could give others heartburn, which is not ideal in pregnant individuals.

4.  Acupuncture

Not many studies have been done on the effectiveness of this.  In fact it is most likely ineffective but it is harmless so you're welcome to try it if you want.

5.  Castor Oil

Is a very powerful laxative and expectorant.  Some studies have shown it to increase your chance of starting labor in 24 hours and decreased need for medical induction of labor.  Unfortunately it also tastes bad, makes you nauseous and may give you diarrhea which can lead to anal burning and irritation during labor.  It’s a last resort for many women.

Should be done under supervision of medical professional

  1. Nipple Stimulation

Though obviously something that is easy to do at home, this has a lot of potential effects and is therefore best done under supervision.  This works by releasing oxytocin into the body.  It is done most effectively when one nipple is stimulated at a time with periods of rest in between. Pros include the fact that it’s nonmedical, gives women power over induction process, decreases rates of postpartum hemorrhage, works well as induction in birthing individuals with favorable cervixes and is linked to potentially fewer cesarean births.  Cons include the fact that it might not work if your cervix is unripe or unfavorable, shouldn’t be used with high risk women, can cause uterine hyper stimulation (too many contractions, contraction lasting too long or fetal heart rate changes).  It obviously can’t be performed in doses so there’s also risk of overstimulating the breast.  All of this leads it to be better to perform with a care provider to monitor or at least with the permission of a care provider.

Not advisable

1.  Evening Primrose Oil

There is almost no research on the use of this and therefore no knowledge of whether it’s safe or effective so it should most likely not be used. 

2.  Black and Blue Cohosh

There is not a lot of research on this and the research that has been done has shown more negative side effects than positive.  These have included hyponatremia (severe low sodium levels in the blood), perinatal stroke, heart attacks in babies just after birth and low Apgar scores (this is a score determined based on skin color, pulse rate, response to stimulation, activity and respiratory effect).  High Apgar scores are normal while low scores are cause for medical attention.

Resources I used while writing this article: