How can you induce labour?
If you browse social media groups or any pregnancy and birth forums, “How can you induce labour naturally?” is constantly asked. Induction of labour is the stimulation of uterine contractions when labour hasn’t already begun on its own. So what does natural induction look like?
A disclaimer to begin with: Inducing labour naturally is still induction and as such it holds its own risks.
‘Natural’ induction options
Many interventions might induce labour, but what does the research suggest?
INDUCTION OPTIONS SUPPORTED BY THE RESEARCH
Consuming dates every day from 36 weeks (around 80g/day) is associated with:
- Decreased use of synthetic augmentation – 50% in the no-date group vs. 37% in those women who consumed dates
- Increased cervical dilation – 4cm for those who ate dates vs. 3cm for those who didn’t
- Vaginal birth after induction – 47% for those who had eaten dates vs. 28% for those who hadn’t
- Decreased likelihood of synthetic induction – 20% for those who ate dates vs. 45% for those who hadn’t
- Shorter early labour – 510 minutes in those who ate dates vs. 906 minutes in those who didn’t
Acupuncture increases cervical ripening. However, no significant differences have been observed in the length of time to spontaneous labour between acupuncture and controls. That said, if you enjoy acupuncture, the relaxation that it provides might be helpful alone for getting the Oxytocin flowing!
Nipple stimulation increases the likelihood of women going into labour within 72 hours! Around 93.6% of women were not in labour by 72 hours in the control vs. 62.7% of women who used nipple stimulation. Interestingly, nipple stimulation also seems to reduce the likelihood of postpartum haemmorhage.
Evening primrose oil (6 x 1000mg EPO capsules inserted vaginally) significantly increases cervical dilation and effacement and reduces the duration of the latent phase of labour.
Stretch and sweeps are reported to reduce the need for formalised induction methods. However, there is no consensus on the number or frequency of sweeps. Check out my other blog post for an analysis of the benefits and risks of stretch and sweeps.
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INDUCTION OPTIONS THAT, SO FAR, ARE NOT SUPPORTED BY THE RESEARCH
Sexual intercourse doesn’t seem to increase the likelihood of women going into labour. If it helps you relax, why not try?
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea is often suggested to induce labour! However, women drinking RRLT are no more likely to go into spontaneous labour than those who don’t drink RRLT. If you like the taste, go for it! But otherwise, don’t force it down…
Hypnosis is thought to help induce labour, but there are no randomised controlled trials on this.
Homeopathy allegedly can be used to induce labour, but the small amount of evidence we do have suggests it has no significant effect on labour initiation.
Castor oil and spicy food have long been used to induce labour due to their ability to induce diarrhoea and consequently irritate the uterus, leading to contractions. The research doesn’t support that castor oil induces labour (and there is no research for spicy food), and it may cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting, which could lead to dehydration.
Pineapple is thought to induce contractions due to bromelain thinning and ripening the cervix. Again, there is no research to support this in humans, but if you like the taste, no harm done!
Exercise allegedly can help induce labour, but there is little to no research to support this (if it makes you feel good, go for it!). I should say that doing particular activities (e.g. spinning babies) to help the woman’s body to be in good alignment, so that baby can navigate down and through the pelvis, can only help things, so give that a go if you feel drawn to do so!
Risks of ‘natural’ induction
Just because an induction method is ‘natural’ it doesn’t mean it holds no risks. For the most part, those mentioned above are probably mostly harmless. However, introducing anything into the vagina/cervix could interfere with vaginal microbiota and/or cause an allergic reaction. Consider the benefits of these possible interventions against the risks, and decide for yourself what feels right.
*Cue squishy babies to get the Oxytocin flowing!*
So, what would I suggest women do? In short, whatever they feel is right! Trust your intuition, trust our gut and do what feels right for you. In saying that, I’d suggest that unless there is a medically necessary reason you need your baby to be born pretty soon, it makes sense to leave well enough alone.
I know it’s insanity inducing waiting patiently for your baby. Especially when you’re uncomfortable, expecting them to be here already, chasing other children, or *insert all the other reasons waiting for a baby is just-hard-work!* However, we’re learning more and more indicating that our babies are the ones initiating labour! If you can wait until your baby indicates they are ready then I encourage you to do that. No intervention is 100% safe or effective. Trusting your body, and surrendering to when your baby is ready to arrive, is the first in many lessons of trust and surrender that labour, birth and parenting can teach you! It’s a wild ride, but an incredibly enriching and transformative one. If there is a medical reason for induction then it’s worth considering your options – sometimes the ‘natural’ methods can be a good way to get your body ready for medicalised induction too.
If you’d like to read some birth stories of births that ‘progressed’ beautifully well without a stretch and sweep, check out Hamish’s and Evalie’s Birth stories! I’m hoping to blog about some situations where women have gone ‘post-term’ soon, so will try to remember to come back and add them here when I do!
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Who am I?
Hello, I’m Aimee! I support women and their families through pregnancy, birth, postpartum and breastfeeding. I am a qualified and experienced Doula and breastfeeding counsellor, providing support in the Blue Mountains and surrounds. I’d love to meet you for an obligation free catch up! Contact me here.