Image: Bradley Gordon
Labor induction is the process of using medications or other methods to begin labor.
Some women may wish to induce labor in an effort to shorten or ease their delivery process. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists only recommends inducing labor for medical reasons: if the mother or baby are at risk of complications if labor is not induced, or in certain rare cases such as when a woman lives in a remote area and getting to the nearest hospital would take a long time or be difficult.
Labor should not be induced until after 39 weeks of pregnancy, and inducing labor is not usually recommended until after 42 weeks.
You shouldn’t try to induce labor without the assistance and approval of a medical professional. Even when using methods other than medication, ask your doctor for advice before attempting to induce labor by yourself.
The only certain way of inducing labor is medically: other methods haven’t been backed by science and may or may not work for you. Still, there are a few things you can try at home. Doctors may approve these natural methods between weeks 39 and 42 of pregnancy, coupled with a “wait and see” approach because they don’t want to induce labor medically yet.
A natural approach
Some recommendations for home-based methods that may induce natural labor include:
- Exercise: The simple act of walking can trigger changes within your body that may begin natural labor, especially if your baby is nearly ready to be born already. Even if walking around doesn’t induce labor as quickly as you might hope, it will distract you, reduce stress, and keep your body healthy and strong enough to deliver naturally when the time comes.
- Nipple Stimulation: Massaging the nipples manually or with a breastfeeding pump can release the hormone oxytocin into your body, which may stimulate labor.
- Spicy Food: When you eat very spicy foods, your body releases certain hormones, called prostaglandins, that help your digestive system cope with the heat. Those same hormones may stimulate the uterus to begin contractions. There is no guarantee that this will work, and you shouldn’t try it at every meal, but if you enjoy a spicy meal, there’s no harm in trying it.
- Massage or Acupressure: Your body has natural pressure points that may trigger your body to begin labor. This will only work if you are already likely to begin labor soon, with or without assistance, but the good news is that a massage is likely to help you relax, which will make delivery easier when the process does start. Other focused methods of relaxation, such as mediation, may also help.
- Sex: There is some evidence that having sex may trigger labor. Although the effectiveness of this method hasn’t been scientifically proven, if both you and your partner are willing to try, there’s no harm in it. Many couples are grateful for the extra opportunity to spend time focused on their relationship before a new baby takes up most of their time and energy for the foreseeable future.
- Herbal Tea: Many moms and midwives advise drinking any of several different blends of herbal tea, including raspberry tea or cinnamon tea, either in an attempt to induce natural labor or to ease the early stage of it. Again, this may or may not work for you, but drinking tea will likely help you relax, which definitely can’t hurt.
Let nature take its course, if you can
The main thing all of these methods have in common is that you shouldn’t stress yourself out by trying to force them to work. It’s definitely hard to be patient when you’re about to have a baby, but relaxing is usually the single most helpful thing you can to. You’re less likely to have a smooth delivery if you’re stressed.
Labor often begins naturally when you’re not expecting it, especially if you’re in a calm state, like right before falling asleep. Of course, if you begin having contractions, you likely won’t stay calm for long, but remember the good news: you’ll soon be welcoming your new baby into the world.
Many women aren’t necessarily sure if they are beginning labor, or when to go to the hospital. Some women begin having contractions several days before they are ready to deliver their baby.
You should go to the hospital immediately if you are having contractions that occur five minutes apart or less, or if your water breaks. As always, if you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to call your doctor. It’s always better to be sure that you can get care if you need it than to wait.