7 Natural Ways To Induce Labor, Their Efficacy And Safety

Professionals do not support using non-medical or natural ways to induce labor.

Written by Swati Patwal • 
 

A 2005 national representative survey in the US involving 1,382 women indicated that 30% of women use natural ways to induce labor (without medical support or instruction) (1). Some non-medical or natural methods of inducing labor are through exercise, nipple stimulation, and old wives’ tales, such as consuming spicy food or using evening primrose oil and red raspberry leaves. However, these methods are under-researched and not backed up by scientific proof.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that labor be induced only under two general conditions: If a woman has completed her 41 weeks of gestation or the mother’s or baby’s health is at risk and emergency action is required to save their lives (2).

Although women have used the natural ways of inducing labor for many generations, there is no specific research to prove their effectiveness and safety. Hence, this post provides you with complete information on the different natural methods used for labor as well as their efficacy and safety.

Natural Ways Of Inducing Labor

Most of the methods shared below are common beliefs and not recommendations of a doctor. Some of them lack scientific validation and may even be risky for the mother and the baby. Please consult an obstetrician/gynecologist before trying any labor induction methods.

1. Exercises

A systematic review of prenatal exercise and labor outcome suggests that there is no relationship between prenatal exercise and preterm/prelabor rupture of membranes (3). Exercise, in general, can be good for the body. You may consult your doctor/ physiotherapist or lamaze instructor to know about the exercises that are safe for you to perform during pregnancy.

2. Sexual intercourse

There is a belief that sexual intercourse can induce labor, but the process is scientifically not well-understood. The basic reasoning behind the belief comes from the suggestion that human semen is a source of high prostaglandin concentrations. Prostaglandins are compounds that stimulate uterine contractions, which may induce labor. Further, during intercourse, there may be an endogenous release of oxytocin that may stimulate uterine contractions (4).

3. Nipple stimulation

Breast stimulation results in the production of endogenous oxytocin, causing uterine contractions. It has shown to be effective in labor induction in some cases. But the review studies supporting the mechanism are few. It requires more research to establish the efficacy of nipple stimulation in labor induction (4).

4. Acupuncture and acupressure

Acupuncture and acupressure have been gaining popularity as stimulants for labor. Limited observational studies mark acupuncture and acupressure as safe for the induction of labor with no known adverse effects on the fetus. However, the evidence regarding the clinical effectiveness of both techniques is limited (5)(6).

5. Membrane sweeping

Membrane sweeping or membrane stripping is a process in which a doctor places fingers inside the cervix, making a sweeping movement. This causes the release of prostaglandins that can then stimulate labor. This would separate the cervix from its membranes, starting the labor in about 24 to 48 hours (7).

A systematic review and meta-analysis research published in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology suggests that membrane stripping, a surgical method, is effective in promoting spontaneous labor. However, there is no evidence supporting its safety (8). Thus, opting for membrane sweeping is a decision that you need to make in consultation with your doctor.

6. Spicy foods

It is an old belief that the ingestion of spicy food can increase intestinal motility, thus placing indirect pressure on the uterus leading to contraction and labor (9). But no scientific backing is present for the reasoning. Moreover, some pregnant women may find eating spicy foods uncomfortable.

7. Herbal remedies

Herbal remedies for inducing labor include food items from your kitchen. A few of the common food items used are:

  • Castor oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Red raspberry leaf tea
  • Pineapple
  • Cohosh

These substances are considered safe for the mother and the fetus, although there is limited research backing it. However, the use of these herbal remedies to induce labor is not backed by clinical or medical organizations (10)(11).

The use of any natural way to induce labor is not recommended without consulting a doctor. Moreover, during your consultation session, the doctor may ask you to wait until labor begins on its own.

Why Is Spontaneous Labor Preferred?

Spontaneous labor has the following benefits for both the mother and the baby (12)(13).

  1. It allows the birth hormones to regulate labor and birth, breastfeeding, and attachment as nature intends.
  2. Avoids potential risk and unexpected complications to the uterus and the baby.
  3. Prevents complications associated with the use of non-medical methods of labor induction.

Cesarean rates have increased to nearly one-third of all births in the US alone. Thus, spontaneous natural labor is identified as one of the important strategies for reducing the primary cesarean rate.

NOTE: Elective induction done in consultation with a doctor in a clinical setting is not the same as adopting any natural way of labor induction without any prior consultation with the doctor.

Are Natural Ways Of Labor Induction Safe?

The use of natural ways of labor induction may hold risks owing to the sparse evidence on their efficacy (1).  As per the WHO recommendations, labor should be induced with caution. Procedures to induce labor carry risk of uterine hyperstimulation and rupture, and fetal distress when not planned and managed as per medical directions (14). It is good to know what medical professionals say about natural labor induction.

Natural Ways To Induce Labor: Medical Perspective

Labor induction should only be under medical guidance and through an approved medical procedure. The Federation of Obstetric & Gynecological Societies of India does not recommend the use of any non-medical method for labor induction. Instead, it strongly recommends against the use of natural methods, like nipple stimulation, for the induction (15).

Some women may prefer natural ways of labor because they believe medical inductions might have side effects (6). However, claims on the efficacy of natural ways are mostly anecdotal.

Most healthcare professionals and organizations recommend induction of labor only for medical reasons. When there is a need to induce labor for medical reasons, then it is important to do so under medical supervision and with methods that have been proven effective. The natural methods are used only when there is no pressing reason for induction, the fetus is at term, and there is no risk anticipated with the method for the baby and the mother.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will taking a hot bath help to induce labor?

Yes. A hot bath is one of the nonpharmacologic methods for naturally inducing labor and promoting cervical ripening (16).

2. How do you feel 24 hours before labor?

Before going into labor, you may feel various emotional and physical changes in your body, including an increase in energy, lightening (the feeling that the baby is dropping), false labor contractions, frequent urination, increased swelling in your legs, loss of mucus plug, weight loss, increased vaginal discharge, backache, and your cervix softening and becoming thin. During this time, you may also notice a bloody show (17).

3. Does the baby move a lot before labor?

Yes. Your baby’s head will move down before labor to settle in the pelvis for a normal birthing position. This is known as ‘engagement’ so there will be increased fetal movement before labor (18).

Most natural ways to induce labor, such as exercises, sexual intercourse, and spicy food, are based on common beliefs and not the doctor’s recommendations. Herbal remedies, such as castor oil and pineapple, are also believed to induce labor, but there is no scientific evidence to prove their safety and effectiveness. Therefore, doctors always suggest that spontaneous labor is the best, allowing natural childbirth and avoiding complications. Most women choose natural ways to prevent the side effects of medicines. However, natural remedies may also carry potential risks and should not be used without consulting a doctor.

References

1. Katy Backes Kozhimanil et al., Use of non-medical methods of labor induction and pain management among U.S. women; National Center For Biotechnology Information
2. WHO recommendationsfor Induction of labour; World Health Organization
3. Margie H Davenport et al., Impact of prenatal exercise on maternal harms, labour and delivery outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis; BMJ Journals
4. Methods of induction of labour; NICE Clinical Guidelines, National Center For Biotechnology Information
5. Smith CA et al., Acupuncture for induction of labour; National Center For Biotechnology Information
6. Caroline A Smith et al., Acupuncture or acupressure for induction of labour; National Center For Biotechnology Information
7. Membrane Sweep; NHS, UK
8. Avdiyovski H et al., Membrane sweeping at term to promote spontaneous labour and reduce the likelihood of a formal induction of labour for postmaturity: a systematic review and meta-analysis; National Center For Biotechnology Information
9. Pregnancy: Walking, sex and spicy food are favored unprescribed methods to bring on labor;Ohio State University, Science Daily
10. Collins Zamawe et al., Effectiveness and safety of herbal medicines for induction of labour: a systematic review and meta-analysis; National Center For Biotechnology Information
11. Methods for Cervical Ripening and Induction of Labor; American Family Physician
12. Debby Amis, Healthy Birth Practice #1: Let Labor Begin on Its Own; National Center For Biotechnology Information
13. Judith A. Lothian, Saying “No” to Induction; National Center For Biotechnology Information
14. WHO recommendations:Induction of labour ator beyond term; World Health Organization
15. Induction of Labor:Good Clinical Practice Recommendations; Indian College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists
16. Josie L. Tenore; Methods for Cervical Ripening and Induction of Labor; American Family Physician (2003)
17. What To Expect In The 9th Month Of Your Pregnancy; University of Rochester Medical Center
18. You and your baby at 39 weeks pregnant; NHS
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