As you’re approaching your due date, you’re becoming more and more ready and anxious to meet your little one. Your back is aching, your feet are sore, and you’re so excited to finally see the sweet little face you’ve been dreaming about in person. And now that you’re almost at the finish line, you may be thinking of natural ways to induce labor or be tempted to schedule an induction.
Scheduling an induction can be tempting since you can plan exactly what day you get to meet your baby and make it sooner rather than later. This is why we call it “the seduction of induction.” However, we’ve seen that unnecessary interventions can pose unnecessary risks.
Of course, there are times when inductions are necessary for the health and well-being of mother and baby, but many inductions scheduled nowadays are elective. If you are planning on having a hospital birth and your doctor is not allowing you to go too far past your baby’s due date (most doctors schedule inductions at or just after 41 weeks), you may want to do a few things to try to get your body ready and to get labor going.
It’s important to point out that research shows babies are healthiest when they stay in the womb until at least 39 weeks, so I don’t recommend trying these natural induction methods until you reach full term or are past your due date.1,2
Here are 12 Natural Ways to Induce Labor
1. Nipple Stimulation
Of all the natural ways to induce labor at home, nipple stimulation is one of the most reliable options.3 It helps release oxytocin, the hormone that causes your uterus to contract.4 (Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone since it’s released when you feel in love. 🙂 ) Do not try nipple stimulation until you have reached your due date. If you are at that point and you want to try nipple stimulation to induce labor, there are a few ways to do it:
- You can roll or rub your nipples with your fingers. You want it to mimic the suckling of a baby. So you will stimulate one breast for 5 minutes, then take a break for about 15 minutes to see if anything happens before you continue to the next breast. If, after 15 minutes, the contractions begin to fizzle, stimulate the other breast. If contractions start to increase, stop and let nature run its course.
- Your partner can also orally massage your nipples. This goes well with option number 2. Use the same time restraints as the first option.
- Or you could use your breast pump. Using a breast pump can be more effective since it will be more vigorous than you or your partner, but some women find the pumping and the contractions to be a bit too painful too quickly.
- Only massage one breast at a time.
- Don’t stimulate the breast during a contraction.
- Do not use nipple stimulation after the contractions are 3 minutes apart or 1 minute long.
- If contractions start coming close together, take a break and let nature take its course.
- You also don’t want it to be too gentle. Babies have a strong suckle on the breast, so you want to imitate that intensity.
Pretty much everyone knows or has been told that having sex is a natural way to induce labor. The reason for that is the act of sex can cause contractions. Also, semen contains a substance called prostaglandins, which helps the cervix ripen and efface, so it’s best he also orgasms. This prepares your body for labor. I know you’re not feeling very sexy at the end of your pregnancy, and you may not be “in the mood” at all.
When I tell women about this, most of them let out a groan and say they feel pretty uncomfortable at this point, and they don’t think that sex will be comfortable at all. I then tell them that having an orgasm can also stimulate prostaglandins. So if you don’t feel comfortable having sex at this point in your pregnancy, you can still have an orgasm on your own to help start labor.
- Having sex does not immediately cause you to go into labor. Instead, it helps your body prepare for labor and is something you would have to do regularly to get faster results.
- Do NOT have sex if your water is already broken. This can cause you to be at risk for an infection.
- Despite the popularity of this technique, unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence yet to support sex as a method of naturally inducing labor.5
3. Exercise/ Cardio/ Stair Climbing / Squats
Use gravity to your advantage. Get up and start moving! Physical activity before birth helps move your baby’s head down lower in your pelvis, allowing your baby’s head to put pressure on your cervix, which helps it dilate. Try walking for 30 minutes every day. And if you can walk up a steep hill, even better! This causes you to lean forward at an angle, helping baby move in the right direction. Walking stairs and doing squats have also been said to be very helpful. Check out these exercises you can do before giving birth. So go ahead and get that heart pumping!
- There is no definitive answer to whether or not exercise can induce labor. A recent study found that there wasn’t any association between increased physical activity and going into labor.6 But in most cases, it can’t hurt to try.
4. Labor-Inducing Foods
Most foods that are said to help induce labor naturally are old wives’ tales. While there is limited research and a few foods have properties that may help, the results are inconclusive.7,8,9 For example, it’s believed by some that pineapples may help ripen the cervix since it contains an enzyme called bromelain, which can do just that. However, there is no evidence to support this.
Other foods that may start labor include spicy foods and foods containing basil, oregano, and/or ginger. Spicier foods tend to work the best out of them all since it stimulates your colon. If you didn’t know, diarrhea is a sign of going into labor. When your intestines are stimulated/ irritated by the spicy foods you consume, it causes you to have bowel movements. Those cramps in your intestines can spread to your uterus, which then can cause you to have contractions and go into labor.
5. Raspberry Leaf Tea
Regularly drinking raspberry leaf tea can strengthen and tone your uterus and help those muscles in your uterus start to contract. You can get raspberry leaf tea at almost any grocery store or Amazon. You can prepare it hot or make it iced to enjoy it year-round. It’s also great to drink after having your baby since it’s a uterine toner and strengthens your uterus. Bottoms up!
6. Labor Induction Massages
A labor induction massage is a great way to get contractions going and is considered a natural way to induce labor. As a licensed massage therapist, I have given many of these massages, and it helped approximately 60-70% of them go into labor after one appointment. Women will question if this massage will help them go into labor within 24 hours, but I tell them it should happen within 48 hours. If nothing happens, they should come back for another massage. This massage allows you to relax your muscles around baby, and it sends signals to your body to start the labor process. I highly recommend it.
NOTE: Ensure your massage therapist is knowledgeable about giving labor induction massages.
7. Warm Baths
Soaking in a warm bath may help to get labor going. How so? Soaking in the tub helps relax you. Evidence shows that stress and being uptight may keep you from going into labor.10 This is why massages and baths are also beneficial.
8. Evening Primrose Oil
Are you looking for an oil to induce labor? Evening primrose oil (EPO) might be the thing for you since it can help soften the cervix. EPO contains a chemical that the body converts into prostaglandins. Some doctors don’t recommend this since research has been inconclusive about whether or not EPO effectively induces labor.11 However, many midwives recommend it to their patients to prepare for labor. Several women swear they went into labor after one or two nights of inserting capsules near their cervix.
To use EPO, you can break the EPO capsule and rub the oil on your cervix at nighttime or insert the capsules vaginally before you go to bed. The moist environment of the vagina will melt the capsule and disperse the gel throughout the cervix. Wear a pad or have something under you while you sleep since it can leak. Another option is taking it orally.
NOTE: Speak to your healthcare provider before trying this option.
9. Castor Oil
Castor oil is a controversial induction option.12 The reason is that castor oil has a high ricinoleic acid content. When ingested, it is absorbed in the intestine and causes intense intestinal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea because it acts as a strong laxative. It also tastes disgusting. However, many people believe that castor oil induces labor. Some midwives don’t recommend it, and some swear by it. Some pregnant women say it gave them nothing but a bad case of diarrhea. No fun. If you are desperate and spoke to your health care provider and got their approval, here’s how you can take it rather than just by taking a shot:
- Get 2 ounces of castor oil in a glass of orange juice and quickly drink, or
- Get 2 ounces and mix it with ice cream. The flavor might be hard to get down slowly, and it bothers some women more than others. Just a heads up!
10. Membrane Sweeping/Stripping
This one can be pretty uncomfortable. It’s not proven to be one of the most effective forms of induction, but it is an option. This is something that your doctor or midwife could do at one of your prenatal visits. What happens is your doctor or midwife will do a vaginal exam, and they will reach to your cervix to check your effacement and dilation. Once they can feel that you have had some progress, they will run their fingers around the edge of the amniotic sac and the uterus. Then, they will gently try to separate it from your uterine wall. This can signal your uterus that it’s time for labor and can cause uterine contractions and the release of prostaglandins, which may jump-start labor.13
11. Acupuncture & Acupressure
Acupuncture and acupressure are believed to be natural ways to induce labor.14 With acupuncture, a practitioner places fine needles at various points along the body to balance your energy flow. Acupressure is the same concept, but instead, fingers are used to apply pressure to pressure points. These are also pressed during labor induction massages. A couple of pressure points are thought to cause contractions. One is located in the webbing between your thumb and forefinger. The other is located just above your ankle. Applying pressure to either of these two pressure points may help bring on uterine contractions.
12. Herbs & Tinctures
You should consult your doctor or midwife before considering herbs to induce labor. The FDA does not regulate herbs and they can be dangerous if not taken at the correct dosage. This is why it is important to work with your midwife or herbalist. They will provide instructions on when and how to use them. Some herbs used to induce labor include black cohosh, blue cohosh, false unicorn root, and motherwort.
There you go! 12 different natural ways to induce labor. I will say even these methods are interventions, and it’s always best to eat right, exercise, rest, and enjoy those last few days of pregnancy as much as you can because the safest and healthiest labor is one that starts spontaneously. But for the ladies who need a little extra help to get things going, I hope these options help!
For more, listen here to our podcast episode about natural ways to induce labor.