Saturday, September 25, 2010

Natural Methods of Labor Induction

As an alternative to the traditional hospital route for induction, many modern mom's are looking to the past for tried and true old-fashioned methods of induction. Natural ways to induce labor may be chosen for many reasons, such as avoiding invasive medical ways to induce labor or for maternal or fetal risks that have medical induction on your care provider's mind.

It's important to note that none of these methods for inducing labor at home will work if your cervix is not ripe. These methods may help ripen your cervix-making it soften, efface and dilate.

It is also extremely important for me to remind the reader that before any at home method of induction is tried mom should be at least 40 weeks and needs to discuss it with her care provider before she attempts it.

The methods I discuss are: Sex, Food, Nipple Stimulation, Castor Oil, and Acupressure. 


Sex is not necessarily associated with starting labor but may help to ripen the cervix. Semen is the highest source of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins cause the cervix to "ripen", or soften and prepare to open. Sex can help the cervix to dilate and efface by depositing these prostaglandins on the cervix.

Furthermore nipple stimulation may also have a role in that it is known to release oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions.  In addition, orgasms produce oxytocin.   So, between these factors, there is a pretty good case for the stimulation of labor.

As an alternative to intercourse, you might consider collecting semen in a condom, a diaphragm or an Instead cup to hold the semen against the cervix. An Instead cup is designed for use during menstruation, but theoretically could be used in this manner.

Studies about the effectiveness of sex starting labor are very few. And it should be noted that nothing should enter the vagina once the bag of water has ruptured.  However unappealing sex might sound at 40+ weeks pregnant, it can for many be a better option than a pitocin induction at the hospital.


In every female circle their are women who swear to have the secret to starting labor. Which is often eating X Y or Z. Often times it's an extra spicy dish that they claim brought them face to face with their baby.

Unfortunately, the statistics are out on this one - there is simply not enough research to support that any foods are effective in inducing labor.

Many women have sworn the following are foods that will induce labor:
  •     Pineapple
  •     Spicy Foods
  •     Chinese Food
  •     Eggplant Parmesan
  •     Licorice

The most well-known of these would have to be spicy foods, like hot peppers or any other spicy Mexican dish. What the research is now showing is that these foods may be something to avoid prior to labor.

This is due to the fact that certain spicy foods release capsasins, which may be counterproductive in labor. When the baby descends down the birth path, the pressure exerted releases endorphins into the woman's body. These endorphins are a natural pain-killer. In effect, the capsasins counteract the endorphins and rob the mother of her natural ability to have a pain-free birth.

The Eggplant Parmesan was also in vogue for a time. While this dish may have been contributing to labor, it is probably not due to the eggplant but rather to the seasonings in the dish. Both basil and oregano are herbs contraindicated in pregnancy due to their potential ability to start labor.

Pineapple is not supposed to induce labor, but rather is thought to be a cervical ripening agent that stimulates prostaglandins, although this has not been proven.

Licorice, real licorice candy, the black kind, is thought to also stimulate the production of prostaglandins. This is due to the chemical, glycyrrhizin. Eating lots of licorice might also result in mild diarrhea, which causes intestinal contractions that may lead to sympathetic uterine contractions. This type of licorice can also be found in tablet form. Again, no definitive research suggests that licorice can induce labor.

When looking for foods that induce labor, only consume them if they are something you normally select. There's just not enough evidence to say they work for certain, and in some cases they may cause more harm than help. 

Nipple Stimulation

Using nipple stimulation to induce labor has been practiced by women for centuries. It is one of the most effective at-home induction methods there is. This stimulation brings about the release of oxytocin, which is the natural form of pitocin. Oxytocin causes contractions, which can lead into true labor. It's important to note that this will only happen if your body is already close to labor. As with all natural labor induction techniques, don't attempt this until you are over 40 weeks.

This practice is often recommended by midwives when a woman is long past due or when labor is stalled.  This can be done manually or with an electric breast pump.

When this is performed, the uterus sometimes becomes hyperstimulated, meaning that it gets too little rest between contractions, so use caution and consult your practitioner first.

Here is a guide to help you understand the process:
  1. Only massage one breast at a time.

  2. Grasping the areola, rub in a circular motion until a contraction begins. It's important to mimic the suckling action of a baby.

  3. Stop after the contraction begins.

  4. Wait 15 minutes, then repeat.
Stop using nipple stimulation  if the contractions are 3 minutes apart or lasting 1 minute or longer.

Castor Oil

The theory behind using castor oil to induce labor is that it causes intestinal cramping and diarrhea, which stimulate the uterus, thus producing prostaglandins, which then cause contractions.

Are there risks in using castor

There has been much debate over whether castor oil will cause the baby to pass meconium, or its first bowel movement.   If the meconium is aspirated, or inhaled into the lungs, it can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal or lead to serious developmental delays.Meconium is deemed a signal of fetal distress. However, research has been conducted that has found no increased occurrence of meconium staining with this type of induction.

The mother, however, can be at risk of dehydration due to the resulting diarrhea. This tires the mother and less able to endure through physical activity. It could also potentially endanger her milk supply. Also, if effective diarrhea can make labor a less pleasant experience. I recommend using extreme caution when taking castor oil, and of course consult your practitioner first.

How do I take it?

The usual dose is 2 tablespoons.  However, I strongly advise against taking it straight-you may not get it down. It's pretty nasty stuff. If you do pursue using castor oil for labor induction, take it in the morning after a good night's sleep. If taken at night, you most likely will not sleep due to the resulting diarrhea.

Here are some recipes to make it more palatable:
  •     Put it in 3-4 oz. of root beer, shake vigorously, and then gulp it down.
  •     Add a couple of scoops of ice cream to the castor oil and orange juice.
  •     Scramble it with 3 eggs.
  •     Drink the oil straight followed immediately by hot apple juice
As an alternative to using castor oil to induce labor, you may use evening primrose oil to naturally ripen the cervix. It is an excellent source of prostaglandins. It comes in a softgel that can be taken orally or inserted vaginally before bed. Oral use can start as early as 34 weeks and cervical application at full term.The recommended dose is two 500mg capsules per day. At full term you can add two capsules vaginally before bed, at which time the entire capsules will dissolve.


Using acupressure to induce labor is one of the most pleasant methods of natural labor induction. It is similar to using reflexology to induce labor or even going to the chiropractor for an adjustment.

To use acupressure as a method to induce labor, there are two pressure points that can be stimulated to produce contractions.

They are located:
  •     In the webbing of your thumb and index finger.
  •     Four finger-widths above the inside of your ankle bone.
To stimulate the first pressure point, pinch the webbing of your hand and rub in a circular motion for 30-60 seconds at a time, taking a 1-2 minute break in between contractions.

For the latter point, press firmly on the spot. It should feel sore if you've found the right spot. Press and rub in a circular motion until you have a contraction. When the contraction is done begin again.

Both pressure points can also be very helpful in progressing a long and slow labor.

No comments:

Post a Comment