If you’re approaching your due date and wondering if you’ll need to induce labor, relax. Only 5% of babies are born on their due date. A better term to use would be a “guess date” since, well, it’s really just a guess.
I’ve known women who’ve delivered babies in their 44th week safely, others who repeatedly deliver early, and everything in between. That’s why it’s super important you have a supportive labor team who won’t force labor induction unless it’s a true medical necessity.
Just because you’ve hit your due date doesn’t mean you need to induce labor
In response to the sharp rise in early inductions in the US, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) reemphasizes its position against deliveries before 39 weeks, unless there is a valid medical indication, due to the health risks to infants and mothers.
Suspecting a large baby, which can often be the reason for induction, is not a medical reason to deliver before 39 weeks, according to their recommendations.
“Babies born between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days gestation are now considered ‘Full Term’ and have the best health outcomes, compared with babies born before or after this period” says Dr. Eyer of The College. Babies born in the 41st week are considered Late Term, and beyond that, Postterm.
Most practitioners will start to monitor you and baby at 41 weeks, as that’s when risks can increase for some moms and babies. As you get into 42 weeks and beyond, most doctors will perform a medical labor induction, but know there are alternatives. In fact, many midwives will suggest gentler, natural ways to induce labor that are also quite effective..
Note that, even though this article was reviewed by a certified nurse midwife, it is imperative that you speak with your doctor or midwife before you try any of these methods.
How to induce labor naturally
There are at least seven ways to induce labor that are backed by science. Let’s take a look at each of these “evidence-based” methods.
1. Have sex! A lot!
Many women have success with natural labor induction by having sex. That’s because semen contains prostaglandins, the same hormone-like compounds that are found in cervical ripening medications such as Cervidil. The key to having sex work for natural induction is to do it, a lot. With this natural labor induction method, think of “3 times is the charm”. Three ejaculations is supposed to contain the same amount of prostaglandins as Cervidil. I cannot find a study to substantiate this but it is well known that semen contains prostaglandins. Cervidil, after all, is made from animal semen (we’ve heard pig) and it makes sense since it’s main ingredient is dinoprostone, a naturally occurring prostaglandin. I’d much prefer human. While it may be more sex than you want to have while 40+ weeks pregnant, it certainly beats the alternatives of Cervidil and Pitocin, which can have side effects like ruptured membranes, fetal distress and more painful contractions.
2. Nipple stimulation
Nipple stimulation can really work for labor induction or to boost a stalled or slow labor. The best way to do it is actually to stimulate the whole breast, not just the nipples. A slow rhythmic massage of the breast behind the areola is the best technique both for induction and to save mom’s sore and tender nipples. You can do yourself or have your partner assist. It might be the last time they get to handle your breasts for awhile if you plan on nursing 🙂 Some moms may try using a breast pump but it’s not necessary. Stick with manual stimulation and save the pump for labor if you need it.
3. Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil (where to buy) contains prostaglandins which help ripen the cervix for bringing on labor. However, there are limited studies on the effectiveness and safety of evening primrose oil. I do know many moms who swear it sped up their labors. It should be considered as a last resort because it may have some risks. Evening primrose oil may actually cause labor to last a few hours longer when applied vaginally (boo!) or may cause early rupture of membranes, meaning that your water breaks before contractions start.
4. Castor oil
Castor oil is the classic natural induction tool. I know countless moms who used this stimulating oil to start their labor. This method should also be used with caution and only with the approval of your midwife or doctor. Castor oil gets the intestines to start contracting which can stimulate the uterus to contract. Many moms have used this old wives tale with great success and no other interventions. However, do know that the intestinal contractions cause terrible diarrhea, which can be uncomfortable at best and cause dehydration at worst. If you and your birth team decide to try this method, be sure to drink at least 16 ounces of coconut water to support hydration and healthy electrolyte levels. Because castor oil doesn’t taste the best, mix a tablespoon into a smoothie or large glass of orange juice.
5. Red raspberry leaf tea
Great during pregnancy for uterine toning, red raspberry leaf tea can also help with natural labor induction. Red raspberry leaf tea strengthens the uterus and pelvic wall when consumed during pregnancy. Because of its stimulating effects, most midwives don’t recommend drinking until your second trimester. For labor induction, you’ll want to increase your dose of this tea to help it kickstart labor. When I was pregnant with Paloma and in my final week, I drank a quart of double brew red raspberry leaf tea each day. I only made it 2 days as then my labor started. It definitely helped and I had a super fast birth! To make a double brew dose, bring 1 quart of filtered water to a boil. Add in 1 cup of loose red raspberry leaf and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. Drink throughout day for natural labor induction.
6. Membrane stripping
Membrane stripping (or sweeping) is a medical procedure where the doctor separates the amniotic sac from the cervix, releasing prostaglandins which may jump start labor. An estimated 1 out of 8 women will go into labor within 48 hours after the procedure. However, there is risk that the procedure will rupture your membranes or break your waters immediately or within a few days. This can be problematic if your contractions do not start shortly thereafter. You may also experience vaginal spotting or cramping afterward.
7. Eating dates
Studies show that eating dates during pregnancy helped women have higher cervical dilation, intact membranes, and more spontaneous labors when it came time to deliver. The use of oxytocin was significantly lower in women who consumed dates, and the average length of first stage labor was shorter in women who consumed dates. As the study concludes, “Date consumption during the last 4 weeks before labor significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced more favorable, but non-significant, deliveries.”
These are one of my favorite ways to eat dates. This recipe is also delicious, and the oatmeal helps boost milk production to boot.
Other natural ways to induce labor
Although they’re not backed by science, many mamas swear be these natural or “anecdotal” ways to induce labor.
1. Get pampered
Getting pampered is a great way to relax and get centered before baby arrives. Of course, a prenatal massage is wonderful but you might want to focus on the feet, which have some special trigger points that can induce labor (more on that later.) Foot massage, reflexology or just a pedicure can all be helpful; at the very least, they feel great! You may not have time for it after baby arrives so take advantage of the down time.
2. Guided relaxation
Calming affirmations, guided meditation, and deep breathing can do wonderful things to get your body relaxed and ready to welcome baby. Fearful thoughts and worry can release adrenaline and other stress hormones that shut off the labor process.
Follow your perfect pregnancy diet and be sure to stay hydrated. Labor is tough work and you’ll need all the support you can get. Though this may not kickstart your labor, it will help you feel strong, prepared, and calm for when labor does begin.
Moderate exercise is fantastic throughout pregnancy and some women have had luck inducing their labor by walking, biking, swimming or doing other exercise. I know moms who swim in the sea or who walk the mall and labor begins. By moving our bodies, we can help baby settle into her laboring position and open up our pelvis for a faster delivery. The key is not to overdo it. You don’t want to be exhausted as you start labor.
5. Acupuncture, acupressure and chiropractic
In addition to being mentally ready, you and baby need to be physically ready, and that’s where acupuncture, acupressure and chiropractic may help. There has been some information that points to acupuncture being potentially beneficial in inducing labor, but there isn’t a lot of reliable studies on the topic. However, acupuncture and acupressure have been used for many years to stimulate labor and many women swear by it. Here is a great visual guide to acupressure that you can do yourself at home. The idea is that acupuncture and acupressure help to unblock any stagnant energy, which can help baby get into the right position. Specifically, acupuncture points for inducing labor are on the feet, hands and back and they stimulate the thyroid, digestive and reproductive systems. The same idea is behind chiropractic induction techniques. By opening and balancing your pelvis through an chiropractor adjustment, your baby can settle into a great, deep position and stimulate your body to start labor. Find an pregnant-friendly acupuncturist near you through this database or a chiropractor through this one. You can also try searching through your insurance carrier or tap into a local mom’s group for recommendations.
The bromelain in pineapple and other tropical fruit is said to induce labor by stimulating the uterus. Alternately, it could just be the intestinal stimulation from eating large amounts of pineapple that gets labor started. Either way, this is a delicious way to induce labor naturally.
7. Spicy foods
Some mamas swear by spicy foods for labor induction. Likely spicy food acts similar to castor oil, with its intestinal stimulation, which in turn can start labor. Spicy foods can cause indigestion so keep that in mind when considering this option.
Homeopathics are generally considered safe during pregnancy because they are naturally gentle with their low dilution and body-supporting remedies. Common homeopathic remedies used to induce labor include Pulsatilla 200C (where to buy), Caullophyllum 200C (where to buy) and Cimicifuga 200C (where to buy). Some midwives recommend alternating all three every 3 days until labor begins. Consult with your midwife for dosage. For more information on homeopathic remedies during pregnancy and labor, check out the books Homeopathic Medicines for Pregnancy and Childbirth by Richard Moskowitz and Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth and Your Baby’s First Year by Miranda Castro.
What kind of food will induce labor?
As noted above, when it comes to food to induce labor, dates are your best bet. Studies suggest dates reduce the need for induction and make labor shorter. Pineapple and spicy food may also help induce labor, though there isn’t much evidence to support these theories—just a lot of anecdotal evidence. But, hey, it’s worth a shot!
How long does it take to have a baby after being induced?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy answer to this?! 🙃 Like most aspects of childbirth, there’s no hard-and-fast rule. Every woman is different—for some mamas, inducing labor can take a just a few hours, for others it can take a few days. And sometimes induction doesn’t work at all. In those cases, a c-section may be necessary. (source)
Why does induction hurt more?
Our bodies naturally produce oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates contractions. During an induction, a woman is usually given a synthetic form of oxytocin, like Pitocin, to jumpstart contractions. This can cause labor to start too quickly, creating contractions that are more powerful and closer together. (source)
What are the risks of being induced?
The risks of being induced vary depending on the method of induction, but the biggest risk is that induction will fail. In 25% of cases, induction is not successful—this can mean mama is in labor for a long time, but ultimately might need a c-section. This can be physically taxing and emotionally draining for mama. It can also put the baby in distress.
Other risks include:
- Low fetal heart rate: Strong, frequent contractions caused by Pitocin can put baby in distress
- Uterine rupture: Strong, frequent contractions caused by Pitocin can cause the uterus to bust. This is most common in mamas who have previously had surgery on their uterus.
- Excessive bleeding in mom after delivery: When induced, your uterus may not contract properly following birth.
- Infection: Rupturing membranes can put both mama and baby at higher risk of infection.
What if I go past my due date? Do I have to induce labor?
Absolutely not! You have the right to refuse anything that you aren’t comfortable with, and that includes labor induction.
If you go past 40 weeks pregnant
At 40 weeks gestation, there’s no evidence to suggest induction is necessary in a normal healthy pregnancy. Remember, the date you give birth is determined by a number of factors including average length of pregnancies in your family, whether your due date was calculated correctly to begin with, and your individual baby. Your baby and body are the ones to initiate labor, and they usually know when they’re ready.
If you go past 41 weeks pregnant
There’s no reason to consider induction in a normal healthy pregnancy before 41 weeks, and you may want to wait even longer before trying any of these methods. If you do choose to go past 41 weeks without trying to induce labor, you will want to be monitored more closely.
If you go past 42 weeks pregnant
Natural labor induction is still induction, and it can increase the likelihood of other labor interventions. If mom and baby are healthy, it’s perfectly reasonable and evidence-based to give birth at 42 weeks.
Some providers are comfortable with going beyond 42 weeks with frequent monitoring that may include:
- NST: non-stress test (monitoring of baby’s heart rate)
- BPP: ultrasound to check health of baby
The BPP will keep track of baby movement, muscle tone, breathing rate, and the amniotic fluid levels.
Some OBs will push to induce labor because of low fluid, even though there is no evidence that inducing labor for isolated low fluid at term has any beneficial impact on mother or infant outcomes.
To avoid low fluid, be sure to drink about 1.5-2L of fluid a day. If fluid is low, it’s recommended that you drink 2-2.5L of fluid and return the next day for a recheck; many providers won’t offer this, so be sure to ask.
Going past 42 weeks gestation does have some risks so, if you do need to be induced, don’t sweat it. You can still have a beautiful and natural vaginal birth.
Many moms have had their membranes swept, prostaglandins (Cervidil), and even Pitocin and went on to have a fine natural birth with no other interventions.
The important thing is be sure that your BISHOP score isn’t low. You want it to be 8 or higher if you are not using a cervix ripening agent, and/or 6 or higher if you are.
How have other natural mamas induced labor?
I asked the moms on my Facebook page about ways to induce labor naturally, and here are some of their responses…
- My water broke but contractions didn’t start. I went to acupuncture that night, and two hours later I had a nice steady rhythm of contractions going! – Jill B.
- Pressure points massage, sex, walking. – Norma O.
- I massaged the pressure points on my feet and around my ankles that are supposed to help induce labour. I went into labour that night, which was a week before my estimated due date! I also started drinking 1 cup of raspberry leaf tea daily at 32 weeks pregnant and slowly increased it to 4 cups by the time I was full term. – Jennifer B.
- A friend told me she’d read something about pineapple possibly encouraging the start of labor. Without thinking about it, I ate almost an entire pineapple the next day and went into labor that night, a week early. – Stephanie N.
- With both of my labors i tried it all, the spicy foods and pineapple, even vigorously mopping the floors/lunging… But both times the trick was having intercourse with my husband and having him ejaculate inside me… There are studies that prove that the semen thins the cervix wall! I went into labor less than 12 hours after both romps. – Lisa S.
- First baby was 3 days overdue, so I induced naturally with evening primrose oil (orally and vaginally) and castor oil; went into labor that day! – Sarah L.
- Acupuncture! Went in to my appointment having very mild, irregular contractions and left in active labor, intense contractions 6 minutes apart. Had the baby 10 hours later. – Sherri M.
- I worked out the day of both my labors (throughout pregnancies) Also had sex. – Susan B.
- Acupuncture, chiropractor, and pumping (aka nipple stimulation). – Angela G.
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How about you?
How did you induce labor? Did you try any natural remedies? What worked for you? Share with us in the comments below!