I am passionate about helping women have a healthy pregnancy, natural childbirth and a happy postpartum. Therefore, I don’t recommend starting or even encouraging labor before mom and baby are completely ready, even if all that is used are natural ways to induce labor.
According to the March of Dimes, babies need to stay in until at least 39 weeks. At least.
Babies born too early may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born later. Being pregnant 39 weeks gives your baby’s body all the time it needs to grow.
Here’s why your baby needs 39 weeks (from the March of Dimes):
- Important organs, like his brain, lungs and liver, get the time they need to develop.
- He is less likely to have vision and hearing problems after birth.
- He has time to gain more weight in the womb. Babies born at a healthy weight have an easier time staying warm than babies born too small.
- He can suck and swallow and stay awake long enough to eat after he’s born. Babies born early sometimes can’t do these things.
I am a huge advocate for natural, hands off birth and letting the body do its thing. It’s a big deal to induce labor, even when using natural ways to induce labor.
However, sometimes special circumstances (MEDICALLY NECESSARY) arise that call for getting things started.
If possible, in these special circumstances, its best to start with natural methods to induce labor before using medications like cervadil or pitocin. Natural methods of induction are typically more mild and safe for mom and baby.
Of course, always consult and work with your care provider. It’s important to discuss all aspects of pregnancy and birth, even things that seem like “no big deal” like using natural ways to induce labor. If you feel like you’re not on the same page as your care provider, maybe that is a sign you need to fire your OB. It’s never too late!
Natural Ways to Induce Labor
During my third birth I experienced one of these “special circumstances” that called for using natural ways to induce labor. My water broke, but labor did not follow. I was trying to have a homebirth, but in order to do that I needed to be in labor. I needed contractions… badly!
Here’s my story and all the natural things I tried to induce my labor.
“(My midwife) tested my adult diaper and it was indeed amniotic fluid. My water definitely did break. I was only 3 cm which didn’t surprise me because I did not feel like I was in labor. “Labor things” were happening, but the intense, powerful contractions that cause babies to come out were not happening.
We all decided to go to sleep.
My kids were already asleep, the midwife, her student, her assistant (who eventually went home at some point when she figured out a whole lotta nothin’ was happening), my husband and I all turned the lights off and tried to get some sleep.”
You know what time of day my doula clients text and call me? At night.
Ever wonder why babies are born at night? Or why labor typically starts at night?
Studies like this one show that melatonin works with oxytocin to bring on labor. Darkness and sleep, promote labor. Isn’t that interesting?
One of the easiest natural ways to induce labor is to get some good sleep.
PRO TIP: Darken your bedroom at night. Buy some blackout curtains (they’re amazing) and remove all artificial light, including electronics. You will sleep better and maybe it will encourage labor!
Oxytocin is what is needed to create contractions. Anxiety is like the kryptonite of oxytocin.
Anxiety is our body’s way of saying we’re not safe. Oxytocin is our body’s way of saying we’re loved.
By eliminating anxiety our physical bodies will relax, and hormonally we will give our bodies the green light to go into labor (if it’s time!). We need both those things to have a happy birth.
During my third birth I experienced some anxiety. I don’t think it was helping me out!
“Waiting on a labor that seemed imminent or even worse, one that needed to start happening, caused me a little bit of anxiety. I was slightly anxious throughout the day on through the night. And when everybody went to sleep my anxiety didn’t go away.
It made it so hard to sleep, which was hard already because I was having contractions about 5 minutes apart (they were definitely stronger now which made me need to breathe through them). At some point the interrupted sleep and the mild anxiety was so annoying I decided to get up.”
PRO TIP: If you’re looking for some great ways to natural reduce anxiety head on over to this post. Yes, it’s a post about the relationship between anxiety and morning sickness, but there are some great tips that you can start using right now.
Speaking of oxytocin, doing things or creating a birth space conducive to oxytocin is very helpful for getting labor going. Here are some suggestions to increase oxytocin.
- Nipple stimulation
- Sex (however, if your water has broke put NOTHING in the vagina)
- Orgasm (see above)
- Hydrotherapy (tub, shower, etc.)
- Using a birth bouncer to let people in/kick people out of the birth space
Nipple Stimulation to Make Contractions Stronger
Directly above we learned that nipple stimulation increases oxytocin and therefore could help make labor stronger.
But what does nipple stimulation for labor look like? How exactly do we use nipple stimulation to get contractions stronger?
If you’re anything like me, I had no idea how to answer these questions.
1. According to a CLC (certified lactation counselor) training this is one method of nipple stimulation:
- Pull the nipple out on one side as far as you can for as long as you can.
- It shouldn’t be painful but becoming uncomfortable.
- Let go once a contraction starts and then switch to the other side once it subsides.
2. Here is another set of instructions from my local labor and delivery unit:
- Have patient massage the nipple of one breast for a total of 2 minutes.
- Instruct patient to cease stimulation if a contraction begins, and resume stimulation at the end of the contraction.
- Rest for 5 minutes. (Intermittent stimulation is used to prevent uterine hyperstimulation.)
- Instruct patient to massage the nipple of the other breast for a total of 2 minutes.
- Continue alternating breasts for 30 minutes, or until 3 contractions in 10 minutes has occurred.
- If no contractions or too few contractions occur after performing nipple stimulation for 30 minutes, cease stimulation and notify the physician.
3. Another, seemingly more gentle approach is to use warm compresses. In addition to the manual stimulation mentioned above, place warm compresses on the breasts.
I used nipple stimulation with a breastpump during my third birth and it did nothing. However, I know people who have used it with great success. You’ll never know if nipple stimulation will work until you try!
“Over the past two days I had periodically done positions like the forward leaning inversions, side lying release, side lunge, open knee chest, abdominal life and tuck, etc. I was doing “all the things”. However, at that point we decided to have my doula come over to see if there was anything she could offer to the situation. Baby wasn’t in the most perfect awesome position so maybe we could do more position changes? From my best guess she was in the LOP position (left occiput posterior), which was not that far off from the ideal, but doing more “doula torture moves” as I call them, would do no harm.”
Sometimes, if baby is in the wrong position it can stall a labor or even prevent labor from starting in the first place. By changing the position of MOM we can move BABY.
Here are some positions to try before and even during labor that may help correct a malpositioned baby.
Don’t worry, these natural ways to induce labor will do no harm! They may even cause a good laugh or two. Which will help the oxytocin… so it’s all good!
- Forward leaning inversions
- Side lying release
- Side lunges
- Open knee chest
- Miles Circuit (which includes some of the positions above)
- Abdominal lift and tuck
“Around 3 am Diana checked me again and I was 5 cm. She felt the amniotic sac still there (despite the fact that my water broke a few hours earlier) and I told her to break it (again). Warm fluid gushed everywhere. There was light meconium in the fluid. The sensation of the vaginal exam, while having contractions and AROM was too much for me and I became nauseated. I threw up. Ugh. Such a gross feeling.”
Breaking a woman’s water is definitely in the category of natural ways to induce labor, however, it definitely is also an invasive procedure so proceed with caution. This would be a good time to make sure you are understanding the risks and benefits of such a procedure. Have a talk with your care provider and get some good information before you break your water.
Once your water has been broken, a “time clock” of sorts has been placed on your birth. Once your water has been broken, it cannot be undone. Choose wisely!
Another thing to try to get contractions stronger is to walk. Walking is great because it takes the benefits of changing positions which typically results in an increase in contractions.
“After that we decided that my husband and I should take a walk outside to see if that would make things pick up. We walked back and forth for about 30-60 minutes.
The walking definitely made my contractions get closer together, but not close enough or intense enough to call it labor. For the most part I could continue walking and talking through contractions.
My husband was exhausted, but I was wide awake. I was SO wanting to get this party started if you know what I mean. I guess at some point we went in to get a drink, but then came back outside and kept doing more of the same.
Eventually we decided that it was doing nothing and went back to bed.”
I also walked quite a bit in early labor with my second. I think it really helped!
To keep things interesting try curb walking. Place one foot on the road and the other on the curb. Now walk forward. The side to side jiggly movement is great to help get baby in a good position.
Another way to spice up boring walking is to go up and down a flight of stairs… sideways! The rocking of the pelvis is what makes this so effective.
Another method of induction is called “stripping the membranes” or a “membrane sweep”. I did not do this with my second or third births, but I did request it to be done at the tail end of my first pregnancy.
Stripping the membranes is actually a very aggressive cervical exam. A care provider places a finger or two inside the opening of the cervix and separates the connective membrane between the uterus and the amniotic sac.
This is an extremely uncomfortable procedure, to say the least. As with all natural ways to induce labor, proceed with caution.
The biggest risk is accidentally breaking the amniotic sac. It’s happened!
I will say, however, that I have seen this work (and not work!) for my doula clients. It even worked for me!
FYI: This procedure will likely cause A LOT of contractions. They may even be stronger than the braxton hicks contractions you’ve been having. You may also have bloody show, or blood tinged mucus discharge. Both of these symptoms are a normal side affect of stripping the membranes and may or may not lead to labor.
Black and Blue Cohosh
Herbs, such as black and blue cohosh, are often used to induce labor. During my labor with my third, my midwife gave me these bitter tasting herbs to see if it would encourage a labor.
“The next morning around 7 am we decided to try an herbal tincture (black and blue cohosh) and nipple stimulation with a breast pump. Both of those did nothing.”
Another thing to try, only if absolutely necessary, is castor oil. Castor oil gives the body diarrhea which then causes contractions. It isn’t fun. Here’s my story.
“Later on we ate breakfast, my kids went over to my neighbor’s and then we chatted with my midwife about what our plan of action should be. Nothing had changed for the better, if anything it seemed like my contractions were even wimpier and further apart. We decided that I would do castor oil and castor oil is what I did.
Matt went to a drugstore and came back with a 4 ounce bottle of that nasty stuff. I drank about 3 ounces of it. I wasn’t messing around anymore. This was at 10 am and we immediately took naps knowing that I would soon be crapping my brains out, trying to have a baby.
Around noon I woke up and puked. Then pooped. A lot. And pooped some more and then puked again. And then pooped some more. And then again. It was a certain kind of hell… that I was sure about.
At this point I was having contractions about 2-3 minutes apart. I decided to check myself (used a sterile glove to minimize any potential infection) and noticed the baby was lower than previous days, but I couldn’t really tell if there was any progress with the cervix. The glove made things feel even weirder than usual.
I spent that afternoon on the toilet and napping. I ate something at some point, but I can’t remember what. And of course, I stayed very well hydrated.
Here’s a text I sent to my midwife (I was starting to get in a bad mood from all the pooping), “I had a moment on the toilet where my bowels were going nuts and I had to pull back because I wasn’t sure if I was feeling a teensy bit pushy or if my ass was exploding.”
Yeah… that’s castor oil. Use only as a last resort, people!
Later my contractions were coming every 2-5 minutes apart and were definitely stronger than before. Around 2 pm I told my midwife maybe she should come over but not to sue me if everything fizzled out. She, as usual, didn’t care about false alarms and wanted to help me and do her job. I love her.
She got there around 3 pm and things… FIZZLED OUT! I was not crapping myself 24-7 anymore (only periodically at this point) and when that went away, my contractions went back to their previous wimpy pattern. How frustrating! How bizarre!”
Castor Oil Instructions
To use castor oil to induce labor head on over here to read all about it.
Some say pineapple induces labor. Apparently, pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which can cause a uterus to contract. Even if it weren’t true, this pregnancy superfood is high in other vitamins and nutrients like Vitamin C. My mother swears she keeps colds away by eating lots of pineapple. Maybe it’ll work for you? Either way, we’re winning. Pineapple is delicious on its own, eaten frozen or in smoothies.
Sometimes it Doesn’t Work
Sometimes natural ways to induce labor don’t work. And that’s ok.
I used Pitocin to augment my wimpy labor with my third and I’m ok with that. I learned a lot from the experience and I’m proud of myself for rocking “the next best thing”.
However, if your circumstances call for a medically necessary induction natural ways to induce labor should be tried first as they are typically safer. Good luck!
What Did You Try?
Leave me a comment and let me know what natural ways to induce labor you tried (or wish you did!). I’d love to hear your experience.