Are you past your due date, but seem to have a stubborn baby who just doesn’t want to come out? Are you hoping to naturally stimulate labor so you won’t have to be induced with medication?
As you get closer to or past your due date, you may be wondering if you should be trying to induce labor or if it’s best to let your baby come on their own. While most babies come out when they are ready, others need a little extra help to get things moving, so mom can avoid a medical induction that may lead to a cascade of interventions.
In this post, we’ll discuss when it’s okay to try to induce labor, who shouldn’t use exercise to stimulate labor, and 8 effective exercises that can help naturally induce labor.
When Is it Okay to Try to Induce Labor?
It’s always best to speak with your obstetrician or midwife before trying to induce labor, but generally speaking, between 39 to 41 weeks gestation is the optimal time to try to encourage labor to start. Babies born during this period are considered full-term and have the best possible health outcomes (source).
If you try to induce labor too early, your baby could have issues with breastfeeding, jaundice, or even breathing problems. Babies who go to 39 to 40 weeks gestation have also been shown to have better brain development than those born before this period.
However, if you have not given birth by 42 weeks, your care provider will start to monitor you more closely and possibly even discuss medical interventions. Some risks begin to increase at this point, such as a harder labor, placenta deterioration, fetal distress, decreased amount of amniotic fluid, and in rare cases, stillbirth (source).
There are also some cases where you might be facing an early medical induction due to high-risk factors, but you want to do whatever you can to avoid Pitocin, an induction drug, first.
Who Shouldn’t Use Exercise to Induce Labor?
Regular exercise is safe for the majority of pregnant women. However, there are some instances where exercises may not be the safest option for trying to induce labor.
If you have any of the following conditions, it’s best to speak with your care provider before performing any exercise.
- Prescribed bed rest.
- Severely high or low amniotic fluid.
- Placenta previa, or any other condition involving the placenta.
- History of premature labor.
- Gestational hypertension.
- Short cervix.
8 Activities to Naturally Induce Labor
If you’re at or past your due date, you may want to try some of these 8 activities to help get things moving and avoid a medical induction.
A simple walk keeps your body healthy and can even help jump-start labor. It has also been shown to help speed up slow labors. This low-impact exercise promotes uterine contractions, particularly with women who haven’t been as active during their pregnancy.
By taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood, you can help your cervix to dilate and your baby to drop further into your pelvis. If nothing else, it’s a pleasant distraction that will help relax your body and your mind.
So if you’re impatiently awaiting your baby’s arrival, try hitting the trail, strolling the mall, or simply walking around your house.
2. Climbing Stairs
Walking up the stairs will naturally angle your body at about 40 to 45 degrees, which encourages your baby to move lower into your pelvis.
Skipping a step opens the pelvis more, allowing your baby to descend even further down, putting gentle pressure on your cervix, encouraging it to thin and dilate — which is the exact cycle of events required for labor to occur.
Find a flight of stairs and head up and down them a few times.
Use Your Head As Well As Your Legs
Squats are a great exercise to routinely do throughout your entire pregnancy, as they help you prepare for labor and maintain your strength in your legs, hips, and pelvic floor.
Squats allow gravity to help open your pelvis, giving your baby more room to descend further into the birth canal, which helps kick-start labor. They have also been shown to reduce labor times (source).
So, whenever you need to bend over to pick something up, squat instead!
To do squats properly, make sure you are standing straight up with your feet shoulder-width apart. As you gently squat down, keep your back straight and be sure your knees aren’t protruding.
Try to hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds before using your legs to lift yourself back up to the standing position.
Lunges can help prepare your body for the natural birth you’ve always dreamed of. Doing lunges daily will help warm up your hips and open your pelvis, allowing more room for your baby to rotate and descend.
To do a lunge, stand with your feet together, then take a giant step forward and drop your back knee to the ground. Your front knee should be inline with your front ankle, your back knee should be dropped below your back ankle, and your spine should be straight.
Try to hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds or until you feel a burning sensation and then push back up.
This may be a difficult exercise to perform toward the end of pregnancy, so don’t be afraid to ask your partner or your doula for some assistance.
5. Birthing Ball
Get off that couch and sit on your birthing ball! Birthing balls, also known as exercise balls, are an excellent tool to help prepare your body for baby and naturally induce labor.
By sitting on your birthing ball with wide legs, you will help increase blood flow to your uterus, placenta, and baby. You’ll also open your pelvic outlet, encourage baby’s descent, and help get your baby into the correct position.
Birthing balls have also been shown to help create easier and faster births, and better postpartum recoveries (source).
There are many useful exercises you can do with your birthing ball, but some of the most useful ones for stimulating labor include bouncing, leaning, circular hip rotations, and rocking back and forth.
6. Pelvic Tilts
Pelvic tilts are one of the simplest and most useful exercises to induce labor naturally. They keep the pelvic joints loose and are an excellent way to help get your baby into the optimal birthing position.
There are several different ways to do pelvic tilts, but the safest way during pregnancy is to do them on your hands and knees. These are also commonly known as the cat-cow stretch in yoga practices.
You will lift your lower back toward the ceiling, hold it for 5 to 10 seconds, and then straighten your back. You can do about 30 to 40 of these per day (source).
7. Butterfly Stretch
Remember that butterfly stretch you did during your gym class warm-ups? This classic stretching position increases flexibility in your pelvic joints, which can aid in inducing labor naturally.
To do this stretch, sit up straight on the floor — it may be helpful to sit with your back against a wall. Place the soles of your feet together, and gently press your knees toward the ground with your hands or elbows.
Remain in this position for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 5 to 10 times. This will stretch the muscles in your back, hips, pelvis, and inner thighs, preparing your body for a successful labor and delivery.
Having sex is what got you into this situation, and it may help get you out of it as well!
Doing the deed not only burns calories, but is also a great way to help stimulate labor. Orgasm prompts the release of oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract.
It also creates the release of prostaglandins, which are natural hormone-like substances that soften the cervix and potentially cause dilation. Prostaglandins have also been found to be present in semen (source).
You should avoid this method if your water has already broke, as it will increase your risk of infection.
In my experience, any of the exercises listed above are better than not doing anything at all when it comes time for the birth of your baby. They are distracting and potentially labor-inducing.
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
If you’re past due and trying to get things moving, then you need to start moving. Try some of these 8 simple exercises to help jump-start your labor:
- Climbing stairs.
- Butterfly stretch.
- Birthing ball exercises.
- Pelvic tilts.
But remember, while exercise can be quite useful for opening the pelvis and getting baby into a good position, try not to overdo it, as you’ll need plenty of energy for when you’re in labor.
Did you try to induce your labor naturally? What methods worked for you?
Share your experiences with us in the comments and be sure to share this post with all your pregnant mama friends.