10 Ways to Induce Labor Naturally -- Do They Really Work?

Your due date has passed and no end is in sight. Is there anything you can do to give your baby an extra push towards birth? You’ve heard about how to induce labor naturally, but do these methods really work?

From old wives’ tales to supposed scientific findings, many myths persist on how a woman can induce labor naturally. We are here to take a closer look at the top ten most popular, the most controversial, and the most effective methods out there to help you find some peace of mind as you finish out the last days of your pregnancy.


Understanding Your Due Date

Before we can talk about how to induce labor naturally, we need to discuss why some women are looking to jumpstart labor in the first place.

Outside of the weariness that comes with your third trimester, and feeling as if you’ve been pregnant forever, the most common reason women try to induce labor is because their due date has passed.

A due date is your doctor’s or midwife’s best guess for when your baby will be born. Throughout pregnancy, women use their due date as a goal to reach a joyous occasion they cannot wait to celebrate.

But Keep In Mind

Due dates are surprisingly inaccurate — some studies report only 4 percent of women actually give birth on their due date (source).

For women who view their due date as a deadline, panic can set in when the baby does not arrive and they immediately begin searching for ways to induce labor as quickly as possible.

But in most cases, everything is fine! Most women give birth between 37 and 42 weeks (source). Your baby remaining in the womb is a sign you have provided a wonderful and safe place for them to grow.

Experts suggest you avoid looking at your due date as a hard deadline and rather see it as a rough measurement doctors use to treat you throughout your pregnancy. When a doctor knows how long you have been pregnant, they can offer the appropriate tests and levels of care to ensure both you and your baby are healthy.

Related Reading:
When Does a Labor Need Intervention?

Is it OK to Induce Labor?

As hard as it is to wait, most doctors and midwives will not suggest inducing labor until at least two weeks have passed from your due date. After two weeks past your due date, or beyond 42 weeks of pregnancy, the risk for complications rises. At this point, your doctor will likely offer to induce labor medically.

For mamas out there who are past their due date and are wanting to help their little one on their way to joining the world, techniques to naturally induce labor are not generally seen as harmful as long as your baby is confirmed to be at least 39 weeks old (source).

The exception to this is using the more potent methods, which we will talk about shortly, without the supervision of a doctor or healthcare professional.

How to Induce Labor Naturally

We want all mothers to feel empowered! As we go over the ten most popular suggestions on how to induce labor naturally, we will see what the science says, give tips on how to implement these methods safely, and give our final verdict on their efficacy.

1. Sexual Intercourse

Pregnancy Sex To Induce Labor

Let’s start with the most talked about method for inducing labor naturally — sexual intercourse.

You may be wondering if sex is even possible. Well, the answer is yes and it may be just the thing you need to encourage your baby out into the world.

What Does the Science Say?

There are a number of reasons people believe sexual intercourse induces labor. Outside of the anecdotal evidence, a number of theories exist:

  • Ejaculate: Sperm and other biological components in ejaculate contain prostaglandins. Prostaglandins stimulate the cervix and may cause contractions (source).
  • Orgasm: The uterus is stimulated during an orgasm and some believe this can help jumpstart contractions (source).
  • Oxytocin: During sex, the chemical oxytocin is at an all-time high. Oxytocin is known to help contractions.

On paper, these theories make a lot of sense and many women swear by sex as a way to induce labor. However, there is little solid evidence proving sexual intercourse will induce labor with any sort of regularity.

Does this mean you shouldn’t try sex out if you’ve passed your due date? Not at all! Most experts say you might as well go for it.

How to Use Sex to Induce Labor

Sex is generally safe throughout pregnancy until your water breaks, and couples should work together to determine how to be intimate in a way that is both pleasurable and comfortable.

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. It’s also important for you as a mom to know your limitations, even if you are hoping sexual intercourse will help bring your pregnancy to its long awaited end.

The Final Verdict

While the proof that sex works for labor induction is sparse, most doctors and midwives agree there is no harm in trying. Plus, the good hormones released during sex can relax stressed out moms facing a rough last trimester.


2. Exercise

Exercises To Induce Labor

Out of all the methods on this list, exercise may be the one you’ll want to implement regardless of your due date. After all, exercise can help keep you healthy throughout your pregnancy and beyond!

What Does the Science Say?

There is some scientific evidence to support exercise as a labor induction method. In one study, 32 percent of women reported physical activity as the trigger for their labor (source). Women who exercise consistently during pregnancy were also shown to begin labor earlier and have shorter labors overall (source).

How to Use Exercise to Induce Labor

There are a number of exercises you can try to help start labor. Here are our three favorites (source):

The Final Verdict

Exercise is not a guaranteed way to start labor, but it has some scientific backing and so many other benefits for both you and your baby. We definitely suggest incorporating exercise into your entire pregnancy routine.

Warning

Make sure you discuss any new exercise regime with your doctor or midwife first.

3. Drink Castor Oil

Castor Oil To Induce Labor

Castor oil is one of the most controversial labor induction methods on this list. It is also one of the most popular non-medical ways to induce labor, often used by midwives (source).

Castor oil is a pale yellow liquid created by pressing castor beans. While it has many uses, most suggest castor oil induces labor because of its strong laxative properties (source). As your bowel becomes active and leans on the uterus, it is believed to indirectly stimulate contractions.

What Does the Science Say?

Reviews are mixed when it comes to using castor oil. Some studies found castor oil has no real effect, especially since its activity is in the bowel, not the uterus (source). However, others found the opposite, showing an increase in the possibility of labor within 24 hours of ingesting castor oil.

What all the science agrees on is that castor oil can be dangerous if not used properly. Even in proper doses applied by a professional, castor oil leads to nausea, diarrhea, and dehydration.

How to Use Castor Oil to Induce Labor

Do not use castor oil to induce labor until you have exhausted all other options and have been given clearance by a medical professional.

To use castor oil, simply drink it. You can take it straight as a shot or mix it in with a juice or other drink. Do not ingest more than 2 tablespoons in a 24-hour period (source).

Make sure to drink lots of water and be prepared for the powerful effect it will have on your bowels.

The Final Verdict

We only suggest using castor oil under the supervision of a medical professional. Though the science is mixed, castor oil definitely seems to have a powerful effect and high rate of success for those brave enough to try it.

Warning

Just as castor oil can upset your whole digestive tract, it can impact your baby. The intensity of castor oil may lead to meconium aspiration, a condition where the baby’s meconium (first stool) is passed before delivery and aspirated by your little one in the womb. This can lead to numerous complications for your baby after birth (source).

4. Acupuncture

Pregnancy Accupucture To Induce Labor

Acupuncture is the ancient technique of inserting thin needles into the skin in order to stimulate certain parts of the body (source). The idea is that when the nerves sense the needle, they send a signal to the brain and beneficial hormones are produced in response.

The theory is acupuncture will “ripen” the cervix, meaning the cervix becomes soft and dilated (source). When the cervix is ripe, the body naturally understands it is time for labor to begin.

What Does the Science Say?

Acupuncture as a way to induce labor is still fairly new and untested. However, the results are promising and many professionals are beginning to look into acupuncture as a viable way to start labor (source).

At the very least, acupuncture can relieve pain and stress if your body has taken a beaten during pregnancy.

How to Use Acupuncture to Induce Labor

To try out acupuncture, simply visit a licensed acupuncturist near you. Before going, talk with your doctor or midwife — you will also want to let the acupuncturist know you are pregnant. You can expect a lengthy questionnaire and interview before you even get close to the needles.

By the way, most acupuncturists and their clients will tell you not to be afraid! At most you will experience a little bit of discomfort and pressure from the needles when first inserted.

The Final Verdict

Acupuncture has very minimal side effects and the science behind acupuncture to ripen your cervix looks good. As long as you get the go-ahead from your doctor, we say give it a try!


5. Evening Primrose Oil

Evening Primrose Oil To Induce Labor

Evening primrose oil is extracted from a bright yellow flower known as the evening primrose (source). It is rich in a number of fatty acids used to treat a variety of conditions.

What Does the Science Say?

According to the American Family Physician, it is unclear if evening primrose oil induces labor (source). Even if it does, some studies have found using evening primrose oil can actually make your labor last longer.

However, because of evening primrose oil’s ability to metabolize prostaglandins, scientists haven’t ruled it out completely. More studies need to be done.

How to Use Evening Primrose Oil to Induce Labor

Evening primrose oil comes in supplement capsules. You can begin taking them orally or insert them directly into your vagina (source). It should not be taken any earlier than your 38th week.

The Final Verdict

Compared to castor oil, evening primrose oil has fewer risks. However, like many other herbal supplements, it has little scientific proof to back it up as an effective method to induce labor.


6. Spicy Foods

Spicy Food To Induce Labor

Could inducing labor be as simple as visiting your favorite Indian or Mexican restaurant? Many women claim they went into labor after eating spicy foods.

What Does the Science Say?

Eating spicy food to induce labor is actually just a myth. Sadly, scientists haven’t discovered a food that will help your baby come any faster. When you take a look at some of the digestive changes caused by spicy foods, it’s easy to understand why the myth persists.

Spicy food can heat up your digestive tract. Literally! As your digestive tract and bowels become agitated, some people believe the cervix and uterus can be impacted as well.

Spicy foods can also cause dehydration, which does lead to muscle contractions (source).

The Final Verdict

Spicy food has an extremely low chance of inducing labor. Unless you have an irresistible craving, you might also want to watch out for the heartburn and stomach problems spicy food can cause!


7. Nipple Stimulation

Nipple Stimulation To Induce Labor

Just as with sexual intercourse, nipple stimulation may sound like an extremely fun way to induce labor. If you are not careful, however, it may actually be dangerous.

What Does the Science Say?

Nipple stimulation involves rubbing or touching your nipples in a way that releases oxytocin in your body (source). Oxytocin is a formidable hormone responsible for causing the powerful contractions of childbirth. In fact, the drugs doctors use to induce labor are synthetic forms of oxytocin (source).

The release of oxytocin through nipple stimulation is supported by scientific evidence. What’s more, women who used nipple stimulation experienced the shortest labor and delivery times out of all the women in one particular study (source).

How to Use Nipple Stimulation to Induce Labor

Nipple stimulation is simple. It involves gently massaging your areola and nipple with your hands. Use a rolling motion, place your fingers on the edge of your areola and massage inward (source).

Warning

High levels of oxytocin can cause intense contractions that may be dangerous for you and your baby. Do not overstimulate your nipples. To be on the safe side, don’t massage your nipples for more than 30 minutes to an hour and only massage one nipple at a time.

The Final Verdict

Nipple stimulation is an effective and natural method to induce labor. If you are worried about overstimulation, talk with a doctor or midwife about what techniques may work best for you.


8. Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea To Induce Labor

Of all the things you can ingest on this list, raspberry leaf tea is definitely the most delicious! Could sipping a cup of warm tea really be the trick to getting your baby one step closer?

What Does the Science Say?

Red raspberry leaf contains high levels of iron. Iron is essential to pregnancy because it supports healthy hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin transports oxygen throughout your body and to your baby (source).

The theory is that all the rich nutrients in red raspberry leaf tea help soften the cervix and prepare it for birth.

While red raspberry leaf tea is undeniably great for your iron levels, it does not mean it will help with labor. Unfortunately, most of the science linking this type of herbal tea to labor induction is weak at best (source).

How to Use Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Red raspberry leaf tea is safe to consume while pregnant. Simply boil the water and prepare it as directed, but stop using if you notice any unpleasant side effects.

The Final Verdict

Sipping some red raspberry leaf tea will promote healthy iron levels and help you relax, but it probably won’t be any help in jump-starting labor.

Related Reading:
Is It Safe to Drink Tea While Pregnant?

9. Membrane Sweeping

Membrane Sweeping To Induce Labor

Membrane sweeping doesn’t sound like the most glamorous of methods, but it is effective for inducing labor.

Inside your uterus, the amniotic sac is attached by thin membranes. By sweeping a gloved finger around the amniotic sac, your doctor strips away these membranes, encouraging labor to begin (source).

What Does the Science Say?

Membrane sweeping is most effective for women past their due date and is commonly used by doctors in a hospital setting. There are no major risks associated with membrane stripping, though the experience can be quite uncomfortable.

Using Membrane Sweeping to Induce Labor

Doctors or trained midwives should be the only ones to attempt membrane sweeping. If you are past your due date and have yet to talk with your doctor, set up an appointment and bring up membrane sweeping as a possible option.

The Final Verdict

Membrane sweeping is effective and safe — however, it must be performed by a doctor in a sterile environment, making it a more labor-intensive natural option.


10. Massage

Pregnancy Massage To Induce Labor

Start your labor off right with a massage! Just as acupuncture can stimulate your nerves and release hormones needed for labor to begin, sustained pressure on the right spots can do the same.

What Does the Science Say?

Massage therapy has proven effective for a number of pregnancy woes and can help women feel more comfortable — not to mention more pampered! But does it help start labor?

While studies show massage can help shorten labor and reduce pain (source), the amount of information about massage and labor induction is minimal.

How to Use Massage to Induce Labor

Visit a licensed acupressure or massage specialist or have a spouse or partner learn how to carefully apply pressure at home. Acupressure targets the same meridian lines as acupuncture, but with the use of the fingertips or thumbs instead of needles. This means you or your partner may be able to learn a few essential pressure points to massage at home.

The Final Verdict

Because massages have so many benefits for women in their last few weeks of pregnancy, we wholeheartedly suggest trying them! Nothing soothes stress away like a massage, and what woman doesn’t feel better after some TLC?

However, if you are specifically hoping to use massage to induce labor, make sure you check with your doctor first.


A Word of Caution

Every woman and pregnancy is different. Never start something new when it comes to your health without talking with your doctor first.

They know you, and they have been monitoring every step of your pregnancy, so include them in your discussion before trying any of the methods on this list. Even if they are skeptical, they can assure you that what you try will not be dangerous to you or your baby.


How Did You Trigger Labor?

The last few weeks and even days of pregnancy can be disconcerting and seriously uncomfortable. It’s natural for moms to want to do all they can to give their babies a good push into the world, especially if they’re a little “late.” While there are some effective natural ways to move things along, other methods are simply myths or even a little dangerous.

The choice to use any of these techniques is yours, but we strongly urge working with a healthcare professional if you decide to attempt any home methods to induce labor quickly.

We know there are moms out there with stories about how they were able to induce labor naturally. We want to hear them! What worked for you? What didn’t? What got you through those last few days?

If you know a mom who needs some encouragement as she waits for her precious little one, share this article with her.

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