If your due date is history, you may be longing to jump-start your labor, even if your practitioner seems to think it's fine to wait another couple of weeks. Is there anything you can do to induce labor yourself?
Most methods that expecting moms have tried don't work. However, most of these methods are harmless, so if you want to give them a whirl, go ahead. Be forewarned that some of the results may be uncomfortable, if not downright unpleasant. For instance, some moms consume spicy foods or chocolate, thinking that the spices and caffeine might act as laxatives and start contractions. All you'll probably induce with this kind of behavior is heartburn and puffy ankles because the food taxes your digestive system. Others swear that walking is the way to the delivery room because gravity will lower the baby and put enough pressure on your cervix to prompt it to open. Although walking extra-long distances can start contractions by irritating the uterus, it won't do much to bring on labor unless your cervix is already effaced; the contractions generally stop after you stop moving. It's the same story with sex: Orgasms can cause your uterus to contract, and semen contains prostaglandin--a natural fatty acid that helps soften and dilate your cervix--but sex won't bring on labor unless your baby is ready to arrive. Frustrated pregnant moms have also tried taking a single dose of castor oil to stimulate the production of contraction-inducing prostaglandins. However, the most likely thing to follow castor oil is terrible diarrhea because castor oil is a laxative.
Although using herbs or herbal teas to induce labor seems like a great idea, there is little evidence that they work--and some evidence that certain herbs may be harmful.
In some studies, acupuncture has shown promise, but other studies link it to prolonged pregnancy.
About the only thing research has definitively linked to self-induced labor is nipple stimulation. Ask your provider about this method before trying it. The reason nipple stimulation sometimes starts contractions is because rubbing your nipples in late pregnancy can help your body release oxytocin; oxytocin is a hormone similar to Pitocin, which is the drug most practitioners use to cause contractions in pregnancies where labor needs to be induced or helped along. Unfortunately, for nipple stimulation to be effective in bringing on labor, you have to tweak and twiddle your breasts for an hour at a time, three times a day. Who has time for that? Nipple stimulation has another downside: It can cause very strong contractions that may affect your baby's heart rate, so your practitioner might have you try this method only at the birth center or hospital, where the heart rate can be monitored.
Overall, getting labor started is something that's probably best left up to your baby, even if you're overdue.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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