Should You Drink Alcohol to Induce Labor?

You might think that reaching for a few glasses of wine during those halcyon days of pregnancy will speed things along. The reality might surprise you.

pregnant woman drinking red wine
Photo: Veer

I remember being in the final stretch of pregnancy. I couldn't see my toes. I was having Braxton Hicks contractions constantly. I wanted some peace. My friend, a mom of three, told me I should be taking baths nightly and having a glass of wine when I felt like it. So, I did. I didn't necessarily think a glass of wine would bring on labor, but I didn't think it would hurt either. In a way, I associated a more relaxed state with a body that was ready for the marathon of labor.

Turns out that drinking alcohol in the later stages of pregnancy has the opposite effect most women intend for it to have. It will most likely actually stop or inhibit labor from happening. Sheryl Ross, MD, FACOG at the Santa Monica Women's Health Center says she fields this question from her patients frequently. "They all have an anecdotal story in which someone they know was overdue, had some wine, and it got things started. But long ago, intravenous (IV) alcohol was used to treat and stop preterm labor. The effect of alcohol on the uterus really just causes it to become relaxed, helping prevent early labor."

"It is an old wives tale," says Mona Prasad, DO, MPH, a maternal fetal medicine specialist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "I would not recommend it to induce labor," she says, pointing out that physiologically, alcohol should act to limit contractions, which would not facilitate labor. "It might only come in handy for relaxation in late term pregnancy, and this may be why some would consider it."

So, if you're feeling like reaching for a glass of wine while you wait it out at the end, is that okay? "The infrequent times that I would suggest having pregnant women drink wine or beer is during the premature weeks of pregnancy where uterine contractions are noticeable or worsening. It may be in the evening when I would get a call and hear a patient who is 34 weeks and having irregular contractions or pains. It was during those times that I may suggest having a beer to see if the alcohol would calm or relax the uterus," says Ross. So while she doubts you will find this unconventional recommendation in any obstetrical textbooks, it is still limited to rare occasions during pregnancy.

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