It’s the final countdown to your baby’s arrival. You’ve made it to full-term and hearing “You’re in labor” would be music to your ears right now. But it’s just not happening! You’re tired, unbelievably uncomfortable, and so ready to be done with this pregnancy. Although you cannot wait to meet your little one and want him to be healthy, all you can think of is get this thing out of me!
When I was overdue with my first child, I desperately wondered how to induce my own labor. My doctor didn’t have any other advice for helping labor start naturally besides patience, so I turned to the good old wives’ tales!
What is an old wives’ tale?
Superstitions passed on as advice are known as old wives’ tales. They are often well-known and passed down through generations. Old wives’ tales exist in several facets of life, such as health, relationships, and beauty (think: shaving makes your hair grow back thicker). Hence why old wives’ tales to get labor started should come as no surprise.
Babies tend to have their own timing, so old wives’ tales can’t tell you when labor will start, but some women swear by these 10 natural methods to jump-start labor. We looked at each method’s safety and possible outcomes so that you can be well informed about your decisions should you choose to try any of them.
Tale #1: Pumping induces labor
Fact: Oxytocin, the hormone that makes the uterus contract, is released when nipples are stimulated. This technique can be effective if you’re already experiencing real contractions. There are nipple stimulation stories of women able to start contractions manually or with a breast pump but the contractions usually stop after the nipple stimulation ceases.
Nipple stimulation possibilities: release of oxytocin, contractions.
Nipple stimulation risks: damage to nipples if you use the pump too aggressively.
Tale #2: A birthing ball brings on labor
Fact: Although there’s no evidence that using a birthing ball to start labor is effective, a birthing ball (the same giant air-filled ball used for exercise at the gym) has been found to result in fewer cesarean sections, a reduced number of epidurals, and shorter duration of early labor. You can use the ball for multiple pelvic movements and positions before, during, and beyond labor.
I used a birthing ball in the third trimester to gain flexibility and strengthen the muscles supporting the baby. Once overdue, I used the birthing ball method to try to induce labor. I sat on the ball, making a circular motion with my hips. I didn’t have success in inducing labor, but I made those side-to-side and circular hip motions again in hopes of dilating more quickly during labor. I’d lean on the ball during contractions to alleviate some of the pressure on my back.
Birthing ball possibilities: good position during labor, reduced labor pain, shortened labor, change in baby’s position, pressure relief, strengthened lower back.
Birthing ball risks: infection if the ball isn’t clean.
Tale #3: Castor oil starts contractions
Fact: Castor oil, derived from the seed of a plant native to Africa and Asia, works as a laxative causing spasms to the intestines and stimulating the bowels. Although castor oil causes contractions, it’s usually due to gastrointestinal upset, not labor. This method may not be worth potentially birthing your baby while having diarrhea.
In addition to causing uterine contractions, castor oil can trigger a release of prostaglandin receptors which promote cervix dilation. Castor oil may also stimulate your baby’s first elimination of meconium (the sticky first stool) while still in the uterus, putting him at risk of meconium aspiration syndrome.
Castor oil possibilities: uterine contractions, cervix dilation.
Castor oil risks: gastrointestinal distress, dehydration, meconium aspiration.
Tale #4: Sex causes labor
Fact: Female orgasm causes the release of oxytocin responsible for uterine contractions, while semen contains prostaglandins which cause the cervix to soften. Softening primes the cervix for effacement (cervix stretches and gets thinner) and dilation (cervix opens) to allow the baby to pass through your birth canal.
Due to the challenges of having sex in the later stages of pregnancy, attempting to induce labor this way may be one of the least comfortable options. But if your baby is ready to come out, sexual intercourse offers the prospect of consistent contractions.
Sexual intercourse possibilities: the release of oxytocin, contractions, softened cervix.
Sexual intercourse risks: discomfort.
Tale #5: Eating pineapple starts labor
Fact: Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, a component that sometimes causes tingling or sores in your mouth after eating the fruit. If eaten in large quantities, fresh pineapple is thought to soften the cervix and induce contractions, but research on this claim is inconclusive.
Pineapple possibilities: softened cervix.
Pineapple risks: indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea.
Tale #6: More women go into labor during the full moon
Fact: In its different phases, the moon affects behavior, but research hasn’t proven whether births occur more frequently during a full moon. One study found that gravitation of the moon, rather than the phase, seems to affect birth frequency. When I asked my ob-gyn if he noticed any difference during a full moon, he responded, “Yeah, it looks bigger.” This was not funny at 41 weeks!
Full moon possibilities: birth frequency.
Full moon risks: none, werewolf?
Tale #7: Red raspberry leaf tea makes you go into labor sooner
Fact: Studies on drinking tea made from leaves of the raspberry plant towards the end of your pregnancy have conflicting results. Few human studies exist on the correlation between red raspberry leaf tea and labor, but they have no adverse outcomes. A study found that women who consume red raspberry leaf tea may be less likely to need intervention during birth.
You should note that in animals, red raspberry leaf tea tones and contracts relaxed uterine tissue and relaxes uterine tissue that has already contracted. It’s unknown whether the animal studies could translate to human effects.
Red raspberry leaf tea possibilities: toned uterine tissue, shorter labor, fewer complications.
Red raspberry leaf tea risks: inhibited contractions and long term effects (animal studies)
Tale #8: Acupuncture and acupressure start labor
Fact: Acupressure is a form of alternative medicine, using firm massage and pressure to help patients correct imbalances and maintain energy flow throughout the body. Due to the lack of research on acupressure, it’s unknown whether this chiropractic technique works to induce labor. Four specific points are often manipulated to attempt to induce labor. Some acupressure points reduce pain during labor, while the SP6 point specifically reduces the length of labor.
Acupuncture/acupressure possibilities: shortened labor, reduced labor pain.
Acupuncture/acupressure risks: expensive.
Tale #9: Crystals induce labor
Fact: Crystals have been used for millennia as alternative medicine. For example, the quartz in your watch is used to regulate the watch’s movement, hence keeping accurate time. Crystals are thought to have a placebo effect. It’s said that crystals contain energies that can affect our own energies in terms of emotions and state of mind. In crystal therapy, crystals are used to address different aspects of our well-being, including pregnancy and childbirth.
Crystals possibilities: reduce stress, lessen anxiety, balance hormones and energy.
Crystals risks: toxic crystals, expensive.
Tale #10: Walking initiates labor
Fact: Walking puts your body in an upright position allowing you to take advantage of the force of gravity on your baby. There isn’t proof that movement starts labor but walking during labor helps with the progress. Walking is a great way to build the endurance you’ll need during childbirth. I actually went into labor while walking but I wouldn’t say the walk started the labor. I was almost 2 weeks overdue so labor was expected to begin spontaneously at any time. I also walked during each of my 3 labor journeys to help them progress. I didn’t experience any stalling.
Walking possibilities: shorten labor, increase endurance, good fetal positioning.
Walking risks: none (just remember that your center of balance has evolved).
The finish line
It’s difficult to remain patient when you’re so eager to welcome your new member of the family, all while undergoing such extreme body discomfort. But the wait will all be worth it when your baby finally arrives. You’ve made it so far in the pregnancy, and you are inches—or rather centimeters away—from the finish line. Health professionals advise that when a woman is close to her due date, she is very likely to go into labor no matter what she is doing at the time.