Waiting for Labor to Begin Versus Ways to Naturally Induce Labor
As much as mothers might like to naturally induce labor as soon as they grow tired of being pregnant, labor starts often unpredictably and sometimes later than what mothers would like for their own comfort. Babies will come at 38 weeks and other times will need 42 weeks. Technically you are not overdue or what is called “postdates” until 42 weeks. However, today it is more common to hear from providers that you are “overdue” even if your due date was yesterday!
So in essence, your due date is only a very rough target; which is why it is referred to as an EDD – estimated due date. Your own baby will likely come within a period of four weeks between 38-42 weeks. Only about 3-5% of women actually give birth on their due date not to mention that the majority of women don’t go into labor until after their estimated due date!
Rushing the Last Weeks May Cause Long Labors and Cesareans
Studies have shown that if your body is not ready for labor, (i.e. cervix unripe- not dilated or effaced) and you have an induction with pitocin, you will either have a very long labor or a much greater chance of a cesarean. For more information about reasons for an induction and how to labor with an induction, see this article on labor inductions.
Realize that inductions, especially early ones, can be harmful to your baby. If your baby is born even 1-2 weeks pre-term, they can have difficulty breathing on their own. This can happen when your due date has been miscalculated and the baby’s lungs have not finished developing. Babies may require a stay in the NICU often for several days or longer if necessary.
Sleep is Not a Given After the Baby Arrives
Another thing to consider is that even though your sleep is likely to be very poor in the last few weeks of your pregnancy, it won’t get any better once the baby comes. In fact, most babies will be wakeful and need to eat about every 2 hours throughout the day and night for the first several weeks. Many babies will be waking up once or twice a night even months after birth.
Some people feel that your wakefulness in late pregnancy may actually be one way that you are being prepared for sleeping in short snatches of time to get used to waking up with the baby. Just remember that inducing labor, whether it is thru natural methods or medical means, may ultimately mean less sleep for you after your baby comes!
Ten Ways to Naturally Induce Labor
There are some ways to naturally stimulate labor contractions and may even induce labor. However, just as inductions with pitocin do not work if your body isn’t ready, neither do these natural methods. I always tell my clients that most of these techniques to naturally induce labor are more like nudging your body if you are already very close to going into labor anyway.
The other thing to remember is that some of these natural inducing methods, though they might be considered “natural”, can have unwanted or possibly even harmful side effects. When in doubt, do all necessary research about the potential side effects and discuss with your care provider before you start to naturally induce your own labor or want to stimulate contractions.
Please be sure to consult with your obstetrician or midwife if you are considering using any of these techniques marked with an asterisk* and listed below to naturally induce labor.
- *Acupressure/Acupuncture – various points can start contractions.
- *Nipple stimulation/breast pump – uses the mother’s own oxytocin to stimulate contractions; discontinue if contractions are prolonged or become intense.
- *Castor oil – often mixed with juice or food; this stimulates prostaglandins to contract the uterus (Castor oil can have an undesired affect of diarrhea for several hours so use with caution and consult with your doctor or midwife.)
- Walking/changing positions frequently – this is one of the least invasive ways to stimulate contractions and can be used during labor if contractions slow down.
- *Herbs – common herbs used are black and blue cohosh or tinctures including these herbs (these are contraindicated for mothers with high blood pressure) Some herbs are medicinal so please be sure to check with your primary provider or a licensed herbalist should you plan to take any herbs! See this site on herbs for information.
- Spicy Food – Some mothers say spicy food does the trick possibly because it may also stimulate digestion and thereby increase prostaglandin production to get contractions going.
- Massage – this is a great way to relax while your massage therapist stimulates trigger points for labor; often when stress hormones are reduced, labor can start more easily.
- *Glass of wine – although there is no evidence that wine stimulates contractions, it can help an anxious mom relax. Bear in mind that any alcohol affects your baby and can be dehydrating. Be sure to take only one glass with dinner and check with your provider before considering this way to start labor.
- Love-making/Intercourse/Orgasm – uses both oxytocin and prostaglandins to stimulate contractions and potentially induce labor. Do not have intercourse if your water has broken.
- Pineapple is considered to be a labor-inducing food, however there is no research that supports this method beyond women’s own stories.
Remember that not all of these techniques work for everyone to naturally induce labor. If your body isn’t ready, even a labor induction is often ineffective. Unless there is a medical indication, you and your baby will ultimately benefit from waiting until both of you are ready.