Updated: May 13
You're pushing 38 weeks pregnant and coming to the end of your rope. You know this baby needs these last few weeks to bake, but you are D. O. N. E. DONE! So you started googling "natural labor induction methods that actually work" or "how to induce labor at home" or something along those lines... not because you plan to, but because you need to at least think about it. You found a mommy group that had allll the things. Then you started googling them one by one. And now, here you are. But this isn't a mommy group. Oh, no, Mama Bear. I'm here to help you. To guide you. To answer your questions and make sure you are ready for this. Let's not worry about spending this time talking about whether or not you should be induced/self inducing... Let's talk about all the ideas you've gathered for trying to get that baby out! What are we gonna talk about...? Castor Oil
Your Birth Ball
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea
Evening Primrose Oil
....and SEX. This ought to be fun...
Remember... This article is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Please discuss any plans for induction (medical or at home) with your healthcare provider!
Using Castor Oil to Induce Labor
Ohhhh my. Let's just start off with the most controversial induction method and get it over with. Castor Oil. The idea behind castor oil is that it stimulates smooth muscle contractions that can help encourage labor. Most people know that a huge risk here is how much you will end up pooping. But does it work? Is it worth it? One small, retrospective study suggests that castor oil can be a safe and effective induction method. But I'll share my personal experience with you. One client I worked with chose to use castor oil to induce. Within a few hours her water broke but she was not having effective contractions. She did have her baby just over 24 hours later, but it was a long, difficult labor. Was this related to the castor oil? It's hard to say. From my third person, non-medical provider observation, it seemed as if there was a push to progress these ineffective contractions, and therefore high doses of pitocin were utilized. I do wonder if labor had not been encouraged but had started totally spontaneously, would things have played out the same way? We will never know. Some midwives will suggest Castor Oil only after 40 weeks, and others have special concoctions using castor oil that are claimed to help reduce the digestive system side effects of castor oil induction.
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There are common concerns about castor oil increasing odds of meconium in utero. On this, I will share the conversation I had with a very experienced midwife. She explained to me that while studies do show that there is a higher incidence of in utero meconium with Castor Oil Inductions, this demographic is also typical post-term and already at higher likelihood of experiencing in utero meconium, therefore it is impossible to prove causation. So for the diplomatic answer to your question, No, I don't recommend castor oil, or any form of induction, without speaking to your OB or Midwife first.
I know you've heard of this one. And I'll just tell you, spicy food is more likely to give you heartburn and an upset tummy than induce labor if your baby isn't ready to be born. Can you imagine if curry induced labor? No one in India would ever have a full term pregnancy... Keeping with "food", how about that Red Raspberry Leaf Tea?
This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves - the misconception that Red Raspberry Leaf Tea (RRLT) induces labor. RRLT is a uterine tonic. It is claimed by many to reduce the length of labor and increase the efficiency of contractions, however, this does not mean it will induce labor. RRLT nourishes the body in a way that SUPPORTS labor. A well nourished uterus performs better than a poorly nourished uterus. Plus it's great for hydration. So drink that red raspberry leaf tea, but no, it won't cause miscarriage and it won't induce labor. If you want to read more about herbs in pregnancy, I highly recommend Susan Weed's book for herbal use during the childbearing year.
This is one of my favorite books because I love herbs and herbal teas, especially during pregnancy. It's seriously a must-have reference book.
Can using my birth ball or walking put me into labor?
The short answer is no. But why is this so commonly recommended? The truth is, exercise is so important during pregnancy. Toward the end of you pregnancy it's also very important to carry your body in a manner that encourages optimal fetal positioning. Being upright, walking, and sitting on a birth ball is amazing for allowing your pelvis to widen and your baby to engage. Your baby moving down into an optimal position will help labor start smoothly and will hopefully make for a quicker labor. Labors with malpositioned babies tend to be longer and more difficult. This also tends to be when we see start and stop or "false" (prodromal) labors. Enouraging your baby to a great position will help things run more smoothly. Check out this video on how to use your birth ball for labor!
Okay so while we're talking about herbs, how about evening primrose oil? Is that recommended for inducing labor. Evening primrose labor also will not induce labor. However, it is known for helping soften the cervix. Despite EPO's efficiency at softening the cervix, there has been much debate over the safety... So if you're looking for a source of at-home-prostaglandins to help jump-start labor I'm going to direct you to the next popular home induction method...
GO HAVE SEX! NOW!
No, seriously. Sex is probably one of your best bets... but truthfully, if your body isn't ready for labor, it ain't gonna work. But even if sex doesn't put you into labor, the prostaglandins in semen can help soften the cervix (we refer to this as effacement), and the Oxytocin rush from orgasm CAN cause contractions that may or may not cause dilation. So while sex might not put you into labor, there's a good chance it will help prime your body for a quicker labor once things get going! Similarly, nipple stimulation has been scientifically proven as one of the most effective non-medical induction methods because it causes surges of oxytocin to flow through the body. The study showing this, however, had a pretty vigorous pumping-walking routine utilized, so be warned that it could be a very uncomfortable experience... and also should not be done without consulting with your provider.
One last "non-medical" although invasive induction method people like to talk about is membrane sweeps... I have more information about membrane sweeps in my induction post.
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Jaimie Zaki, owner of Little Bear Services, LLC is a Birth Photographer, Labor Doula, & IBCLC serving families in South Jersey and Central New Jersey. Mother of three, military wife, and lover of coffee, Jaimie enthusiastically supports hospital and home births in Burlington County, Camden County, Mercer County, Atlantic County, Ocean County in New Jersey. If you reside outside of this service area, there are online courses and virtual support packages available! Jaimie is excited to serve your family! Learn more about Jaimie and the services she offers!
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