How to Induce Labor—When Your Due Date Is Here and You Are Really Tired of Being Pregnant
What can work to kickstart labor and what does not—and may even be dangerous.
Here you are, past your due date—and still very pregnant. You’re uncomfortable, achy, and toddling around, waiting for any sign of labor to begin. You're just done with the whole pregnancy thing, and you're ready to do whatever it takes to get labor going.
Luckily, you have options for inducing labor, depending on how far past your due date you are and what you (and your doctor) are willing to try. Your obstetrician might suggest a medical induction: Your MD gives you medicine and uses devices to bring on labor. There are also natural ways that research and/or anecdotal evidence has shown might do the trick—some you may have heard before and others that will surprise you.
We spoke to obstetricians about all the ways women try to induce labor. But first, remember, “none of these is a magic ‘on’ button to labor,” Andrea Campaigne, MD, an ob-gyn who practices at St. David's Women's Center of Texas, tells Health. Here's what could move the needle—and some that definitely won't (and may even be harmful).
Getting your "membranes stripped"
If being induced via medicine is not what you want, your ob might offer you another option in her office: having your "membranes stripped," which increases the odds that your body will go into labor on its own. During this procedure, your doctor will manually sweep her finger between the membranes that connect the amniotic sac to the wall of the uterus.
The idea behind membrane sweeping is that in response to your doctor's finger motions, your body will release prostaglandins, chemicals that soften the cervix and can lead to contractions, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Will it work? It could speed things up. “For women who have an already-soft cervix that’s partially dilated, she’s more likely to go into labor in 12 hours [after having her membranes stripped] as opposed to a woman who has a firm cervix,” Melissa R. Peskin-Stolze, MD, generalist ob-gyn and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, tells Health. If your cervix is firm after the procedure, you’re more likely to be still pregnant at next week’s checkup, she says.
Membrane sweeping doesn’t take long, but your doctor will warn you that it’s "uncomfortable." I had it done three times (twice with baby number one and once with baby two) and it hurts. Like tears-in-my-eyes hurts. It doesn’t compare to the pains of labor (those are special), but you should prepare yourself. Also, there are rare but potential complications, including your water breaking and vaginal bleeding, says Dr. Peskin-Stolze.
Unless your doc has advised you otherwise, sex is generally safe throughout pregnancy—including at the very end. “The thought is that the prostaglandins in semen may soften the cervix,” says Dr. Peskin-Stolze, though she also says solid evidence doesn't show that it has an effect. Think of it this way: If you’re in the mood, go for it. You’ll likely have (ahem, want) to take six weeks off of sex after delivery anyway.
Snacking on dates
This is one that you might want to start during your third term. One study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that pregnant women who ate six dates per day for four weeks before their due date were less likely to need an induction compared to those who didn’t eat dates.
A more recent randomized, controlled trial conducted in 2017 found that eating dates didn’t necessarily induce labor, but it lessened the risk for “augmentation of labor,” which is when doctors step in after labor stalls with medication. Dates are safe to eat throughout pregnancy, says Dr. Campaigne, but keep in mind that six dates is a lot (it’s about 10 grams of fiber), and can have unwanted side effects.
RELATED: 11 Weird Facts About Your Cervix
Going for a massage pedicure
Acupuncture has long been used to get labor going, though some studies haven't found it to be effective. A similar therapy, acupressure, involves pressing on specific pressure points throughout the body. You may have heard of moms saying that they went for a pedicure and went into labor that night–and though it sounds like a stretch, it may be related to an acupressure point on the foot.
Says Dr. Campaigne: “There’s an acupressure point in the inside of the ankle. While a pedicure during another time of pregnancy is not unsafe, the theory is that there’s an energy current there that, if triggered, may help labor emerge,” she says. At the very least, this method has no unwanted side effects, and a pedi might be your last shot to get in some self-care before your life becomes all about your needy newborn.
Sipping a glass of wine
Some women swear by it, but there's no evidence it works—especially in light of the warning that women should avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy. Interestingly, Dr. Peskin-Stolze says that alcohol was once used to stop labor. While it may not be helpful to get labor going, it may help you relax and sleep if you’re having false labor, she believes. Still, she doesn’t recommend wine, even when you’re at term.
Among women who have tried herbal medicine for inducing labor, castor oil is a popular method, research shows. But this involves drinking about two ounces of the oil. “This oil is a laxative, and it causes nausea and GI upset. While it won’t reliably result in labor, it will result in diarrhea and dehydration,” says Dr. Peskin-Stolze.
Another herbal formula some pregnant women try is black cohash, but it's a definite no-no. “The herb black cohosh is one of the more concerning methods, as it can have catastrophic fetal effects,” says Dr. Peskin-Stolz. She also advises against taking (orally or vaginally) evening primrose oil, another common herbal remedy. Remember, these herbal supplements aren’t regulated.
Stimulating your nipples
Nipple play (DIY or your partner) has been shown to trigger the release of oxytocin. “Oxytocin is the hormone that connects with the receptors in your uterus to start contractions,” says Dr. Peskin-Stolze. Seems like a labor induction method that's worth a try, right? Well, it can work a little too well and actually hyperstimulate the uterus, resulting in longer and more severe contractions that could lead to fetal distress. “I tell women not to do this unless it’s in a controlled environment in labor and delivery,” she says.
Going for a walk
This one might surprise you. Research shows that “walking the baby out” is one of the more popular ways to self-induce labor, and it’s completely safe to stay active with a stroll. However, Dr. Campaigne argues against walking long distances right now. “I believe in energy conservation at the end of pregnancy. The work of labor and bringing baby home is so big that I find there’s a kind of sweetness and stillness in waiting that’s important,” she says.
That doesn’t mean park yourself on the couch all day and night, but know your limits. “If you take a five-mile walk on the day you go into labor, you’ll have exhausted your muscles, and we need that energy for later,” she advises.
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