Can you induce labor at home? 7 common myths about kick-starting labor, and why experts say they don't work

·8-min read
Looking for natural ways to induce labor? Experts say these seven myths about inducing labor at home may not help kick-start the process, but they won't hurt. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Looking for natural ways to induce labor? Experts say these seven myths about inducing labor at home may not help kick-start the process, but they won't hurt. (Photo: Getty Creative)

You're approaching 40 weeks and then some. You're tired, uncomfortable and miserable and you can't help but think it's time for the baby to come out. There's no dearth of advice and old wives' tales for pregnant women about natural labor induction, so you waddle into the grocery store, pick up some extra-spicy salsa, lunge your way back to the car and then call your acupuncturist, hoping to find a natural way to kick-start labor.

Hold up, mama. According to Dr. Shannon Clark, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, your baby will come when they're good and ready, not because of anything you do at home to jumpstart the delivery process.

"Most of the old wives' tales about things you can do to start labor won't hurt, but they won't help either," Clark tells Yahoo Life. Here, she breaks down the seven most common myths about labor induction techniques near a woman's due date and why they likely won't give you the results you're looking for.

Myth #1: Lunges, squats and "curb walking"

Walking, jumping on a trampoline, climbing stairs, lunges, squats — the concept is all the same when it comes to theories about why exercise helps to induce labor in pregnant women.

"The basis is that gravity may help bring the baby into the pelvis and trigger labor," Clark explains. "Unfortunately, no research studies have examined the various forms of exercise and compared their efficacy for inducing labor."

You may also have heard of "curb walking" as a means of labor induction: It's just what it sounds like — walking with one foot on the curb and one foot on the road. Uneven gait and shifts in body weight are thought to allow gravity to do its job and move the baby into position.

Clark says the probability of this working is unlikely.

"If you feel like trying these exercises, go for it," she says, "but they likely won't change your course."

Myth #2: Eat spicy foods

Put down that chimichanga, lady. That capsaicin-loaded Mexican feast probably isn't going to do anything but give you heartburn and gastrointestinal issues in a few hours.

"There's no evidence that eating spicy food will induce labor," says Clark. "The idea behind it is that capsaicin can cause uterine cramping but that's not going to start labor, it's just going to be uncomfortable. Eat at your own risk."

Myth #3: Eat a whole pineapple (core and all) in one sitting

This labor-inducing practice actually does have some science to back it up, since pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, thought to ripen the cervix and cause contractions in pregnant women.

"This is really common advice given in social media groups," says Dr. Clark, "but potential side effects from consuming too much bromelain include nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea — not ideal in pregnancy."

Breanna Eckley, a mom from Cañon City, Colo., tried it.

"I destroyed my mouth, nose and throat for a whole week after eating a pineapple and the core," she says. "It didn't even work. [My daughter] held out for two more weeks until I had to be medically induced."

Clark explains there's limited research showing that if pineapple extract is injected directly into uterine tissues it can cause contractions, but there's no evidence that consuming pineapple does the same thing.

Kourtney Conway says she visited a Florida restaurant that has a
Kourtney Conway says she visited a Florida restaurant that has a "may induce labor" warning on a salad on its menu, hoping to kick-start her labor naturally. The salad did not send Conway into labor and, looking back, she says she wishes she'd enjoyed some French toast instead. (Photo: Kourtney Conway)

And it's not just pineapple and spicy foods: Some restaurants have even put "labor-inducing" warnings on menu items to entice full-term mamas to order them once their due date has passed. Kourtney Conway, a mom of two from Oviedo, Fla., visited the Briarpatch Restaurant in nearby Winter Park when she was full-term with her first child. On the menu: a salad with the warning, "may induce labor!"

Like Eckley, Conway's attempt was unsuccessful.

"It didn't work," she says, "and the worst part of it all is that you're at brunch with your friends and while they're enjoying French toast and mimosas, you're scarfing a salad you don't even want."

Myth #4: Take dates on a ... date

A 2020 study performed by BioMed Central (BMC) looked at the benefits of date palm fruits on labor process improvement and found that there were some: namely increased vaginal delivery and reduced frequency of C-sections.

The study compiled almost 20 years worth of data about consuming dates as a way to improve labor outcomes and showed that the fruit can significantly reduce the active labor phase and improve the Bishop score — a pre-labor screening that tells doctors if a medical induction may be required.

Still, Clark cautions when it comes to kick-starting labor, there's not enough proof that dates are great.

"There are some problems with these studies, so more research is needed," Clark explains. "Inconsistencies in the methodology raise questions about the results, but if you like dates, eat them."

Myth #5: Bring sexy back

Whether pregnancy dampened your sex drive or enhanced it, getting things going in the bedroom is a well-known way to make your cervix stand up and take note. Semen contains prostaglandins, which can help "ripen the cervix," a term describing the hormonal softening of the cervix prior to the start of labor contractions. In fact, prostaglandins are used in a medical setting for ripening the cervix prior to induction.

An orgasm can also move things along, causing uterine contractions, and breast and nipple stimulation can cause the release of oxytocin — the "love hormone" — which can also bring on contractions. The synthetic form of oxytocin, pitocin, is even used in medical settings to induce labor.

Sounds convincing, right? Clark says to keep your pants on.

"In an otherwise low-risk pregnancy, there isn't a proven association with sex and onset of labor," she says. "Have sex if you want to, just enjoy it without the pressure of making your body do something it's not ready for."

Myth #6: A spoonful of castor oil helps the baby go down

Castor oil is known to be a powerful laxative. It's also a common ingredient in "Midwives' Brew," a homemade drink that some blogs and social media groups report has a high success rate.

But Clark says this method of inducing labor is an especially big no-no.

"This is one you should not do," Clark warns. "That data hasn't been reported in any academic resource."

The real issue with castor oil is safety: Some reports say consuming castor oil to induce labor can cause meconium-stained amniotic fluid, which can be harmful to the fetus if inhaled, and hyperstimulation of the uterus, defined as more than five contractions over the course of 10 minutes within a 30-minute period.

"It can also cause intestinal spasms, severe diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and dehydration," says Clark.

Myth #7: Acupuncture, acupressure and other holistic healing

There's a long history of acupuncture and acupressure being used as a way to induce labor, but Clark says it's still unclear how the holistic techniques could work.

"Contracting of the uterus from the stimulation of hormonal changes could play a role," she explains.

David MacGillivray a licensed acupuncturist who practices in Minnesota, holds more than 10,000 patient hours and is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

"We focus on points that encourage downward energy," he says of labor-inducing treatments. "These are traditional Chinese points for inducing labor that have been used for millennia."

MacGillivray explains much of the efficacy of acupuncture for labor induction lies in relaxation and stress reduction. "It's easy, relaxing and if it doesn't work it's the least traumatic event you've been through during your pregnancy," he says, pointing out that many OB/GYN offices partner with acupuncturists to treat their patients.

"While I've never had anyone walk out of my office and go straight into labor, I've had many who have come to me that deliver within days of their visit," MacGillivray adds. "The desperation to have the baby is stressful and acupuncture lowers that stress level. You get an hour of calm and relaxation that turns down the volume."

The scientific evidence backing up acupuncture and acupressure isn't as clear-cut, however. In a 2017 randomized clinical trial, there was no significant difference in the spontaneous start of labor with acupressure. Another review in 2017 looked at whether acupressure and acupuncture could help ripen the cervix, induce labor and reduce the need for C-sections. While there was no benefit found to either practice for reducing C-sections, acupuncture showed some benefit in improving cervical ripeness.

Like most labor-starting techniques, Clark says more research is required.

"More data is needed to further evaluate acupuncture for labor induction," she says. "But if you want to try it, it won't hurt!"

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