Natural Ways to Induce Labor: Inducing at Home Safely

While I don’t support inducing labor prior to 40 weeks gestation, and I don’t recommend a medical induction unless necessary, when I was past my due date by ultrasound prediction, date of known conception as my baby was planned, and date of last period with my third child, I decided to seek out safe, natural ways to induce labor that don’t just make you have to poop. No, for me, it’s logic and research, not castor oil and a close relationship with the toilet.

First, I polled other parents on Facebook for methods and combed the web for recommendations. Then I took each and explored the logical plausibility and sought any research in regards to their effectiveness. Below, were the logically sound or proven methods that offer safe, natural ways to induce labor at home or at least an increased chance at going into labor.

Natural ways to induce labor:

Foods

Menu choices were in no short supply in regards to natural ways to induce labor from spicy and shellfish to pineapple. However, for the most part there was no scientific support for food options to induce labor.

Fresh pineapple does contain an enzyme called bromelain. No research could be found to support the suggested cervix-ripening affects of pineapple, but bromelain has been shown in studies to reduce swelling and pain– something helpful after labor. So, it may not be among the natural ways to induce labor for certain, but it will help you heal after. It should be noted bromelian also acts as a blood thinner. Those with severe anemia may want to avoid this natural way of inducing labor.

natural ways to induce labor
Castor Oil to induce labor is likely to just make you poop.

Spicy foods and options such as the always suggested castor oil all work in a similar manner, they aggravate the bowel. An empty bowel does give your baby more space to move into your pelvis, and some research has suggested that bowel stimulation may also stimulate the uterus to contract, but no unchallenged evidence supports the use of laxative and bowel irritating foods to induce labor. It should be noted all of the above can also cause nausea and obviously diarrhea.

Nipple Stimulation:

Nipple massage or the use of a breast pump to induce labor are logically sound options among natural ways to induce labor and backed by research. Both result in the release of Oxytocin, which is actually naturally released by the body to stimulate contractions and ripen the cervix. However, research also suggests that nipple stimulation induced Oxytocin release may prove dangerous to your baby by negative affecting his/her heart rate. This is likewise a risk of medical induction via choices using artificial Oxytocin. As such, nipple stimulation may be a good alternative if you are already scheduled for a medical induction, but is less recommendable if you are just hoping to go into labor soon.

Sex:

Sex is another logically supported for labor induction with minimal scientific research to support it. Intercourse and orgasm both can trigger contractions, and semen contains prostaglandins which ripen the cervix. Sex is an entirely safe option unless your water has broken or you are unsure if it has.

Exercise:

All forms of exercise from walking to cleaning will elevate heart rate and offer the advantage of gravity placing the baby’s weight on the cervix, both of which should indeed help labor begin. However, there is no current research to confirm any of the above work. There is, however, no risk to any of the above either as long as the activities are done in a safe manner.

Herbs:

Several herbs are suggested to have labor inducing effects including evening primrose oil, black and blue cohosh, black haw, and red raspberry leaves. Though no single option has been heavily researched, the following was found:

Raspberry leaf: While Evening Primrose is more commonly suggested, raspberry leaf is actually the only suggested herb found to have studies which confirm an ability to shorten the duration of pregnancy without posing a danger. In fact, one study suggested its use may reduce your risk of c-section and assisted delivery.

Evening Primrose did induce labor in some studies, but also increased the rate of labor complications such as the need for vacuum extraction.

No research could be found on the effectiveness or safety of other suggested herbs as natural ways to induce labor.

Acupuncture:

Studies are conflicting in regards to the effectiveness of acupuncture as a natural way to induce labor, though when properly performed acupuncture presents no risk.

To sum it up, for the most part there is no strongly scientifically supported safe and natural way to induce labor. Your baby will come out when he or she is ready. The top runners to try would be the herbal use of raspberry leaf tea, sexual intercourse, and exercise in whatever form you please as long as it is safe for pregnancy.

You may also find helpful:
What Do Contractions Feel Like?
Medical Labor Induction Options

What Do Contractions Feel like During Pregnancy and Labor?

After nine to ten long months of pregnancy you’re likely hoping every little twitch is a contraction. You think to yourself, “maybe I’m in labor now, and I just don’t know it,” and if this is your first child, how are you supposed to know? When are you in true labor? Should you be at the hospital? What do contractions feel like? As a mom of four, I’ll do my best to answer all of the above.

what do contractions feel like

What is a pregnancy contraction, and what does it do?

Chances are you know what the word contraction means, and you understand that muscles contract and relax in the body to create movement and support. What you might not know, is that while your uterus is not a muscle itself, it is lined with a thick layer of smooth muscle. Pregnancy contractions are just the tightening and release of this muscle, much like you see when you flex and then straighten your arm.

It’s a misconception that contractions start during labor. In reality, they start much, much earlier. As early as 6 weeks in fact, many women just don’t feel them until the second trimester or so. These early contractions work to help tone and strengthen your uterus for labor. Later contractions help ripen your cervix and move your baby into position for labor. During labor, they may also help promote blood flow to your baby.

What do contractions feel like: by type

What do braxton hicks contractions feel like?

Braxton hicks contractions are the warm up for the real thing. They generally are more uncomfortable than painful. As mentioned above, these early contractions aren’t frequently felt until the second trimester, sometimes in the third. They can be brought on by physical activity, dehydration, a full bladder, or sexual intercourse among other things. Some women never feel their baxton hicks contractions. They will be irregular and usually go away with time or position changes.

You can tell braxton hicks contractions from labor contractions by tracking their occurrence.

If your contractions are:
-not occurring in a rhythmic pattern (such as every 10 minutes)
-not holding a consistent length (such as 30 seconds each time)
-not increasing in frequency, duration, or strength
-not felt in more than just your abdomen (rather than your sides, back, etc)
-go away with position changes

They are likely braxton hicks contractions, also sometimes referred to as “false labor.”

What do early labor contractions feel like?

At least in all of my labors, there was a distinct difference between early labor contractions and OMG-here-the-baby-comes contractions. Early labor contractions will occur at a steady rate of time and not decrease or go away with time or position changes like braxton hicks. They mark the start of your labor and will feel again like a tightening of your abdominal muscles, but because early labor contractions do affect your cervix, they may cause slight pain or discomfort.

Once early labor contractions occur every 5 to 10 minutes you should get to a hospital or contact your care provider if you’re birthing at home. Early labor contractions also tend to be wave-like and do subside. Depending on your pain tolerance level, you may not really feel these. In my labor where my water did break, the machine at the hospital registered contractions far before I felt them. In fact, I was dilated to a 6 before I felt anything at all. (10 is time to push)

What are other signs of labor?

If you can’t feel these contractions, some other signs of labor include:
-Increased vaginal discharge, which may be gooey, thick, or blood tinged
-Dilation and effacement of the cervix
-Lightening, or the drop of your baby lower into your pelvis
-A leaking of fluid which may be mistaken for urine (your water breaking is not always a “gush” of fluid)
-Sudden lower back pain (this is actually from contractions)

Side note, if you’re feeling a bit lost with some of this terminology, you might check out our page on pregnancy and labor terminology in simple terms.

What do transitional and active labor contractions feel like?

The only way I can think to explain the feeling of an active labor contraction is to image that achy painful throbbing that occurs when you smash a finger or toe. Now imagine this pain in your abdomen. As you move from active labor into transition (your actual delivery) you will also likely feel the urge to bear down and push or may feel like you have to poop. Some women equate the feeling of transitional labor contractions to that of very bad menstrual cramps. Either way, when contractions reach this extreme the baby is close. If you don’t have someone to deliver your baby, you need to get to them asap. Transitional labor contractions are less wave-like and hurt far more frequently. When these start you will know it.

In many labors, the bag of waters never breaks, mine didn’t with 2 of 4. Some women also lose a mucus plug from their cervix before or after early labor contractions begin. No single labor is the same and many women describe contractions in varying ways, but in my experience this is what contractions in the various forms feel like. I hope this has helped ease you’re wondering and waiting.

If you’re done waiting, congrats on your new baby! We’d love to hear how you would answer the question, “what do contractions feel like?”

Pregnancy and Labor Related Terms Simplified

As if pregnancy and labor aren’t confusing enough, doctors, midwives and even other mothers seem to insist on using terminology many first-time mothers have no clue what means. Dilated? Softened? +1, 2 or 3? What does all this mean? This article will look at many pregnancy and labor related terms and explain their meaning in common language. Most of the terms you likely won’t know what mean during your pregnancy will begin to pop up in the third trimester as your body prepares for labor or may not be mentioned until during your labor.pregnancy and labor terms

 

Dilation:

Dilation is a term you may hear towards the end of your pregnancy. This term is in regards to your cervix. Your cervix is a tube like structure connecting your vaginal canal and your uterus where your baby is. Your baby will pass through your cervix during delivery. As labor approaches, your cervix begins to open preparing to allow your baby out. Dilation refers to how open your cervix has become. This term will be used in conjuncture with a number in cm. For instance, your doctor may say, “You are 2 cm dilated.” This means that your cervix is open 2 cm or about two fingers in width. As a ruler to hold this against when you are in the final stages of your labor and begin to push your cervix will be open or dilated to 10 cm.

Effacement:

Effacement is a sister term to dilation that is also in regards to your cervix. As your cervix opens, it will also thin and become shorter. Your doctor may say something like, “You are 1 cm dilated and 20 percent effaced.” This would mean your cervix is open one cm, or around one fingers width, and has thinned 20 percent of its original size. Before your baby is delivered your cervix will efface to 100 percent making it paper-thin.

Soft/Hard Cervix:

While these may be words you have heard before, they have a different meaning when your doctor says them. This is yet another term in reference to the condition of your cervix. While your cervix dilates and thins it also becomes softer because of these changes. Your doctor saying your cervix is firm or hard would simply mean it has not begun to change. If your doctor says your cervix is soft, it means it has begun to prepare for labor.

Engaged/Lightening:

The term engagement or lightening of your baby means that he or she has dropped further into your pelvis in preparation for delivery. This usually occurs in the last few weeks of your pregnancy. You may notice you breathe easier or your belly changed shape.

labor terminology station

Station:

(+1, -2, 0, etc.): This term is usually used in conjuncture with the term engaged or lightening. Station refers to your baby’s position in your womb in reference to two bony spines on your pelvis, and can vary from a +3 to a -3. A -3, -2 or -1 station means that your baby has not yet dropped into your pelvis or engaged and is 3-1 cm above the bony spurs in your pelvis depending on the corresponding number. 0 Station means that the baby is level with the bone spurs and has dropped. +3, +2, or +1 mean the baby is 3-1 cm below the bony spurs in your pelvis. Positive stations indicate a move towards the cervix and usually mean labor is imminent.

So to combine this term with other terminology it regularly is used with, you may hear something like this in the final week of your pregnancy, “You are soft 2 cm dilated, 45 percent effaced and your baby is at -1”. This means your cervix is soft or ready for labor, open 2 cms, thinned 45 percent of its original size and your baby is 1 cm above the bones in your pelvis. All of this information is an attempt to estimate when labor will occur. While being very dilated, effaced, and soft with a zero station is a pretty good indication labor is near, it’s not a guarantee.

Posterior/Anterior:

These terms refer to the way the baby is facing. This isn’t particularly important until during your labor. Posterior means that the baby is facing up with the back of its head against your spine or posterior region, rather than anterior or facing down with the back of the head against your tummy. In a normal labor, a baby faces down making it easier to pass through the birth canal. A baby that is facing posterior can be delivered but may increase the risk of c-section and will result in more back pain for you during delivery.

Breech Position:

Breech position is another term used to describe the position your baby is in. The ideal position for a baby to be in at the time of labor is called vertex position meaning the baby is head down in the uterus. Breech position or breech means that the baby’s feet or butt down rather than head down. When the feet are down and one or both feet will exit the cervix first this is called a footling breech. When the butt is down, but the feet and legs are folded up by the head this is called a frank breech, and finally if the butt and feet are down in almost a kneeling position this is called complete breech. A breech delivery of any kind does not necessarily mean a c-section will be needed, but it does increase the chance dramatically. Most health care providers will try to turn a baby that is in breech position when labor approaches.

Traverse Position:

Traverse position, which may just be called traverse, means that the baby is laying side ways or shoulder/arm down towards the cervix. Sadly, traverse positioned babies almost always result in c-section if they can’t be turned before labor begins.

Crowning:

Finally crowning, crowing, or crowned means your baby’s head is visible to your doctor outside of your vagina during delivery. This means the baby is almost out, and you’re almost done.

While there are certainly more terms you may hear during your pregnancy and labor these are the most common and the most misunderstood terminologies. Hopefully, this article has left you feeling more in the loop.