Whether you’re nearing the 40-week mark of pregnancy or past it, it’s common to consider resorting to home remedies to kickstart labor. You’re ready to have this baby pronto, right?
There’s no shortage of DIY advice out there telling you how to induce labor. Nearly one-third of expectant mothers admitted they’d tried various at-home methods to try to trigger labor on their own (1).
It’s natural to wonder, Does anything actually make you give birth faster? Turns out, there is a grain of truth to a few common folk remedies you’ve probably heard about. But for others, there's zero evidence they work.
So before you force yourself to down a concoction of castor oil and Tapatio, read up on which of the most popular labor hacks are backed by science — and which ones are just old wives’ tales.
Of course, before you try any new food or activity, talk with your healthcare provider. While snacking on certain items may seem like a natural way to induce labor, some foods may have an unpleasant or unsafe effect on you or your pregnancy.
The belief that childbirth is more likely to happen during a full moon has persisted for generations. And although the length of a 29.5-day lunar cycle and the “average” 28-day menstrual cycle are close, scads of research into this myth confirm it isn’t rooted in science.
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The most recent science on this pervasive fallacy showed that the lunar cycle made no difference in deliveries, following an exhaustive study of 564,039 births across 62 lunar cycles (2). Separately, an intrepid set of researchers attempted to uncover the historical roots of this myth by combing through historical data between 1810 and 1929 from rural communities without electricity (3). Even in these societies, the lunar cycle made no difference in deliveries. Similarly, research conducted in rural India and Germany found no link between childbirth and the phase of the moon (4, 5).
Side note: If you’re curious about the time of day that most births occur, an analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the highest percentage of births occurred in the morning between 8 and 9 (6.3%) and at noon (6%) (6).
Spicy foods have known health benefits. For example, the chemical in peppers, capsaicin, is credited with fighting cancer and obesity (7). But thus far only a single small study has found that eating spicy foods may trigger labor, so don’t bank on it (8).
The research team asked 50 women who were going into preterm labor what they’d eaten in the previous 24 hours (8). They found that the women who’d reported eating spicy foods were seven times more likely to have gone into preterm labor than those who didn’t (8). Even so, the study focused solely on women with preterm births, not full-term deliveries, so this isn't strong evidence that spicy food will trigger your labor.
Dates might not trigger labor, but the tasty fruits may help you to labor more naturally and avoid medical interventions during labor (9). Here’s what we mean...
A 2017 study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology compared women who ate dates before delivery to those who didn’t. Researchers discovered that the date-eaters needed fewer medical interventions, like the hormone oxytocin, during labor (9).
Similarly, earlier research showed that women who ate 6 dates daily in the month leading up to their due dates were less likely to need medications to induce their labor than non-date-eaters (10). The date-eaters’ cervixes were more dilated, so they needed fewer medical interventions after they went into labor — yay (10)!
Research on castor oil is mixed. One tiny Italian study showed that women who drank 60 ml (about 2 ounces) of castor oil mixed in warm water went into labor in 24 hours (11). However, when other researchers looked into this, they found no link between castor oil and labor or delivery. Side note: drinking castor oil did, however, make every single study participant nauseous (12, 13).
Castor oil is a laxative. So besides making you feel sick, it also may give you a major case of diarrhea, which is dehydrating (not good!). Definitely talk to your doctor before trying castor oil.
The enzyme bromelain in fresh pineapple is believed to stimulate smooth muscle tissues like the uterus (20). But research suggests that eating fresh pineapple has zero effect in making your uterus contract or inducing labor (14). Plus, the amount of pineapple you’d theoretically need to eat to affect your uterus would trigger a massive case of diarrhea first (14).
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Your orgasm causes uterine contractions, so there’s some logic in the notion that sex might induce labor. Plus, semen contains prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance that obstetricians sometimes use to soften your cervix during labor (15, 16).
Studies suggest nipple stimulation may induce labor — although you may need to rub your nipples a whopping 3 hours for this to work (19)!
A systematic review of 6 clinical trials found that women were significantly more likely to go into labor within 72 hours of stimulating their nipples. The women either massaged their nipples with their hands or used a breast pump (19). As an added benefit, stimulation also appeared to lower the rate of postpartum hemorrhaging to just 0.7% (19).
Doctors believe breast stimulation somehow makes your uterus contract, possibly by increasing natural levels of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates contractions (19). However, before trying this at home, definitely consult with your doctor to make sure this is safe for you.
Hopefully this post helped you make sense of the labor-inducing hacks you’ve heard about. While it's great to take charge of your childbirth and delivery by exploring natural options, always talk with your doctor before trying anything new. They’re part of your childbirth team — and they'll help you navigate safe choices that put your health and the health of your pregnancy first.
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