From evidence-based interventions to old wives tales, there are many ways women try to promote labor naturally.
Whether you are anxiously anticipating your due date, your due date has come and gone, or you are trying to avoid a scheduled medical induction, there are several practices worth trying to help prepare your body for labor.
Statistically, 80% of women deliver spontaneously between 37 and 42 weeks (11% deliver prematurely), and only 4% of babies will be born on their due date. The majority of first time moms will deliver between 39 weeks and 41 weeks (25.7% at 39 weeks, 31.8% at 40 weeks, and 16% at 41 weeks). If you're curious when you might deliver, ask mom. Your mother's birth experiences may be your best indication of your own with regards to timing, so if she delivered late, you may also expect a post-due date baby.
Regardless of when your little one will arrive, there are ways to help prepare your body for labor to promote a smooth, efficient, and positive delivery.
Let's start with the evidence-based approaches:
- According to several studies, receiving weekly acupuncture from 36 weeks until delivery is associated with reduced time in active labor (Study 1: 6 hours and 36 minutes vs. control 8 hours and 2 minutes; Study 2: 3 hours and 26 minutes vs. control 5 hours and 35 minutes).
- In a randomized controlled trial published in 2001, researchers concluded that acupuncture at term can influence cervical ripening and thus reduce the need for postdates induction. The application of acupuncture to points LI4 and SP6 every 2 days resulted in spontaneous labor occurring sooner in the acupuncture group vs. the control group (5 days vs 8 days), and fewer medically induced labors (20% in acupuncture group vs. 35% in control group).
- Applying acupressure (firm, consistent pressure, rather than kneading or massage) to LI4 and SP6 help to establish contractions and promote cervical dilation. Even when it doesn't initiate labor spontaneously feedback from midwives indicates a woman's cervix is much more favorable in labor. Acupressure can also be used in labor to effectively restart a stalled or inefficient labor, relieve stress/fear, and manage labor pain. I recommend speaking with your doctor or midwife about when applying acupressure may be safe and appropriate for you.
- Membrane sweeping or stripping is an intervention performed by a midwife or obstetrician in which the amniotic sack is manually separated from the uterine wall. One study showed that beginning at 38 weeks and continuing until onset of labor, women who underwent membrane stripping were more likely to go into spontaneous labor compared to controls (40% vs. 20%).
Here are some other suggestions that may be worth trying:
- Walking can help the baby descend into the pelvis, relieve stress, and support optimal pelvic alignment.
Sex & Nipple Stimulation
- Sperm is a great source of prostaglandins which stimulate cervical ripening and uterine contractions. Sex, like nipple stimulation, promote the release of oxytocin which can help jumpstart contractions. CAUTION: You should not have sex after your water has broken to avoid any risk of infection.
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea
- RRLT is often recommended as you near your due date to tone the uterine muscles in preparation for labor. Begin with 1 cup per day and work you way up to 3 cups per day in the week leading up to your due date.
- Anecdotally, women say spicy food can stimulate labor, but be careful it its not part of your diet as it can cause unwelcome digestive complaints that you won't want to be dealing with in labor.
- Pineapple, which contains bromelain, has also been said to help soften the cervix and stimulate labor.
- As a powerful laxative this approach helps induce labor by stimulating the bowels and simultaneously uterine contractions. Many women consider this a last resort since the effects range from spontaneous labor without complication to diarrhea and nausea.
Good luck and congratulations on your impending arrival!
Betts D, Lennox S. Acupuncture for prebirth treatment: An observational study of its use in midwifery practice. Medical acupuncture 2006 May; 17(3):17-20
Rabl M, Ahner R, Bitschnau M, Zeisler H, Husslein P. Acupuncture for cervical ripening and induction of labour at term – a randomised controlled trail. Wien Klin Wochenschr 2001; 113 (23-24): 942-6
Schlaeger, J. M., Gabzdyl, E. M., Bussell, J. L., Takakura, N., Yajima, H., Takayama, M., & Wilkie, D. J. (2017). Acupuncture and Acupressure in Labor. J Midwifery Womens Health, 62(1), 12-28.