Whether you want to sidestep an induction to avoid further interventions or you’d just like your family doctor to catch your baby, here’s the low-down on ‘non-medical’ methods of softening your cervix. Just one word of caution: If you choose to explore any of these options, discuss it with your caregiver, and in the case of herbals and homeopathics, consult a practitioner who has experience treating pregnant women.
Stretch and sweep
Also known as sweeping the membranes, this procedure involves your doctor or midwife inserting a gloved finger into your vagina and gently separating the membranes surrounding the baby from your cervix. According to one literature review, the technique is associated with a 24 percent likelihood of labour starting within 48 hours. On the minus side, it can sometimes cause bleeding and trigger irregular contractions that don’t lead to labour.
“I didn’t find it painful, but it was uncomfortable,” says Karla Pribele, a first-time mother in London, Ontario, whose midwife gave her the option of trying a stretch and sweep.
Despite the fact that her cervix was still firm and only one centimetre dilated, she started having contractions 31¼ 2 hours later, and her labour quickly progressed. “I don’t think a lot of women know about it — but it is something to consider,” she says.
While castor oil may push you over the edge if you’re already on the verge of starting labour, Helen McDonald doesn’t recommend gulping down the greasy stuff; it doesn’t work as well as other methods, and produces very unpleasant cramping and diarrhea. (The latter can lead to dehydration.) Still not dissuaded from downing the disgusting draught? At least don’t do so without first consulting your practitioner.
From evening primrose oil to blue cohosh, several herbal remedies are touted as effective alternatives to medical methods of inducing labour. However, like conventional medications, some of these plant preparations can have serious side effects (such as high blood pressure in mothers, and breathing problems in babies), and so should only be administered under the supervision of a practitioner who’s knowledgeable about herbals.
Nipple stimulation also releases your body’s own oxytocin, and the results of at least one trial suggests it does increase the strength and frequency of contractions (in fact, in some cases the manoeuvre had to be stopped because the resulting hard contractions slowed the baby’s heart rate). However, according to a review of the research, whether or not this helps bring on labour in women who are overdue is a question that still needs further study.
A romantic interlude may help speed the onset of labour: Semen contains prostaglandins, which soften the cervix, and orgasm releases oxytocin, which can cause the uterus to contract.