9 old wives' tales for inducing labour

Past your due date and looking for natural ways to jump-start labour? Here are nine old-fashioned strategies that just might do the trick.

If your due date has come and gone, chances are you’re pretty eager to meet your baby-to-be. There’re no shortage of things that are rumoured to help induce labour. Keep in mind that these methods haven’t been medically proven, and it’s important that you check with your health care practitioner and get the green light before experimenting with any of these strategies.

1. Sex
Semen contains prostaglandins, hormones that can help ripen (soften and open) the cervix, possibly leading to contractions. Similarly, an orgasm releases the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates the muscles of the uterus to contract.
Word of caution: Avoid intercourse if your water has broken or if there is bleeding.

2. Nipple stimulation
Gently rolling, rubbing and massaging the areolas for an hour, three times a day is said to trigger oxytocin and lead to uterine contractions, much the same way nursing produces the same effect.
Word of caution: Contractions brought on in this manner may be long and intense and cause an unborn baby stress, including slowing the fetal heart rate.

3. Spicy food
It is believed that feasting on pad Thai or chicken wings smothered in suicide sauce may fire up your digestive system and bowels and, consequently, your uterus.
Word of caution: Having a full stomach during labour can contribute to heartburn, nausea and vomiting and cause further complications if anesthesia is necessary.

4. Pineapple
Bromelain is a combination of enzymes found naturally in fresh pineapple. It’s believed that when pregnant women eat pineapple, bromelain softens the connective tissue of the cervix, bringing on labour.

5. Red raspberry leaf tea
Drinking copious amounts of red raspberry leaf tea—more than four 250 ml cups a day—is said to trigger contractions.

6. Castor oil
This unpleasant-tasting vegetable oil is essentially a laxative. When taken orally—you can try disguising the flavour by mixing the oil with juice—it can cause cramping in the intestines, which surround the uterus during the latter stages of pregnancy. This is supposed to lead to uterine muscle spasms and labour.
Word of caution: There are uncomfortable side effects to ingesting the liquid concoction: severe cramps, diarrhea and possible dehydration.

7. Walking
It may not start labour, but walking aids its progression once contractions have begun. Walking makes your hips sway from side to side helping to correctly position the baby for birth and uses gravity to guide the baby farther down into the pelvis.
Word of caution: Don’t walk to the point of fatigue—you need to conserve your energy for the birth.

8. Acupressure
Acupressure is a form of touch therapy used in Chinese medicine. The therapist targets specific pressure points on the mother’s body, causing the baby to descend, press onto the cervix, thereby ripening and dilating it and initiating contractions. Some acupressure techniques are designed to directly stimulate contractions. Acupressure also promotes relaxation and relieves tension during labour.

9. A bumpy car ride
A bouncing motion is believed to break your water, push the baby farther into the birth canal or into the correct birthing position.

A version of this article appeared in September 2009.

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