When I was nearing the end of my first pregnancy, I tried just about everything to encourage labour and avoid being induced: I ate tons of pineapple and spicy food, went for long walks, bellydanced, and practiced yoga. I knew there was no guarantee, but I was confident labour would start on its own.
Despite my best efforts, my due date came and went. And kept on going. I hadn’t the tiniest hint that labour was impending—no cramps, no bloody show, and not a single Braxton Hicks contraction. I started to worry. The hospital had me on the clock: their policy would only let me go eleven days past my due date before they induced labour.
So I upped my game. I went for acupuncture, took homeopathics, and got my husband to try acupressure on my swollen feet. Surely one of these things would do the trick. But at my 41-week checkup, the doctor told me the baby hadn’t dropped and my cervix wasn’t the least bit dilated. Even though an ultrasound showed a healthy baby and plenty of amniotic fluid, I had no choice: if labour didn’t start in four days, I would be induced.
It was time to pull out all the stops. I tried acupuncture, nipple stimulation, evening primrose oil, and sex (by this stage of pregnancy, a last resort). My doula even brought me a jar of raspberry leaf tea so strong it looked—and tasted—like swamp water. I choked it down dutifully.
At t-minus two days, I was getting frantic. I scoured the internet for ways to trigger labour. And that’s when I found it: the famous labour-inducing eggplant parmesan.
I got the recipe online from Scalini’s, an Italian restaurant in Cobb County, Georgia, whose eggplant parmesan is famous for sending hundreds of women into labour within 48 hours of eating it.
The dish was an old family recipe, which was passed down to Scalini’s co-founder John Bogino by his Italian immigrant parents.
“This is one of the recipes that my mom and grandmother cooked as I was growing up,” Bogino says.
However, it didn’t get its reputation for inducing labour until it was brought to Scalini’s. Not long after the restaurant opened in 1980, women started talking about how they had gone into labour after eating it. So, when Bogino’s wife was pregnant with their second child, he made it for her.
“She delivered the baby about 10 hours later,” he says.
Over the years, the eggplant parmesan became more and more popular. Many grateful mothers have sent in pictures of their “eggplant babies,” which now adorn the walls of the restaurant.
“We have about five or six hundred pictures,” says Bogino. “But many, many more women have been in. Sometimes ten to fifteen a day,” he says. A few have even gone into labour at the restaurant.
“We get a lot of very pregnant gals that come through the doors, and they all order the eggplant parmesan.”
There’s been much speculation about how, or if, eggplant parmesan actually can stimulate labour. Perhaps it’s the spicy chili flakes, the insane amount of cheese, or maybe even the eggplant itself?
According to Adrienne Côté, a holistic nutritionist and certified childbirth educator with Toronto Yoga Mamas, these ingredients can “indirectly produce contractions” by stimulating digestion—but she says labour won’t start until certain hormones have given the go-ahead.
“Labour is a unique process that requires the right hormonal signalling to kick things off,” says Côté. “When it comes to claims that certain foods can trigger labour, there simply isn’t the empirical evidence to back it up.”
Maybe researchers should set up shop at Scalini’s.
“We don’t claim anything about it,” says Bogino. “But just in case, we have not changed the recipe in 40 years. Just in case there’s something to it.”
Like hundreds of other pregnant women, I desperately hoped there was something to it. After all, I had tried everything else I could think of; if the eggplant didn’t work, nothing would.
So my husband made a last-minute trip to the store for ingredients and got to work. Luckily he loves to cook (not that he had a choice), because the recipe isn’t exactly simple.
First you need to slice the eggplant, sprinkle it with salt, and squish the slices between paper towels to remove excess moisture. While it sits, you make the marinara sauce from scratch, first sautéing onions and garlic, then adding tomatoes and spices. Once the eggplant has drained for an hour, you dust it with flour, dip it in egg, and coat it with breadcrumbs. Then you sauté it in olive oil until it’s golden brown. Finally you layer the sauce, eggplant, and three types of cheese in a casserole dish and bake for 25 minutes.
By the time dinner was ready, it was 10 p.m. and we were starving. But as soon as we dug in, we agreed: even if it didn’t work, it was well worth the effort. The combination of gooey cheese, zesty sauce, and crispy eggplant was delicious. I went back for seconds (and maybe thirds) and waddled off to bed.
Two hours later I was awoken by my first contraction.
I slid out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom to check on matters. I will never forget the rush of excitement as I peered into the toilet. Lights, camera, action: it was the bloody show! It was really happening!
My labour progressed slowly and steadily, and 37 hours later I gave birth to a healthy baby — on the very day my induction had been scheduled.
Two years later,when I was pregnant (and overdue) again, I skipped the swamp water tea and went straight for the eggplant parmesan. Only this time, we had thought to make it ahead of time, so we just popped it in the oven. I went into labour the next morning and delivered my baby girl a few hours later.
So is there something to the eggplant parmesan after all? Or is it simply a placebo or a plain coincidence? After all, by the time most women finally try it, odds are they would have gone into labour soon anyway.
But when hundreds of women like me have had a similar experience, it’s tempting to believe that Scalini’s eggplant parmesan really does work.
No matter how you slice it, it’s a delicious way to try.
This article was originally published online in November 2019.