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7 Ways To Soften Your Cervix & Get Labor Started

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When I was pregnant, I couldn’t wait to not be pregnant toward the end. I enjoyed my pregnancy until week 36, but by then I was so uncomfortable and anxiously obsessing about the labor, I just wanted to get it over with. I had to be induced at 39 weeks for medical reasons, but I wanted to try to do some of the inducing myself at home the day before to speed up the process. I asked Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, an OB-GYN and medical travel blogger for TwinDoctorsTV, to give me some ways to soften your cervix and get labor started at home. Because like I said, at the end, we are all so, so ready to not be pregnant anymore. Turns out, there's hope. “There are a number of things that people can do at home to soften the cervix and induce labor,” Abdur-Rahman tells Romper in an email interview. But here are six of the ones that can actually work.

If you’re up for it, get ready for a lot of sex — including nipple stimulation — massage, and some herbs. I know being touched and sex may sound like the worst thing ever at the end of your pregnancy, but you never know — it could just help you go into labor sooner. It's important to remember though, that when it comes to the actual medical information surrounding induction, the American Family Physician noted that while there are plenty of natural methods such as herbs and sex to try, the only things that are actually efficient at ripening your cervix are "mechanical and surgical" modalities. I know — those sound scary. But obviously those aren't things you'll be trying on your own, and are only used if your healthcare provider deems them medically necessary.

1. Sex

Abdur-Rahman says when he mentions this one at prenatal visits, the husband’s eyes always light up. I wonder why? If you’re not feeling too whale-like and don’t get out of breath just from sitting still, sex to stimulate labor and soften the cervix may be for you. So how does it soften your cervix exactly?

“Firstly, semen contains chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help to mechanically soften the cervix,” Abdur-Rahman says. “They also help to increase the number of oxytocin receptors on the uterus.” Apparently these prostaglandins improve the ability of your uterus to respond and react to the labor hormone oxytocin, reported an article in the Clinics in Perinatology.

2. Nipple Stimulation

“Again, when we mention this one at the prenatal visits, the husband's eyes light up. But again, it is an approach that works,” Abdur-Rahman says. “When a pregnant woman's nipples are stimulated, signals are sent to the pituitary gland in the brain indicating that it is time to have a baby that will be feeding from those nipples.”

Your pituitary gland, which also produces the hormone that stimulates breast milk production — prolactin — then produces and releases oxytocin, he explains. So there’s that labor hormone again, which softens your cervix, according to the ACOG.

3. Massage

Massage is so effective, apparently, that Abdur-Rahman says he discourages pregnant women who are in the first trimester of pregnancy from getting massages.

“In our old practice, we had an in-office masseuse who provided prenatal massage. We did not allow our pregnant patients to get those massages until they had passed 14 weeks gestation,” he says. So does this mean any kind of massage will do? Abdur-Rahman says there are certain places you can massage to soften your cervix. “The lower legs just above the ankle, the lower back between the tailbone and the hip bone, the ball of the foot, and the muscle between the thumb and the index finger have all been found to stimulate uterine activity and cervical softening by promoting the production and release of oxytocin from the pituitary gland." This can also be called acupressure, according to Healthline, and is something to discuss with your healthcare provider before trying.

4. Black Cohosh

“Black cohosh is an herb that can both mimic and enhance the effects of estrogen in the body,” Abdur-Rahman explains. “Estrogen can in turn enhance and increase the effects of oxytocin in the body, so taking black cohosh root basically helps to increase the production of and enhance the effect of oxytocin.” Again, oxytocin causes the softening of the cervix, which brings on labor. Be sure to consult your doctor before ingesting this herb, however, because it could potentially have side effects for some women, noted Healthline.

5. Raspberry Leaf Tea

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Raspberry leaf is great for uterine health in general, but it is also great for softening your cervix to prepare it for labor, reported an article in Australian College of Midwives Incorporated Journal. “Raspberry leaves contain a chemical called ellagic acid,” Abdur-Rahman explains. “Ellagic acid is thought to potentiate the effects of estrogen, so much like black cohosh, raspberry leaves, by potentiating estrogen effects, [you] increase the activity of oxytocin, which in turn can soften the cervix and stimulate uterine contractions.”

6. Cook Catheter/Foley Balloons

I was more scared of this damn balloon than any other part of labor for some reason. I mean there’s a balloon (or balloons) inside of you that gets inflated to make your cervix hole bigger. Ouch? The cook catheter has two balloons — one that goes on top of the cervix, and one that goes beneath the cervix to soften it, reported an article in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research. The foley balloon just has one balloon that goes on top of the cervix. Both are meant to accomplish the same goal, but Abdur-Rahman says the cook catheter does it better. I had the foley balloon, unfortunately. So how does it work? “Once inflated, these balloons literally mechanically smoosh the cervix, softening it in the process,” Abdur-Rahman says. That just sounds painful, doesn’t it? I sure thought so.

7. Synthetic Prostaglandins

Remember those prostaglandins we talked about earlier and how they help increase the number of oxytocin receptors on the uterus? They are so effective that they use synthetic forms of them in the hospital to soften your cervix and to induce labor, reported the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health. If you’ve ever been induced, you may have seen that bag of liquid on your IV pole called oxytocin — that’s what he’s talking about. Synthetic forms include Cytotec, Cervidil, and Prostin, Abdur-Rahman says. Some are in a pill that you hold in your cheek or swallow while the others can be done intravenously. (Obviously only in a hospital and not at home.)

That baby's gotta come out eventually, whether it happens naturally or by having sex, ingesting herbs, or having the hospital take over. Good luck, and here's to softened cervixes! (Once you're full-term and all.)

Studies referenced:

Tenore, J. (2003) Methods for Cervical Ripening and Induction of Labor, The American Academy of Family Physicians, https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0515/p2123.html

O'Brien, WF. (1995) The role of prostaglandins in labor and delivery, Clinics in Perinatology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8665768

Parsons, M. (1999) Raspberry leaf and its effect on labour: safety and efficacy, Australian College of Midwives Incorporated Journal, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10754818

Sayed Ahmed WA., Ibrahim ZM., Ashor OE., Mohamed ML., Ahmed MR., Elshahat AM. (2016) Use of the Foley catheter versus a double balloon cervical ripening catheter in pre-induction cervical ripening in postdate primigravidae, The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27436681

Bell, A., Erickson, E., Carter, S. (2014), Beyond labor: the role of natural and synthetic oxytocin in the transition to motherhood, the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3947469/

Experts:

Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, OB-GYN and medical travel blogger for TwinDoctorsTV

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