Here's The Truth Behind That Old Wives' Tale That Basil Induces Labor

When I was pregnant with my son, even though I was getting induced for medical reasons at 39 weeks and four days, I still wanted to try to induce labor at 39 weeks and three days so I wouldn't have to get that scary as hell balloon. I tried exercises, the raspberry leaf tea, and even sex (which is hard to do when you're 39 weeks, good lord). I was willing to try anything, and I know most women are, too, at the end of their pregnancy. And that includes eating random foods, like basil. But can basil induce labor? There's a place in Atlanta called Scalini's, and they have an eggplant parmesan dish that is rumored to help get your baby out. So much so, that there is even a wall of baby photos who were born after their moms ate the magical dish. Something about the eggplants and basil? I don't know. But I do know that I tried that, too, to no avail.

And that makes sense, because unfortunately, “while there is no definitive evidence to either support or refute the assertion that basil can cause uterine contractions and labor, it doesn't seem that consuming basil or basil oil does induce labor,” Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, an OB-GYN and medical travel blogger for TwinDoctorsTV, tells Romper. But since basil is an emmenagogue — which means it increases your menstrual flow — why doesn’t it work in inducing labor? Aren't those all the same muscles? “Now it is true that basil is an emmenagogue. However, consuming basil doesn't just increase menstrual blood flow. There are chemicals in basil that cause smooth muscles to relax. All of the body's blood vessels are surrounded by smooth muscles,” Abdur-Rahman explains. “One of the jobs of these smooth muscles is to help our body's blood vessels maintain their tone. Because certain chemicals in basil can cause the body's smooth muscles to relax, consuming basil can cause the body's blood vessels to lose some of their tone.”

And because of this, it turns out consuming basil can have the opposite effect of starting labor. “Consuming basil also causes the smooth muscles that surround the uterus to relax. So in effect, rather than causing increased uterine muscular activity and contractions, it seems that consuming basil might do the opposite. Relaxing uterine smooth muscle and possibly preventing labor. But again, there is no definitive scientific evidence to absolutely support or refute this,” Abdur-Rahman explains.

As for other foods, Abdur-Rahman suggests trying pineapple and/or licorice. “Licorice contains a chemical called glycyrrhizin, and glycyrrhizin has been shown to increase the production of prostaglandins,” he explains. Prostaglandins are the chemicals that makes your uterus contract, thus inducing labor. “In fact, we use artificial prostaglandins like Cervidil and Cytotec to induce labor in women. So there is some evidence that consuming real licorice (not the artificial licorice used in many candies) can increase uterine contractile activity."

Hate licorice like me, and want to try something a little sweeter? “There’s a protein called bromelain that’s in pineapple and it’s “been implicated in ripening the cervix,” according to Abdur-Rahman. And why would ripening your cervix induce labor? Abdur-Rahman explains, “Typically in the early stages of labor, a woman's cervix softens and shortens as its collagen loses its tensile strength. This process is called ‘ripening.’ As the cervix softens and shortens, the baby's head (which is frequently resting on this cervix) is less supported.” Once the head is moved down lower into your pelvis, it understandably stretches the lower portions of your uterus, which “send signals to the brain, a phenomenon called the Ferguson's Reflex that then causes the brain to send signals back to the uterus. These signals cause the uterus to contract and help to induce labor." However, make sure you’re eating fresh pineapple, he says. “I say fresh pineapples because the canning process seems to degrade the bromelain chemical found in fresh pineapples.”

I guess the wall of babies who were born from eating Scalini's famous labor-inducing eggplant parm was pure coincidence, and these moms were already close to popping anyway. Grab some licorice if you can stomach it and eat some raw pineapple while hoping for the best.