Despite loving every minute of pregnancy, I eventually reached a point where I was done. In hopes of speeding things up, I did some research on natural induction methods. What I found were a bunch of old wive’s tales that required some serious thought. Does eating spicy food get the baby out faster? Will walking get things going? And, the oddest of all, can nipple stimulation induce labor?
Like everything else in pregnancy, nothing is 100 percent guaranteed. But there were so many positive stories with nipple stimulation that it seemed worth giving a try. Cochrane completed a study on nipple stimulation and labor, and found that 60 percent of women went into labor within 72 hours of stimulation. (The study also found reduced postpartum hemorrhage rates in those who received nipple stimulation.) But sometimes a study isn’t enough support, so I spoke with holistic birth support practitioner Viji Natarajan of Divine Journey to find out whether or not nipple stimulation can induce labor.
It turns out that stimulating your nipples and breasts makes your body think that a newborn is already there nursing, which makes this such an effective method. “When a mother is ready to feed her newborn baby, the sucking action of the baby stimulates the hypothalamus in the mother and causes the release of oxytocin,” Natarajan says. “The release not only allows the contractions of muscles in the breast to aid milk release by the mammary glands, but the release of oxytocin causes uterine contractions, softening and dilating the cervix.” (This also explains why breastfeeding moms often have their uterus shrink back to its original size faster than non-breastfeeding moms.) In fact, one of the most common drugs used to induce labor, Pitocin, is actually oxytocin in a synthetic form.
But this natural induction technique is more than just grabbing your boob like a pre-teen on a first date. It takes a bit of work, especially because you’re trying to simulate breastfeeding on your own nipples. Natarajan has a few tips to make nipple stimulation work for you, but also notes that these methods should be done with caution and care.
1. Massage Your Areola
When a newborn breastfeeds, they don’t just focus on the nipple. Their mouth covers the areola as well, massaging it with the baby’s sucking. Have you or your partner massage your own areolas to simulate a feeding. “For indirect stimulation, get in the shower and have the water run over your nipples,” Natarajan says. This will help your breasts from feeling too sore while still giving you enough stimulation.
2. Use Oral Stimulation
Natarajan also suggests having your partner use oral stimulation on your nipples and breasts. “To maintain a natural labor and contraction rhythm, I have had clients during labor have their partners suck their nipples,” he says. “Some women have found this to be pain relieving.”
3. Use A Breast Pump
Get some pumping practice done early with this technique. Natarajan suggests using your breast pump to simulate a newborn feeding to get the contractions started, but again reminds us that these methods aren’t guaranteed. “Care should be taken and stimulation should not be done for extended periods of time.”