At 38 weeks pregnant, a switch automatically flips in my head, and I am officially done with pregnancy. This is the time I usually start Googling natural ways to induce labor. Once I hit full-term, each day after becomes torture. Between the backache, the swollen fingers and feet, the waddling, and the outrageous effort it takes to simply change positions on the couch, late pregnancy is an absolute nightmare. Pair those symptoms with the overwhelming desire to meet the next love of your life, and it’s a recipe for a disastrously desperate woman.
I've been pregnant before, but the final stages of pregnancy always feel like they drag on forever. You're tired, you're sleepless, you're anxious, you're nervous. Friends, strangers, and the internet at large tout a litany of ways to induce labor on your own: waxing, spicy foods, pineapples, and lots and lots of sex. Nothing comes with a guarantee, but do they work? Would they work? Could they work?
So at 38 weeks, I began trying every natural labor induction technique friends, family and the internet had to offer. Over the course of two weeks, with increasing desperation, I did it all until I finally landed in the hospital at 6 centimeters dilated and a mere three hours from holding my third baby. Here are the results.
1. Brazilian Wax
I scheduled a full wax for the day I hit 38 weeks. I figured if it put me in labor, great. If it didn’t? I’d be ready when the time came. Besides, I had officially passed the point where I could shave anything but my armpits. I needed this in a bad way.
The woman who was waxing me had no idea what she was walking into, and I felt like a horrible person for not even mentioning I was pregnant when I scheduled the appointment. She told me someone warned her I was in the waiting room, “like, really pregnant,” and promised it was no big deal. But the whole time she was waxing me I could think of nothing but the horror of my water breaking while I was on the table. That and a few other key uncomfortable questions, like: Why is it so hot in here? Why am I so pregnant? Why isn’t this making me have contractions? What if I fart? Pregnant women have to fart a lot. What if I pee myself a little? Or a lot? But seriously, what if my water breaks?
It didn’t, of course, and I left without anything horrific happening. Or anything at all happening for that matter. I was still very pregnant, and nowhere near in labor. And, apparently, this is to be expected. Dr. Candice Fraser, OB-GYN with Your Doctors Online, tells Romper that she's not sure how a Brazilian wax would help any pregnant woman go into labor, but she does have a warning. "There is no restriction preventing pregnant women from getting a Brazilian wax, however, in the third trimester the vagina and external genitalia tend to be more sensitive and waxing may be more painful than you’re used to. I wouldn’t recommend getting your first Brazilian wax at nine months pregnant." Noted.
I walked (or more accurately, waddled) my way up the steep hill behind my house daily. I would drag the kids in the wagon for mile-long walks every day, working through mild contractions, begging for my water to break. It was ridiculous how grueling walking uphill was. I found myself singing the “Be A Man” song from Mulan to get me to the top of the hill, which, although wholly inappropriate, was pretty effective. It was not, however, an effective way of putting me into labor. Unless you are already in active labor, walking around doesn’t do much, Fraser says. "Walking alone isn’t proven to help induce labor. However, as OB/GYNs, we would much prefer that a woman walk around rather than stay in bed. Walking may help women feel more comfortable in the early stages of labor, and helps keep those needed pelvic muscles engaged," she says. Since I wasn't even close to active labor, I was just making myself uncomfortable for nothing. Great.
Even though I was frustrated as my contractions waned after the long walks, I chalked it up to being good stamina training for when the big day finally came. Plus, being out in the sunshine and fresh air was good for me. It may not put you into labor, but walking is certainly not a bad idea.
3. “Magic” Foods
Everyone and their mother (literally) had a “sure to put you into labor” trick they swore by. The most common? “Magic” foods. Some women swore by pizza. A few mentioned that a nice steak dinner put them into labor. A handful swore by sushi, and one even claimed that the Trader Joe’s vegetarian sushi roll was what put her into labor. Then, of course, were the spicy foods.
I ate it all. From the disgusting grocery store vegetarian roll, to a veritable buffet of the spiciest foods from my local Indian restaurant, to going out for two nice steak dinners (I’m not mad about that), I tried every food on the list. Every time I would finish a meal, I’d wait with unreasonable expectation, willing my water to break.
The result? Nothing. Well, except for the steak dinner. That resulted in a pretty happy pregnant woman. I highly recommend a steak dinner. For science. But if you're hoping all that hot sauce you're dipping the steak in will help, there's not much to go on. Fraser says there's no harm in eating it — if you enjoy it — but you're probably just setting yourself up for heartburn and diarrhea.
Pineapple is one of the few labor inducing techniques with some merit behind it. Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, which acts as a prostaglandin, helping to soften the cervix, Fraser says. While it won’t put you into labor, if you’re looming on the edge of active labor, it could supposedly help give your body that final push. One of my best friends attested to this, saying she ate two whole pineapples and woke in the night to her water breaking. The internet revealed many more similar stories. I was feeling very optimistic. But Fraser says you have to eat a whole lot of pineapple to get the results you want. "The reason for this is likely because there's not enough of the bromelain enzyme in a typical serving of pineapple to be effective. In addition, the acid in our stomachs will breakdown most of this enzyme before it reaches the blood stream. One would have to eat eight or more pineapples to have an effect."
I went to Trader Joe’s and bought 10 pineapples over the course of my last two weeks of pregnancy. I ate pineapple until my lips were chapped and bleeding. I ate whole pineapples in single sittings. I came to the end of my pregnancy never wanting to eat another pineapple as long as I lived. Still, no baby.
I will, however, say that I don’t entirely regret all the pineapple eating. When I finally did go into labor, I think it went quickly because my cervix was softened and my effacement was well on its way. Then again, I might just be trying to justify eating 10 whole pineapples. I think you probably have to eat them all in one sitting for real labor, and as Fraser points out, "Any pregnant woman (or person in general) would be doubled over from heartburn before getting close to this amount."
5. Raspberry Leaf Tea
Raspberry leaf tea is supposed to help with uterine contractions, reported Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond, though there’s some contradictory evidence as to whether or not it works. "Like pineapple, raspberry leaf is thought to have properties that may help induce labor naturally," Fraser says. "Current studies and scientific data that we have do not show that raspberry leaf tea helps induce labor, but they don’t show any harm either." I drank some before I went into labor with my daughter, but it certainly didn’t seem to be correlated since strong contractions didn’t start until much later. However, at 39 weeks, I gave it another shot. Since my midwife gave me the green light, I drank six cups of raspberry tea in a single night (OK, she didn’t technically give me the go ahead to do that exactly, but she said the tea was fine).
At this point I was getting pretty disheartened, and felt like I was never going to have this baby. I knew this wasn’t true, but it’s amazing how time seems to stand still when you haven’t seen your toes from the standing position in five months.
My midwife and plenty of others suggested sex to get things moving along. "This is one thing I have recommended to my patients to get things going," Fraser says. "Ejaculate contains prostaglandins, which help soften the cervix and promote labor. Of course, it isn’t going to work for everyone, but if there’s not a medical reason you shouldn’t be having sex, I would recommend it." I had no problem with that, except that sex while nine months pregnant is like a weird circus act that no one wants to see. The only reason it was hot and heavy was because of my increased basal body temperature and the extra 35 pounds around my midsection. I’m not saying it was a bad idea to have sex (especially considering the long stretch of sexless newborn time ahead), but it takes some serious effort and dedication to do the horizontal hustle in late pregnancy. You’ve been warned.
As for inducing labor, it definitely did not. It certainly wasn’t time wasted, but yet again I was waiting hopefully for my water to break only to be met with more disappointment. (Although it's worth noting that Fraser says once your water does break, do not have sex in an attempt to help labor progress. "This will introduce bacteria directly into the amniotic sac where you baby is located," she says.) I was beginning to think that all these “natural” remedies were just myths that kept pregnant women busy while waiting for baby to come.
7. Nipple Stimulation
At one point, I woke in the night to get a glass of water and there was some, um, uncontrollable leaking. I wasn’t having strong contractions, and I wasn’t totally convinced my water had broke, but I also didn’t want to believe that I had peed all over my kitchen floor in the night. I sheepishly called my midwife the next morning to tell her that my water maybe, possibly broke or I had excessively peed on the floor, but either way I wasn’t in active labor. She scheduled an appointment for me to get checked out and in the meantime instructed me to get out my breast pump to get active labor going (in case my water had broken).
Confused? Don't be. "Nipple stimulation is proven to promote contractions and can induce labor," Fraser says. Apparently it causes the release of oxytocin, the hormone that normally causes labor. And this one works. Like, whoa. The contractions were intense and got increasingly closer together. I was still having them when I went in to get checked, and my midwife had to break the news to me: I wasn’t in active labor, and I had indeed peed on my floor. She told me no more nipple stimulation since we were aiming for a natural labor, and thankfully the contractions gradually subsided. Fraser says this is normal. "The caveat is that this is not a fast process and most women would become tired or developed chapped nipples before inducing their own labor. But, it will likely be helpful in getting early, irregular contractions more regular." Super.
Stimulating your nipples is something you shouldn’t try without running it by your practitioner first. Apparently it can force you into labor too early, which is no good for anyone. Though if you’re in active labor and it’s slow going, they’ll probably give you the green light to help you get things moving naturally.
8. Castor Oil/Jalapeño Poppers
At my 39 ½ week checkup, my midwife, having recently seen me for my false alarm and noticing that my dilation was still moving along at a snail’s pace, recommended that I try castor oil. She knew I wasn’t getting much sleep and that I was desperately concerned over how alarmingly big my stomach was (especially since nurses kept saying what a big baby I was going to have). She knew I was done.
She gave me the instructions to mix a couple tablespoons in with some scrambled eggs or orange juice in the morning and behold the wonders of explosive diarrhea. She didn’t use those words exactly, but she did confide that it was really the only natural labor induction technique that worked. The gastrointestinal cramps give way to real contractions, and active labor follows soon after. She assured me that the diarrhea would subside before I gave birth (the nightmare!), but warned me it was a pretty difficult way to start labor. No kidding.
On the eve of my due date, I stood in the grocery store staring at a small bottle of castor oil. As badly as I wanted this baby out, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I had heard horror stories from women who had started labor this way. All of them warned me: DON’T DO IT. They said they were exhausted and dehydrated by the time they started labor, and it made the whole birthing experience miserable. Fraser pretty much agrees. "Castor oil is a laxative, which means that it stimulates the intestines to cause a bowel movement and often causes loose stools or diarrhea. Intestinal spasms and dehydration from diarrhea can cause the uterus to contract irregularly. If you’re lucky, these contractions may become regular and cause actual labor, but studies show that this rarely happens," she says. In fact, Fraser says the risks of using castor oil just aren't worth the possible (but unlikely) reward. "Uncomfortable diarrhea, dehydration, painful contractions without going into labor, and there have been reports of babies passing meconium (stool) in the uterus, which can be harmful at delivery." Fab.
So I walked away from the castor oil and into the frozen food aisle. If explosive diarrhea was what I was looking for, I knew where to find it. I had previously made my husband promise to never, under any circumstances, ever let me eat frozen jalapeño poppers again as long as I lived. But desperate times called for desperate measures. I went home and ate the entire box of jalapeño poppers, and by the time I had finished, they were already working their, um, magic. I had terrible cramps and an unpleasant time in the bathroom. But after the storm had passed, I was still cramping badly. Except, they weren’t cramps. They were real contractions.
I stayed at home for three hours, working through increasingly painful contractions until I finally went to hospital. Even though I was still scared I might just need to take a terrible poop, I ended up getting admitted and had a big, beautiful baby boy in my arms just three hours later.
Did It Work?
I have recommended processed jalapeño poppers to every pregnant woman I know. While there's no real science behind it, and Fraser maintains that it's really just a one-way street to heartburn and diarrhea, it’s my own personal magic food. Though, if processed jalapeño poppers aren’t your intestinal kryptonite, go with whatever food that’s guaranteed to end in a horrible night in the bathroom. It may not be the most pleasant way to enter labor, but it must be better than castor oil. You may be shaking your head now, but trust me, when you’re 40 weeks pregnant, you might be staring down a bottle of castor oil in the grocery store, too.
Mostly, by the end of my experiment, I was more sure than ever that no two pregnancies are the same. The is no method of labor induction that’s guaranteed to work for everyone, or even one that will work for most. So if you feel like desperately grasping for control (like, ahem, me) near the end of your pregnancy, eat the magic foods, walk the miles, do the deed. Baby will come eventually, and at least you’ll be busy in the meantime.
Dr. Candice Fraser, OB-GYN with Your Doctors Online
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