Castor oil. Nipple stimulation. Have sex while little hands play tether ball with your bladder. There's so much advice for inducing labor to be found online that it was impossible not to want to try them out. In my experience, natural methods to induce labor often read more like a schedule of activities for a torture chamber than tasks I'd willingly tackle. Why don't pregnant women just wait until their babies are ready to be born and not hurry Mother Nature along? I wondered in my pre-pregnancy state. I pondered what the big deal was about waiting an extra few days, or even a week or two, for my baby's birth.
After more than 40 weeks of pregnancy with my first child, however, I suddenly was in a more understanding (and bloated) position. I couldn't go five minutes without feeling like my bladder was bursting. The kicks felt like the baby was trying to launch a field goal into my spine. Sleeping and eating were difficult because the baby was taking up so much space in my body, making me acutely uncomfortable. Once I passed 40 weeks and started maternity leave from work, I was ready to try "natural" induction techniques. I believed my body would eventually go into labor on its own, but I selfishly didn't want to wait anymore.
Since I'd enjoyed frequenting my online pregnancy and baby communities from my first positive pregnancy test until the time I was overdue, I once again turned to the internet for advice on inducing labor. I loved how the baby boards were full of supportive women who understood a pregnant mom's circumstances, and were available at all hours to commiserate with aches and pains and indigestion complaints. More importantly, many of them had been there and done that, including labor induction. So, I did what any woman in my position would do: I tried to induce labor based on advice I'd read online.
Method #1: Squatting And Stretching
These variations on the popular walking technique to induce labor caught my attention on my online baby boards because of how easy and safe they seemed. I also loved that they were slightly more interesting than just walking. I remember being mesmerized by a video of a woman trying to dance and squat her way into labor at more than nine months pregnant. Because I'd waited until I was just past 40 weeks and finished with my last day at work before maternity leave, there was basically no more walking around the house or neighborhood for me. So I turned to the next best piece of advice: squatting.
I'd "squat walk" my way to the kitchen to get a snack. I'd squat my way around the neighborhood. I'd bounce and stretch on my exercise ball in front of the TV every chance I got. These exercises did bring on more intense and frequent Braxton Hicks contractions, and made me feel like the baby was scooting slightly lower in my belly, but did not fully induce labor to start. At least, not immediately.
I went into early labor in the middle of the night a couple of days later, and it was unclear whether the squats and stretches scooted the onset of labor along any sooner.
Method #2: Nipple Stimulation
While pregnant with my son, I experimented with nipple stimulation to try to make my very early labor progress quicker. I'd read this technique on several different online pregnancy boards, and in various internet articles. I was horrified at first because the thought of pinching leaky, crusty, tender nipples made me squeamish. Once very mild and far apart contractions started, though, I decided to give the technique a try while in the shower to help progress labor.
Online articles I'd read on nipple stimulation explained that rolling or kneading nipples releases Oxytocin, a hormone that can cause uterine contractions. This process usually takes place when breastfeeding after birth, and helps the uterus return to pre-pregnancy size. The techniques warned that the contractions caused by nipple stimulation could be intense. Still, I decided to give it a try because I was already past my due date and ready for birth.
Within a minute or so, I managed to bring on a stronger contraction than I'd had. But after a few more minutes of nipple stimulation and a few irregular contractions later, I stopped and stepped out of the shower. I felt nipple stimulation just wasn't comfortable and sustainable for all that long. Was I supposed to wait in the shower until it worked?
When all was said and done and I had a baby in my arms, I felt like nipple stimulation did definitely prompt some increased contraction action, and studies I read claimed nipple stimulation can make some labors quicker overall. Maybe if I'd "stimulated" a little longer, I could have shaved some time off my 35-hour labor. I didn't keep going with the stimulation, though, because it wasn't a practice I felt I could comfortably sustain for long.
Method #3: Evening Primrose Oil
Flash forward four years later to my ninth month of pregnancy with my second child, my daughter. This time around, I started my maternity leave a couple of weeks sooner, and was ready to start inducing labor at 39 weeks. I'd read about evening primrose oil in my online birthing communities, and how some pregnant women massaged the oil from the capsules into their cervixes to ripen it as part of their daily routine. Some women claimed to have gone into labor hours after inserting the oil, so I figured, why not?
When a friend offered to give me the remainder of her bottle of unused evening primrose oil capsules, I was intrigued. I broke up a capsule and put the oil on my cervix each night of my 39 week of pregnancy. A few days in to the practice, subtle contractions began and lasted on and off for two days before I went to the hospital and gave birth an hour-and-half after I arrived. Did the evening primrose oil make a difference? Hard to tell, but it certainly didn't hinder the process.
Method #4: Mexican Hot Chocolate And Eating Pineapple
I read in various online articles and baby boards that eating pineapple could possibly ripen the cervix through stimulating lipids in the cervix. More interestingly, some women on my baby boards swore up and down that Mexican hot chocolate was a sure-fire way to jump start labor. We happened to have a fruit bowl in the fridge with pineapple in it, and some Mexican hot chocolate in the cupboard. I figured, why not give them a try?
On the second day of strong on-and-off contractions with my daughter that never seemed to get close enough together to warrant a trip to the hospital, I washed down the pineapple with the steaming hot chocolate. Several hours later, following a night watching fireworks (it was the Fourth of July), I was at last hit with heavy and undoubtable labor. My daughter was born just 90 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.
Did Taking The Internet's Advice Work?
Having tried a number of natural labor induction methods over the course of two pregnancies, I'm still not clear how effective any of them were. Sure, nipple stimulation caused a few strong contractions, and I went into active labor hours after drinking hot chocolate and eating pineapple, but I'd also been in early labor for two days by that point. Maybe it was the obscenely loud neighborhood fireworks that provided the final push — now there was a recommendation for my baby boards!
The lesson I took away from my labor induction experiences was simply: do what feels right to you and follows whatever medical advice you believe. There might not be a magic switch to turn on labor, but several natural techniques could be helpful to try, too. At the very least, fireworks and a cup of hot chocolate are a decent way to pass the time waiting for baby's arrival. I mean, it worked for me.