how to induce your labor: understanding medical techniques and natural methods
In most cases, a pregnant body will begin the process of spontaneous labor on its own and, as you probably know from your childbirth education class, there will be no need for any interventions to get things going. But for some people, there may be circumstances where the health of either the birthing parent or baby is in jeopardy and induction techniques are necessary to start labor and to ensure that everyone remains healthy and that can be quite scary.
Or perhaps you are among many who watch their due date come and go and are still waiting to have labor begin. Even though in most cases, it is deemed safe to allow your body to go to 42 weeks gestation, and many go well beyond their estimated due dates, you may be feeling impatient and eager to help things along.
Whether your midwife or doctor has brought up the idea of inducing your labor or you are growing ansty in the final days of pregnancy, it’s a good idea to talk with your medical provider about what your options are and what the risks and benefits are of waiting for labor to begin on its own versus induction.
Here we’ll take a closer look, including a description and some risks and benefits of some of the most common mechanical and medical techniques used for labor induction:
Aggressive Vaginal/Cervical Exam
During a vaginal examination in your medical provider’s office, your midwife or doctor will check to see if you are dilated. If this exam is done aggressively, some risks include discomfort and premature rupture of membranes. Some benefits include knowing if your body has begun to dilate, however this information cannot predict when labor will start.
This procedure is sometimes offered at term once your cervix has begun to dilate. Your doctor or midwife inserts their finger through your cervix and separates the amniotic sac from the uterine lining. Some risks include discomfort during the procedure, bloody show and abdominal cramping. Benefits include the onset of labor within a few days for most people.
An artificial hormone replacement of prostaglandin is inserted into your vagina to soften your cervix either in gel form or something resembling a tampon. The hormone is then slowly released over a 6 to 24 hour period. This procedure is administered in the hospital. Some risks include abnormal contractions and uterus tearing. This method is considered by some to be the closest medical technique to allowing labor to begin spontaneously or naturally because you may go into labor and not go on to need Pitocin.
This medication, given vaginally or orally, works by softening the cervix to allow dilation and produces contractions. Some benefits include that it may put a person into labor without needing to add Pitocin. Some risks of Cytotec include that it cannot be stopped once started, fetal distress, increased blood loss after delivery, amniotic fluid embolism and birth defects. Limited research suggests that cytotec is generally safe and effective however the FDA has not reached a final conclusion about Cytotec and it is not currently approved for certain uses like decreasing bleeding after labor.
There are many names you may hear for this procedure, where a balloon attached to a small tube is inserted through your vagina into the cervix in order to mechanically dilate the cervix. The balloon is then inflated with saline and usually adds enough pressure on to your cervix for it to begin to open. Sometimes along with dilation of the cervix, the bulb falls out on it’s own. Some risks include discomfort at the time of insertion and removal. Some benefits include that it does not cause over-stimulation of the uterus, low risk of infection, and it does not adversely affect the baby.
Artificial Rupture of Membranes (AROM) aka Breaking the Bag of Waters
Your midwife or doctor will insert a small tool called an amnihook through your vagina to make a hole in the membrane sac which holds your amniotic fluid. After the release of liquid, there may be an increase in the pressure of your baby’s head on your cervix which can help begin dilation. Some risks of AROM include infection, umbilical cord prolapse, and maternal hemorrhage. Some benefits include faster and stronger contractions which can shorten the overall length of your labor.
Pitocin, a synthetic artificial replacement of Oxytocin (a hormone that is involved in childbirth and chest-feeding) is given to kick-start contractions via an IV. Many report that an induction using Pitocin takes much longer than they anticipated, but when the contractions do come on they are often longer, stronger and more intense than contractions without Pitocin. Pain medications are used more frequently with Pitocin due to the closer and stronger contractions. Continuous monitoring is required with the use of Pitocin which may affect mobility. Additional medications may be necessary to reduce the strength of contractions. Pitocin may also be turned off. Other risks include overstimulation of the uterus, infection, rupture of the uterus, fetal distress, drop in fetal heart rate, or fetal death. Benefits of using pitocin include a decreased risk of C-section and avoiding certain complications (such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, infection and avoiding complications of stalled labor).
If you want to dive in and learn more, Boober has a recorded class for you. After taking it, feel encouraged to bring any questions or thoughts that arise to your doctor or midwife to talk about at more depth.
If your pregnancy is progressing healthily but you’ve reached the end and are looking for a way to gently nudge your body towards labor, have a conversation with your doctor or midwife about some natural methods to help things along.
Here are some common ways that others have prepared their bodies for labor using non-pharmacological methods:
Walking is a wonderful and safe way to exercise your entire pregnancy especially towards the end, unless you’ve been otherwise advised. The movement helps to bring your baby down into your pelvis which puts pressure onto your cervix and encourages the onset of dilation and contractions.
Chiropractic Care, Acupuncture, Massage:
Chiropractic and acupuncture care are also thought to help with pelvic alignment and labor initiation. Chiropractors who specialize in prenatal clients will often use The Webster Technique to make more space in the pelvis which can allow a baby to find a better position, which will often allow labor to begin. Acupuncturists often use moxibustion, a traditional Chinese medicinal technique of burning a cone or stick made of ground mugwort leaves, on or around different areas of your body. Prenatal massage therapists may stimulate specific acupressure points in order to bring on labor.
Foods and drinks:
Everyone has heard that spicy foods might bring on labor. No harm in trying and it’s mostly thought that these foods can cause irritation which may cause intestinal and uterine cramping. The theory is that stimulating the digestive tract or bowels causes a release in prostaglandin which may stimulate labor. Pineapples and papayas have an enzyme called bromelain, which some believe softens the cervix and may start contractions. There is some evidence suggesting that dates, eaten regularly, can increase cervical ripeness. Red raspberry leaf tea is often recommended during pregnancy as a uterine tonic and is reported to soften the cervix and cause contractions to begin.
Oils for ingestion or topical use:
There are some studies that show the effectiveness of using evening primrose oil and castor oil to soften the cervix and initiate the onset of labor. Be sure to seek specific instructions from your care provider on when, how, and how much if you move forward with topical or ingested oils.
Release your Oxytocin:
Massaging and stimulating your nipples, sensual play, and having orgasms creates the hormone oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. Oxytocin is responsible for initiating labor, uterine contractions, lactating and bonding with your baby. Penetrative sexual acts can be a great way to bring on labor, unless your midwife or doctor has told you not to or if your water has already broken.
Some natural methods are well known and encouraged by medical providers to induce a baby. Many others are unstudied and lack data either supporting or denying their effectiveness. This lack of presence in the scientific community does not negate years of ancestral or traditional anecdotes. For this reason, if you are considering ways to help induce your labor, either medically or naturally, it is important to talk with your midwife, doula and/or doctor about what your options are to help move things along in a manner that will be safe and right for you.
Laura Max is a birth and postpartum doula, available on the boober platform, having served clients in both New York and in mid-Michigan. She is a wife and the mother of two, a teenager and a 9 month old. When Laura is not supporting new families, you can find her out in nature with her own. Laura is available on the boober platform for matches.