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What Can (and Can't) Induce Labor

It's week 41 and this waiting game is getting old. Or maybe it's week 39 and you can't bear another day of waddling around with what now feels like a bowling ball between your legs and ankles the size of Texas. Is there any way to get this baby moving?

What triggers labor has always been a medical mystery. While initial mild uterine contractions begin to efface (soften) and dilate (open) the cervix a bit, they can go on for weeks and don't actually bring on labor. More complex factors—including an exchange of hormonal signals between you and your baby—are what really set things in motion.

Still, there are a few natural methods that are thought to jumpstart labor. If you're tempted to try any of these supposed contraction triggers, here's what you need to keep in mind:


Method: Eating spicy foods or anything chocolate

Why? Spices and caffeine are thought to act as laxatives and start contractions.
Does It Work? No. While food that taxes your digestive system could lead to irregular uterine contractions, it's more likely to cause heartburn than labor.

Method: Acupressure

Why? Certain spots between the thumb and the pointer finger, near the ankle and on the shoulder are considered by shiatsu practitioners to be linked to the uterus. Pressing these points, it's thought, can speed labor up.
Does It Work? It's uncertain: Experts don't know enough about this practice. Some shiatsu specialists only recommend it if you're already in labor.

Method: Sex

Why? Semen contains prostaglandin, a natural fatty acid that helps soften and dilate your cervix. That, as well as an orgasm, can cause your uterus to contract.
Does It Work? Only if you're so near to term that your cervix has started to efface.

Method: Walking

Why? During a long walk, gravity lowers the baby, and the pressure on your cervix can dilate it.
Does It Work? Not unless your cervix is already effaced. Walking long distances can start contractions by irritating the uterus, but the contractions usually end once you stop moving.

Method: Nipple stimulation

Why? Rubbing your nipples with your fingertips helps release the hormone oxytocin, the natural version of the labor-inducing drug Pitocin, which causes contractions to begin.
Does It Work? It can. But it's a slow process that requires breast stimulation for an hour at a time, three times a day. Some practitioners only recommend doing this at a hospital, where you can be monitored, since very strong contractions could affect the baby's heart rate.

Method: Castor oil

Why? May stimulate prostaglandin production (see Sex, above).
Does It Work? Maybe. But castor oil is also a known laxative, so you may get terrible diarrhea before or during labor. Check with your doctor before trying this, or any other labor-speeding strategy.


Elizabeth Edwardsen is a freelance writer.