How to induce labor: myths, truths, and how to enjoy your last days of pregnancy

The last days of your pregnancy may start to feel, shall we say, a bit long. With the baby nearing full weight and your body starting to do unusual things to prepare for the birth, you may start to think about how to induce labor. Common belief is that eating spicy foods and having sex may help move things along, but is it safe to induce labor, and do any of the popular methods work?

Let’s take a look.

Should you induce your labor? 

Asking for or attempting a medical induction is generally done for the following reasons:

  • The pregnancy has reached the 42-week mark
  • Maternal illness
  • Fetal illness or risk
  • The mother’s water has broken 24 hours ago and contractions have not begun

These are sound reasons for an induction to take place at the hospital and will be discussed with your midwife or doctor ahead of time, with the information provided for you to make an informed decision.

While many births today do begin with an induction, many birth professionals are warning against the rush to induce rather than letting nature take its course.

Reasons to wait

The final days of your pregnancy are important ones for the baby. While it may feel that he or she has grown as much as it can possibly grow in your womb, important development is still taking place. If mother and baby are otherwise healthy, there are a lot of benefits to waiting to induce, including:

  • Risk of failed induction
  • Risk of infection
  • Increased risk of other interventions
  • Increased risk of baby needing medical care

Remember, just because you are ready doesn’t mean that your baby is. Impressive growth and development take place between 37 and 39 weeks including:

  • Rapid brain growth — the baby’s brain will nearly double in size from 35 to 39 weeks
  • Final development of the lungs. A baby is twice as likely to need a ventilator if it is born before the 39-week point
  • The liver, which continues to grow until 39 weeks. Babies without a fully-developed liver are more likely to develop jaundice
  • Body weight. At week 35 the baby will put on half a pound a week. Try to remember that a big baby is a healthy baby

Due dates are estimations, not exact deadlines. If you are approaching or have come to your due date try to remind yourself that each baby needs a different amount of time to prepare to enter the world.

Plus – the days of watching Netflix uninterrupted are numbered, try to enjoy it if you can!

How to induce labor: common methods and what really works

Important note: Always check with your midwife or doctor about any plans to attempt to induce your labor.

  • Nipple stimulation: Unlike many of the common methods of inducing labor at home, there is some scientific evidence to back up the effectiveness of nipple stimulation. The act produces oxytocin, which plays a role in initiating labor and making contractions stronger (leading to a shorter birth).
  • Spicy foods: While recent studies have found that half of pregnant women consume spicy foods in an attempt to induce labor, there is no scientific evidence that the act will do anything but cause uterine irritation. While that may lead to contractions, they are unlikely to be the right type.
  • Sex: Similar to the research backing nipple stimulation, there is reason to believe that sex is one of the more reasonable ways to induce labor. Sex not only produces oxytocin, but orgasms also stimulate the uterus. Plus, there is reason to believe that semen can help soften the cervix. Sex is not advised after the water has broken, however.
  • Walks: Walking is great in the later days of pregnancy, but it is not likely to start your labor. It’s a great way to distract yourself and stay active during the hard days when you want it to be over, so it is still advisable, as long as you don’t exhaust yourself.
  • Primrose oil: The theory behind primrose oil is that it softens the cervix to prepare for labor, but its safety has not been studied. Taking tablets in the last weeks might be a good measure, but attempting to induce with primrose is better left off the table.
  • Castor oil: Did you know that castor oil is a strong laxative? Taking a spoonful may lead to uterine contractions, but this is caused by sudden bowel irritation, not the onset of labor. It will then lead to diarrhea, which might be the last thing you want when you are already feeling over it.
  • Acupuncture: There are multiple reasons some experts recommend acupuncture during pregnancy, but the jury is still out on whether it is an effective induction method. Other reasons women seek acupuncture treatments during pregnancy include depression, relaxation, back pain, and difficulty sleeping.

Tips for making the last days of your pregnancy easier

So if inducing at home might not be a safe and effective option, what should you do if you’ve reached your due date and the days are becoming more difficult and uncomfortable? Here are some ways to keep yourself occupied and maybe even enjoy this special time:

  • Try to stay busy!: Do what you can to keep activities, appointments, and even busy work on your calendar. Distracting yourself from the discomfort of the last few weeks is going to help each day pass faster.
  • Massage: Have you had a prenatal massage yet? Let a professional pamper you, and relieve some soreness at the same time (and many of them will come to you!).
  • Pedicure: You won’t be able to sit for a pedicure for a while after your baby comes. Get them in while you can!
  • Baths: If your water hasn’t broken yet it is perfectly safe to take baths during pregnancy, and they may be effective in both relaxing mentally and easing back pain. Just make sure that the water is always under 100 degrees.
  • Enjoy the nesting: Have you experienced sudden bursts of energy yet? Otherwise known as “nesting,” this can be one symptom of your final trimester to really embrace. Find an activity that you enjoy during this phase and run with it.
  • Indulge!: You get a pass for many things during these weeks. Whether it be dinner at the most extravagant place in town or ice cream in bed with a soap opera you’d never watch otherwise, if it feels good, try to make it happen.
  • Yoga: Prenatal yoga has many benefits for the last days of pregnancy. Not only will it help you relax, it is designed to help your body prepare for labor as well. And, you have permission to stay in those yoga pants all day long!
  • Chiropractor: If you haven’t been receiving chiropractic care during your pregnancy, the third trimester is a great time to try it out. Adjustments can help relieve back pain, align the pelvis in the proper position for labor, and may even help nausea.
  • Spinning babies: Spinning babies is “an approach to optimize the physical relationship between the bodies of the mother and baby for the easing of childbirth.” It is a popular movement with women reporting decreased back pain, babies that move into the proper position for birth (even after being breech), shorter labors, and canceled C-sections. You can take classes in the privacy of your own home via online videos or DVDs or find a practitioner in your area.
  • Support belt: Feeling super uncomfortable? Many birth professionals are swearing by the relief that a support belt can provide in the third trimester. Check in with your doctor or midwife before you begin use.
  • Exercise ball: Also called a “birth ball,” these large rubber spheres ease back pain, open the pelvis, and help support proper posture. If you are enjoying a day of Netflix you may want to spend some of the time watching while using your ball. Or, if you are working from home in the days before you labor, replace your desk chair with the ball.

Above all, try not to worry. If you are feeling more physically uncomfortable than you have been it is a sure sign that the big day will arrive soon!