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Ways to induce labor naturally: What actually works?

You’re approaching 40 weeks, your pelvis is tender, you feel like this baby is about to fall through your vagina and yet not so much as a single cramp (come on!). You’ve hit up Google and been bombarded with a bunch of ‘natural’ remedies, all of which have promised to put you out of your misery and get this show on the road… but what does the evidence say?

Let’s look at five methods of naturally inducing labor and whether they actually work:

Pineapple

Ahh sweet pineapple. Could this classic cocktail garnish double as a wonder-fruit for bringing on labor?

While this is a commonly recommended remedy for those ‘overdue’ or ‘over it’, there is actually no clinical research studies to support pineapple for natural labor induction. While studies DO exist demonstrating that pineapple causes uterine tissue to contract, this research has only been carried out on rats and pieces of human tissue in a petri dish (ick). In other words, we don’t have any research to show whether ingesting pineapple has any impact on humans.

What does this mean? Well, like so many of these remedies, just like there is no research to show they work, there is also no evidence of harm. Consuming pineapple fruit in moderation is likely to be fine for you and baby but probably won’t have any impact on when labor starts – sorry Mama.

Sex

Ha! Let’s all take a minute to laugh at how unappealing getting busy at 40 weeks pregnant sounds. To rewind, there are three key things feeding the theory that sex might kickstart labor.

Firstly, semen is rich in prostaglandins and prostaglandins are a hormone used during medical induction to soften, shorten and open the cervix. Secondly, some sex can include nipple and/or breast stimulation, and this can boost oxytocin levels in the body and has been shown to increase the likelihood of labor commencing in people who already have a ‘ripened’ (aka soft) cervix. 

So nipple stimulation won’t definitely cause labor to start, but it can give you a little nudge if your body is already on its way. And finally, female orgasm has been linked to increased levels of oxytocin and uterine contractions.

Sound good so far… but…

A 2019 metanalysis (big study pulling together results from other smaller studies) which aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of sex for inducing labor found that sex did not improve the chance of spontaneous labor. However, much like the pineapple theory, there is also no evidence that sex is harmful in low-risk pregnancies, so while it won’t necessarily move things along, if you’re up for it, there is no harm in trying.

Raspberry Leaf Tea

Unfortunately, evidence around raspberry leaf tea is equally as murky (cue collective sigh of uncomfortable pregnant women everywhere). Raspberry leaf tea is made from the leaves of the red raspberry plant and is commonly recommended to pregnant women for its ability to potentially strengthen and tone the uterus ahead of labor and birth. 

While this sounds ideal, unfortunately from a research perspective the evidence to support this claim is lacking. Many pregnant people choose to incorporate it into their daily routine from around 35 weeks gestation regardless as it’s a delicious blend and if nothing else can provide a moment of self-care as you slow down ahead of meeting your baby. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points of the body and is thought to improve the likelihood of pregnant women going into spontaneous labor at full term.

Interestingly, while the research doesn’t demonstrate that acupuncture causes strong, regular uterine contractions, a Cochrane review which included 22 trials and a total of 3,456 pregnant women found that acupuncture may increase cervical favorability for labor.

What’s the difference?

Well, prior to the onset of contractions, the cervix (think of your cervix like the neck of the uterus – it sits at the base and supports your growing baby) is a long, thick structure. Before the cervix can dilate, or open, it needs to become short, soft and thin. This process is called ‘effacement’ and the softer, shorter and thinner your cervix is at full term, the more ‘favorable’ it is said to be.  So, while it is unlikely that acupuncture will cause you to go into labor, it appears that the practice CAN support the process overall by improving cervical favorability.

*runs to book appointment ASAP*

Date fruit

Unlike the pineapple theory, advice to consume dates in late pregnancy does genuinely hold some truth (hooray!).

In a systematic review including 11 randomized trials, researchers established that people who were randomly assigned to eat date fruit had improved cervical favorability at full term, experienced a shorter and early labor, were less likely to require induction of labor or augmentation with synthetic oxytocin, and were less likely to have a ‘prolonged second stage’ (the term used to describe pushing for more than 2 hours). Additionally, the date eating group were also less likely to experience excessive postpartum blood loss (Decker, 2020).

Suddenly this little piece of dried fruit is sounding verrrry appealing. 

So how many dates do I need to eat to possibly enjoy these benefits? And is there a specific type I should be snacking on? 

The research does not differentiate between medjool and pitted, both appear to be beneficial in late pregnancy. In terms of volume, the recommendation appears to be around 70g (around 2.5oz) of date fruit/day from 36-37 weeks. This equates to around 3-4 large pitted medjool dates, or 6-10 smaller pitted dates.  

If, like many, the idea of chewing on plain dates all day is a bit ick, get creative! Pop them in your smoothies, make bliss balls, blitz them to make date paste, and use them to sweeten brownies – the options are endless and the benefits are (possibly) amazing. 

Remember that whether you choose to try all or none of these strategies, your body and baby are ultimately on a path over which we have very little control. As your ‘due date’ approaches, try to focus on achieving a sense of calm, enjoying the moments of quiet and soaking up time with your baby bump as these days are numbered now Mama, one way or another, bub will be here soon.

Getting ready to bring your baby earthside? Read more about preparing for birth here.

References / Resources

Smith CA, Armour M, Dahlen HG. Acupuncture or acupressure for induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD002962. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002962.pub4

Decker, R. (2020) Inducing Labor with Castor Oil and Dates. Retrieved from  https://evidencebasedbirth.com/ebb-128-inducing-labor-with-castor-oil-and-dates/


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Expert author: Beth Ryan

Beth Ryan is a registered midwife with a Master’s degree in Public Health. You can find out more about her by following her on Instagram here.

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