When you’re 40 weeks pregnant and ready to meet your baby but are showing no signs of labor, talk to your doctor about trying these methods to induce labor naturally.
Pregnancy is a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish. You spend most of the time counting down the days to each pregnancy milestone, eagerly watching the weeks tick by as you creep closer to your due date.
Then, it seems like time stops.
The last few weeks of pregnancy just crawl by. And if you are anything like me, and can’t sleep at all and are ready for your baby to be here… you’re probably a little annoyed when well-meaning strangers ask when your due date is.
It can be frustrating when you’re ready to be done being pregnant and want to just hold your sweet baby in your arms, but you aren’t dilated at all and it doesn’t seem like labor’s going to start on its own. And even more frustrating when your doctor or midwife starts talking about inducing you.
Remember That Your Due Date Isn’t a Hard Deadline
Even though we know that the due date is pretty much a guess, and it isn’t when our baby is guaranteed to arrive, there’s something to be said for the psychological buildup to that date.
When your due date comes and goes and you’re still not dilated more than a fingertip, it’s enough to make you leave your 40-week appointment in frustrated tears (I may be speaking from experience here).
My OBGYN respected my wishes to do everything I could do to avoid a medical induction but said I had until 41 weeks to get labor started on my own.
I took that as a challenge and looked for every way to induce labor naturally. Here are the best methods I found to induce labor naturally.
Wait Until You’re Full Term Before Inducing
ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has recently redefined what it means to be full term. The current guidelines state:
- Early term: your baby is born between 37 to 38 weeks 6 days,
- Full term: your baby is born between 39 weeks and 40 weeks 6 days, and
Late term: your baby is born between 41 weeks and 41 weeks 6 days 1
Babies born earlier than 39 weeks can go on to have more health problems later in life. And even up until the last week of pregnancy, your baby’s brain, lungs, liver, and other organs are still developing. 2
There are important developmental reasons to wait until you are full-term to induce or schedule labor. Scheduling your birth for non-medical reasons or inducing naturally before your baby is full-term can have repercussions. Be sure to get your doctor or midwife’s blessing before considering inducing labor.
How to Induce Labor Naturally
There are as many stories about what put someone in to labor as there are women who have given birth. There’s little research to support some anecdotal methods, but if it can’t hurt and it might help, it’s worth a try!
Before you try any of these natural induction methods, check with your midwife or doctor. If you’ve reached full term, get the go-ahead from your healthcare provider, and consider trying some of the following induction methods, but be forewarned that many of these are simply old wives’ tales.
Regardless, if your baby is ready to be born, some of these methods might possibly help get labor started. And at the very least, they’ll keep you busy while you wait for labor to start 🙂
1) Grab your partner and…
While sex may be the absolute last thing you feel like doing when you’re huge and pregnant, studies have shown that semen contains prostaglandins, which can help kickstart labor by softening the cervix.3
It isn’t a guaranteed method for starting labor, but sex may help ripen the cervix so it’s worth a try. In the late stages of your pregnancy it can be uncomfortable to lie on your back, so try other positions such as on all fours or lying on your side.
There is evidence that both the female orgasm, as well as the sperm in the ejaculate can help to soften the cervix, so try and make sure you and your partner both have a good time. My doctor also recommended laying down for 20 minutes after sex to allow the sperm to reach its destination and help soften the cervix.
2) Walk it out
Walking as a way to induce labor is mostly anecdotal. But it’s one of those things that’s frequently recommended since it’s so easy to do. So walk, walk, walk!
Keeping active with moderate exercise can help baby settle into position and open up your pelvis for labor. Trying finding a mall or similar climate-controlled area, put on some headphones, and get moving.
Even better if you can climb some stairs, although be sure you don’t push yourself too hard and end up exhausted before labor has even started.
3) Do some squats
If walking doesn’t quite do the job, you can try doing some squats. Spend a few minutes doing deep squats and holding the squat position (if comfortable) to engage your pelvis and hopefully get labor going.
4) Take evening primrose oil
Fans of this method swear that evening primrose oil helps to ripen the cervix and speed up thinning and dilation. You can begin taking it in the third trimester, either orally or vaginally. Although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from women who swear EPO helped them, the research is lacking to support this method. 4
As with other methods on this list, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before trying this.
5) Drink red raspberry leaf tea
This tea is often used to help tone the uterus and prepare it for delivery. It’s not recommended to drink it before the third trimester because of its possible effects. (And no, it’s not the same as regular raspberry flavored tea.)
I have always started drinking one cup a day of this organic red raspberry leaf tea around the 30-week mark and gradually increasing as my due date approaches, but even if you haven’t been drinking it throughout your pregnancy it can be used to induce labor too. You just need to drink more! Start with 4-5 cups a day.
Warning: I didn’t mind the taste, but some people complain about it, so make sure taste it first before brewing up a big pot.
6) Try gentle nipple stimulation
Stimulating your nipples may cause uterine contractions, which may ultimately start labor. Some women use a breast pump to stimulate their nipples, but you can also try stimulating your nipples manually. But do it gently enough to simulate a baby nursing at your breast.
7) Get induction acupuncture done
I admit it, I was skeptical about acupuncture. Still, I was willing to give it a try. With my first pregnancy, induction acupuncture wasn’t effective. But when I tried it during my second pregnancy, I swear that this was the method that put me into labor.
8) See a Webster chiropractor
Chiropractors who specialize in pregnancy using the Webster method can provide a labor-inducing adjustment. If you live in Los Angeles, this chiropractic office is pretty popular (though I haven’t seen them myself).
9) Use a birthing ball
If you have a yoga or birthing ball, try doing figure 8s and rocking back and forth in a deep motion. This yoga ball is PVC-free.
10) Get a massage
During pregnancy, you’re supposed to avoid certain pressure points because they can trigger labor. Now’s a good time to get a massage, preferably by someone who is familiar with acupressure and who can press on your acupressure points.
11) Eat spicy food
This one is mostly anecdotal evidence, but a lot of women swear that eating very spicy food can trigger your labor. I tried this with my second baby and I think it also helped put me into labor. And anyway, there’s no harm in enjoying a spicy meal, even if it doesn’t start labor for you.
12) Eat a whole pineapple
Hear me out on this one. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain that is supposed to function as a prostaglandin in your body. Prostaglandins are what help soften the cervix, so proponents of this method encourage eating a whole fresh pineapple, core included.
13) Enjoy some dates
A 2011 study found that women who consumed six date fruits per day for four weeks leading up to their due date were more likely to go into spontaneous labor than women who did not consume dates – 96% vs. 79%. And the women who consumed dates regularly also had a higher cervical dilation than women in the control group. Consuming dates was found to reduce the likelihood of being induced, though this study suggests eating dates for four weeks. If you are already past your due date, it can’t hurt to eat six date fruits per day until you go into labor, but you may not get the same benefits as the women in the study.5
My favorite kind of dates are Medjool dates, and I like to eat them with walnuts. If you aren’t a fan of eating them directly, you can also chop them up and add them to a smoothie.
14) Cuddle your way into labor
Pitocin is the synthetic form of oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes labor contractions. Oxytocin is also known as the “cuddle hormone” and can be produced by cuddling with your partner or even a pet.
15) Make a salad
There’s a restaurant in Los Angeles that sells a “labor salad” that pregnant women have been flocking to for 25+ years. You can even take home extra bottles of the dressing, and I’ve known women to drink it
Instead of heading to Los Angeles, you can try to make your own balsamic salad dressing using real balsamic. Try adding oregano and basil, too.
16) Try Rebozo wrapping your belly
Rebozo is Spanish for “shawl” and refers to a method of tying a large shawl around your belly during pregnancy. Rebozo wrapping can ease back pain during pregnancy and can also be beneficial during labor to manage the pain of contractions.
But there may be a benefit to Rebozo wrapping when you’re trying to get labor started. By better
17) Ask your provider about membrane stripping
You’ll need your healthcare provider’s help for this one. Sometimes referred to as a sweep, this is when your doctor or midwife will use their fingers to separate the amniotic sac from the cervix. Many women will have this procedure offered as their due date approaches, and while some women end up with only a few hours of mild cramping, I know many women who had success with this method. If your body is ready and just needs a gentle nudge in the right direction, a sweep might be just the way to go.
18) Consider castor oil as a last resort
Many women swear by this old wives’ tale. But beware – castor oil can have negative side effects. It works by getting the intestines to start contracting, which will hopefully trigger the uterus to begin contracting as well. But along with this can come some uncomfortable diarrhea. Honestly, that’s no way to start labor if you ask me.
I would recommend only using organic hexane-free castor oil as a last resort and under the supervision of your health care provider. Ask your doctor for dosing instructions.
Why Would You Want to Avoid Medical Induction?
Inducing labor is the process of artificially stimulating the uterus to start contractions with the goal of achieving a vaginal birth. It can be done by administering oxytocin (Pitocin), prostaglandins (such as Cervidil), using a Foley balloon, or stripping the membranes.7
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 25% of deliveries worldwide now involve labor induction. And their guideline on when to use medical induction is when “there is a clear medical indication for it and the expected benefits outweigh its potential harms.” 8
Being medically induced can be necessary at times and I would never talk someone out of that if there was a medical reason to induce labor. One study even suggests that being medically induced at 39 weeks can reduce the chance of a C-section in healthy first-time moms. An earlier study states that induction with oxytocin increases the C-section rate.
Either way, the WHO cautions healthcare providers:
Wherever possible, induction of labor should be carried out in facilities where caesarian section can be performed. 8
Some medical reasons to induce include:
- growth problems in
- lack of amniotic fluid surrounding baby
- gestational diabetes
- high blood pressure
- uterine infection
- placental separation from the uterus
- Rh-blood disease
- premature rupture of membranes
- post-term pregnancy 7,9
And some of the risks of induction include a failed induction, low fetal heart rate, infection, uterine hyperstimulation and rupture, and fetal distress. 7,9
If your doctor brings up the topic of induction, the first question I want you to ask is, “Is there a medical reason to induce me now?” If not, then talk to your doctor about waiting to allow your body go to into labor spontaneously. Your doctor can do a non-stress test to make sure that the baby is not showing signs of distress and that you have enough amniotic fluid.
Evidence-Based Birth calls out these important statistics:
Researchers found that 50% of all women giving birth for the first time gave birth by 40 weeks and 5 days, while 75% gave birth by 41 weeks and 2 days.
Meanwhile, 50% of all women who had given birth at least once before gave birth by 40 weeks and 3 days, while 75% gave birth by 41 weeks.Evidence-based birth 10
There are risks of going too far past your due date and inducing once you reach one week after your due date may lower the risks of your baby having complications. 11
I personally would not feel comfortable going much past 41 weeks myself.
My Own Experience Being Induced
While some women have gone on to have an ideal birth experience after being induced, the truth is that you simply don’t know how your body will respond to it.
I would personally never volunteer to be medically induced unless absolutely necessary. And if I had to be induced again, I would insist on a Foley bulb, which simply uses a balloon to put pressure on the cervix and causes it to dilate. 12
When I was 40 weeks pregnant with my first baby, I wasn’t showing any signs of progressing. And as soon as I hit 41 weeks, my OBGYN planned to induce me. I tried a few things to induce labor, but I was honestly so stressed and tense at the time that my cervix wasn’t budging.
So I was admitted to the hospital and received two rounds of Cervidil. Soon after the second round, I quickly went into labor and my contractions were rapid and painful. Thankfully I never needed Pitocin because that’s what usually creates the worst contractions.
In my experience, being induced led to such rapid contractions that my goal of having a peaceful, natural birth went completely out the window. I was in distress and my labor pains were incredibly painful and relentless. I even asked for an epidural, against my own wishes, but thankfully the anesthesiologist didn’t show up in time and I ended up delivering without an epidural.
If you are trying to have a natural birth or avoid having an epidural, being medically induced probably won’t be your first choice. But as always, we want to remain open-minded about birth and focus on our goal of having both mom and baby be safe during delivery.
Compared to my second birth almost three years later, my first experience delivering my baby was more like the scenes we see in the movies than my ideal, empowered birth experience. With my second baby, I used some natural induction techniques and they worked. I ate a whole pineapple, did induction acupuncture, and ate spicy Indian food two days before I was scheduled to be induced and went into labor that night. I had a more peaceful, all-natural birth and a smoother recovery.
I wish I had tried harder to induce labor naturally when I was pregnant with my first baby. I hope this list of ways to induce labor at home has been helpful!
Which of these natural induction methods are you thinking about trying? Let me know in the comments below!
Good luck, and happy labor vibes!