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Inducing Labor: Myth vs. Reality

One of the first things people do when they find out they are pregnant is figure out their estimated due date—when will their baby be born? Everyone wants to know that! Some people have scheduled c-sections, which may give them more control over their baby’s birth date, but even then, babies have a mind of their own and sometimes they choose to come sooner than expected. If you’re planning a vaginal delivery, even if you want a spontaneous labor, you may find thoughts of inducing labor becoming more and more appealing toward the end.

Recent studies show that most people, up to 75 %1, will go into labor on their own by 41 weeks of pregnancy. While totally normal, even going a day beyond the estimated due date can be hard for pregnant women, both physically and emotionally. Because of that, it’s no surprise that all sorts of rumors exist about the best way to induce labor naturally. Is there any truth to these myths or are they just wishful thinking?

Do Spicy Foods Induce Labor?

One of the most popular tips for labor induction is to eat certain foods, often spicy ones. But do spicy foods start labor? Unfortunately not, they usually just give you heartburn.

Spicy foods, castor oil, and parsley all “stimulate” labor by stimulating the bowels. The laxative effect of these foods will almost always cause contractions of your lower bowels and sometimes this can cause uterine contractions, too. If your body is already on the verge of going into labor, these foods can give you a nudge in the right direction, but usually you’ll just get some heartburn and loose stools.

Does Walking Induce Labor?

Some people think if they walk enough they’ll be able to get labor going. While staying active is an excellent idea at the end of your pregnancy and walking is a great activity to help baby get in an optimal position for delivery, walking in and of itself is not going to get labor started.

It’s possible, if you’re already having some uterine contractions, that walking could help make them longer and stronger, but unless your body is already starting things, you could walk for miles and still not be in labor at the end of it. The same thing applies to red raspberry tea.

Red raspberry tea is a uterine toner and it does help your uterus be ready for the work of labor, but if your body isn’t ready to deliver your baby, you’ll just get to enjoy a nice relaxing cup of tea…without a side of labor.

Does Sex Induce Labor?

What about having sex? Most people know that semen has prostaglandins that can help ripen the cervix (evening primrose oil does the same by being converted to prostaglandins), but will that put you in labor? Probably not. Toward the end of pregnancy, your body is going to be working to soften your cervix as you get closer to birth. Having sex can be a part of how that is accomplished, but its not going to make you go into labor if your body wasn’t already prepped for it.

The same thing is true of having your provider do a membrane sweep toward the end of your pregnancy. If your body is ready, if you were standing on the precipice between the end of pregnancy and labor then sex or a membrane sweep or walking or some food might be the thing that tips you over the edge. But also none of these things are going to push you into labor if your body isn’t wanting to do that.

The Mysteries Surrounding Labor

There is some mystery around labor—no one really knows all of the parts that come together to start labor, but we do know that the labor contractions are fueled by oxytocin. Some labor inducing techniques try to take advantage of this knowledge by prompting an oxytocin let down in the body. Acupuncture, nipple stimulation (both manually and with a breast pump) can do this, and so they should not be attempted without approval by your health care provider.

The end of your pregnancy is a time to enjoy and treasure. Once you give birth, you won’t be pregnant with this baby any longer—you won’t feel their kicks on the inside and you eventually won’t always know where they are, either! Take a deep breath and know that your body knows what it is doing. When your body and your baby are ready, labor will start and you won’t have to do anything to make that happen. Happy birthing!


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All content published on the Motif Medical site is credited for information purposes only. This information should not substitute as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor or qualified health professional with any questions regarding the health of you or your baby.

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