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What Foods Can Induce Labor?

by
author image Alyssa Northrop
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Alyssa Northrop is a Registered Dietitian who has been writing about nutrition and health since 2004. Her work has been published in the scientific journal Explore. She holds a Master of Public Health in human nutrition from the University of Michigan.
What Foods Can Induce Labor?
A pregnant woman eating a salad in a kitchen. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Whether you are in your 42nd week of pregnancy and anxious to meet your baby or concerned about premature labor, you may be wondering if what you eat can induce labor. While it seems everyone you meet has their own advice on how to bring on those contractions, no foods have been scientifically proven to induce labor. That being said, most of the foods purported to induce labor won’t hurt you or your baby, so go ahead and enjoy them; just don’t be crestfallen if they don’t send you to the delivery room.

Spicy Food

Be it Mexican fare or Indian curry, spicy food is often hailed as a labor inducer. In a 2011 study in the journal "Birth," Zaid Chaundry and colleagues examined the methods pregnant women use to induce labor on their own and found 10.9 percent of survey respondents ate spicy food. Some believe eating hot curry will stimulate your belly and, thus, your contractions; however, no scientific evidence exists that eating spicy food will start labor.

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Pineapple

Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, which may help soften the cervix and stimulate smooth muscle to induce labor. Heat involved in canning and juicing destroys this enzyme, so bromelain is only found in fresh pineapple. However, in a 2009 study on complementary therapies for stimulating labor published in "Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice," Maggie Evans notes that the concentration of bromelain in pineapple is so low you would have to eat an enormous amount of fresh pineapple to achieve a therapeutic effect. This would more likely cause diarrhea than stimulate contractions.

Eggplant

Rumors have circulated that eating eggplant Parmesan can help start labor. Some suggest that the basil and oregano used in this dish are the acting agents. While you may enjoy eating eggplant Parmesan without worry that it will cause harm to you or baby, no scientific evidence suggests that doing so will bring you any closer to meeting your little one.

Black Licorice

Licorice root contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which is thought to increase prostaglandins involved in contraction of the uterus. In a 2002 study in the "American Journal of Epidemiology" by Timo Strandberg and colleagues, heavy licorice consumption during pregnancy was associated with higher rates of preterm birth. Most licorice candy is made with artificial licorice flavor, not real licorice, and does not contain glycyrrhizin. More research needs to be conducted, but it is not advisable to eat large amounts of real licorice during pregnancy.

Balsamic Vinegar

Beyond it being a yummy condiment for your salad, some people believe that drinking balsamic vinegar will help you go into labor. One restaurant serves a “maternity salad” that supposedly helps women start their labor. However, these claims are entirely unsubstantiated.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Red raspberry leaf herb has been widely used to tone the uterus and prevent post-date pregnancies. In a 1999 study on raspberry leaf and its effect on labor, Myra Parsons and colleagues report in the "Australian College of Midwives Incorporated Journal" that ingesting raspberry leaf may decrease the likelihood of going beyond your due date. In a 2001 study in the "Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health" on raspberry leaf in pregnancy, Michelle Simpson et al. report that taking raspberry leaf from 32 weeks gestation until labor slightly shortened the second stage of labor and resulted in lower rate of forceps use. Red raspberry leaf is often steeped as a tea, and women typically drink it starting around 32 weeks gestation. Studies indicate that drinking raspberry leaf tea is safe for both you and your baby; however, more research needs to be done to confirm its safety and efficacy. Consult your health care provider before deciding whether it is right for you.

Castor Oil

While it's not exactly a food, pregnant women have ingested castor oil to induce labor for centuries. The oil is extracted from the bean of the castor plant. Research studying the efficacy of castor oil as a labor inducer is inconclusive; though some women swear it helped stimulate their contractions. In 2013, Anthony Kelly and colleagues published a review of studies examining castor oil as a labor inducer in the "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews," concluding that further research needs to be done to determine the effects of castor oil on labor. It appears to be safe, but will certainly make you feel nauseous and may give you vomiting and diarrhea. Labor is hard enough without additional nausea and dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea, so be cautious before ingesting castor oil to induce labor.

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