A pregnant woman past her due date is often desperate to find ways to start the labor process, so theories about what can jump start it are abundant. Some are scientific, while others are more spiritual. Which are based in fact, and which are simply myths?
Helping Labor Along
Overdue patients often ask Lisa Fitch, a nurse practitioner who specializes in women's health at the Myers, Fitch and Riojas Women's Clinic in North Kansas City, Mo., for advice on how to start labor. "The fact is we are not sure what causes the complex cycle of events to occur between mother and baby," she said. "There are no exercises a woman can do to stimulate labor to begin, but there are certain activities a woman can do to help her baby engage down into the pelvis, which in turn, applies pressure to the cervix and may assist in dilation and thinning of the cervix."
According to Fitch, walking, swimming, climbing stairs, rolling back and forth on an exercise ball and squatting can be helpful. "However, nothing will bring on labor unless the cervix is ready," Fitch said.
How Physical Activity Can Help
According to the Modern Mom site, walking encourages contractions to get stronger and more regular if they have already started because it uses the pull of gravity to pull the baby down and puts gentle pressure on the cervix to encourage it to dilate. Walking doesn't necessarily mean powering through an outside trail or even hopping on a treadmill. Mundane tasks, such as walking throughout the house, checking the mail or climbing stairs, are beneficial.
Why Sex Can Help
It is no myth--sex can actually aid in starting labor. However, it is the hormone in sperm, not the actual intercourse that is key. "The prostaglandins released in male semen can have a softening effect on the cervix and possibly stimulate uterine contractions," Fitch said. "That is why women who are experiencing pre-term labor must refrain from sexual activity. However, nothing will really help unless the cervix is willing and able."
Although medical professionals are usually adamant about explaining that to their patients, some women insist that being mentally prepared or "in touch with their bodies" can bring on labor anyway.
Getting in Touch With Your Body
Labor can't begin if you are tense, so try a warm (not hot) bath, aromatherapy or pamper sessions, such as manicures, dinner dates, massages and acupuncture.
However, Fitch said there are certain places on a pregnant woman's body that should be avoided if receiving acupuncture or massage therapy before the baby is fully developed. "Some of these pressure points may stimulate labor and should be approved by a health care provider before beginning them," she said.
Midwives often suggest nipple stimulation to induce labor, according to the site Giving Birth Naturally. It causes the release of oxytocin, the same hormone that causes uterine contractions. This can be done manually or with an electric breast pump. However, the article warned that during nipple stimulation the uterus can sometimes get too little rest between contractions, so it is important to consult a medical professional before beginning.
Follow these directions to learn more about the technique: Only massage one breast at a time. Grasping the areola, rub in a circular motion until a contraction begins. It is important to mimic the suckling action of a baby. Stop after the contraction begins. Wait 15 minutes, then repeat. Expectant mothers should stop using nipple stimulation when the contractions are three minutes apart or last one minute or longer.