As a mother-to-be approaches her due date, she will brim with anticipation and excitement about the coming birth. When the due date has arrived and labor hasn't started, some women look for ways to get things moving. Using a breast pump to stimulate the breast, leading to a release of hormones that might help initiate labor, is a drug-free, cost-effective way for women to be involved in the process. However, this option should only be used if approved by your healthcare provider.
Effects of Breast Stimulation
When an infant suckles at his mother’s breast, the stimulation sends a signal to the mother’s brain to release a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone causes the breasts to release milk. Immediately after baby’s birth, the oxytocin release associated with breastfeeding also causes uterine contractions that help the uterus return to its usual size. Similarly, using a pump to stimulate the breast before birth can increase maternal oxytocin levels, and this may produce uterine contractions to help jump-start labor. A July 2005 "Cochrane Library" research review found that women at term who engaged in breast stimulation were significantly more likely to go into labor within 72 hours, compared to those who did nothing to stimulate labor.
Warnings and Precautions
Breast stimulation is not safe for all women and all situations. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women should not attempt labor induction until they have reached at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. Women who have high-risk pregnancies should refrain from breast stimulation to induce labor, too. To prevent overstimulation of the uterine muscles, which might harm the baby, it is recommended that women pump only one breast at a time for an hour or less for a maximum of 3 successive days. Talk with your healthcare provider before attempting breast stimulation or any other method to help stimulate labor to be sure it's safe for you and your baby.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: ACOG Issues Revision of Labor Induction Guidelines
- Integrative Medicine, Third Edition; David Rakel, M.D
- Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology; Frederic H. Martini, Ph.D.
- Cochrane Library: Breast Stimulation for Cervical Ripening and Induction of Labour