As their due dates approach, many pregnant women believe the baby is never going to arrive. Feeling big as a boat and plagued with heartburn, unable to find a comfortable position to sleep, they find themselves willing to try anything to encourage labor to begin. The good news is that there are safe, natural ways to try to induce labor. However, a woman shouldn't consider giving it a try until she is around 40 weeks pregnant, in case her due date is off by a few weeks. This will ensure that she gives birth to a healthy, fully developed baby.
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Walk It On
One of the most effective methods for naturally inducing labor is also the easiest -- walking. It utilizes gravity to press the baby's head downward against the cervix, helping to soften and dilate the cervix, and the swaying motion helps position the baby for birth. Walking is also an excellent test to tell if early contractions represent true labor -- if the contractions persist when walking, it's the real thing.
This is an opportunity for a woman's partner to be the superhero, for it's the prostaglandins in his semen that can soften the cervix and ripen it for labor. And a woman's orgasm can open up the cervix as much as two centimeters.
Stimulating certain pressure points can be a very relaxing method for softening and dilating the cervix, bringing the baby down the birth canal, and stimulating contractions. And, according to doula and founder of Joy of Birthing Giuditta Tornetta, acupressure is one of the most successful of the natural ways to induce labor. There are four primary pressure points targeted. The hoku spot is at the webbing between the thumb and forefinger; grasping this spot and massaging in a circular motion affects a portion of the large intestine surrounding the uterus, causing contractions. Bladder 32 is located in the dimple between the buttocks and the spine. When rubbed for one to two minutes, contractions often begin. Spleen 6 is located on the inside of the ankle, approximately four finger widths above the ankle bone. Massaging this spot for one to two minutes also tends to stimulate contractions. Finally, BL60 is between the ankle bone and Achilles tendon. Applying steady pressure to BL60 helps the baby descend into the pelvis.
Stimulating a woman's nipples produces oxytocin -- the hormone that causes the uterus to contract. This can be used as a method of natural labor induction by rolling the nipples between the thumb and forefinger or rubbing the nipples for 20 minutes every hour until labor is established. Women using this method should be advised, however, that nipple stimulation can result in very strong contractions that are closer together than is safe for the baby. To maintain a healthy pattern of contractions, only one breast should be massaged at a time, and stimulation should stop as soon as a contraction begins. Furthermore, women should consult their physician or midwife before using this method of induction.
This method has been around for generations, and some practitioners swear by it. Castor oil causes the intestines to spasm; since the intestines surround the uterus in late pregnancy, it's possible these spasms prompt the uterus into action. One to four ounces of castor oil is added to six ounces of orange or apple juice or four ounces of root beer and swallowed quickly. The castor oil may also be mixed with two to three scrambled eggs. Women using this method should be aware that the bowels will evacuate within three hours. To avoid dehydration, drink a minimum of 16 ounces of water after the bowels evacuate.
Many women are convinced that it was that last meal that put them in to labor with their most recent baby -- and it could be true. Spicy foods, pineapple, black licorice, eggplant parmesan, and Chinese food are particularly well known for their supposed abilities to induce labor. Unfortunately, there is no proof of this -- and in some cases the opposite is true. For example, spicy foods release substances called capsasins; capsasins counteract the pain-fighting endorphins released by the mother's body as the baby descends toward the cervix. Spicy foods, therefore, are actually counterproductive, rather than helpful.
Though not definitive, there is some evidence to support the use of other foods to prompt labor. The basil and oregano in eggplant parmesan may naturally help start labor; pineapple is thought to be a cervical ripening agent; and black licorice contains the chemical glycyrrhizin, which stimulates prostaglandins. If a woman finds these foods appealing, it wouldn't hurt her to give them a try.