Can anything bring labour on?

There are plenty of tips about how to get labour going naturally, although most of them are not backed by science. If you’re worried about when labour will start, talk to your midwife. They can help put your mind at ease and let you know what they can do to get labour started if you’re overdue.

For the past 40 weeks you have been waiting to meet your baby, but then, nothing happens! If you’re feeling fed up with pregnancy, and you want to get your labour going, you may be tempted to try some home remedies you have heard of or read about. 

Be aware that there is not enough strong evidence that home remedies can start labour, and some may not be safe to try. That’s why you should always get advice from your midwife beforehand.

“I wish I had chilled out and enjoyed those last few weeks a bit more. I was so keen to get my babies here, but it is important to use that time to take time for yourself, and any hobbies you have, or things you want to do, because you don't have as much chance once the baby arrives!”


Walking more

Being upright and moving in late pregnancy may help your baby to settle into your pelvis and press on your cervix (the entrance to your womb). There is a small amount of evidence that walking for 30 minutes, three times a week, may increase your chance of going into labour. 

Walking and other types of gentle movement can also help you sleep, ease your anxiety, and improve your mood. All of this can make you feel better as you wait for your baby to arrive. 

Listen to your body. Only walk as far and fast as is comfortable for you.  Do not forget to save some energy for labour.

“I tried everything, but once I started to feel things happening, walking definitely helped.”


Eating dates

There is a theory that eating dates for a few weeks before your due date may help your cervix to open (dilate). Dates are rich in fibre and nutrients including prostaglandins, which may play a part in getting labour started. There is some evidence that they can help, but bigger and better studies are needed to be sure.

A handful of dates is a healthy daily snack, so you may think it’s worth trying them either way.

“I started eating 6 dates a day, 4 weeks before my due date. At 39 weeks, after a membrane sweep, my contractions started in the afternoon. When I arrived at hospital the following morning, I was already 7cm dilated. Who knows whether the dates helped or not.”


Drinking raspberry leaf tea

Raspberry leaf tea is a type of herbal tea that’s high in vitamins, minerals and tannins. It is thought to help tone the muscles of your womb so they work better when you are in labour.

Some people start drinking raspberry leaf tea in late pregnancy, but health professionals do not suggest it for getting labour going. If you're going to try it, you should take it in the weeks leading up to your due date and slowly increase the amount.

Although many people try raspberry leaf, experts are still unsure whether it works, or even how safe it is in pregnancy. That’s why it’s always best to talk to a health professional before using it.

Raspberry leaf can be bought in tablet form as well as a tea. If you want to try raspberry leaf as a tea after taking advice, start at around 32 weeks pregnant. Have 1 cup of tea daily, and slowly increase to 3 cups, spread throughout the day.

Raspberry leaf tea may not be safe for you. You should not take the tea or tablets if you:

Always check with your midwife or doctor before trying herbal remedies during pregnancy.


Acupuncture is a type of complementary therapy. It involves having fine needles inserted into points on your body. It is used to treat long-term pain such as back pain and migraines.

There is little to suggest that acupuncture can trigger labour. It may help the cervix to get ready for labour, but much more research is needed to be sure.

Acupuncture tends to be safe to have when you’re pregnant, but talk to your midwife or a GP before you book a session.

If you do want to try it, make sure the practitioner is fully qualified. Check that they are also used to doing pregnancy treatments. Certain acupuncture points are not safe in pregnancy. Always check that they use disposable needles at every session.

Some maternity units are starting to offer complementary therapies like acupuncture. Ask your midwife whether your local one does. 

“My hospital is experimenting with acupuncture, so I tried that. I also tried a few other things, so I guess we’ll never know if anything in particular worked or if our babies just wanted out!”


Eating spicy curries

The theory is that a spicy curry can stimulate your gut and get your contractions going, but there is no proof that this works. It may not be a great one to try if you’ve had lots of heartburn or indigestion during pregnancy, which is common. On the other hand, it may be nice to have a curry or a spicy meal while you wait. 

“With my son, we went out for a curry the night before my waters broke. It was probably a coincidence, but who knows.”


Having sex

Having sex when you are heavily pregnant may be difficult, and there is no evidence that it will help to start labour. 

Semen contains hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are used in medicines that help induce labour, but only a midwife or doctor can offer them. 

There have been conflicting studies on whether the prostaglandins from semen actually bring on labour.  

If you’re having a low-risk pregnancy and you want to give it a try, sex will not harm you or the baby. Just be sure not to have sex if your waters have broken, because this can cause infection.

“Sex didn’t bring on my labour, but it might have helped me get to sleep in those long, dark nights towards the end of pregnancy.”


Find out more about sex in pregnancy.

Nipple stimulation

There are a handful of small studies that suggest nipple stimulation may help to get labour going. 

More research is needed but, if you want to try it, gently rub or roll your nipples. The idea is to trick your body into thinking you are feeding your baby. This releases oxytocin, which is a hormone that helps contractions to start.

If you’re having a healthy pregnancy, and you have not had any complications, then it is safe to try nipple stimulation.

Eating pineapple

Pineapples contain substances that have been linked to getting labour started, including an enzyme called bromelain. But there is no real evidence that eating pineapple helps at all. Eating too much may also give you an upset tummy, which is the last thing you want.

“I ate loads of pineapple. I think you're supposed to eat about 12 whole pineapples to see any effect, which even for me would be a bit much.”


What not to try

Castor oil

In the past, castor oil was used to bring on labour, and there is some evidence that it may work. However, it is not recommended by health professionals. That’s because castor oil can make you feel sick. It may also cause vomiting and high blood pressure.

Evening primrose oil

It’s best not to take evening primrose oil during pregnancy, as we cannot be sure it is safe. There is not much to suggest that evening primrose oil helps to get labour going.

Clary sage

You may have heard about the essential oil clary sage being used to get labour started. However, you should not use this at home, as it may be harmful if not used correctly. If it’s something you want to try, talk to your midwife or consult a qualified medical herbalist. 

All essential oils have potential side effects. Some should not be used during pregnancy, or if you have a medical condition. As with everything on this page, the best thing to do is talk to your midwife before you try it.

If none of it works... then what?

If your baby is only a couple of days late, there’s no need to worry. 

Most babies stay healthy, but a pregnancy that lasts longer than 42 weeks carries a higher risk of health problems for your baby. Sadly, it also brings a higher risk of a baby being stillborn.

Try not to get too anxious about it. Your midwife will talk to you about options for bringing on labour, at your 38-week antenatal visit.  

The first thing your midwife will offer you is a membrane sweep, which may help you go into labour. If labour has not started by 42 weeks, your midwife or doctor will then offer to induce your labour.

Read about what to pack in your bag for labour and birth.

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Review dates
Reviewed: 07 February 2024
Next review: 07 February 2027