Can anything bring labour on?

The waiting game can be torturous. Your due date has been and gone, you feel the size of a mothership and you’re oh so tired of waddling to the loo every five minutes.

It’s time for this baby to make an appearance. Only problem is it’s out of your control. Or is it? These are the common myths around bringing labour on and the science behind them.*

* There aren’t any medically proven ways to induce labour at home. Please always get advice from your midwife before trying anything.

Walking more

Being upright helps your baby move down on to your cervix. Exercise will also get endorphins flowing, helping you relax and feel good about life. You can’t really go wrong with this one - just don’t tire yourself out. You need to conserve your energy for labour. 

Mums say:

 “I tried everything. The hottest curries, sex, driving down bumpy roads. Nothing worked! Once I started to feel things happening, walking definitely helped.” Gemma, mum of two

Eating dates

One small study showed that eating six dates a day in the final month of pregnancy may encourage your cervix to dilate, and therefore reduce the need for induction. You can take a look here. This research is from a small sample study though and would need to be carried out on a much larger scale to be conclusive!

Mums say:

“I started eating six dates a day four weeks before my due date. At 39 weeks, after a sweep, my contractions started in the afternoon and when I arrived at hospital the following morning, I was already 7cm dilated. Who knows whether the dates helped or not.” Karen, mum of two

Drinking raspberry leaf tea

This fruity tea won’t bring on labour but drinking it in your third trimester might help to tone the muscles of your womb, encouraging it to work more effectively. Don’t be tempted to glug gallons of the stuff in desperation if you go overdue - it may cause intense contractions and lead to your baby getting distressed. Women are advised to drink from 37 weeks only, and no more than three times daily.

Complementary therapies

Although all evidence is anecdotal (reported by mums instead of from research studies) and there’s no scientific proof to show therapies, such as acupuncture, reflexology and shiatsu, induce labour, they might help you relax, which could be just what your body needs. Some maternity units are starting to offer complementary therapies. Ask your midwife for more info. 

Mums say:

“My hospital is experimenting with acupuncture, so I tried that. I also had a few curries, drank raspberry leaf tea and all the other obvious ones. I guess we’ll never know if anything particular worked or if our babies just wanted out!” Maria, mum of two

Eating spicy curries

The thinking behind this is that a hot curry might stimulate your bowel and in turn get your womb going. But in reality you might just end up with a nasty bout of indigestion and the runs - nice. On the other hand, perhaps any excuse for a tasty takeaway, or precious night out at your local curry house is a good one. 

Mums say:

“Both mine were around a week early. With my son, we went out for a curry the night before my waters broke. It was probably a coincidence but who knows.” Aisha, mum of two

Having sex

There's no denying it, the logistics of this can be tricky when you hit 40 weeks. There is some science behind this one though. Sex can encourage the release of the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin, needed to get labour kick-started. Semen also contains a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins, which  may help to soften a ripen the cervix. Semen contains prostaglandins, which can help soften the cervix. But please avoid sex if your waters have broken because there’s a risk of infection.

Mums say:

“Admittedly my husband took some persuading but I was desperate to try anything. 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.” Sonja, mum of one

Eating pineapple

Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is thought to soften the cervix. You’d have to eat a whole lotta pineapple for it to have any effect, which probably wouldn’t be great for your poor tummy. 

Mums say:

“I danced like a loon and 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.” Kate, mum of one

Stimulating your nipples

Mimicking a baby suckling by massaging the areola (dark part of your nipple) could help release oxytocin. However, you would need to commit to some serious nipple twiddling for long periods of time to have an impact. Not all that practical.

Blowing up balloons

Yep. No joke. The theory is the build up of abdominal pressure gets labour going. Again, there's no evidence that that this works.

Mums say:

“Someone suggested I try blowing up lots of balloons. I needed to pump up my gym ball so I did that by mouth. Four hours later my waters broke. It may just have been a complete coincidence.” Eva, mum of two

If none of it works...then what?

If your labour hasn't started naturally by 42 weeks you will be offered an induction. If you decide not to have it you should be offered increased monitoring as your baby has a higher risk of health problems, including stillbirth.

Mums say:

"I was terrified of induction, I went right to the limit of 42 weeks and then resigned myself to it. It was so fine, that in my next pregnancy, I was scared of going into labour naturally!" Emma, mum of two

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  1.  NICE (2014) Clinical Guideline 190 Intrapartum care: care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth


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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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