A common thought for someone who has made it through nearly 40 weeks of pregnancy is “Get this baby out of me!”
That’s totally understandable! With the end to the discomfort of pregnancy seemingly within reach, it’s natural to wish for that end to get here already. You’ve waited long enough, and now you want to meet your baby.
And if you’re past your expected due date, your provider may want to induce labor before baby gets too big to deliver without complications.
Whether your doctor recommends an induction or you’re thinking of trying an old wives’ tale, knowing what to expect can help prepare you for the big day.
How to induce labor
There are ways to induce labor that include medications or techniques that must be delivered by a qualified health care provider.
Inducing labor with hormones
“When you’re being induced, what we’re trying to do is to give you some medications that stimulate labor. We might use a variety of medications,” said Robyn Lindenmeyer, director of Women’s and Children’s Health at OSF HealthCare.
One of the most common methods is the use of Pitocin to induce labor. Pitocin is a synthetic drug that mimics oxytocin, a hormone your body releases naturally to help stimulate labor contractions. It’s used most often in slow or stalled labors. But Pitocin can only be delivered if the cervix is ripe – soft and thin – for labor.
“If we want to use Pitocin, but your body maybe is not at the point in labor where it would be receptive to that, we may have to use some other types of compounds for cervical ripening and stuff like that, to make your body more receptive to it,” Robyn said.
“The goal is for us to get to the point where we can then give you Pitocin. And then your body will naturally sort of kick in to labor with that stimulation, and your body starts to secrete the oxytocin. It all kind of works together to help you go into labor and deliver your baby.”
Stripping the membranes
If your cervix is dilated, your health care provider may do what is called “membrane stripping.” They insert a finger into the cervical opening and sweeping in a clockwise motion to separate the amniotic sac, with baby and placenta inside, from the wall of the uterus. This can be done even a week ahead of a due date, as long as the cervix is dilated.
However, this method is uncomfortable, can cause bleeding and is not guaranteed to stimulate labor for all women.
Amniotomy – breaking your water
When your water breaks, the amniotic sac in your uterus that houses the baby and the placenta ruptures. This is supposed to happen naturally, but that’s not always the case.
Using a small plastic hook, a health care provider can break the membranes of the amniotic sac. If your cervix is already dilated, this method can induce labor, though it may take hours.
Risks of inducing labor
As with just about any medical intervention, inducing labor carries some risks.
Using hormones can lower blood pressure and blood sodium, increasing the risk of seizures. Pitocin can also result in irregular contractions, requiring the dosage to be reduced to fix. The stronger and more frequent contractions can be painful. There is also a small risk of a tear in your uterus.
Stripping the membranes, again, can result in pain and bleeding with no results to show for it.
If you get an amniotomy and your body doesn’t respond quickly enough, you may need to be helped with another method of induction. Both mother and baby are at risk of infection if the sac is broken too long before baby is born.
When getting induced, you also run the risk of birthing a late preterm baby, or one born at 34-36 weeks of gestation. Babies in that birth range can have treatable issues like jaundice, trouble feeding, difficulty breathing and trouble maintaining their body temperature. That can happen if your expected due date was calculated incorrectly.
Natural ways to induce labor
Membrane stripping and amniotomies are natural methods for inducing labor, though they don’t always work for everyone.
And if you’re looking for other natural ways to induce labor, unfortunately the methods passed around for years have been scientifically proven to not work, and some can even be harmful.
Castor oil has been a popular home remedy for inducing labor. However, it has shown to be ineffective at inducing labor contractions, but very effective at giving people contractions due to upset stomach and diarrhea – those aren’t the same kind of contractions.
Trying to induce labor with spicy foods will more than likely end up with the same result. In fact, there are no foods that induce labor.
While exercising is encouraged during pregnancy and can help dilate your cervix, there are no exercises to induce labor that have been discovered.
Herbal remedies are not only ineffective, but some herbs – like cohosh – but are also linked to pediatric health issues.
Nipple stimulation can cause contractions in the uterus, but if labor hasn’t begun, these contractions can actually lead to distress and harm to your baby.
There is also no evidence that acupuncture or trying different sleep positions induce labor, though they can provide other benefits.
Sexual intercourse as a way to induce labor has been neither scientifically proved nor disproved.
Be sure to speak with your provider before trying any home induction remedies.
Last Updated: March 9, 2023