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The Science (or Lack Thereof) Behind Inducing Labor Naturally

We have centuries of lore and rumor on how to get the process of labor started naturally. But do any of them actually work?

By
Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD,
Episode #314

Pineapple

The core of a fresh pineapple contains an enzyme known as bromelain which works to break down proteins in tissue. Bromelain is actually used as a meat tenderizer and is why your mouth might tingle when you eat pineapple. Rumor says the enzyme can break down tissue in the cervix but unfortunately, there’s no evidence to back that up. The bromelain is not fully absorbed by your body to start and your stomach is already very acidic, meaning there’s a lot of competition.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture, or the ancient Chinese process of pricking skin or tissue with needles, has been used for centuries to get labor started, particularly throughout Asia. In a study of 364 women in Adelaide, Australia, doctors prescribed two sessions of manual acupuncture in the two days leading up to their scheduled inductions. They found no difference between the acupuncture recipients and the control group (those that did not receive acupuncture) as far as any reduction in the need for medical inductions or in the duration of labor.

In a much smaller study of 56 women that were within a week of their due date and had not previously given birth, 70% of the group that got acupuncture ended up going into labor naturally while only 50% of the control group did. The C-section rate in the group receiving acupuncture was also nearly 50% lower, although the lower rate could be a reflection of the lower need for medicated induction.  

Going for a Walk

Many women get back to basics when it comes to trying to induce labor naturally: good old gravity. Going for a walk means a mom-to-be is upright and swaying her hips, which could help move the baby downward, and some hope this pressure on the pelvis will inspire the cervix to prepare for labor. In a study of over 600 women about their self-reported triggers for natural labor, 32% credited exercise like walking.

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