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?

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
Episode #314

However, despite the popularity of this natural method of induction, the evidence that it actually works remains mostly anecdotal. If you’re considering going for a walk to start labor, keep in mind that labor is likely to be very physically taxing so you don’t want to start already exhausted.

Sexual Intercourse

Unless you are required to take some kind of pelvic bed rest, doctors and midwives often advise that you can try rounding out your pregnancy the same way you may have started it: with heterosexual intercourse. The link here also makes sense: semen contains prostaglandins, a hormone that can stimulate and soften the cervix and possibly lead to uterine contractions. These hormone-like prostaglandins are also similar to the medications hospitals use to induce labor. However, research has not been able to draw a conclusive link between sexual activity and kickstarting labor so it may be worth a try, but don’t get your hopes up.

Herbal Supplements

While many of the labor-inducing methods we’ve covered so far fall into the category of “it’s worth a shot,” the evidence is far bleaker for the use of herbal supplements. Herbs and tinctures like black cohosh, raspberry leaf tea, and evening primrose oil have all been touted for their powers to bring on labor.

However, in all cases, there is again a lack of clinical evidence showing any clear link. Even worse, studies have found that some of the herbs can have harmful effects. Cohosh, for example, has been linked to fetal heart failure and stroke, as well as maternal complications with intimidating names like severe hyponatremia, during labor.

When it comes to the scientific evidence, the jury is still out on most methods rumored to induce labor naturally. And what most of these studies tell us is that if you’re close to your due date, the chances of going into labor on your own are, by definition, already pretty high. But after waiting nine long months, it’s understandable to be impatient or overeager or just plain done with the inconveniences of being pregnant. So if you’re thinking of trying one of the methods above, or, say, the weird tea your aunt swears by, ask your doctor or midwife first.

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

Image courtesy of shutterstock


About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt is an extragalactic astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology and Adjunct Faculty at the University of Virginia.

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