In this post we’re going to talk all about the best ways to induce labor when you are ready to get that baby out, as well as whether you should just wait it out.

Many methods to induce labor are performed by a doctor or medical professional but there are also some natural methods you can try yourself. We’ll also cover potentially unsafe methods that you should definitely avoid!

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a way to go into labor naturally, this post is definitely worth your time! 

Lots of people are apprehensive about labor induction because it means having medication or other procedures performed on them. This list should help clear up any uncertainties so you can make the best decision for yourself and your family.

This post is not a replacement for medical advice. Please use it as a starting point and discuss any and all options with your doctor or midwife.

best ways to induce labor

It’s important to discuss all possible interventions, especially possible medical interventions ahead of time and add them to your birth plan where appropriate. You don’t want to be trying to research these things when you’re in labor!

I suggest reviewing all of the methods but if you have something specific your curious about you can use this table of contents to jump to that section. (Simply click the down arrow to see the table of contents).

Should you induce labor?

There are many reasons that you may need to induce labor. These will be determined by tests performed by your doctor. Regular prenatal care is important so any issue can be caught early and labor induced early if the health of the mother or baby is in jeopardy.

Reasons to consider inducing labor

  • You are past your due date
  • Growth problems
  • Low amniotic fluid
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Preeclampsia

Let’s go over these different scenarios.

You are over your due date

Many doctors will not induce over your due date until around week 41.  Most women will go into labor on their own between their 38th and 41st week of pregnancy.  

If you are over your due date you can discuss ways to encourage labor at home before going in for a medical induction.  (You can read about some natural ways to induce labor further down)

Due dates are rough estimates so if you and your baby are healthy you can go a bit further past your projected due date. Many traditional doctors are uncomfortable letting you go more than 5-7 days past your due date.

doctor showing ultrasound to pregnant woman

The baby has growth issues 

There are actually two sides to growth issues. The baby being too small…or the baby being projected to be large.

If your baby hasn’t been growing properly or is too small, they might need to be born early so that they can get the proper nutrients. This can often be due to issues with the placenta and is more common if you are carrying multiples.

Your doctor will thoroughly discuss the pros and cons and aid you in making a decision.

The flip side of this coin is your doctor may suggest that your baby is going to be large and suggest inducing or scheduling a c-section.

According to this article from UT Southwestern Medical Center:

In a recent study, one-third of women reported their OB provider told them their baby might be getting “quite large” near the end of pregnancy. In the end, however, only one in five of those women had a baby that weighed more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces or 4000 grams, a common threshold for labeling a baby “large.”

I was told that both of my babies might be getting too big. Neither was overly large and both were born past their due date. I did have 2nd-degree tears with both but that was due to their 99 percentile head circumference, not because they were large babies.

Know that you always have the choice to say no to a planned induction or scheduled c-section if you’d rather give your baby the chance to come naturally.

If you have gestational diabetes, we’ll talk more about that below, this can lead to your baby being large and maybe a reason to induce labor early.

Gestational diabetes

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it could be harmful to your baby or cause your baby to grow very large making a natural birth difficult and dangerous.

Inducing labor will help you to have a vaginal delivery without worries of the baby growing too large and having issues after birth.

Most women will be tested for gestational diabetes in their second trimester, somewhere around 24-28 weeks of gestation. You will need to get tested during each pregnancy.

Luckily if you do end up having gestational diabetes it generally goes away once your baby is born.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is the medical name for high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy. This may be another reason your doctor wants to induce labor. If the baby is not induced then it can be a life-threatening medical issue for the mother. 

Low amniotic fluid

If your baby is growing well, but you are experiencing low amniotic fluid, then your doctor may suggest inducing labor. If the amount of amniotic fluid decreases, it can make it dangerous for your baby and cause you to give birth before term.

baby in womb

Your water breaks or leaks early or breaks with meconium

The last scenario we’ll discuss it’s when your water has already broken or started to break on it’s own. A leak could lead to low fluid level like we discussed above.

If you’re water breaks with meconium (this basically means your baby has their first bowel movement while still in the uterus…gross I know) then you usually have a set amount of time before the doctors want to induce you if your labor is not progressing on it’s own.

This is done to avoid potential infection for mom and baby. (I actually had this happen with my first pregnancy and was induced with Pitocin though my water had broken on its own with meconium.)

Reasons that don’t require induction of labor

You’re tired of being pregnant

I don’t know anyone who isn’t ready for the baby to get out by the time they reach 36-38 weeks of pregnancy. You are uncomfortable and anxious to meet your new baby.

However, it’s usually best to wait. Your baby does important final growth in the last days and your body usually knows when the proper time is for your baby to be born.

When deciding whether to induce labor naturally or with medication, talk to your doctor and discuss the pros and cons of inducing labor.  

Simply inducing labor or schedule a c-section early to fit with your doctor’s schedule like before is not a good enough reason to be induced either. Again, your baby needs that extra time to grow in utero.

I know the end of pregnancy can feel like it takes years, but it won’t be long before you are holding your healthy, happy baby.

Babies are like wizards, they are never early or late but arrive precisely on time. 

Your baby may be “large”

As discussed above, measuring your baby’s size via ultrasound is often wrong. So, if your doctor suggests inducing because your baby may be “large” definitely discuss the pros and cons before making a decision.

induction of labor

How to induce labor

Now that we’ve covered when and if you should consider inducing labor let’s talk about how it’s done.

We’ll talk about both the natural ways you can try on your own at home. These are generally mild and while they aren’t super effective many of them also work to prepare your body for labor even if they don’t cause labor to start early.

Natural ways to induce labor {at home}

You should not seriously try to induce labor before 39 weeks of pregnancy, you are considered preterm up to this point. If you are in your preterm stage, it is considered too dangerous to attempt labor induction.

While these natural methods don’t have a high success rate they are definitely worth trying, especially if you are attempting to avoid a chemical induction done by your doctor.

Now let’s jump into the different methods.

Deep Breathing to Induce Labor at Home 

Deep Breathing is one way to help encourage cervical dilation and effacement.  Deep breathing can be done sitting or standing. This is probably the least effective but deep breathing is still good for you and baby as your due date draws near. 

Eating Spicy food

Eating spicy food actually signifies a natural increase in body temperature. The increase in body temperature can trigger labor or should be avoided if your baby is less than 39 weeks of pregnancy. 

Eating spicy foods is traditionally thought to stimulate labor, however there is no scientific evidence to support its use. But if you are at the end of your pregnancy a good spicy curry or Mexican meal definitely can’t hurt! 

Walking to Induce Labor 

Walking is good exercise and will get you in shape for a labor. Walking can help relax your muscles, open up your hips, and gravity from standing up and moving can sometimes help get things to progress.

Sometimes they’ll even have you walk during labor to encourage your body to dilate.

Walking can improve your circulation, which is good for you and your baby by stimulating the blood flow to the uterus.  Every doctor or midwife will usually recommend walking anyway.

Sexual intercourse to Induce Labor At Home

When you are at the end of the 3rd-trimester sex may be the last thing on you and your partner’s mind, but it can actually help to stimulate labor.

Sex can stimulate the pituitary gland, which will send out hormones that cause the uterus to contract. This can also help move your baby down and into position for birth. A big O can release oxytocin that can trigger your body into going into labor. 

Eating Specific Foods 

Pineapples and dates are the most popular foods rumored to help start labor when you are reaching term, but are they just old wives’ tales? Eating pineapple and dates can be a good idea. 

Pineapples (fresh pineapple preferred) and dates contain natural prostaglandins that help support contractions. 

Prostaglandins are chemicals produced naturally by the body that is responsible for stimulating labor. Be warned pineapple is likely to give you an awful case of heartburn as well!

pregnant woman on exercise ball

Bouncing on an Exercise Ball

Bouncing on an exercise ball can help get your baby ready to be born. Bouncing on the ball will effectively change the pressure in your uterus, and can also help expand the birth canal. 

An exercise ball can also be big support during your early labor as well. 

Primrose Oil for Cervix Ripening 

Evening primrose oil is the one natural way to help ripen your cervix. Taking primrose oil will help soften your cervix and can also assist in opening it up for labor. 

You can cut a primrose gel cap open and use it as a vaginal suppository nightly after 38 weeks. 

Acupuncture for Inducing Labor 

Acupuncture is a great way to induce labor naturally. It can help move your baby down into the birth canal and get things going. 

Acupuncture can stimulate your body’s natural hormone production needed for labor. 

Acupuncture is also completely safe for you and baby, without any risk of side effects. Make sure to see someone who specializes in inducing labor. 

Chiropractor to Help Induce Labor

The care of a chiropractor is great for helping induce labor naturally. 

Any time there is a misalignment of the spine and pelvis, it can cause the pelvis to be out of alignment which can prevent your baby from moving down into the birth canal. 

Make sure to see a chiropractor that is trained in this type of treatment for expectant moms who want to induce labor.

Breast Pumping or Nipple Stimulation 

This is another way that you can start contractions naturally. 

Many women find that starting labor this way can be very effective and it does not have to involve a lot of time or effort. 

Nipple stimulation, including breast pumping, is becoming a popular method of inducing labor. You can use a pump, manual stimulation or ask a partner for help.

induce labor naturally

Natural Methods to Induce Labor You should avoid

Taking castor oil, black and blue cohosh, or having enemas are all methods that should be avoided.  

These are normally unhealthy for your baby and your own body and should NOT be attempted to induce labor.

Castor Oil 

Castor oil was once thought to be a natural way to induce labor. However, doctors now know that castor oil can be very dangerous for you and your baby. 

Castor oil can cause you to have diarrhea and can also cause your baby to poop in your amniotic fluid which can cause your baby to aspirate the amniotic into his lungs. It can also lead to infections and chemical inductions if your body doesn’t progress on it’s own. 

Black and Blue Cohosh 

Doctors also used to prescribe black and blue cohosh for labor induction. 

But research has shown this method to be ineffective. Black and blue cohosh can cause contractions that are too strong for the baby. This can lead to injury or even death of your baby. They may also cause heart issues for mom or baby.

A DIY membrane sweep

A membrane sweep is a common method used to try to induce labor. While this is a non-chemical method it should only be performed by a medical professional! Please do not attempt to perform your own membrane sweep at home.

Methods your doctor may use to induce labor

pregnant woman in for labor induction

While we often think of chemical induction as the only way a doctor would induce labor for you there are actually a few non-chemical interventions they can try as well.

There are several ways your doctor can induce labor. These include: 

  • Cervical Ripener
  • Sweeping your membranes
  • Breaking your Water
  • Pitocin

I highly recommend researching the chemical commonly used for induction Cervidil, Cytotec, and Pitocin being common ones and understanding their uses and side effects early in your third trimester.

This way you can make an informed decision about what you are willing to use and when.

Cervical Ripener

A cervical ripener like Cervidil or Cytotec can be used for the induction of labor. A cervical ripener is a medication that helps ripen the cervix from the inside out. The cervical ripener stimulates the cervix to begin to dilate.

While this is a chemical method it’s less severe than Pitocin although it’s often used as a first step before Pitocin is started.

Sweeping Your Membranes 

This method allows your doctor to induce labor by running a gloved finger between your uterine walls and the amniotic sac to help the amniotic sac detach from your uterine walls. 

This can help get your labor going without drugs.  The procedure for some is mildly painful, other people experience no pain, while other people find it very uncomfortable.

A membrane sweep was quite effective for me during my second pregnancy. Check out my full article on membrane sweeps for more information and several first-hand accounts from women who’ve had one done.

Breaking Your Waters 

Sometimes your doctor will break your water to help induce labor by allowing more room for the baby to move down and out of the uterus. 

This can also make the contractions stronger and encourage uterine contraction. 

This is done when your contractions are not very effective and your labor is not progressing.

Pitocin

Pitocin is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, the hormone that naturally induces contractions. Pitocin can help dilate the cervix and cause contractions to start or cause them to become longer and stronger.  

The downside of Pitocin is that it can lead to fast, painful labor with contractions that are too strong for the baby.

I can personally say that Pitocin is not an easy method. I had Pitocin with my first because labor was not progressing and my water had been broken for some time. It caused very hard, painful contractions.

My doula said she’d only seen one person able to give birth without pain medication after having Pitocin.

 For this reason, pitocin is not a first choice to induce labor, it is used when a more gentle method has not worked. 

When should my doctor induce labor?

In most cases, your doctor will try to wait until you are overdue or you are in an inconsistent pattern of labor. This typically happens between 39 and 40 weeks of your pregnancy. 

However, in some situations your doctor may decide to induce labor earlier than 39 week if it’s best for the health of the mother and baby.

Remember if you do not feel comfortable with something your doctor is suggesting you have 100% of the control and can decline anything your doctor offers. If you are struggling and do not have a doula you can ask for a hospital social worker to help you advocate for yourself. 

The bottom line 

Induction is something you should discuss with your doctor even if you are trying at-home methods to make sure that they are safe for you and your baby. 

If you are in your late preterm or premature stage, it is probably not appropriate to start labor.  You should be at term or overdue unless your induction is otherwise medically necessary. 

While there are several ways your doctor can induce labor in a hospital, there are ways that you can encourage labor before you get to the hospital.

Try to relax and enjoy this last bit of time before you bring home your first baby or become a mom of multiple kids.

everything to know about labor induction

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