When Mother Nature fails to begin the process of bringing a baby into the world in a timely fashion, inducing labor without the use of any pharmaceuticals is not only possible, it is preferable! I’ve written before about how I successfully used acupuncture to induce labor when my first child was nearly two weeks late.
No doubt this highly effective and frequently overlooked approach for rapidly inducing labor saved me from a mandatory C-section.
While acupuncture works very well for getting labor started, there are a number of more convenient methods for inducing labor to try first.
It is important to become well versed in the methods for inducing labor long before the due date arrives so that you are ready to use them at a moment’s notice if necessary. This is because Pitocin, the usual drug used by hospitals, has many dangerous side effects, and practitioners rarely if ever discuss them with you before hooking you up to that IV drip.
Drugs for Inducing Labor are Dangerous
It is well known that Pitocin induced labor contractions are much more painful than natural contractions and very few women are able to withstand them without an epidural.
The domino effect that typically occurs after a pregnant woman accepts some Pitocin “to nudge things along” is this:
Pitocin —> Epidural —> C-Section
It is imperative for women seeking a natural birth to avoid induction at all costs as Pitocin has the very real chance of putting your baby in distress ultimately increasing the risk of a C-section. The risks of Pitocin are many including uterine rupture and other serious complications (1):
Pitocin can cause a tumultuous, difficult labor and tetanic contractions, rupture of the uterus and dehiscence of a uterine scar, lacerations of the cervix, retained placenta, or postpartum hemorrhage. Postpartum perineal and pelvic floor pain is increased as a result of augmented uterine contractions. Fetal complications might include fetal asphyxia and neonatal hypoxia, physical injury, and neonatal jaundice. The use of Pitocin also might be a factor in cerebral palsy, due to oxygen deprivation, and autism in the child.
It is also important to note that if Pitocin is used to induce labor, the woman has immediately opted out of a natural birth experience before labor even begins. Many hospital nurses don’t remind women that this is the case. Natural birth by definition means birthing without drugs or surgery, so even if an epidural is avoided and a vaginal birth achieved, the birth was not entirely natural.
If you are of the view that avoiding Pitocin is not an option but a necessity below is a summary of some of the best ways to avoid it as recommended by the five midwives I was privileged to get to know and work with at the birth centers where my children were born.
Gentle Exercise (easiest way for inducing labor)
Walking is probably the easiest way to induce labor. Hopefully, you’ve been exercising sensibly for most of your pregnancy already. If so, you are fit and ready to roll for the incredible physical challenge that labor and delivery requires. My Mom used to say that having a baby was like running a marathon and was she ever right about that!
Nice long walks are a wonderful way to relieve stress, breathe fresh air, and get your cervix to dilate. Climbing stairs also is very effective and this combines walking along with the force of gravity working for you so that the baby is encouraged to drop more deeply into the birth canal. This gentle pressure on the cervix helps softening and dilation to progress and labor to initiate.
The squat used in many prenatal yoga classes is another simple labor and delivery exercise that puts gentle pressure on the cervix to encourage softening and dilation. It also stretches and strengthens the pelvic muscles and tendons for what is required during the birth process.
Swimming is also a wonderful and gentle approach to pre-labor exercise, but skip swimming in chlorinated pools as the exposure to gut and skin flora destroying toxins outweighs any possible benefit. Incidentally, I skipped the water birth for similar reasons. If you have a clean and natural body of water to swim in that is a comfortable temperature for the time of year you are having baby, that is the ideal scenario. Enjoy!
Best Oil to Soften the Cervix
Certain oils can help soften the cervix so that it can begin to dilate and the process of labor begins. My midwife suggested evening primrose oil (EPO) as the best for this purpose, an omega-6 essential fatty acid. It is important to note that evening primrose oil should not be used prior to a pregnant woman reaching full term. One study published in the journal Nurse-Midwifery found a potential association between pre-term oral EPO use and prolonged rupture of membranes, oxytocin augmentation, the arrest of descent, and vacuum extraction (2).
Once a woman is full-term, however, taking EPO capsules orally is the easiest approach for most women to facilitate cervical ripening. Some prenatal providers suggest placing a capsule inside the vagina instead so the oil has direct contact with the cervix.
While the use of evening primrose oil is widely used in natural birth settings, its effect and proper dosing to start labor is not well studied and the evidence still primarily anecdotal at this time (3).
Breast Pump (nipple stimulation)
One of the wonders of breastfeeding is that a nursing baby encourages the uterus (and belly!) to contract and slowly shrink back down to pre-pregnancy size. This is due to the hormones that are released when the nipples are stimulated.
The same thing happens before baby is born. Using a breast pump that you may have ready to use after baby is born can actually help you beforehand too. Fire it up and start using it when you are antsy for labor to begin as it will stimulate the nipples in a strong, continuous fashion that will get those hormones going in your favor. Manual stimulation is fine too but is not as effective as an electric breast pump.
As a bonus, you will already know how to use the breast pump after the baby is born when and if you need to pump those first bottles of breastmilk.
Best Herb for Inducing Labor
Blue Cohosh tincture is the very best herb for starting labor and is considered highly effective by many midwives. Note that the cervix must be soft and ripe for maximum effectiveness.
The dosage is 3-8 drops in a glass of warm water or tea (nettle or red raspberry is ideal). This should be repeated every 30 minutes for up to four hours until contractions are regular.
If labor has not been induced at the end of four hours, a full dropper of the tincture can be taken under the tongue every hour for up to four additional hours until contractions are strong and steady.
Another approach is to make an herbal infusion of blue cohosh and use it as a basic enema.
These recommendations are from herbalist Susun Weed, author of Wise Woman Herbal Childbearing Year.
Homeopathy for Labor Induction
An often overlooked method for labor induction is homeopathy!
Caulophyllum is considered a good labor initiator within this protocol. The dose can be repeated as often as every 30 minutes for two hours straight.
Visualization and Affirmation
Athletes are commonly taught to use visualization and affirmation to help achieve peak performance (4). Why shouldn’t pregnant women use it too?
Visualization is best used in conjunction with other labor inducing methods listed in this article and simply involves imagining that the uterus has begun contracting. Combining the visual experience with repetitive mental or written words that affirms the imagined process (“my uterus is contracting” or “labor will start very soon”) can strengthen the effect.
It is important that the visualization process not be experienced as stressful or forced. It should ideally be as natural and pleasant as possible, almost like daydreaming while resting in a comfortable position on a couch or chair.
Acupressure for Inducing Labor
If the idea of needles sticking out of your skin is not appealing to you, you can try acupressure instead of acupuncture to induce labor. There are several pressure points on the body that when pressure is applied and held with the fingers, can encourage the uterus to contract which sets off the start of labor.
One very easy to reach acupressure point that my midwife suggested was the webbing of the skin between the forefinger and thumb. Pressing and holding this acupressure point with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand can cause the uterus to contract. Be sure to never activate this or other labor pressure points prior to 37 weeks gestation, however. It is also advisable to receive instruction from an acupressure professional early in your pregnancy so you know what to do when the time comes.
This article contains more detailed information with demonstration videos about using acupressure to induce labor.
When the cervix is very ripe but contractions still have not started, some prenatal providers will suggest what is called “stripping the membranes” to get labor going. This involves the nurse, doctor or midwife gently inserting the tip of a gloved finger inside the soft, open cervix to forcibly separate the amniotic sac from the uterine wall. This releases a rush of labor hormones.
The sensation is akin to ripping off a very large bandage – on steroids! While the procedure definitely hurts, it is fortunately over very quickly. Sometimes, cramping and spotting are experienced afterward.
Usually, labor will start within hours of this procedure being performed.
Castor Oil (the nuclear approach)
Although swallowing castor oil is considered the nuclear approach for starting labor when all else fails, research shows that it only works for about half of full-term pregnant women!
Castor oil is a laxative when taken internally. The most common recipe is 2 oz in orange juice followed by a hot shower. The same dose and shower are repeated within an hour or two with labor starting within 3-5 hours after the last dose – only if the cervix is ready. The castor oil does its work by inducing cramping and loose stools (sometimes severe diarrhea) which in turn instigates uterine contractions and the onset of labor.
Is it really worth the misery?
An alternative approach is to apply a castor oil compress directly to the belly and cover with a warm towel. If the cervix is ripe, this will work to get labor started without the uncomfortable side effects. Know that castor oil permanently stains so use flannel or towels that you will throw away later.
Be sure to consult with your practitioner as to the best approach for you to harness the benefits of castor oil to get labor started with no camping out in the bathroom required.
Did you use natural methods for inducing labor without drugs? If so, please share with us in the comments section what approach worked for you.
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.