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How to induce labor

Pregnancy might be only nine months long, but it can feel like a century, especially on the home stretch. And when you’ve reached 39 weeks, 40 weeks, or beyond, you might start getting impatient — which is understandable.

Not only are you likely becoming increasingly uncomfortable, but you’re also probably excited to meet your bundle of joy. If you’re like a lot of pregnant folks, you might be thinking, If only there were a way to make this go faster.

As it turns out, there might be a few ways. You can be medically induced, which is generally safe and effective. Then there are several “natural” induction strategies you can try at home. While these methods aren’t backed by science, most are harmless to try. Here’s what you should know.

When and how do healthcare providers induce labor?

Around 27% of all births in the U.S. are induced. Some healthcare providers recommend inducing labor one or two weeks past the due date when they believe it’s riskier to wait. In some cases, they might recommend it earlier if there’s a medical need but typically not before 39 weeks.

Here are some different ways healthcare providers can medically induce labor.

  • Stripping the Membranes: Your healthcare provider may try to coax you into labor by “stripping the membranes.” This essentially means separating the amniotic sac from the uterus by inserting a gloved finger into the cervix. The technique can get your body to release hormones, which might trigger contractions.
  • Rupturing the Membranes: “Ruptured membranes” is the medical way to say your water broke, which stimulates labor. With this induction method, your healthcare provider would use a small hook to puncture the membranes (AKA the amniotic sac). It’s usually not painful, but you might feel a warm flush of liquid, like you would if your water broke naturally.
  • Ripening the cervix: In some cases, prostaglandins or laminaria are taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina. These medicines can trigger contractions and soften the cervix so it opens (AKA “ripening the cervix”). Then a Foley bulb (a tube-like instrument with a balloon at the end) is used to widen the cervix.
  • Pitocin: Pitocin is the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin. When given intravenously, it causes contractions. This can induce labor or speed up labor that’s already started.

Inducing labor at home

As we mentioned, research on the effectiveness of “naturally” inducing labor isn’t promising, and yet many people swear by it. If you’re right around 40 weeks pregnant and don’t have an apparent need to be medically induced, there are a few things you can try without risking your or your baby’s well-being (unless your provider tells you otherwise).

  • Walking: Some people believe taking walks encourages your baby to make their way down the birth canal. This is unproven, but it can’t hurt. Walking is a great form of exercise during pregnancy.
  • Spicy Foods: Another theory suggests eating spicy foods will aggravate your intestines and kick start contractions. While it’s true an upset stomach can make the uterus contract, there’s no proof it results in labor. Also, you could end up with uncomfortable heartburn.
  • Sex: Getting busy can make your body release oxytocin, the hormone that’s partly behind labor contractions. In theory, this could help you go into labor sooner, but it hasn’t been backed up by research.
  • Acupuncture: Some people swear by acupuncture for inducing labor. However, randomized trials haven’t been able to prove it has any effect on the timing.

At the end of a healthy pregnancy, labor is bound to happen sooner or later. If you try any (or all) of these at-home methods and go into labor, it’s likely just the right time. While these techniques are generally harmless to try, make sure to check with your healthcare provider before attempting to induce labor naturally.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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