As long as there have been pregnant women, there have been women in late pregnancy who have gotten so tired of being pregnant that they’ll try just about anything to start labor. Before your final month you might have worried about birth and labor, but by week 40 probably those concerns will be a distant memory. Between all of the extra weight, not being able to get a decent night’s sleep and not being able to be comfortable in any position for more than a few minutes, most women are you will not just be over the fear of labor but ready to try any wacky thing to make it start.
The Internet is full of suggestions for kick-starting labor, from going on a bumpy car ride to eating Mexican food or Thai food or mac and cheese with ketchup to acupuncture and herbal tinctures. But the truth is that nothing — not even hospital-grade cervical ripening gel and an IV drip of Pitocin– can make labor start if your baby and your body aren’t ready.
That said, if your due date has come and gone, you’re as big as a house and you just can’t take it any more, here are seven ways to bring on labor that might actually work:
Stripping or sweeping the membranes. This is when a health-care provider with a gloved hand takes a finger and sweeps the rim of your cervix to detach the amniotic membranes from the lower part of your uterus. The sweeping is used to help stimulates the hormones that start labor, but can sometimes be painful and lead to minor bleeding afterward.
A series of studies have found that sweeping the membranes increases the chances of going into labor within a week. Women who’ve had sweeping done are less likely to have their labor artificially induced, and the sweeping doesn’t seem to increase the risk of complications or infection, though it can cause temporary bleeding and discomfort.
Nipple stimulation. Nipple stimulation can bring on contractions, and also make irregular contractions fall into a pattern and get stronger, but for it to work your cervix has to be ready. And it can’t be just a few twiddles or honks: you need to simulate the actions of a breastfeeding baby for at a solid 20-30 minutes at minimum. Use a breast pump, preferably a double, for two minutes, then rest for three minutes, then stimulate for two minutes again. Or use your hands, milking both nipples with vigor (you’ll know you’re doing it right when you see fluid on your nipples). If you get no contraction action at all after 20 minutes, give up. If you feel contractions, keep it up for 60-90 minutes, or until your contractions are coming at a rhythmic pace on their own.
Lots of walks and staying upright. Keeping the baby’s weight on your cervix will help gravity encourage effacement, and moving around will help your circulation. If you have a dog, treat him on his last few days as baby of the house with a lot of short walks around the block.
At home, sit on a birth ball instead of in a recliner to read or watch TV.
Intercourse. Studies have shown that sex has no effect on inducing labor. But the rumor is based on the fact that sperm contain prostaglandins, organic compounds that can encourage cervical ripening (in fact, prostaglandin gels applied to the cervix for hospital inductions are made with pig or bull semen). If you want to give it a go, try sex in the missionary position (or as close to it as you can manage), make sure your partner ejaculates, and it’s a bonus if you can have an orgasm too (orgasm causes a uterine contraction). Then prop your hips up with a pillow and stay lying down for at least two minutes to keep the sperm at your uterus. It’s often repeated on the Internet that prostaglandins are more effective if ingested, but no studies confirm this.
Fresh pineapple or papaya. Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelian, which can break down protein, which could theoretically help kick-start labor. Fresh papaya also has a similar enzyme. These fruit enzymes are quickly destroyed by exposure, though, so canned or heated fruit won’t do, you must cut and/or juice your own (or get fresh-squeezed juice at your local juice bar, if you happen to live in a major city). Pineapple and papaya enzyme supplements are also available in grocery-store vitamin aisles, though note that as with almost every dietary supplement, they have not been tested for safety or effectiveness for use during pregnancy (or any other time).
A belly band. Sometimes, particularly with women who have had more than one child, the baby’s head can move on and off of the cervix, causing prodromal labor that can seem like honest-to-goodness strong and real contractions for hours, that then stop when the baby changes position. Using a belly band or even a baby sling wrapped around your lower belly can help keep the baby’s head positioned on the cervix to encourage dilation and effacement.
Spicy food. Lots of women swear by super-spicy Indian, Mexican or Thai food, and others by eggplant parmigiana. While there’s no evidence that this works, anything that irritates your bowels enough can lead to dehydration, which is known to induce labor.
* no promises