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Old Wives’ Tales on Labor Induction

I recently discovered a new book about childbirth and pregnancy (which I’ll more fully review later…when I can actually fit it into my Financial Peace budget) called The Christian Mama’s Guide to Having a Baby.  The author of this book has an adorable blog…and this past May she blogged about Old Wives’ Tales on Labor Induction as she anticipated the birth of her 3rd child.  Now if you have followed my blog or Facebook page for long, you probably know that I’m not actually a big fan of even “natural” labor induction that is not done for medical reasons because of how induction raises the risk of complications like cesarean…but in the interest of answering questions for those of you who have decided that induction is the best option for you, I’ll review the methods Erin blogged about.

First a disclaimer…Erin mentions trying out these methods of labor induction starting at 34 weeks.  I sincerely hope that this was a typo on her part; while recent research has found that up to 50% of women attempt to induce their labor, hopefully you are not trying to induce a premature baby!  More and more research is pointing to the importance of getting to at least the 39th week of pregnancy. So please, I know it gets uncomfortable, but unless you have some health issue that really makes induction necessary, hang in there!  Once your baby is born you would walk through fire to save her…I’m just encouraging you to waddle through 15 bathroom trips a day for a bit longer.  ;-)

1.    Eating spicy food. The story goes that eating a spicy burrito will get your whole digestive track moving and doing the Macarena, and your cervix will want to join the fun.

Almost 11% of women studied reported trying this method, but I’m with Erin  that I’m not really sure that eating spicy food is effective at all.  They way I’ve heard that it might be effective is through irritating your intestines.  When your intestines are irritated you produce oxytocin to contract the intestines and push the food along…and if you are pregnant you probably also know what else oxytocin does, right?  LOL!

2.    Walking.

While this is the most commonly used method to attempt self induction with over 43% of women who attempt self induction using it, it is SO not worth the effort in my opinion. I did a LOT of it after my water broke with my second baby and I was trying to avoid a chemical induction (which turned out to not be such a bad deal).  It did NOTHING but give me sore calves.

But when walking can be effective is when you are 4-5 cms dialated and having irregular contractions that aren’t really strong enough to get you dilating.  In my 3rd labor I had a bit of a battle with my midwife about this because I had been taught in Bradley Method classes that you should NOT move during contractions, and she was trying to send me out for a walk (at 2 a.m. in February to boot!), and she was telling me to walk as fast as I could through contractions.  I finally did it…and guess what?  It worked!  And it worked again with my 4th baby.  I’ve had it work for a few clients as well.

3.    Sex. The gist of this method—which I’m sure was “discovered” by a man—is that sperm on the cervix can help spur it into dilating.

23% of women who try to self induce try this method…because what got you into the situation will get you out of it, huh? But as of 2007, the Cochrane Database reported that there was not any high quality research to demonstrate if this method works.  The reason this method is thought to work is because semen contains prostaglandins, and prostaglandins can soften the cervix.  Of course human semen has a lot less prostaglandin in it than the amount used in a Cervidil or Prepidil induction, so unless you are almost ready to go into labor on your own anyway, it is unlikely to actually put you into labor.  But research does show that women who regularly have sex with the same man are less likely to have premature babies (interesting, huh?).


Now here is the real trick…female orgasm releases not only beta endorphins that make you feel good…but oxytocin is what cause the orgasmic contractions…and going back to the spicy food example…you all know what oxytocin does to pregnant women, right?  Yeah…I think I dilated my first 3 cm in my first pregancy that way.  Not that it made me go into labor…but that was sure fun. :-)  Research has found that while most women do engage in man on top face to face sex even in late pregnancy, the women who are most sexually satisfied in late pregnancy tend to use “woman on top, face to face” positions, but I’ve also been involved in internet discussions with a large number of women who report liking woman on top facing away from the man… If you want some inspiration, check out this blog (trust me, its safe…though not “work safe,” KWIM?)

4.    Castor oil. Castor oil makes your bowels move.

Yep, this goes back to the oxytocin as well…and like Erin warns, will leave you in your bathroom for a long while.  I do know a couple of women who have successfully used this method.  You can now get orange flavored castor oil that is a bit more palatable, and I’ve heard that blending it into a smoothie or milk shake to disguise the taste is a lot more effective than trying to mix it up in orange juice–which it quickly separates out of.  Ultimately though, a 2009 study found it was not effective.

5.    Nipple stimulation.

I find it saddly ironic that in Erin’s post she says that most doctors don’t recommend nipple stimulation because it is … effective.  HUH?  Actually, the research is a bit mixed, with the Cochrane Database reporting that it is indeed effective in 40% of women who use it (causing labor to start within 72 hours, so this is hardly a fast method), but an individual study I pulled up finding that it was not effective.  I’ll lean with Cochrane as being the more reliable source. 

Contrary to what many doctors seem to fear, the Cochrane database reported no cases of hyperstimulation (contractions too close together) in the study population.  While I’ve had numerous clients who were able to borrow a hospital pump (a common means of nipple stimulation, but it can be done manually as well) to try stimulating contractions; I actually did have an OB tell a client of mine that she could only pump for 1 minute intervals while on the monitor, then I think she wanted her to rest for 10 minutes.  But that is not going to be effective.  To be effective, a woman needs to pump for 20 minutes each hour, pausing the pumping when she feels contractions.  I’ve had several clients successfully use this method to augment a labor that is at 4-5 cms, but is just not getting going.  Interestingly, the Cochrane database reports that women who used nipple stimulation were significantly less likely to have a post partum hemmorhage.

6.   Acupressure.

Okay, here is the thing with acupressure…you have to be REALLY serious to make it work.  I’ve actually never seen it work in my clients, and the research on it is non-existant.  I know of a point in the skin between the thumb and forefinger that you need to squeeze REALLY hard for 5 minutes or more (it will also work to bring on your period a few days early), or a spot on the inner ankle about 3 finger widths up from the ankle bone, or a spot on the roof of the mouth that can be accessed by thumb sucking or sucking on a round lollipop.

7.    Raspberry leaf tea.

Well, unfortunately, this one is unlikely to do it for you.  Raspberry leaf tea (make sure you don’t get the Celestial Seasonings berry tea like I did the first time I shopped for it–that’s not the right thing) works to produce mild contractions that simply tone your uterus, getting it ready for the big event much like a weight lifter will lift weights for months getting ready for a competition.  Most midwives are okay with women starting to drink up to 4 cups per day starting at about 32-34 weeks  Some midwives suggest drinking 4 cups rapidly when labor starts to help speed it up, but like acupuncture, there is no research to support this.

8.    Begging and pleading with God for mercy. I guarantee that God will eventually hear your pleas and put you out of your misery.

Well…okay, I wouldn’t have used those words because I like to be more positive about pregnancy…but as I stood crying in the hallway of my church at 38 weeks 5 days with my 5th baby, I guess I would have.  :-) 

This is the point that I often refer to as the “transistion point” of pregnancy.  You know how in labor you hit transition and it is at this point that you feel discouraged, like you can’t do it anymore, and that you just want “it” to be over…no matter how?  Well I firmly believe that the emotions of labor (excitement in early labor giving way to seriousness and “down to business” in active labor, turning to discouragement in transition…) are often played out in pregnancy.  I’ve seen it in myself…I hit that transition point of pregnancy where I am begging with God…and the next day I’m in labor.  I’ve seen it in clients…spending hours on the phone with them encouraging them that no, they will NOT be pregnant forever…only to get a call 5 hours later that they are definitely in labor.

So if you are are at that “transition point” of your pregnancy…by all means…try my “Dinner and a Date” method of labor induction.  Have fun!

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Posted in Home and Spiral of Interventions and Spiritual Sunday 2 years, 3 months ago at 3:03 am.

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