Spicy Foods, Sex & More: What Actually Helps To Induce Labor?

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Late-stage pregnancy can be uncomfortable—not to mention the fact that you’re probably more than ready to meet your little one. If you’re past your due date, you might be researching what you can do to naturally get things going. Your findings might be diverse: old wives’ tales and myths claim that everything from prunes to spicy foods and evening primrose oil can help induce labor. But do they actually work?

“First of all, we usually tell people not to do anything until they’re 39 weeks,” says Melodee Babcock, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health. “Secondly, a lot of these things haven’t been studied in detail, so we can’t say for sure whether they are helpful. If my patients want to bring on labor, I usually say they would have to try several of these things in one day. I don’t think any one of these ‘remedies’ would solely make you go into labor.”

Here, she explains the theories behind common labor-inducing techniques and explains whether they could help expectant moms.

  1. Spicy food. Perhaps one of the most well-known theories is that eating spicy food can bring on labor. But is there any truth to it? “Spicy food causes some degree of gastrointestinal distress, which can sometimes stimulate uterine contractions, but it probably won’t bring on labor,” says Babcock.
  2. Prunes. Eating prunes will get your bowels going—it’s the same concept with spicy foods, Babcock says—but again, they likely won’t make you go into labor.
  3. Walking. “Walking is good for you during pregnancy, just to keep you healthy,” says Babcock. “However, where labor is concerned, it may help. During pregnancy, we release relaxin hormones, which help to relax our pelvic joints. Walking encourages the baby to engage in the pelvis.” Even more effective than walking, she says, are lunges or curb walking, as they cause the pelvis to tilt a bit more. Not sure how to curb walk? Walk with one foot on the curb and one foot on the street. (But don’t trip!)
  4. Sex. There are two theories as to why sex could bring on labor: Orgasms release oxytocin, and oxytocin is responsible for uterine contractions. (There’s a synthetic version of oxytocin in Pitocin, a medicine that helps to induce labor.) “An old wives’ tale says three orgasms in an hour will help,” says Babcock. “If it’s uncomfortable, you can have an orgasm without intercourse.” Secondly, semen contains prostaglandin, which promotes cervical ripening (meaning it helps to prepare the cervix for labor; our bodies also make prostaglandin when preparing for childbirth) but Babcock says it’s likely not enough to induce labor. “Also, don’t worry—as long as your provider has deemed it safe for you, sex is considered safe during any stage of pregnancy,” she says. “It won’t make you go into labor early.”
  5. Dates. Dates won’t bring on labor, but in the third trimester, eating six or seven daily may help to promote cervical ripening, says Babcock.
  6. Red raspberry leaf tea. Red raspberry leaf tea is thought to increase uterine tone, meaning it may help the uterus contract more effectively during labor, says Babcock. It may also decrease the risk of postpartum hemorrhage—but it has not been proven to induce labor.
  7. Castor oil. The theory behind castor oil is the same as with spicy foods and prunes—it may get your gastrointestinal tract going and could stimulate uterine contractions, but it likely won’t bring on labor by itself. “I caution people not to take more than one tablespoon of castor oil,” says Babcock. “It may give you diarrhea and you could become dehydrated.”
  8. Evening primrose oil. “Evening primrose oil contains some properties that are similar to prostaglandin," says Babcock. "People take it vaginally or orally. But it also has some blood-thinning properties, so theoretically it could increase the likelihood of postpartum hemorrhage—and a small study showed this."

Of course, before you do anything, it’s always best to talk to your provider. “We still don’t fully understand what makes labor commence,” says Babcock. “I always tell women their due date is not an expiration date. I encourage women to talk to their doctor or midwife and make a plan to determine the best and safest time to deliver their baby, based upon their individual circumstances.”

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To find a women’s health provider at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/healthywomen or call 248-661-6425.

Melodee Babcock, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Livonia and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell