Induction of labour is a procedure to bring on childbirth, which may also be called getting induced or simply induction. The most common techniques for inducing labour involve using medicines or surgical procedures, however some women use alternative methods, either to avoid or in combination with medical or surgical techniques.
If you’re pregnant and particularly if inducing labour is something you’ve been advised to consider (for example because you’re past your due date and your baby is not showing any signs of wanting to leave the cosy cocoon of your womb) alternative methods of inducing labour you may be interested in finding out more. They include:
- Herbal remedies;
- Sexual stimulation; and
The use of herbal remedies to promote health and treat disease is increasing in general, and their use in pregnancy is no exception. So if you’re looking for information about herbal remedies for induction of labour, you’re probably not alone.
A range of herbs have been used to induce labour, amongst which evening primrose oil is probably the most commonly administered by midwives. Although it has a long history of use as a labour inducing agent, there is no clear evidence how evening primrose oil works, or if in fact it does. There is also no information about the potential risks of using it. And yes, even though they occur naturally, herbal remedies often come with risks just like medicines.
There is also limited evidence about the effectiveness and safety of other herbs used for induction of labour, including:
- Black haw and black cohosh: both of which are said to have a uterine tonic effect, that is it helps tone the uterine muscles;
- Blue cohosh: which is thought to stimulate uterine contractions (labour contractions).
- Red raspberry leaves: which are also thought to encourage uterine contractions but only after a woman has started labour.
- Castor oil: which is sometimes used for ripening the cervix or inducing labour.
Sexual stimulation including intercourse and stimulation of the breasts and nipples are commonly recommended techniques for inducing labour. Stimulation of the breasts and nipples promotes the release of oxytocins – the same hormone which is released (or administered by doctors in medical induction of labour) to stimulate uterine contractions.
Having actual intercourse stimulates the lower uterus which releases chemicals called prostaglandins, another substance produced naturally by the body and administered artificially in medical induction of labour to prepare the cervix. If the man ejaculates, the semen he releases provides an additional dose of prostaglandins. A woman’s orgasm causes uterine contractions, which also occur during labour.
While it sounds reasonable that the hormones your body releases while you’re getting sexy induce labour, there’s no evidence that women who have lots of sex have gone into labour any earlier than those who don’t. But if you’re waiting for your baby and you’re in the mood, it could be a great, intimate way to pass the time.
Acupuncture is a Chinese medicine procedure which involves inserting fine needles at particular points in the body. Different points are targeted for different conditions. There is a belief in both Chinese and Western medicine that the process of inserting needles, which stimulates nerves, may trigger the release of prostaglandins (which prepare the cervix for labour) and oxytocin (which stimulates contractions). However no scientific studies have yet been conducted to produce evidence of whether the process actually helps induce labour, or whether or not there are any risks involved.
Hot baths and enemas have also been proposed as techniques for preparing the cervix and/or inducing labour. There’s no evidence that a bath or an enema actually works when it comes to ripening to cervix or inducing labour. Some doctors recommend avoiding baths all together as they increase the core body temperature, which isn’t good for the baby and baths may increase the risk of infection.
Alternative techniques for inducing labour
There are a number of alternative techniques that have been used traditionally and may still be recommended for inducing labour. Unfortunately there is no scientific evidence to show that they work, and little is known about the risks these techniques may involve. While having sex or a relaxing hot bath are probably safe, herbal remedies and acupuncture may involve risks. If you’re considering using herbal remedies to induce labour, have a good chat with your doctor before you do.
|To learn more about the medical and surgical techniques that can be used for induction, visit Induction of Labour|