Before we get into anything else, you have to know: your body is wise, and so is your baby. As a midwife and an herbalist, I’m frequently asked how to induce labor naturally. But – also as a midwife and herbalist – I have to clarify that I really would rather see you allow the birth process to unfold as it will and your baby is not late even if you pass your estimated due date!
I'm putting this information on my blog, but I want you to be responsible and not impatient. No woman has been pregnant forever. Although many women feel like the baby will never come. Please don't try to bring your baby before 39- 40 weeks, due dates are notoriously off. And please don't use this information as a replacement for your care provider's advice.
Still, I understand the angst and worry that comes when we think baby should be here by now, especially if you are getting pressure from your doctor to induce your labor. So, if you are going to attempt to induce labor with natural methods, these are some things you might try first.
How to Induce Labor Physiologically
This is the first course of action I’d recommend. Approaching a delayed labor and birth physiologically helps your body and baby both to know it’s time for birth without acting upon them with foreign substances (herbs, foods, etc.). In fact, you will find that even when herbs are introduced, the idea behind trying to induce labor naturally is to gently encourage your body’s existing process, rather than to “start” something from scratch.
There has been a certain air of mystery surrounding birth and exactly what triggers labor to begin, we now know that the baby secretes hormones into the mothers circulatory system when the babies lungs are fully developed. And we also know that the pressure of baby’s head against mama’s cervix encourages progression. Contractions become stronger, the cervix thins and opens, and labor progresses. Without baby being in a good position, contact with the cervix is lessened. The idea behind physiological methods of induction is to optimize baby’s position to encourage labor progression.
6 Exercises to Induce Labor
The key thing to remember is that you shouldn’t expect to, say, walk around the block and then come inside and start laboring. There’s no magic formula. Fit some of these exercises into your routine or your efforts to induce labor in order to get your body and baby ready for birth. And maybe it will get things rolling for you soon!
If you’re looking for a way to induce labor, you’ve probably already been walking. Keep it up! Walking engages your abdominal muscles and gently rocks baby into place. You might have noticed “Braxton-Hicks” contractions after a good walk from earlier in the pregnancy. Take regular walks, or for an attempt to induce, pick up the pace and lengthen your stride as much as is comfortable.
2. Pelvic rocks
Like the “cat-cow” pose in yoga, but less pronounced movements, pelvic rocks are incredible for pre-labor movement. Get on all fours with the joints of your wrist/shoulders and knees/hips stacked evenly. Alongside deep abdominal breaths, gently drop your pelvis down and then back up, relaxing and tightening muscles with the movement. This utilizes gravity by bringing the babies back to the front of your abdomen and it strengthens the muscles that cradle your baby and uterus, helping to shimmy baby into a better position.
A good squat is natural to us in childhood and, in many cultures, is not lost in adulthood. Many of us in the Western world have lost our tendency to squat, however, and the muscles in our bottom pay for it. Squat low and deep, pushing your bottom out behind you and keeping your knees from going past your toes. This opens the pelvis and helps baby to drop deeper into position. Do note that if baby is breech or malpositioned, you may want to do other positioning exercises, like pelvic rocks, to help improve baby’s position before encouraging engagement in the pelvis spinningbabies.com is a good resource to reference for positioning.
Bending over and leaning on counters and walls can help gravity to work with you and baby as well as encourage contractions. If you can, get submerged into a pool of water, allowing it to relax your muscles as you lean or float forward. As you lean, in water or on land, allow your body to relax and the baby to move freely.
5. Sitting on the ball
It may be “just” sitting, but a birth ball (large exercise ball) can provide a lot of muscle control and positioning help. Sit tall, with your knees slightly apart and in front of you. Use your abdominals to hold baby close as you breathe, then sway, rock, and roll your hips gently. The movements work all of the muscles in your abs and pelvic girdle, cradling your uterus and encouraging better positioning.
Throughout any of these exercises, you can kegel as well. A kegel exercise is the intentional tightening and relaxing of the pelvic floor. Don’t rush them! Take your time and really pull the muscles in tight, then relax them slowly and intentionally. The pelvic floor is a key part of the birthing process, so strengthening it and working it is important.
You might also nurse your older baby or toddler or manually stimulate your nipples with your hands or with a breast pump. Nursing in late stage pregnancy and after birth stimulates the uterus as part of the body’s way of contracting it and returning to normal. Before and during birth, it can help to progress it and may even help to induce labor.
Ina May Gaskins frequently refers to women kissing their partners and enjoying intimate moments with them, as a way of relaxing and boosting oxytocin levels naturally. Orgasms are huge oxytocin surges.
Remember what got the baby in - can get the baby out!
How to Induce Labor Herbally
An attempt to mimic our conventional idea of an induction with herbs can be ill advised and even dangerous. But there are some gentle ways to encourage cervical ripening and contractions with time-honored herbs.
- Evening Primrose Oil. Beginning around 37 weeks, evening primrose oil can be incorporated into your routine to help encourage the cervix to open efficiently when it’s time. Typically, the dose is 500mg taken orally, though many prefer it topically. A capsule can be inserted near the cervix, or the oil can be used as lubrication for intimate moments or as perineal massage.
- Red Raspberry Leaf. A gentle uterine tonic, red raspberry leaf has been taken since time immemorial for women’s health of all sorts. You might have noticed an influx of Braxton Hicks contractions with lots of red raspberry leaf tea already! At the end of pregnancy, you can drink 4-5 cups of it daily as a tea. (You might try my aptly named Lady in Waiting tea blend!) Or, blend it with a bit of your favorite fruit juice and freeze into lollipops for an herbal support labor pop.
In the spirit of letting your food be your medicine, other foods have been said to help spur labor along, including spicy foods, pineapple, and eggplant. These are often relegated to “old wives tales,” though the digestive system’s contractions are closely connected with uterine contractions, which could explain the spicy food phenomena, at least.
It’s Okay to Wait
I cannot stress enough that, even though you are feeling so done and ready to meet your little one, birth is not something to be forced. It’s okay to trust your body, your baby, and your birth. Listen to what you need. If all of the voices around you are telling you what to do, when to do it, and your body just needs to rest…rest!
You’re about to work so very hard to labor, and then even harder to mother this little one for the rest of their lives. It’s okay to rest here for awhile, in this waiting space, where it’s just you and him together against the world.