“40 weeks” is the general gauge used for pregnancy...you’re completely full-term, that baby is fully cooked, your due date has arrived, and mama is OVER IT.
In reality, the average length of pregnancy for a first-time mama is 41 weeks and 3 days (sorry!!) so 40 weeks is not a hard-and-fast determination of when you can expect to meet your little bundle of joy. In fact, only 5% of babies are born on their due date!
The adage is that “baby will come when it’s ready” and for the most part that’s true...there’s some research that suggests that babies’ lungs will amp up their production of surfactant (a substance necessary for breathing out in the non-womb world) right before birth and this signals the uterus to begin labor. However, if your patience is waning (or has completely left the building), we have some tips on how to encourage the process along a bit!
None of these have been medically proven, but trying to get baby to hurry the heck up can at least provide a welcome distraction for the next week or so ;) Have fun!
Have sex → Semen contains prostaglandins, which are hormones that can help soften and thin the cervix (also called effacement) in preparation for birth. As the cervix ripens it may trigger contractions. Even if your partner isn’t male, having sex can be a fun and intimate way to bond before baby arrives, and having an orgasm produces oxytocin which may encourage contractions as well.
When to avoid: If your bag of waters has already broken or you have vaginal bleeding
Take a long walk → Walking can help speed up the progression of early labor by guiding baby into a good position in the pelvis. Offset walking, with one foot up on a curb and the other on the street (or anything that keeps your pelvis in an asymmetrical position, like lunges), can help open your pelvic space for baby as well.
When to avoid: If you are overly physically fatigued, since you need energy for active labor and delivery as well
Nipple stimulation → You or your partner can massage your nipples for an hour a few times a day to get oxytocin flowing and start uterine contractions (this is the same principle behind breastfeeding releasing oxytocin and helping your uterus contract and shrink post-birth).
When to avoid: Skip this if your provider is concerned about fetal distress, since contraction from nipple stimulation can be quite long and intense (and don’t use your pump as a source of stimulation unless medically directed)
Miles Circuit → Sometimes baby just needs a little “nudge” to position themselves optimally for birth (called Left Occiput Anterior, or LOA), and to begin putting proper pressure on your cervix to encourage dilation. Miles Circuit is a set of three exercises that can help induce labor, keep a stalled labor moving, and ease lower back pain from a “sunny-side-up” baby.
When to avoid: There’s not much to contraindicate the Miles Circuit, but as always, check with your provider beforehand
Eat spicy food → Ordering 5-star-level curry or liberally dousing your morning eggs with habanero hot sauce may kick your digestive system into high gear, which may subsequently stimulate your uterus.
When to avoid: If you’re struggling with heartburn, spicy food can worsen it. Also be aware that if you DO go into labor after consuming a big meal, you might be more prone to stomach upset and nausea
Eat pineapple → Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which anecdotally may help ripen your cervix.
When to avoid: If you hate pineapple, lol. There isn’t any harm in it, just don’t eat the whole thing or you may have tummy issues (bromelain also aids digestion but may cause diarrhea in large quantities)
Diffuse essential oils → The evidence is up in the air about whether this can actually induce labor, but calming aromas may help reduce your stress levels and mitigate discomfort...and sometimes destressing is all it takes to help baby make its arrival! Clary sage and lavender are a popular combo for relaxation, or try citrus blossom oil to alleviate nausea.
When to avoid: If used as directed, there isn’t any harm in using oils in labor. If you plan to breastfeed, however, you might want to avoid peppermint since it might interfere with milk production.
Take castor oil → Castor oil functions as a laxative, so it irritates your intestines and may cause uterine cramping as a side effect. It tastes kind of gross, so put a spoonful in some juice if you choose to try this method.
When to avoid: If your doctor doesn’t explicitly recommend it. It can have nasty side effects like diarrhea and dehydration, which is the last thing you need to be worrying about right now!
Drink (lots of) red raspberry leaf tea → This herbal tea is thought to be beneficial for the uterine muscle, and drinking large amounts (i.e. more than 4 strong cups per day) may trigger contractions of said muscle.
When to avoid: It may cause some of the same unpleasant side effects as castor oil when consumed in excess.
Acupressure / Acupuncture / Induction massage → All these techniques originate from different therapeutic modalities, but the goal is the same: targeting specific pressure points or meridians on mama’s body to stimulate contractions, encourage baby to get into birthing position, and promote relaxation. Whether or not they work to bring on labor, they can all be wonderful ways to get a little pampering in before the birth!
When to avoid: If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you should speak with your provider before opting for one of these therapies.
Bounce on a yoga ball → Sit on a large exercise ball with your legs spread apart and bounce gently, or do slow hip circles in both directions. The bouncing motion may help relieve lower back tension, coax baby to move down, and improve cervical dilation. Just make sure you are able to plant both feet on the floor to maintain your balance.
When to avoid: If you have symphysis pubis dysfunction, pelvic girdle pain, or other pelvic floor issues, your provider might ask you to steer clear.
Medical induction → You might have heard of various methods your provider may suggest for labor induction. These can include:
- A membrane sweep
- Foley or balloon catheter insertion
- Cervical application or ingestion of synthetic prostaglandins
- Pitocin (which is essentially synthetic oxytocin)
- Manually breaking your bag of waters
Ultimately the decision is yours as to whether or not you opt for one of these methods, but it’s important to note that they are not without risk (and can set you up for more medical interventions as your labor progresses, including unplanned epidurals and unplanned Caesarean sections). So while it probably feels like you’ve been pregnant forever and you just want to be done, we’d recommend these only as a last resort and only when medically indicated (i.e. you’re experiencing placental abruption or low amniotic fluid levels).
Above all, try to relax...you’ve done the prep, you’ve got the gear, you’ve set up the baby’s room. All that’s left is to soak in those positive birthing vibes and wait to meet your child! YOU GOT THIS, MAMA!
As always, remember that while all of us at AMMA are brilliant and passionate about all things motherhood, none of us are medical professionals! Always speak with your care provider to get the go-ahead on anything concerning yours or baby’s well-being.
Cover Photo via Wander Women Collective / Getty Images
Sex photo via Kaspars Grinvalds / Fotolia
Walk photo via iStock
Miles Circuit photo via MilesCircuit.com
Yoga ball photo via Oh Baby! Kansas City