Pregnancy & Birth

7 Natural Ways to Avoid an Induction

You passed your due date. You’re huge, uncomfortable, sick of being pregnant, and oh-so-eager to meet your baby. Your midwife or OB-GYN suggests an induction. Do you have any other options? Yes! There are many natural ways to help kick labor into gear and they’re worth trying before scheduling that induction!

Why Avoid an Induction?
But why bother? Why not just schedule the induction? First of all, your due date might not be as accurate as you think. Your midwife or OB-GYN probably estimated your due date from the date of your last period. However, every woman’s cycle is different and you may have ovulated before or after that magical “14th day” of your cycle, especially if you don’t have a regular 28 day cycle (I know I don’t!) Unless you chart for fertility awareness, you really can’t be sure of your ovulation date. And sperm can live in your body for up to 5 days, so even if you know when you ovulated, it’s hard to tell exactly when the egg was fertilized. So, maybe your baby isn’t late after all! This is why inducing before your due date sometimes leads to premature babies. So, be sure to discuss with your caregiver about waiting until you’re a full 41-42 weeks before inducing as long as baby continues to thrive in the womb and your placenta is providing enough nourishment. The amount of development that happens from 39 weeks to 40 plus weeks is astounding. And hte less ready your baby is to come out and face the world, the fussier and more high needs they will be-making your job as new mom even harder.

But what are the risks of induction other than pre-term birth? The most common method of induction with the drug Pitocin (a synthetic version of the naturally-occurring hormone oxytocin which causes the uterus to contract) can lead to a slew of complications. These possibilities include more painful contractions (No thank you! The regular ones are painful enough for me!), a negative fetal reaction to the drug, and significantly increased risk of c-section. Does an induction always cause problems? No! And sometimes it is medically necessary, helpful, and even life-saving. But there’s enough risks to be wary and try out other possible solutions first.

My Overdue Baby Story
My first baby was born a week early, so I was expecting my second child to show up before her due date as well. Especially considering all the crazy Braxton-Hicks contractions I was having in the third trimester! But, to my chagrin, the little lady decided to hang out in the womb until week 42. In addition to nearly losing my mind over the fact that I was STILL pregnant, I was anxious about the idea of an induction, after hearing from friends how badly the Pitocin-induced contractions hurt. I had really hoped to have another natural labor, but I wasn’t sure that would be possible after an induction. So, after doing a non-stress test and a bio-physical profile to be assured that baby was still thriving and happy in the womb, my midwife let me wait as long as possible to schedule the induction and I started doing my research to try to start my labor naturally.

What I Learned
I’ve broken down the natural induction methods into two categories. The first category, “Get Things Moving!” is for you mamas who are overdue and want to get your body ready to jump into labor. The second category, “The Big Guns!” is for you ladies nearing the 42 week mark and trying to avoid an induction. The second category of methods require a ripe cervix to really work and I wouldn’t recommend using them until you’re sure you’re ready to go into labor. Disclaimer: I am not medically trained and this post is not meant to be a substitute for advice from your medical caregiver. Always consult your OB-GYN or midwife when considering natural labor techniques.

Get Things Moving!

1. Make Love. I know you’re a million weeks pregnant and uncomforable and sex might not even sound like fun, but if you try the same thing that got you into your present situation, it might help get labor going. Got something better to do while you wait around for baby?

2. Eat labor-inducing foods: Many women have found certain foods helped kickstart their labor. These include pineapple, eggplant parmesan, and spicy dishes. All of these are worth a try. I noticed that after eating pineapple my contractions did intensify for an hour or so (but unfortunately fizzled out again!).

3. Take a walk. Walking is a great way to open your pelvis and get baby in position. I know women who actually walked themselves into labor (their water broke after a couple hours of walking) so bring a friend to walk with you just in case the exercise gets the ball rolling! (And be sure to stay hydrated.)

4. Take Evening Primrose Oil. This handy substance helps to ripen the cervix. I start taking it once I hit 36 weeks. I’m a fan of the capsule version that you can take orally.

5. Acupressure. Similar to acupuncture in that you are stimulating the energetic meridians and pressure points on your body, but you are just using your fingers instead of needles and it’s more like a massage.  Check out Stephanie’s new eCourse, From Maiden to Mother to learn everything you need to know to prepare for motherhood, including a detailed video of where all these pressure points are!

The Big Guns! (Only try after your due date after consulting your midwife or OB-GYN!)

5. Stimulate your nipples. Yep, you heard me right. Nipple stimulation releases oxytocin which causes contractions. You can use a breast pump, manual stimulation, or a hot shower stream on the nipple area. This is also a great method to try if your labor stalls and you’re trying to avoid any artificial interventions to get your contractions going again. Be sure to discuss this method with your midwife or OB-GYN before attempting.

6. Take Castor Oil. For many of my friends who attempted it, castor oil really kicked their labor into gear. However, NONE of them recommend this method because it made them feel so ill. I’ve never tried it after hearing their horror stories and I don’t plan to try it in the future unless I’m desperate!

7. Acupuncture. I HATE needles so I have always steered clear of acupuncture. However, when my midwife recommended it to help me avoid an induction, I bit the bullet and called up an acupuncturist who attends my parish. I had already tried everything on this list (except for the Castor Oil!) and it was last ditch effort to avoid the Pitocin. IT WORKED. After one session I had several contractions that fizzled out, so I went back the next morning for a second session. I started having contractions on the table that started my labor! My daughter was born on a Saturday morning and I got to skip that induction that had been scheduled for the following Monday. So I will definitely be making a visit to the acupuncturist if I’m overdue this time around!

Have you ever been overdue? Did you try any natural induction techniques? Did any of them work for you?

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  • Maya
    September 9, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    I was induced on pitocin because my water broke, but contractions weren’t progressing. I was GBS+, so was told I had to be induced in order to prevent infection. Unfortunately, I also had to be on antibiotics during the labor because of the GBS. I didn’t take an epidural and yes, the pitocin contractions were horrible. Being attached to an IV during the labor was also very difficult – I couldn’t move around the way I felt like I should. It was our first baby, so I had nothing to compare it to. I don’t know if there were any alternatives in my situation because of the GBS – I was told by the hospital staff that if I wasn’t induced and on antibiotics the baby would be at risk. If we have a second baby, I will definitely be looking for natural alternatives. Thanks for the information – this website is such a great resource!

    • Haley
      September 10, 2013 at 4:53 PM

      Thanks for sharing your story, Maya! I was GBS+ for my past two pregnancies and being hooked up to the antibiotic drip was one of the most challenging parts of labor. Yuck. Your comment reminded me to look into preventing GBS in the future so I don’t have to go through that again! I’ve never had my water break until the very last minute of labor, but one of my friend’s water broke and then she had no contractions. But she was able to successfully get labor started with castor oil, although she admits that it wasn’t any fun!

      • Beverly
        September 10, 2013 at 9:18 PM

        I read this on Traditional Birth Services of Atlanta’s Facebook from Midwife Brenda Parrish. maybe it can be of some help?

        Talks about how she recommends her clients to use Jarro-Dophilus EPS probiotics to help prevent GBS. Couldn’t hurt to try right?

        • Haley
          September 11, 2013 at 1:15 PM

          Thanks, Beverly! How helpful. I recently started taking probiotics, but I should look more carefully into what KIND of probiotics will prevent GBS.

  • Tacy
    September 10, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    I always had a black X over castor oil, myself. Until I met a woman I greatly respected who, about a year before I gave birth, used castor oil successfully. This came to mind when I gave birth 5 weeks ago and was 4 days overdue. Being August and having had a long, hot pregnancy, I was emotionally desperate, and felt – this is very important- that my body was showing signs of early labor. Having experienced castor oil and its effects (and speaking as the daughter of a physician) I think it is extremely important not to take it UNLESS your body is already showing signs of imminent labor. It worked for me, and I was so thankful to have had the option. I know I am blessed to have had a natural labor and delivery without waiting as long as I may have without castor oil.

    • Haley
      September 11, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      Thanks for sharing your story, Tacy! Great point that castor oil should be used only when your body is showing signs of being ready for labor (water breaking, etc).

  • Ruth Anne
    September 10, 2013 at 8:31 PM

    My only induction was at 39wks 5days and that ultimately led to a 10-day NICU stay… needless to say, I’ll do everything I possibly can to avoid induction again. I tried a few of these with my next baby because I was having labor start and stop (not Braxton-Hicks, but real labor) for approximately a week before he was born. At that week’s midwife appointment (39 weeks), I measured 3 cm, that combined with the start/stop labor, and possibly that it was my third baby, was enough for her to offer to strip my membranes (basically where she runs two fingers around the outside of the uterus to get things going, yeah, it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds). Baby #3 was born the next morning (no NICU stay)!
    Great tips! Will definitely make sure to remember the ones I didn’t think about if we have another one 🙂

    • Haley
      September 11, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      Start and stop labor for a week! Ugh! That sounds miserable. My last two pregnancies I’ve had some prodromal laboring in the week leading up to birth, but not REAL labor. My past two pregnancies when I’ve been overdue, my midwife has stripped my membranes and it is no fun, haha. Didn’t start anything for me, but glad to hear it works sometimes!

  • Tacy
    September 10, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    Sorry to post another comment so soon. I just realized that I wanted to clarify that I had already tried many if not all of the other things you recommended FIRST- such as lots and lots of walking, etc.

  • Rosemary
    September 10, 2013 at 8:47 PM

    Pineapple and walking did it for me! Looking back I went into labor almost right away but didn’t recognize the symptoms (I just thought I had a backache from walking too far). But I lost my plug the next morning and then contractions got real. 🙂

    Of course, I ended up needing Pitocin anyway, because my water broke and I wasn’t progressing on my own. Sigh. But it was better than getting a c-section, which was the other alternative! 🙂

    • Haley
      September 11, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      Walking really is great. And it helps get baby in a good position even if it doesn’t start labor. Thanks for sharing your story, Rosemary!

  • Erica
    September 10, 2013 at 8:49 PM

    I’m about to burst with my second baby, so this blog is timely! Thanks!

    I’m wondering one thing though, about this line: “And sperm can live in your body for up to 5 days, so even if you know when you ovulated, it’s hard to tell exactly when the egg was fertilized.”

    Isn’t it true that an egg only lives for 24 hours? So, if you know what date you ovulated, you can be pretty dang sure of your due date, no?

    • Stephanie
      September 11, 2013 at 12:23 AM

      If you know exactly when you ovulated, yes, but even with charting it can be hard to really pin it down. Really the point being made is to not be married to whatever due date is given to you by whatever practioner you are seeing. Hardly any EDD are actually acurate. 😉

  • Mandi
    September 10, 2013 at 10:10 PM

    So…I’m curious if there’s a specific reason that nipple stimulation is on the “big guns” list. Aren’t there women who nurse right through delivery and tandem nurse? Surely that counts as nipple stimulation as well, so I would have included it with walking, accupressure, etc. Thoughts?

    • Haley
      September 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      Absolutely, Mandi. Tons of women breastfeed all through their pregnancy. It’s not something I would personally be worried about unless my pregnancy was high risk for some reason. But as far as nipple stimulation, manual or with a breast pump (and for an extended period of time) I would just check in with my caregiver. From what I understand there is a risk of hyperstimulating the uterus, causing very intense contractions and putting the baby in distress. This sounds unlikely to me, but I’d be interested to hear if Steph has any thoughts on the topic.

    • Stephanie
      September 12, 2013 at 12:32 AM

      Yup, lots of women continue to breastfeed through pregnancy. Nipple stimulation, could honestly be in either category. Some women who have been breastfeeding for a long time, kind of get desentized to the feeling and it doesn’t really send the same chemical messengers to the brain anymore. And some women like me, have tough nipples that are sensitive at all anyway, so it was for sure not a big gun thing for me. For me, having sex was more of a bring out the big guns thing. It was like it woke up my uterus and it was like hello, time to get to work now! 🙂

      The great thing about nipple stimulation is that if it does bring on too hard, too painful contractions, you just have to stop stimulating them and your uterus will go back to contracting like normal.

      • Mandi
        September 19, 2013 at 11:22 AM

        Thanks, ladies — appreciate your responses, and I definitely think it makes sense that it would vary between women based on a lot of different factors!

  • Catholicanuck
    September 10, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    I can vouch for #1 and #5 and a friend swears by dancing and being twirled! I am curious as to the caution. On #5. Many women have nursed a child through a subsequent pg. This does not lead (according to stats I read at the time, long ago) to miscarriage or premature labour. If you are not ready to have the baby, nipple stimulation will not stimulate labour.

    Great post!

    • catholicanuck
      September 11, 2013 at 12:34 AM

      Hi Mandi

      I didn’t see your reply when I was writing mine on my phone. We were told that nipple stimulation wouldn’t induce labour unless you were already “good to go”. I cant quite remember why but I think it had something to do with hormone levels.

      Doesn’t everything?

    • Haley
      September 11, 2013 at 1:28 PM

      See above about hyperstimulating the uterus because why the method is sometimes warned against and why I recommended discussing it with your caregiver. As I said to Mandi, though, that seems unlikely, but I’m not medically trained, so I’m not an expert here!

  • Tamar
    September 11, 2013 at 6:44 AM

    With my first birth my doctor stripped my membranes at 9 days overdue. Some people say it hurts, but I didn’t even feel it happen. My water broke that night and the baby was born at 10 days overdue. With my second birth I went for acupuncture at 7 days overdue. It was such a quick, painless process. The needles were like a little pinch. A blood draw hurts more. I started having contractions within minutes of leaving the office. They were off and on for the remainder of the day and started in earnest 12 hours after the acupuncture session. I would definitely try acupuncture again for labor induction.

    The acupuncture practice I visited specialized in fertility, birth and breastfeeding. When I left the office I ran into a friend of mine in the waiting room who was there to treat her mastitis. One acupuncture session and her mastitis cleared up. If anyone is in Chicago, I would highly recommend The Nest for acupuncture.

    • Haley
      September 11, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      Thanks for sharing, Tamar! I think acupuncture is definitely the most painless thing I attempted, except maybe for eating pineapple which is a delicious treat 🙂

  • jenlovesZandT
    September 11, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    I started trying all of the natural ways at 14 days past my due date. ( I was shocked, since #1 was 11 days early!) Accupressure, acupuncture, strip membranes TWICE! herbs, curb walking, EPO up the hooha, but finally on day 18, i drank the castor oil at 9 am and noon. It was not as terrible as i was imagining. I cried all day because there was no labor, and the midwife was making me go to the hospital the next morning to be induced. I sobbed as I packed my bag. I was not going to need it with my original birth plan. Then, as I was packing, at about 10pm, i felt real labor! I was so happy. My 10 lb blue eyed beauty was born 6 hours later, in a beautiful water birth, EXACTLY as planned, but 19 days late,and just a few hours before my appointment at the hospital! Super late but worth the wait! And my midwife had said, the castor oil does not really help with labor if your cervix is not ready, so that is an important thing to know.

  • Candice
    September 11, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    I can actually say that a breast pump can get things going even if your early. I had to be induced at 36 weeks and 1 day due to pre-eclampsia and absolutely refused to do pitocin unless nothing else worked. I started the breast pump and it brought me from 1 cm to 3 cm but took forever as my labor kept stalling, it was far enough though that my midwife could break my water to bring me into active labor. I did require baby monitoring the entire time though as it can cause fetal distress. I breastfed up until I was 3 months pregnant but then stopped, i’m sure it probably wouldn’t have done much if i nursed throughout the pregnancy as i’m assuming your body gets adjusted to it. This time around if my blood pressure starts rising i’m going to use evening primrose oil to help ripen my cervix so when I have to be induced it will hopefully go quicker. Thanks for the tips 😉

  • Sarah Doll
    September 12, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    I just had my baby two weeks ago and I was 16 days overdue! I never thought I could get to that point but I wanted baby to come when he decided to come, but at 16 days I just had it! My midwife gave me a dropper full of Cotton Root Bark tincture and I pumped for 10 minutes, an hour later we did the same thing and labor picked right up. I had a wonderful 5 hour home birth that was easier than my other two. I really think it was the Cotton Root Bark tincture. Im so grateful it worked because I did not want to be pregnant any longer!! My midwife says it doesn’t really work if your body isn’t ready, but she has had a lot of success using it with pumping. 🙂

    • Stephanie
      September 12, 2013 at 11:02 PM

      Interesting! I wonder why she suggested Cotton Root Bark instead of Black and Blue Cohosh?

      • Sarah Doll
        September 12, 2013 at 11:36 PM

        In her experience, Cotton Root Bark works a lot better than Black and Blue Cohosh. 🙂

        • Stephanie
          September 13, 2013 at 1:56 AM

          Interesting, thanks!

  • Clare
    September 13, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Great post thanks Haley 🙂
    I was 17 days overdue with my first son having refused induction up to that point, then finally given in! He ended up a forceps delivery with bad recovery from the episiotomy.

    With my second son I was determined not to be induced so walked for ages every evening! Then I had acupuncture at 13 days overdue.. contractions started a couple of hours after the treatment & baby was born that evening. I’m so sure it was the acu that did it. I have to say though that the procedure involved needles in the back, ears, hands & feet, and the ones in the hands made me instantly nauseous & I thought I was going to throw up right there, she had to pull all the needles out so I could lie down for a minute, then she just put the back ones in again after that which were fine. She said that happened all the time with the hand needles!

    I have several catholic friends who disapprove of acupuncture though. I read a fair bit about it before I had the treatment to see if I should be doing it or not & I gathered that it wasn’t banned by the church. Is be really interested to hear more from you about it – you say the acupuncturist was from your parish so I assume catholic?

  • Anne Marie
    September 16, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    I was at 42 weeks and a doula friend told me to try sitting on a stability ball. I pumped up the ball and sat on it all day that day. That night labor started, my water broke and after 2 hrs of labor my 3rd baby was born (10 lbs).

  • Maria
    September 18, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    Mix the castor oil with pineapple juice. Take lunging steps up the stairs. These help if your body is already ready to start, or in early labor.

    • Stephanie
      September 19, 2013 at 12:29 AM

      Good reminder with the lounges! I totally forgot to tell Haley to add squating! The pressure of the baby’s head pressing down on the cervic from doing that move, often can start labor. It’s like it wakes up the cervix and it goes oh yeah! I have a job to do! Better get to work! 🙂

  • Tasha
    September 22, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    With my first baby, I was completely clueless about…everything. I was 12 days overdue and went with the medical induction when it was suggested. I’ll just say I had a horrible experience with that.

    With #2 I used a midwife. I was a few days overdue but I had been dilated to a 4 for a month so when she examined me, I gave her the okay to strip my membranes. I had a baby in my arms within 24 hours. Worked wonderfully.

    With #3…my water broke but I never started contracting. After 36 hours my midwife would be required to send me to the hospital so we tried everything (not sex, since my water was broken) including castor oil. Ew. It’s awful. However, God knew exactly what He was doing and did not allow me to start contracting regularly even after all of the attempts to get it going. At the 36 hour mark, I went in to the hospital and they started me on pitocin. I did start contracting regularly but my sweet boy was in distress – he had his cord very tight around his neck – and I ended up with a c-section. I praise God for keeping my sweet boy safe through that scare!

    Noooow, I’m pregnant with #4. We’re praying for a VBAC natural birth. We’ll see if we need any of these natural induction techniques or maybe he/she will decided to come easily and “on time”!