In the Listening to Mother’s II survey 50% of the participants attempted to start labor artificially. 22% of the participants tried to start labor on their own. The most common reason was that the mother wanted to get labor over with. The second most common reason was to avoid a medical induction. Only 4% of the participants were successful at starting their own labor.
The process of starting labor is more complex than you might imagine. Hormonal changes in the last weeks of pregnancy help prepare your cervix to stretch, your uterus to contract and your pelvis to open. Many of the self-induction methods aim to move the hormonal process along, but it cannot be forced. Even with medical induction, the process is usually long and fails 25% of the time.
Some midwives believe self-induction methods casue more stress than they relieve. Others feel repeated attempts at self-induction can help move the hormones in your favor. If your goal is to help prepare your body to start labor instead of starting labor in the next few hours you will probably not be disappointed by these self-induction methods.
Walking and other movements that use your pelvis help your baby get into a good position. This helps to stretch your pelvis and may allow your baby to get low enough to put pressure on your cervix. Increased pressure on your cervix may help your body produce more prostaglandins, one of the hormones necessary for labor to begin.
Another way to help increase the amount of prostaglandins ripening your cervix is with sexual intercourse. Semen provides a temporary source of prostaglandins which may help prepare your cervix for labor. In addition your body will produce oxytocin that stimulates contractions during orgasim. This may not be enough to start labor, but may help move towards the right hormonal mix.
During breastfeeding your body produces oxytocin, one of the hormones necessary for labor. You can make your body release this hormone by stimulating your breasts in a similar way. Gently massage the areola with your thumb and forefingers or rub the whole areola with your palm. Do not tug or pull on your nipples, it will be uncomfortable and will not produce any oxytocin for you. Be aware that this can cause powerful contractions, even if they are not successful in starting labor. To prevent hyper-stimulation, only do one breast at a time and for no more than five minutes per breast per hour.
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Just as pressure can help relieve a headache or back cramping, it may be able to help move your body into the hormonal balance needed for labor. One point can be activated by squeezing the fleshy part between your thumb and forefinger with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Another point can be activated by pressing in about 4 finger widths above your inner ankle.
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Castor oil preparations are sometimes known as the “Midwives Cocktail.” When you drink castor oil it stimulates your body to empty. This includes your bowel and your uterus. It can cause cramping and diarrhea, which may not be pleasant while starting labor.
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Evening primrose oil can be used to help stimulate the production of prostaglandins. It can be taken orally, or you can open the tablet and rub the oil on your cervix.
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Black or Blue Cohosh
Black and blue cohosh are two different plants that achieve the same result in different ways. Both stimulate contractions. There is no standard amount to use, however an herbalist or your midwife may be able to give you more information.
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Declercq ER, Sakala C, Corry MP, Applebaum S. Listening to Mothers II: Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Childbirth Connection, October 2006.