What it is:
Gentle rubbing or rolling of the nipple, or suckling of the nipples to encourage contractions and begin labor is called nipple stimulation. This is only one of several techniques used to try to induce labor, and may be used in combination with other natural techniques.
How it works:
Oxytocin, a hormone that causes contractions, is released in the body when the breasts are stimulated. After the baby is born, this release is important for the involution (returning to pre-pregnancy size) of the uterus. In labor, the release can be used to stimulate longer or stronger contractions.
Some women fear the effects of nipple stimulation mean touching the breasts during pregnancy may cause pre-term labor. Unless a mother has hormonal imbalances this is unlikely to happen. The hormonal changes during late pregnancy help the uterus become progressively more sensitive to oxytocin, which causes the gradual increase in Braxton-Hicks contractions.
How to do it:
To stimulate the release of oxytocin, you must mimic the suckling of a baby. When a baby suckles, he does not grab just the nipple, but actually massages the areola (dark circle around the nipple).
The areola can be orally massaged by the mother's partner, the mother's toddler who is still nursing or by a friend's newborn (babies under 6 weeks often suckle any woman).
The mother may prefer to massage her own areola. To do this she can rub the areola in a gentle rolling way with her palm or fingers. This can be done through thin clothing.
NOTE: Nipple stimulation can have very strong effects, similar to the overuse of Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin). For this reason various experts have given recommendations on its use. Here are examples of these recommendations:
- Only massage one breast at a time.
- Only massage a nipple for 5 minutes, wait up to 15 minutes to see what happens before continuing with the massage.
- Do not stimulate the breast during a contraction.
- Do not use nipple stimulation after the contractions are 3 minutes apart or 1 minute long.
Before choosing to use nipple stimulation, it is helpful to be sure you are ready to try induction.
Integrating it into labor:
When trying to induce labor or speed up a prolonged early labor, have the mother go about her regular activities. Set a timer to go off every hour. When the timer indicates, have the mother stimulate one breast for 5 minutes, then continue with her normal activities.
If the mother is anxious for labor to begin, combine the effects of natural nipple stimulation with the natural prostaglandin released in semen by encouraging the mother and her partner to engage in intercourse.
In the hospital, have the mother place her palm over the nipple and areola and give a firm but gentle pressure. Encourage the mother to move the palm in a circular motion, keeping the firm and gentle pressure.