You have been waiting for the past 40 weeks to deliver the baby, but the little one is not ready yet!
You might get restless, but it is normal to cross the due date and still not be in labor. In such cases, the doctors may try to naturally induce labor or stimulate contractions to help the labor progress. One such natural induction technique is nipple stimulation. Read this MomJunction post to find out more about nipple stimulation to induce labor, its safety, and effectiveness.
Is It Safe To Induce Labor At Home?
It is safe to induce labor at home as long as you don’t try it until you are due. Since the effectiveness of these techniques is known only through anecdotal evidence, check with your doctor before trying it. The results also depend on your medical history. That said, natural induction at home is suggested only in the case of a low-risk pregnancy (1).
Can Nipple Stimulation Bring On Labor?
Nipple stimulation may help induce labor provided there have been no complications during the pregnancy. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in initiating labor by triggering uterine contractions. Stimulation of the nipples releases this hormone and promotes contractions to aid the baby’s movement down the birth canal (2).
Here is some evidence that shows nipple stimulation works, but only in low-risk pregnancies.
- In a randomized controlled experiment at a state hospital in Turkey (2015), phases of labor were shorter with nipple stimulation. The average duration of childbirth was 3.8 hours (first phase), 16 minutes (second phase) and 5 minutes (third phase) after nipple stimulation, which was lower when compared to control group’s average of 6.8hr, 27min, and 6min respectively. Also, this method supported vaginal delivery (3).
- In a 2012 study conducted on first-time and low-risk pregnancies, women at 38 weeks of gestation were advised to massage their breasts thrice a day, for 15 to 20 minutes. They delivered the baby at 39.2 weeks when compared to the control group at 39.5 weeks. Also, the chances of cesarean section were low (4).
- Sixteen low-risk pregnant women between 38 and 40 weeks of gestation were asked to try nipple stimulation for three days, one hour a day. Their saliva was tested for oxytocin levels. On the third day, the oxytocin levels were high, and six women went into labor (5).
Nipple stimulation is, therefore, recommended in normal pregnancies, as there is a lack of scientific research of its effectiveness in high-risk pregnancies.
How Does Nipple Stimulation Work?
Nipple stimulation mimics breastfeeding and causes the sensory cells of the nipples to stimulate the brain to release oxytocin. Rolling or rubbing the nipples releases oxytocin that initiates labor by causing uterine contractions (6).
How To Perform Nipple Stimulation?
Note that nipple stimulation is safe only for normal, full-term and low-risk pregnancies. Also, it should be performed only if your obstetrician considers it safe for you (7).
- Choose the method: You may stimulate the nipples manually with your fingers or use a breast pump. Or your partner or a nursing baby can orally stimulate the nipples by suckling them.
- Massage the areola: Hold the nipples, focusing more on the areola (the dark area around the nipple), in between your thumb and forefinger and gently massage the area. Nipples consist of nerve endings that stimulate the release of the hormone.
- Repeat with another breast: Wait for two to four minutes before starting with another breast. Spend 15 minutes stimulating one, and then switch to another. Continue the stimulation for one hour and repeat it thrice a day.
- Perform with caution: The aim is to initiate labor, but not to rush heavy contractions. If you have a contraction, refrain from massaging and wait for it to stop. Continue until the contractions last more than a minute, and come within three minutes apart.
If your nipples become sore or tender, apply coconut oil, breast milk or natural butter to ease the discomfort.
What Are The Other Techniques For Inducing Labor?
Many other natural methods help induce labor. They can also be tried along with nipple stimulation, provided you are near full-term and your doctor approves of them (8).
- Walking, especially long walks, can stimulate the release of oxytocin and pressure the baby to move down the pelvis. However, do not power walk as it can drain all your energy. A gentle stroll is enough to encourage labor.
- Although there aren’t any studies to support this, some have found that sexual intercourse can release oxytocin to speed up the labor. Refrain from having sex in certain cases, such as placenta previa, as it can lead to complications.
- It is an age-old belief that castor oil can stimulate uterine contractions. However, it may result in diarrhea due to its natural laxative properties (9).
- Herbs such as raspberry tea leaf, evening primrose oil, and black cohosh help initiate labor. Although they are effective, there is no evidence suggesting they are safe to use (10).
- Pineapple has an enzyme called bromelain that stimulates labor by softening the cervix. Some other tropical fruits including papaya, mango and kiwi also show the same property. But there are no proper studies to support this theory (11).
- According to old wives’ tales, eating spicy foods can stimulate labor. It is believed that spices could upset the tummy and lead to uterine contractions in the womb. However, this might not be the best thing to do as excessively spicy food could lead to indigestion or heartburn.
- Acupuncture can stimulate the release of oxytocin. However, this should be done only by a trained professional. Even if it does not bring labor, acupuncture may at least reduce the discomfort and pain associated with labor.
- Having a warm, relaxing bath or soaking in a bathtub filled with warm water may stimulate uterine contractions. It has a positive effect on your emotions by removing your fear and anxiety about labor. Make sure the water is warm and not hot (12).
Most of these are folklore and not supported by scientific studies. So it is always best to check with your doctor before trying any of them.
When Should You See A Doctor?
In the initial stages of labor, the contractions are dull with a little discomfort. When you try any of the above methods, observe the contractions and try to time them.
Ideally, the contractions should last about 40 to 60 seconds and repeat three to five times in ten minutes (13). If you feel the contractions are stronger and lasting longer or feel the baby dropping lower into the pelvic region, or the mucus plug is loosening, consult your doctor.
As you near full-term, you may be anxious and exhausted, and eager to see your baby. But do not take any measures, including labor stimulation, in haste. Talk to your doctor, who will suggest you the best way to induce labor. Even if you’re in the 40th week, have patience, and take care of yourself.
Have any experiences to share? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
2. Oxytocin For Induction; American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) (2011)
3. GulbahtiyarDemirel and Handan Guler; The Effect of Uterine and Nipple Stimulation on Induction With Oxytocin and the Labor Process; Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (2015)
4. Nilanchali Singh et al.; Breast Stimulation in Low-Risk Primigravidas at Term: Does It Aid in Spontaneous Onset of Labour and Vaginal Delivery? A Pilot Study; Biomed Res Int (2014)
5. Kaori Takahata et al.; Effects of breast stimulation for spontaneous onset of labor on salivary oxytocin levels in low-risk pregnant women: A feasibility study; PLOS (2018)
6. Megan J. Lewis; An Investigation of the Effects of Pitocin for Labor Induction and Augmentation on Breastfeeding Success; Claremont Colleges Scholarship @ Claremont (2012)
7. Elaine Stillerman; Prenatal Massage – E-Book: A Textbook of Pregnancy, Labor, and Postpartum Bodywork; Page 272
8. Fact Or Folklore: 7 Old Wives’ Tales On How To Induce Labor Naturally; Vital Record, News from the Texas A&M University Health Science Center (2016)
9. Neri I et al.; Castor oil for induction of labour: a retrospective study; J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med (2018)
10. Collins Zamawe et al.; Effectiveness and safety of herbal medicines for induction of labour: a systematic review and meta-analysis; BMJ Open (2018)
11. Monia Begum; A Study among Pregnant Women Regarding Danger Signs of Pregnancy; Department of Pharmacy, East West University (2012)
12. E. R. Cluett and E. Burns; Immersion in water in labour and birth; Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2014)
13. Labour and Delivery Care; Health Education and Training HEAT in Africa, The Open University