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Induction of labour: Natural methods

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Natural ways to induce labour include the use of herbal supplements, castor oil, enemas, sexual intercourse, breast stimulation and/or acupuncture. These are discussed in more detail below. These methods may be used in an attempt to avoid medical induction of labour, or may be used in combination with medical methods. In any case it is important that you inform your doctor or midwife if you are using any complementary medicines or treatments so that they can be aware.

Use of herbal supplements

woman_pills_medicine_drugs_medication_flipped_595x240There are a range of herbal supplements available for inducing labour including evening primrose oil, black haw, black and blue cohosh Caulophyllum thalictroides and raspberry leaves/extract. However currently there is very little evidence on how effective and how safe the use of herbal supplements, castor oil, and/or enemas are.

Inducing labour with sexual intercourse

Sexual intercourse is a proposed method of induction of labour. The thoughts behind it are that on sexual penetration the lower segment of the uterus can become stimulated which may result in the release of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are also known to occur in semen and therefore ejaculation in the vicinity of the cervix may act as a natural source of prostaglandins for cervical ripening. Also female orgasms have been shown to cause uterine contractions. However the role of sexual intercourse in inducing labour remains uncertain. A review of the scientific literature was performed that showed while all of the above possible mechanisms may play a role, the one study of 28 women that formed the review had very little data which meant that no reasonable conclusions could be drawn.

Inducing labour with breast stimulation

Stimulation of the breasts is known to facilitate the release of oxytocin – the hormone that is responsible for causing the uterus to contract during labour as well as post-partum facilitating the letdown of breast milk. When this method is used it may include either massage or the application of warm compresses to the breasts for one hour three times per day. However this has been associated with increases in the foetal heart rate and it is unclear if this is due to reductions in the blood supply to the baby, leading it to have lower oxygen levels. A review of the scientific literature has shown that breast stimulation was associated with a significant reduction in the number of women that hadn’t gone into labour within 72 hours. However an important point is that this reduction does not apply to women whose cervix was unfavourable (i.e. the only beneficial effect was seen in women who already had a favourable cervix). It was also found that breast stimulation was also associated with lower rates of post-partum haemorrhage (bleeding after you have had your baby). Importantly this review also highlighted that there were several perinatal deaths (a death that occurs while the baby is still in the uterus and over 20 weeks gestation or within the first 28 days of life) that occurred during the studies. It is for this reason that until safety issues have been fully evaluated breast stimulation should not be considered for use in a high risk population.

Induction of labour with acupuncture

It is thought that acupuncture may stimulate the release of prostaglandins and oxytocin, however, there is limited scientific evidence to support this role.

 

Kindly written and reviewed by Dr Allison Johns BSc (Hons) MBBS, Doctor at King Edward Memorial Hospital and Editorial Advisory Board Member of Virtual Medical Centre.

More information

Induction of Labour- Natural MethodsFor information on medical and surgical methods to induce labour read Induction of Labour- Medical and Surgical Methods

 

References

  1. Queensland Government. Queensland Clinical Guidelines: Induction of labour. [Online, last updated Jan 2014; cited 7th June 2014] Available from: (URL Link)
  2. Tenore JL. Methods for cervical ripening and induction of labor. Am Fam Physician 2003; 67(10): 2123-2128. (Full text)
  3. Arulkumaran S. The Management of Labour. Orient Blackswan 2004. (Book)
  4. Simpson M. Raspberry leaf: panacea for pregnancy and labour or problem. O&G Magazine 2010; 12(4): 54-55. (Full text)
  5. Kavanagh J, Kelly AJ, Thomas J. Sexual intercourse for cervical ripening and induction of labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2001; (2): CD003093 (Abstract)
  6. Kavanagh J, Kelly AJ, Thomas J. Breast stimulation for cervical ripening and induction of labour. Cochrane Database Syt Rev 2005; (3): CD003392 (Abstract)
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Dates

Posted On: 5 October, 2014
Modified On: 24 June, 2017

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