The average gestation of a human baby is 40 weeks, so by week 41 or 42, your body aches from the weight of your baby, your skin is stretched to its max, and you’re beyond ready to hold your baby in your arms.
It’s easy to see why about half of expectant mothers who reach or pass the full term of their pregnancy start looking for tricks to kick-start labor and give nature a hand — but some of those tricks are myths, and some are potentially dangerous.
Dr. Jerome Washington understands how you’re feeling at this late stage of pregnancy and is here to help at LUNA MED SPA & WASHINGTON OB-GYN, P.A., in San Antonio, Texas. As a board-certified obstetrician, he has the facts and experience to separate fact from fiction.
When your baby has fully developed, their head pushes against your cervix, sending a message to your brain to release the hormone oxytocin. Once the hormones reach your uterus, contractions begin, triggering a cyclical pattern of oxytocin flooding and stronger, more frequent contractions.
Some cases — for example, multiparous pregnancies (such as twins and triplets) and those that exceed 41 weeks — require medical inducement using a synthetic form of oxytocin called Pitocin. Studies show that the rate of medically induced labor increased from 9.6% in 1990 to 25.7% in 2018, and nearly half of the women surveyed underwent medical inducement.
Just because the average human gestation period is 40 weeks doesn't mean your doctor automatically needs to induce labor medically at that point. Every woman and baby are different, and as long as you’re both healthy and there’s no sign of distress or a medical problem, it’s best to let nature take its course.
But if you’re anxious to get your baby out, you may look to bloggers, midwives, and other moms for advice on how to trigger contractions. Here’s Dr. Washington’s take.
It’s safe and healthy to have sex throughout your pregnancy unless you’re at risk for preterm labor. As long as Dr. Washington gives you the green light — go for it. Sex may trigger labor for two reasons:
Although having sex may cause contractions, they may not be labor contractions. Never have intercourse after your water has broken, as it may lead to an infection. Otherwise, it’s safe and possibly effective to have a roll in the hay.
If you’re getting antsy to get your baby out, go for a walk. Studies show that moderate exercise during the last weeks of pregnancy may help ripen your cervix and stimulate labor.
Some say that stimulating your nipples can start labor, but what it really does is trigger contractions, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. Nipple stimulation prompts your pituitary gland to release oxytocin, which can make your uterus contract, but the contractions may become rapid and intense too soon.
Although it’s harmless vegetable oil, caster oil can irritate your digestive tract and trigger contractions within a day or two. However, like nipple stimulation, the contractions may become unnaturally strong and frequent, which can cause stress on you and your baby.
Eating dates during the last few weeks of your pregnancy can:
Eating dates is safe to try and may even work.
Just because herbs are natural doesn’t mean they’re OK to take during pregnancy. Some say that primrose, raspberry leaves, and cohosh can kick-start labor, but the US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate these supplements, and Dr. Washington doesn’t recommend them.
Traditional Chinese medicine like acupressure and acupuncture may deliver some benefits, such as reducing stress and your need for an epidural, but researchers are still looking into whether they can induce labor.
One study showed that acupuncture with electrical stimulation may induce the release of oxytocin and help ripen the cervix for delivery and indicated no clear evidence that acupressure had a significant effect.
The bottom line is that your body and your baby are the best judges of when labor should start, and there’s no need to intervene unless one or both of you have health risks.
To talk to Dr. Washington about what’s right for you and your baby, call us at LUNA MED SPA & AND WASHINGTON, OB-GYN, P.A., or book an appointment using our online scheduling tool.