Home methods for triggering labor popular but mostly useless

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: September 15th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s part of human nature to turn to folklore when we’re feeling anxious or excited about something. Favorite team in the big game? Don’t forget to wear your lucky hat! Concerned about a cross-country flight? Be sure to pack your rabbit’s foot.

A new study shows pregnant women — who are awaiting one of the biggest and most important life changes of all — aren’t immune to this phenomenon. More than half of mamas-to-be turn to home-grown methods and old wives’ tales in an attempt to trigger labor.

Researchers from the University of Ohio surveyed 201 women who had just given birth to healthy, full-term babies. Of those, about half had used methods such as walking, eating spicy food or having sex to try to speed up their deliveries.

Doctors say most of these methods are totally harmless … and also totally useless. Only two created cause for concern for doctors. One old approach encourages women to drink castor oil to hurry their labor. But instead of putting them a step closer to meeting their little ones, chugging castor oil can cause diarrhea and dehydration. Another worrisome technique is nipple stimulation, which actually may help trigger labor by spurring the release of oxytocin. However, it can also result in strong uterine contractions that are difficult to handle.

Of the women in the study who tried to bring baby a little faster, most relied on walking or sex. Twenty-two munched on spicy foods and 15 attempted nipple stimulation. Other expectant moms used laxatives, acupuncture and herbal supplements. And some women tried multiple methods.

While it’s tempting to try to take matters into your own hands, doctors say the best thing to do is just wait. Sooner or later, Mother Nature will take over, whether you’ve remembered your lucky rabbit’s foot or not.