It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but sex can help to get labour going in a couple of ways once your baby is at full term and you’re ready for labour. Male sperm contains prostaglandin, the hormone that is naturally produced by the uterus lining to ripen the cervix and stimulate the uterus to contract. You don’t need to have full sex to produce an effect, massage and masturbation (for the woman!) can also help because female orgasm releases oxytocin, another hormone that stimulates contractions.
In normal circumstances it’s fine to have sex in the final stages of pregnancy, however, if you’re suffering from certain pregnancy-related health conditions your doctor may advise abstinence. Once your waters have broken then you shouldn’t have intercourse, as your baby is no longer protected from infection by the bag of waters.
Stimulating the nipples in imitation of a baby’s suckling action can release the hormone oxytocin, which, among other things, acts to stimulate the uterus to contract. Nipple stimulation may cause very strong contractions, and so some doctors and midwives prefer that you only undertake nipple stimulation with medical guidance.
A quick twiddle won’t stimulate your nipples in the way your feeding baby would, to do that you need to stimulated the entire area of the areola with a massaging, rather than an pinching action. You’ll ideally need to keep up the stimulation for about fifteen minutes and repeat at frequent intervals throughout the day. Your midwife will be able to advise you.
What to eat and drink
Spicy food – This is one recommendation you’ll probably hear frequently and one often recommended by midwives, despite there being no clear medical evidence to back it up. If eating a hot curry or similar does help to bring on labour it might do so by stimulating the gut and bowels, which can have a knock-on effect on the uterus. This is probably one to avoid, or to try with caution, if you’ve been suffering from heartburn in pregnancy, or if you’re not used to hot foods.
Raspberry leaf tea – Because it can help with contractions it’s not recommended that you drink raspberry leaf tea before for the final trimester of your pregnancy, and many doctors recommend not drinking it before week 34. From week 34 onwards drinking a couple of cups a day can help prepare the womb for labour. This is frequently recommended as a way of getting labour going, but in fact is more of a uterine tonic, acting to strengthen the uterus, to be used in the final weeks of pregnancy to prepare your uterus for labour, rather than a means of actually initiating labour itself.
A relaxing bath or massage – using one or more essential oils that can act to relax you and/or stimulate the uterus (clary sage, jasmine and marjoram) may help. If you’re overdue, it may be that some stress or anxiety is preventing you from going into labour, so at the very least a relaxing bath or massage should help clear any mental blocks to the start of labour, regardless of whether the oils help with contractions.
Exercise can help too so take a long walk. Various forms of activity are often recommended to jump-start labour and walking is thought to work largely through gravity – your baby’s head is encouraged downwards to exert pressure on the cervix and so prompt the release of prostaglandin. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the suggestion that walking can help labour along, again, once your body and baby are ready. If you do go for a walk to encourage labour then be careful not to overdo it, if you’re successful then you’re going to need plenty of energy to get through labour and birth!
Acupuncture & reflexology – While scientific studies are thin on the ground, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that acupuncture may help to kick-start labour once your body is ready. Find out more about acupuncture as pain relief during labour and how to find a practitioner.
Homeopathy – If there aren’t any known medical complications, homeopathic remedies may help to address any fears or anxieties that may be holding up labour. The medical community in the UK is very divided in its view on homeopathy, but in some countries – such as Germany – it is very widely embraced. Unless you have plenty of experience in self-prescribing it is probably best to consult a professional homeopath for effective treatment that is totally safe for you and your baby. Find out more about homeopathy.