By the time you reach your due date, everyone you know has a suggestion about how to bring on labour. The question is, which ones really work?
Membrane Sweeping True!
Membrane sweeping is like a very vigorous internal exam, performed by your doctor. The idea is to separate the amniotic membranes from the inner part of the cervix with a 360-degree sweeping motion. This releases natural prostaglandins that can start the labour process. Studies have shown that women who have their membranes swept after 37 weeks are more likely to go into labour within 48 hours than women who do not. It can also make you less likely to go past your due date. Membrane sweeping can be uncomfortable and cause spotting but it doesn’t increase any serious risks.
Studies have not been able to prove whether or not sex can bring on labour, but there is some scientific logic behind it. Semen has the highest concentration of prostaglandins anywhere in the body, which are the chemicals that help soften the cervix for labour. Sex may also work by stimulating the cervix and lower part of the uterus. During sex, orgasm and breast stimulation make the brain release oxytocin, which can bring on uterine contractions. You should avoid sex if you have ruptured membranes or placenta previa, so ask your doctor if it’s safe.
Nipple Stimulation True!
Stimulation of the breasts and nipples causes the brain to release oxytocin, which is the hormone that makes the uterus contract. Women who do nipple stimulation near their due dates have a better chance of going into labour after 72 hours than those who don’t, but it only tends to work if the cervix is already slightly open. It does not seem to have an effect if the cervix isn’t ready for labour. There is no real consensus yet about how to do nipple stimulation or how long to do it to have the best effect. It is safe in most cases, but ask your doctor if you aren’t sure.
Herbal Medicines False!
The most common herbal remedies used for bringing on labour are red raspberry leaf, blue cohosh and evening primrose oil. Some of these have been used by midwives and traditional healers for a long time, but they have not been well studied by today’s scientists. At this point, there is not enough evidence to say whether or not they work, or even if they are safe to take in pregnancy. The other concern with herbal medicines is that they are not well standardized, so it can be hard to know if you are getting the right dose. There may also be other compounds mixed in that you don’t know about, which may not be safe in pregnancy. When it comes to herbal remedies in pregnancy, I usually tell my patients to avoid them if they can’t be sure what is in them.
Walking False… with a ‘but’!
Unfortunately, walking has not been shown to bring on labour or to make it progress faster once it has started. However, that doesn’t mean you should hit the couch and wait for labour to start! Being physically active improves your strength, endurance and mood, which will help you cope with the stresses of labour.
Andrea Skorenki is an OB/GYN at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton.