The Research Behind 5 Common Ways To Naturally Induce Labor

Baby shows on a due date calendar
Time can seem to slow down as the due date nears

As the 40th week draws near and the aches and pains become nearly too much to bear, many moms look for ways to help induce or bring about delivery. In a study of 201 women who delivered at a Midwestern hospital, half tried to induce labor naturally.

At 37 weeks, many moms are considered “legal,” which basically means the baby is not pre-term (nor in violation of any laws. Har de har.) This is because the date of conception can be up to a couple of weeks off. If the mommy feels like the time should be more like, well, now and wants the baby out, she may turn toward well-known natural ways to induce labor and move along the birthing process, but how well do they work? Let's take a look at what the science shows.

5 Common Ways to Induce Labor

Castor Oil

Castor oil has been used since Egyptian times to induce labor, but the clinical data behind its effectiveness are a mixed bag. In a study of 100 women, castor oil had no effect on caesarean section rates. In another study of 612 women with a gestation of more than 40 weeks, 205 received castor oil and 407 did not. The time to birth was not significantly different between the two groups.

On the other hand, in a study of 47 pregnant women and another study of 52 pregnant women, researchers found that more than 50% (54% and 57% respectively) of those who took castor oil had started labor within 24 hours compared with 4% in the groups that didn’t. In another study of women with premature rupture of membranes, 75% of the 101 women who took castor oil went into labor spontaneously compared to 58% of the 89 women who did not take castor oil.

In the words of Sheldon Cooper: Coitus

Like Castor oil, the association between sex and the induction of labor in clinical data is a mixed bag. Two studies found no association:

In a study of 210 women at term who were scheduled to be induced, 108 were encouraged to have sex while the controls were neither encouraged nor discouraged from having coitus. All kept logs of their sexual activities. Researchers found no increase in spontaneous delivery with increased sexual activity.

In a study of 93 women, of which 47 had intercourse at term, researchers found that sex did not ripen the cervix or hasten labor.

Three other studies, however, said there may be an association between intercourse and the onset of labor:

In one study that reviewed data from a hospital in Athens, sex was found to be the only trigger associated with preterm delivery.

In another study, after 200 women were asked to keep logs of sexual intercourse from 36 weeks until birth, researchers found that women who reported sexual activity at term were associated with earlier onset of labor and a reduced requirement for induction at 41 weeks.

In a cross-sectional study of 120 pregnant women who were at the hospital and showed signs of labor, women who had coitus in the last week had significantly lower gestational age at the time of delivery.

Sexual intercourse is also tied to other ways people induce labor like nipple stimulation, later in our list, and physical activity, like walking.


Acupressure involves massaging and applying light pressure to certain areas of the body believed to correspond to other body parts or organs. There are various pressure points along the feet, calves, hands and lower back that are said to affect the spleen, bladder, and large intestines. All these organs are close to the uterus during the end stages of pregnancy—as is nearly everything in the last month—and are said to help induce labor. Clinical data, unfortunately, does not support this claim.

In one study, 162 women who were pregnant with their first child were divided into three groups. One group received acupressure, one group received faux acupressure, and the third was the control group. It found there was no significant difference among all three as to the initiation of labor.

In a review of 22 clinical trials looking at 3,456 pregnant women for the effects of acupuncture and acupressure in the initiation of labor, neither was found to reduce the rate of caesarean section.

Side thought: A good massage of your feet, calves, hands and lower back from a significant other may be just what you need at the end of the day—even if it doesn’t help induce labor.

Spicy Food

Spicy food—like castor oil and laxatives—are said to fire up the digestion tract and ignite the uterus. (Puns all intended.) In a 201-person study, nearly 11% of mothers who had given birth said they tried to eat spicy food to induce labor, making it the third most common method. Unfortunately, science has not looked closely at the effectiveness of spicy food and there is little clinical evidence of its ability to spur labor.

Nipple Stimulation

Breast stimulation is thought to release oxytocin from the pituitary gland, leading to the ripening of the cervix and contractions. Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has described nipple stimulation as a natural and inexpensive non-medical method for inducing labor.

In a study of 300 uncomplicated pregnancies in the 38th–42nd week, there was a significant difference in the Bishop, or cervical, scores used to determine if labor induction should be administered. In one part of the study, 33% of the women who conducted breast stimulation went into labor in contrast to the 4% who went into labor in the control group. In a second part of the study, among 100 women, 46% of those who performed nipple stimulation went into labor compared with 12% of those in the control group.

A more recent 2015 review of six randomized studies comprising a total of 719 women found that there was a significant increase in the number of women who went into labor within 72 hours following a breast stimulation regimen than those who did not (37.3% vs. 6.4%).

In a hospital in Turkey, 390 pregnant women were assigned to three groups (nipple stimulation, uterine stimulation, control). Among the groups, for total the duration of the early, active, and transition labor phases, the nipple and uterine stimulation groups were shorter. In addition, 89.2% of the pregnant women in the control group were subject to labor induction and 8.5% to cesarean section. No women in the nipple stimulation group or uterine stimulation group had a cesarean section. Below is average duration for the three phases of labor in this study:

  Early Labor Phase Active Labor Phase Transition Labor Phase
No Stimulation 6.8 hours 27 minutes 6 minutes
Uterine Stimulation 4.0 hours 21 minutes 6 minutes
Nipple Stimulation 3.8 hours 16 minutes 5 minutes

Hold your horses

Oh,-youre-tired-of-waiting-for-me-to-go-into-labor meme
Sometimes, moms can feel pressure to go into labor

As you began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it may feel like time moves much more slowly and the day you go into labor cannot come soon enough. You can also feel pressure from those around you for the baby to come. This is when it is good to remember that the baby will come when the baby comes, and you wouldn't want it to come any earlier: The last weeks of a pregnancy are when critical developments are being made in his or her brain. A baby’s brain at 35 weeks weighs only 2/3 what it will at 39–40 weeks, and key areas of the brain have been found to be more developed in 6–10-year-olds if birth occurred after 39 weeks of gestation.

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Last Updated on: 10/02/2023 by Diane Paradise