Can Pumping Breastmilk Induce Labor?

breast pumping

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You’re at the very end of your pregnancy. You and your baby are healthy and everything is looking good, but you can barely see your toes, everything aches, and you are more than ready to get the ball rolling and meet your newborn. If this is you, you may be wondering if there is a natural, gentle method you can try to induce labor—one that actually has a chance of working.

Enter breast pumping or nipple stimulation. Research shows that using a breast pump or your hands to stimulate your nipples can make your uterus contract; in some cases, this can get your labor started. Pumping to induce labor is generally safe as well, as long as you are far along enough in your pregnancy, healthy, and your doctor or midwife agrees that it’s a good option for you.

Here's what to know about pumping to induce labor, including why it’s used, its safety and effectiveness, and some tips for how to do it.

Why People Pump to Induce Labor

Alex Juusela, MD, MPH, FACOG, a board-certified OB/GYN at Wayne State University, says that his patients are often interested in pumping to induce labor when they are looking for natural, non-invasive methods they can try at home. “Some women prefer breast or nipple stimulation as they feel they have more control over the induction process,” Dr. Juusela describes.

Julia Garza, a mom of three from Austin, TX, found herself in that mindset as she was waiting for labor to start with her second child. She’d tried other natural induction techniques (herbs and castor oil), but none were working. “It was nipple stimulation that got my contractions going and helped me get into active labor,” she shared.

Sarah S., a mom of two from New York, had a similar experience. “My doctor told me when I was close to my due date, due to various factors including my age, health history, and how she felt the baby was doing from our checkups, that I could try to induce birth through natural methods,” she says. Her doctor specifically recommended breast pumping, and it worked like a charm; Sarah pumped for 20 minutes in the morning, and her baby was born that night.

Is Pumping to Induce Labor Safe?

Pumping to induce labor is typically safe, but not just anyone can use this method.

“Generally speaking, a woman should consult her obstetrician before attempting ‘natural induction of labor,’” says Adi Davidov, MD, associate chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Staten Island University Hospital. “There are instances where inducing labor may not be safe, such as conditions like placenta previa,” Dr. Davidov notes. Natural induction methods should not be used before 39 weeks, he adds.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) considers induction of labor that isn’t medically necessary an “elective induction.” Elective inductions are used to relieve the discomforts experienced at the end of pregnancy, but also may be considered when someone lives far from a medical facility and wants to time their labor appropriately, or when someone has a history of fast labors.

ACOG also uses the figure of 39 weeks as the earliest that elective inductions should happen. Besides placenta previa (which is when your placenta covers your cervix), ACOG says that elective inductions shouldn’t be considered in cases of breech pregnancies, prolapsed umbilical cords, when the birthing person has an active herpes infection, or in people with histories of uterine surgeries.

It is essential to discuss the safety of pumping to induce labor—or any at-home induction techniques—with your healthcare provider.

Is Pumping to Induce Labor Effective?

The theory behind pumping to induce labor is based on the powers of oxytocin, a hormone that’s released during breastfeeding, pumping, or manual breast stimulation. Oxytocin is responsible for milk “letdown” during breastfeeding, and also contributes to the warm, fuzzy feelings that many people experience while nursing. In addition, oxytocin can make your uterus contract, which is why breast pumping is considered a possible way to induce labor. 

Numerous studies have found that pumping/nipple stimulation can be effective at speeding up and inducing labor. For example, a study published in Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing found that nipple stimulation can shorten the phases of labor, and can have the potential of reducing the chances of other labor interventions. Another study, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, found that breast pumping is effective at inducing labor and decreases the need to use synthetic oxytocin administration to induce labor.

A Guide for Pumping to Induce Labor

There is no one “right” method recommended for inducing labor with breast pumping, says Dr. Juusela, and there is not currently enough evidence to make clinical recommendations about this practice. Dr. Juusela also emphasizes that you should only attempt this method under direct medical supervision or monitoring by your healthcare provider.

“At any time if you notice any vaginal bleeding, leakage of fluid, severe pain, a contraction that last much longer than other contractions, your baby not moving, or if anything just ‘feels off,’ stop the nipple/breast stimulation and inform your provider or the staff so that they can evaluate you immediately,” Dr. Juusela warns.

And what if pumping causes nipple pain? If this happens, Dr. Juusela advises that you stop pumping and connect with a lactation professional for pumping help. Usually pain during pumping is caused by using an incorrect sized flange (the pump part that goes directly on your nipple and areola).

"It is important to see a small amount of space between the nipple and the walls of the flange," he says. "Too small of a flange can cause the nipple to rub against the flange and cause nipple irritation, pain, and even damage."

If you do any breast pumping during pregnancy, you may see some milk (colostrum), Dr. Juusela explains. "Nipple stimulation or pumping to induce labor stimulates the release of oxytocin, which causes uterine contractions as well as provoking the glands in the breast to release colostrum or milk," he describes.

This is not a problem, though. "Any collected colostrum or milk can be appropriately stored and provided to the newborn, as it is rich in nutrients and immunologic factors for your baby," he recommends.

Phoebe Barouk, ARPN, CNM, IBCLC, nurse midwife and lactation consultant, offered some insight about how frequently to pump your breasts when trying this method: “It is best to practice 20 minutes on, 20 minutes rest, 20 minutes on, 20  minutes rest, until an adequate contraction pattern is achieved.” She doesn’t recommend pumping your breasts for more than two to four hours at a time.

Dr. Juusela points out that it’s not just expressing breast milk with a pump that may be helpful. “Research has demonstrated an increase in oxytocin released by nipple rolling, breast massage, and breast pumping,” he says. He recommends placing warm washcloths on your breasts prior to pumping or expressing, and making sure that your breast pump forms a good seal on your breast.

Like Barouk, Dr. Juusela also emphasizes going slow, and giving yourself breaks between pumping sessions. “Once regular contractions begin, whether they are painful or not, stop breast pumping or manual stimulation and let the contractions come naturally,” he recommends, emphasizing that it’s important not to have too frequent contractions as your labor begins.

A Word From Verywell

Pumping to induce labor is a method that works well for many expectant parents. It’s natural, simple, and considered safe—provided your pregnancy is low risk and you are at least 39 weeks along.

But it’s not for everyone. As with any at-home, natural induction method, it’s important that you consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are a good candidate. While you are attempting the method, it’s also vital that you stay in touch with your provider, and alert them to any potential issues.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization. The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals.

  2. Takahata K, Horiuchi S, Tadokoro Y, et al. Effects of breast stimulation for spontaneous onset of labor on salivary oxytocin levels in low-risk pregnant women: A feasibility study. PLOS One. 2018;13(2):e0192757. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0192757

  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Labor Induction.

  4. World Health Organization. The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals.

  5. Demirel G, Guler H. The Effect of Uterine and Nipple Stimulation on Induction With Oxytocin and the Labor Process. Worldviews of Evidence-Based Nursing. 2015;12(5):273-280. doi:10.1111/wvn.12116

  6. Hodgson Z, Latka P. Canadian Registered Midwives’ Experiences With Nipple Stimulation: An Exploratory Survey in British Columbia and Ontario. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. 2020;42(7):861-867. doi:10.1016/j.jogc.2019.12.010

  7. Stark EL, Athens ZG, Son M. Intrapartum nipple stimulation therapy for labor induction: a randomized controlled external pilot study of acceptability and feasibility. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM. 2022;4(2):100575. doi:10.1016/j.ajogmf.2022.100575

Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.