Natural Ways to Induce Labor

Loving expectant couple sitting on sofa at home
Morsa Images / Getty Images

As a woman nears her due date it is quite common to start to wonder when labor will begin and to whether there is anything that you can do to influence the beginnings of labor. Sometimes the goal is to simply have the baby. At other times, it is to avoid a medical induction of labor.

You will encounter some recommendations that obviously have been passed down through the ages. For example, here are some of the folklore methods of labor induction:

  • Driving on a bumpy road
  • Eating spicy foods (even special labor ginger cookies)
  • Dancing naked in the moonlight
  • Walking, exercise, or strenuous physical activity
  • A full moon or bad weather

While you might discount those, here are some other natural methods touted as being able to start labor, and what the evidence is that they might work.

Sexual Intercourse

Sex as a way to start labor is an old method. While some studies say that labor is not influenced, other studies say that regular sex at the end of pregnancy does lower the risk of being past your due date. Now the big question is what is it about sex that supposedly brings on labor? Is it the act of sex? Is it the semen that contains prostaglandins that ripen your cervix? Is it the oxytocin released during orgasm? Research hasn't provided any answers.

Nipple Stimulation

Nipple stimulation is an old form of induction that can be done by manual, oral, or mechanical methods. Some practitioners feel that this gentle release of oxytocin from the body can ease into contractions for many moms. Others do not agree, and while there are some positive research results, more research is needed to show it is effective.

Castor Oil

Drinking or eating something with castor oil, or even rubbing it on the skin, it is said to bring about contractions by stimulating the bowels. This supposedly irritates the uterus and contractions of labor ensue. While no one can agree if this really works or not, the side effects can be nasty, including diarrhea and vomiting. Be sure to check with your practitioner about this method of induction.

Herbs and Remedies

Herbs for induction have long been used by midwives and older practitioners of medicine. These days, many of the hospital-based methods of induction are from the same lines of care as the original herbs. Herbal inductions should only be carried out with the help of your doctor or midwife, as their safety and effectiveness are not proven. They may use some combination of the following herbs/remedies:

  • Caulophyllum
  • Evening primrose oil (EPO)
  • Black and blue cohosh

Relaxation and Guided Imagery

Relaxation and guided imagery can be very helpful in starting labor for some women. This is merely a way to help release tension and worries, particularly those surrounding birth and parenting. There are some professional products out there to guide you or you can write your own script. These are not harmful and even if they do not start labor, they can help aid in relaxation and a feeling of calm about your upcoming birth.

Should You Naturally Induce Labor?

It is important to remember that induction of labor, either using natural techniques or using medical intervention, is the forcing of labor. This can increase the risks for baby and mom. Labor may be longer, harder, and even more painful. There should be a good reason why you and your practitioner decide on the induction of labor using any method.

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.
  • Castro C, Afonso M, Carvalho R, Clode N, Graça LM. Effect of Vaginal Intercourse on Spontaneous Labor at Term: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2014;290(6):1121-1125. doi:10.1007/s00404-014-3343-0.

  • Atrian MK, Sadat Z, Bidgoly MR, Abbaszadeh F, Jafarabadi MA. The Association of Sexual Intercourse During Pregnancy With Labor Onset. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal . 2014;17(1). doi:10.5812/ircmj.16465.
  • Kelly AJ, Kavanagh J, Thomas J. Castor oil, bath and/or enema for cervical priming and induction of labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003099. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003099.pub2
  • Omar N, Tan P, Sabir N, Yusop E, Omar S. Coitus to Expedite the Onset of Labour: a Randomised Trial. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2012;120(3):338-345. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12054.
  • Singh N, Tripathi R, Mala YM, Yedla N. Breast Stimulation in Low-Risk Primigravidas at Term: Does It Aid in Spontaneous Onset of Labour and Vaginal Delivery? A Pilot Study. BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:1-6. doi:10.1155/2014/695037.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.