Nipple Stimulation for Natural Labor Induction

breast pump

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You've enjoyed a healthy, happy, normal pregnancy. The nursery is ready, the car seat installed, and the last of the thank-you notes for your baby shower are signed, stamped, and delivered.

But your due date has come and gone and although your obstetrician says everything looks fine and there's no need to intervene quite yet, you're ready to have this baby. Short of insisting that your doctor induce labor before they think it's necessary, is there anything you can to do help move things along?

All sorts of tips and tricks exist for stimulating labor, from eating spicy food to taking exhausting walks to having sex. None of these are likely to be harmful (unless chili peppers give you heartburn), but none have been proven effective.

There is one technique for bringing on labor that has some scientific backing, however: nipple stimulation. It can take some time to work—and doesn't work for everyone, but as long as your doctor says it's OK for you to try, nipple stimulation to induce labor might be worth the effort. Here's why nipple stimulation can help induce labor and ways to do it.

Nipple Stimulation to Induce Labor

Manipulating the nipples can induce labor by triggering the release of a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone has several effects on the body: It plays a role in sexual arousal and because it's released when a breastfeeding parent nurses their baby, it serves to help them to bond—one reason it sometimes is referred to as the love hormone.

Oxytocin also plays a role in uterine contractions throughout labor and delivery and beyond by setting off the initial contractions and keeping them going. After delivery, oxytocin is still in play, stimulating the continued contractions that are necessary for the uterus to return to its normal size and shape. In fact, a synthetic form of oxytocin called Pitocin is what is used to induce labor.

Research shows that oxytocin, a hormone that's involved in uterine contractions throughout labor and delivery, is released when the nipples are manually stimulated.

In a 2018 study, women in their 38th to 40th weeks of pregnancy followed a specific protocol for three days: Each pregnant person stimulated each breast for 15 minutes for a total of one hour per day. Samples of saliva were taken at specific time intervals before and after each session.

At the end of three days, the women all had measurably higher levels of oxytocin in their saliva, prompting the researchers to conclude that the "breast stimulation protocol showed good feasibility in terms of practicality and acceptability among pregnant women" as a way to safely and naturally induce labor.

How to Stimulate Nipples to Induce Labor

If you're pregnant, a few days past your due date, and anxious to meet your baby, nipple stimulation may be worth a try. (Be sure to check with your doctor or midwife first.) The practice appears to be perfectly safe for normal, low-risk, full-term pregnancies, but only a medical professional who's been following your nine-month journey can say for sure that you fall into that category.

Once you get the green light, you have several options. You and/or your partner can manually stimulate your nipples; your partner can orally stimulate your nipples; if you have an older baby whom you're still nursing, you can put them to your breast; or you can use a breast pump.

If you or someone else is manually stimulating your nipples, gently roll them between your fingers. Focus not just on the tips of your nipples but on the areola (the ring of darker skin surrounding the nipple) as well—when a baby nurses, they massage this area as they suck.

Nipple Stimulation Tips

Ask your doctor for guidance regarding how long you should spend stimulating your nipples regardless of the method you choose. They may suggest a schedule along these lines:

  • Focus on one breast at a time.
  • Spend 15 minutes stimulating one breast, then switch.
  • Continue for an hour.
  • Repeat three times a day.

This may or may not encourage your baby to come along sooner but one thing is for sure: Your little bundle of joy can't stay inside forever.

1 Source
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  1. Takahata K, Horiuchi S, Tadokoro Y, Shuo T, Sawano E, Shinohara K. 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%2Fjournal.pone.0192757

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