Nurse checks pregnant woman

Getting labour started

When your due date arrives but your baby doesn't, your patience can quickly start to wear thin. Find out what happens if you go past your due date, and what you can do to get labour started naturally

Babies have a habit of working to their own timetable and more than one in five will hang on to 41 weeks or later. So what's the rush to get them to the exit? Well, there's considerable evidence that from 42 weeks gestation the risk of stillbirth, while low, increases significantly along with the chance of the baby becoming distressed during labour and requiring an emergency caesarean section.

Your midwives will probably want to discuss various methods of induction with you by 41 weeks. There are lots of methods proven to get babies moving, from a sweep to a full-on induction with syntocinon drip, but if you're hoping to avoid them, there are lots of natural methods of getting labour started that you can try.

From the sublime (sex and a curry) to the ridiculous (pineapple and a drive over some speed bumps), they may not be scientifically proven to work, but they're definitely worth a go.

Natural ways to start labour

Time definitely moves more slowly once you get past 40 weeks pregnant. Or perhaps it just seems that way: your diary is empty because you were SUPPOSED to be having a baby now, and your day is punctuated only by friends and family sending highly irritating texts asking if 'that baby's out yet'.

Try these methods of eviction. They may or may not work but they will at least pass the time.

Sex

The prostaglandins in the gels used to induce labour are very similar to hormones found in semen, so popular belief has it that having sex can sometimes help. It does seem ironic that what got you into this fix in the first place might be what gets you out of it, too.

At 40 weeks pregnant, sex is probably just slightly more enjoyable than having a sweep, if you can be bothered.

I heard nipple tweaking was a good way to get things started but that you need to do it for five or six hours a day! I wonder how they know that, surely it hasn't been tried and tested?

Nipple stimulation

Oxytocin, a hormone that causes contractions, is released in the body when the breasts are stimulated so a bit of nipple twiddling might just kick labour off.

But don't just have a quick tweak – the trick is to mimic the suckling of a baby and massage the areola (the dark circle around your nipple). You can do this yourself, or get your partner to help out, assuming they're not already exhausted from all that sex (see above).

Have a curry

Some women swear by a hot curry to get labour started. The theory is that it stimulates your bowel, which is served by the same nerve pathways as the uterus. Possibly not one for you if you've been suffering from chronic indigestion or heartburn during your pregnancy.

Eat pineapple

Pregnant woman making fruit salad

Fresh pineapple, kiwi, mango and papaya all contain enzymes that may cause mild contractions – pineapple especially, as it's rich in bromelain, which some studies suggest can help to soften the cervix.

You'd have to eat quite a lot to make any real difference, but if it doesn't work at least you’ll be fuelled for labour by those eight bowls of fruit salad.

Take a brisk walk

Walking (or should that be waddling?) is said to help – by staying vertical you're encouraging your baby's head to bear down on your cervix, which can stimulate the release of oxytocin, that all-important hormone for getting labour started. It certainly makes sense.

Walking and sex worked for me… obviously not at the same time though.

Walking up flights of stairs sideways is allegedly a good way to kick things off, too – the additional bumping puts more pressure on the cervix. But anything that keeps you active will help, whether it’s a swim, a few gentle exercises or that old (mid)wives' tale, scrubbing the floor on your hands and knees.

Make sure you don't overdo it, however. Exercise in pregnancy is great, but the last thing you want is to be exhausted when labour starts.

Tips to bring on labour – approach with caution!

These methods of kick-starting labour might have a grain of truth in them but are not to be undertaken without checking with your GP or midwife first.

Castor oil

A traditional remedy your Gran will probably swear by, but not recommended without seeking advice first. It works on the same theory as the curry method, in that it stimulates the bowel, which can get labour started. Essentially, you’re giving yourself a dose of the trots, and you might prefer not to have that to deal with on top of contractions.

Blue and black cohosh

These herbal treatments are thought to strengthen uterine contractions (rather than start them) but it's important you don't self-treat with them, as both can cause problems.

For instance, black cohosh can cause blood to thin – definitely not what you want when you're just about to give birth. Check with your midwife or GP first that it's safe for you to take them and if you do, only buy them from an established herbalist, not off the internet.

Raspberry leaf tea

Also available as tablets, raspberry leaf is another traditional way to bring on labour. As with many herbal remedies, it won't actually start labour earlier – but it is rich in fragine, an alkaloid thought to help 'tone' the uterine muscles to make contractions more effective once they start.

Drinking raspberry leaf tea during and after labour may also help with milk letdown, reduce after-birth bleeding and help the uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy state.

Check with your midwife before you pop the kettle on, however, as, in some circumstances, it should be avoided.

Complementary therapies to get labour started

If every Braxton Hicks contraction has you running for your hospital bag, only for everything to grind to a halt again, it might be worth looking into some of these alternative therapies.

Acupuncture

Pregnant woman receives acupuncture treatment

There's little scientific evidence this works but anecdotally lots of women swear by acupuncture to kick off labour. Perhaps not one for needle phobics, but nowhere near as scary as it looks and a good practitioner should be able to site needles with little or no pain at all.

Acupuncture is also thought to be useful for helping get the baby into a good position for birth.

Reflexology

Anecdotal evidence suggests reflexology may help get your baby moving towards the exit. It might be no guarantee but show us a woman who doesn’t want a long foot massage at 41 weeks pregnant and we'll be very surprised.

Hypnosis

Again, evidence is anecdotal rather than scientific with this one, but it might be worth a punt. Sadly Derren Brown isn't going to trick your baby into an early exit – but it's thought that the act of simply relaxing can see some babies on their way, so hypnosis may help start labour off.

Homeopathy

There's no hard evidence to back up the use of homeopathy but fans say remedies such as Pulsatilla helped get their labours started. If you are going down this route, while there is no legal regulation of homeopathic practitioners in the UK there are some professional associations which can help you to find a homeopath practitioner near you.

Unusual methods of getting labour started

Anything is worth a try at this stage, right? Here are a few mad methods that Mumsnetters say have worked for them.

  • Blowing up balloons
  • Bouncing on an exercise ball
  • Driving over speed bumps
  • Walking with one foot on the pavement and one in the gutter (do look out for passing traffic!)
  • Massaging the undersides of your toes
  • A big belly laugh to a funny film
  • Booking something really crucial for 41 weeks (known as the sod's law effect)
  • The threat of being booked in for an induction

What Mumsnetters say about getting labour started naturally

“For sex to work, you would need to do it something like 14 times a day and then spend time on your back with your legs in the air after each time so that the hormones in his semen sit on your cervix. It's not the easiest induction method.”

“Manic cleaning of the kitchen floor got my second daughter on the way. Being down on all fours helped the baby get into the right position.”

“I had three sessions of acupuncture on consecutive days when I was 10 days late. I went into labour just after the third session, despite my cervix being well and truly closed and posterior just before.”

“As a midwife I would not advise castor oil. It's bad enough having labour pains without the discomfort of having to go to the toilet every five minutes. Try not to hurry things along – enjoy these last few days of peace and quiet. Stock up on sleep instead – you'll need it.”

“I used raspberry leaf tea for the last two months of my pregnancy. I was in labour for 36 hours, and my daughter ended up being a ventouse delivery. Not sure I will bother this time round.”

“Reflexology worked for me with my second child. I had two sessions then he came the next day, 12 days late. It could have been a coincidence and that it just helped me to relax, but the foot massage was heaven at the very least!”

“I remember complaining to my consultant that I was sure I was never going to give birth and he kindly assured me that there was no medical record of anyone ever getting to 10 months pregnant. Somehow my pregnancy-addled brain found this comforting.”

“I did ALL of these things and it still took gel, my waters being broken and a drip to get my labour started at 42 weeks. By the time I did actually go into labour I was bloody exhausted, so I really wish I hadn't bothered with all the effort and just put my feet up with a box of chocolates instead.”

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