Once you reach the end of your third trimester, you might be wondering about how to naturally induce labor — pregnancy can be exhausting and after several weeks of growing another life inside your body, you might start to feel #OverIt. That being said, pregnant people have historically done a few different things to jumpstart labor naturally, from getting some exercise, to having sexual intercourse, to eating certain foods that naturally induce labor.
Most foods known as natural labor-inducers are actually just subjects of pregnancy folklore, and yet, it doesn’t seem to stop pregnant people from researching this topic. In fact, many of these foods actually bring on other symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, and contractions. Still, such symptoms could kickstart labor, so eating these could naturally work. Here are 10 foods that are thought to speed up the labor process – but take it all with a grain of salt (just not literally).
Which foods naturally induce labor?
Drinking about 1 to 2 ounces of castor oil can help naturally induce labor by stimulating your body’s release of the hormone prostaglandin. This hormone is known for encouraging the cervix to dilate, which is a key part in jumpstarting labor. Before drinking castor oil to naturally induce labor, we recommend consulting your OBGYN, because consuming too much can irritate your GI tract and cause symptoms such as cramping and contractions.
Another “drink” known to naturally induce labor is red raspberry leaf tea. While it may or may not work, it’s one of the top recommended pieces of advice from midwives. Even if it doesn’t cause you to start having contractions, red raspberry leaf tea is thought to prepare the uterus for labor and even strengthen your inner body.
Similar to the effect of drinking castor oil, consuming spicy foods to naturally induce labor might also have some unpleasant side effects, as per What to Expect. This could include cramping and contractions, especially if you are already dilated. There isn’t much scientific evidence to back this pregnancy legend up; however, one study that targeted preterm births did find a connection between consuming spicy foods and inducing labor, What to Expect noted.
There is also some research that suggests eating dates could induce labor naturally. In one study, pregnant women who ate six dates per day during the month before their due date were more likely to go into labor naturally; they also had higher levels of dilation when admitted to the hospital. So, while snacking on a few dates won’t result in immediate labor-related contractions, it can affect your experience of labor, making it generally easier and potentially faster when the time comes.
Consuming pineapple is said to initiate labor, potentially because the core contains bromelain, an enzyme known to break down proteins in the tissue. The myth seems to contend that the bromelain makes its way to a pregnant woman’s cervix, where it can break down tissue, softening the cervix and therefore initiating labor. However, there isn't scientific data to support this theory, so definitely consult your doctor before eating pineapple, as it could lead to heartburn.
Other foods that could potentially induce labor naturally – though these are mostly based on anecdotal evidence and not scientific data – include green papaya, black licorice, garlic, black or blue cohosh, and cumin tea.
What else triggers labor?
A variety of activities supposedly trigger labor, from sexual intercourse and mild exercise. Some pregnant people try a combination, so it can be difficult to tell which activity is most effective. However, exercise is generally a safer bet when it comes to naturally inducing labor — the Journal of Perinatal Education reports that of people in a survey who tried to induce their labor naturally, exercise worked best. Walking, having sex, and nipple stimulation were of the top types reported.
Does evening primrose oil induce labor?
While there is no scientific evidence to suggest that evening primrose oil – in either oral capsule form or by inserting it vaginally – induces labor naturally, many people believe it to soften the cervix in preparation for labor. Consult your doctor first before trying this method as potential side effects could include diarrhea, nausea, and upset stomach, which could lead to other GI symptoms.
Does rubbing your nipples help induce labor?
While full-on sexual intercourse is recommended to help naturally induce labor, even just a little bit of sexual touch can help as well. According to Healthline, stimulating the nipples is a perfectly effective way to naturally induce labor. Rubbing the nipples, massaging, or even lightly touching them can work as it stimulates the release of oxytocin – a hormone that can jumpstart labor.
Either way, be safe and good luck!
This article, originally published on Nov. 10, 2020, has been updated.