After 40 weeks, are there any safe, at-home things I can do to help induce my labor?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should always check with your healthcare provider before trying to jump-start labor. Sometimes your due date can be off by a few weeks, and you don't want labor beginning before the baby is mature. Additionally, for any at-home techniques to work your body really needs to be ready.
Many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions leading up to actual labor. These "warm-up" contractions are getting the body ready. Your cervix needs to be softening for the process of labor to get started. (The cervix starts to "ripen" when prostaglandins are released.) Most at-home techniques are considered to be old wives' tales, though some may have an impact. Here are the facts on the most common labor-inducing theories.
Walking will help keep you comfortable and may possibly help to position the baby into the pelvis, though many disagree with this theory. Since walking does not cause the release of prostaglandins, this will probably not cause labor.
Castor oil can cause diarrhea; this irritability of the GI tract is thought to also cause uterine irritability, which can lead to contractions. This might help if your body is already in labor. In general though, taking castor oil may just lead to uncomfortable cramps and diarrhea.
Spicy foods are thought to work in a way similar to castor oil, causing irritability of the GI tract and thus leading to uterine irritability.
When a woman's nipples are stimulated this can cause the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for causing contractions. Using a breast pump (or stimulating the nipples other ways) can sometimes cause very strong contractions and should be done only with the advice of your doctor.
Some women try herbal teas or herbs. A few of the most commonly used herbs include black and blue cohosh, chamomile, red raspberry leaf, and evening primrose oil. One of the problems with the use of some of these herbs is no one is sure how each individual will react to them. It is wise to never try herbs on your own. If your doctor or midwife agrees with this route, make sure to work closely with a highly trained herbalist who can guide you.
Semen contains prostaglandins, so sometimes sex can help the cervix to ripen and may stimulate labor. But sex for many women at this point of the pregnancy can be a bit uncomfortable, and some men are afraid of hurting their unborn babies or making their wives feel uncomfortable.
Keep in mind though that you should not have intercourse if your membranes have ruptured (water has broken), if you have had vaginal bleeding, or have been diagnosed with placenta previa (placenta covers the cervix). You can work together to find a comfortable position and enjoy this attempt at speeding the arrival of your little one!
Talk with your healthcare provider for advice in deciding if any of these methods may hasten your labor.