"I didn't want her born on Christmas," recalls Tania Dowdle of Eastchester, New York, about her second daughter, due to arrive just one day before the holiday. Dowdle, a registered nurse who had worked at birth centers throughout her career, was confident she could prod on Mother Nature by trying natural labor-inducing methods at home. Not a fan of castor oil, Dowdle and her husband tried frequent sex, which many doctors and midwives believe can spur labor. But their efforts were to no avail, and Dowdle's daughter was born one day after her due date—on Christmas.
If you're looking for a way to speed up your due date—maybe shave a few days off your pregnancy by inducing labor at home—you should know that there have been no substantial studies to prove the effectiveness of at-home methods. Yet women everywhere still swear by them. Here are some common questions, and their answers, that many pregnant women have about inducing labor at home.
When can I use at-home techniques for inducing labor?
"A baby is considered term at 37 weeks," explains Dr. Cynthia Flynn, CNM, PhD, president-elect of the American Association of Birth Centers and a certified nurse midwife at the Columbia Birth Center in Kennewick, Washington. "But that doesn't mean that the baby is ready to be born." Inducing labor before your baby is fully developed poses serious health risks. At-home techniques for labor should only be tried once you're full term at 40 weeks. And Dr. Flynn cautions that for first-time moms, "A normal due date is five days past the due date." Consult with your healthcare provider before you try any at-home techniques for labor induction.
Can castor oil and cohosh cause contractions?
Castor oil and blue cohosh are two popular herbal supplements often recommended to help labor progress. Although researchers are not sure exactly how and why castor oil works, the prevailing theory is that as a laxative, castor oil causes intestinal spasms that can trigger uterine contractions, leading to labor.
"There's no hard and fast rule about how much castor oil to take," explains Dr. Flynn. "I've known some women to take one ounce, others up to six ounces." Yet drinking castor oil should not be taken lightly. The taste is terrible so most midwives suggest mixing it with something else to make it more palatable, and, perhaps more important to note, castor oil causes diarrhea.
Midwives may recommend blue cohosh to help make weak uterine contractions stronger. Like castor oil, it should not be taken unless you're already experiencing some contractions. Black cohosh is sometimes used along with blue cohosh because it is thought to regulate contractions. Again, there have been no conclusive studies about the effectiveness of cohosh, although midwives have been using it for years to help labor progress in patients.
Dr. William Camann, director of Obstetric Anesthesia at Brigham & Women's Hospital at the Harvard Medical School and the co-author of Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth, cautions that cohosh "is associated with side effects that can be serious, such as severe high blood pressure, stroke, and heart and lung problems."
Lastly, keep in mind, that not all herbal supplements are created equal. The strength and concentration of the supplements can vary, points out Dr. Flynn.