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Sex, Spicy Foods & Walking Frequently Used To Get Labor Going, Study Shows

Turns out many women try sex and/or spicy foods to get labor going.

A report in Birth magazine this month looks at a survey of new mothers in the Midwest about whether they tried to get labor going at home naturally with things like sex, spicy foods and walking. Of the 201 women who responded, just over 50% said, yeah, they tried these “non-prescribed” methods of labor induction. Most of them learned of these techniques from family and friends rather than a doctor or even the Internet (shocker).

Women also tried included acupuncture, herbs, laxative use (I’m guessing castor oil) and masturbation. Among the 102 who did try to get labor going at home, 87 tried walking, 46 had sex, 22 ate spicy food and 15 performed nipple stimulation.

But how do they work? And do they work? And why (or why not) try them?

Orgasm and nipple stimulation can trigger the labor hormone oxytocin; and semen is a prostaglandin which might help soften the cervix. Walking puts pressure on the cervix which may trigger prostaglandins. And all the flushing out from castor oil, enemas or spicy foods is thought to get a lot of things moving, including, possibly labor.

These techniques have not been studied much. The idea that any of them could instantly trigger labor– like pushing a button– is pretty silly because otherwise we’d all be bursting into labor while eating salsa. In my opinion, unless you’ve been told otherwise, you don’t have to tell your ob/gyn every time you walk or masturbate but definitely get your care-provider on board if you’re going to take Castor oil or an enema or take herbs. These are not “medicines” but they’re stronger and have more side effects than a good walk and some Indian food. Sex, spicy food, masturbation and walking are all perfectly safe and very healthy earlier in pregnancy and *might* only stimulate labor when it’s ready to go anyway.

Jonathan Schaffir, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study said,”obstetricians and midwives may want to offer some additional reassurance to make patients feel like they don’t need to pursue these other techniques.” I’d be curious what that reassurance is, as I know lots of women try these techniques specifically to avoid a medical induction which brings a lot more risks than… walking, or masturbating, or eating spicy food. But maybe he’s just saying, look we don’t really know why and when labor is going to start so let nature take its time.Which is a fine idea.

He notes that nipple stimulation leads to the release of the hormone oxytocin: “These contractions can be hard to control, and there’s some potential downside in causing too many contractions,” Schaffir said. “It’s just not something I recommend because there is no established safe protocol.” Wow. I’ve never read or heard that stimulating nipples could cause too many contractions. I find it very hard to believe. It’s true we don’t know a ton about it, but when I was researching From The Hips in 2007 Rebecca and I found one study (I have no idea where, otherwise I’d link it) that suggested you’d really have to stimulate nipples for three hours for it to make an impact. Maybe there’s some concern about starting labor too soon. But in all my years teaching these techniques and working with pregnant women I’ve never known someone to try to induce labor on their own at 37 weeks. And even if a woman did, sex (another oxytocin-releasing activity) is known to be safe in pregnancy; it *might* help get labor going only when mom’s body (or uterus to be specific) is receptive to the oxytocin and ready to go into labor.

The author’s conclusion similarly seems a little out of touch with the circumstances for DIY labor stimulation: “A substantial portion of women used non-prescribed methods to induce labor, often without discussing them with a physician. Maternity caregivers may want to inquire about such issues, especially where interventions may do more harm than good.”

As I said, talk about castor oil and herbs and acupuncture with your midwife or doctor for sure. But sex and spicy foods when you’re at 41 weeks and your doctor wants to induce or when you’re so close to being in labor but just want to give your body a potential boost? This may be a gentler way to meet the expectations of a birth culture that has become increasingly reliant on controversial method of medical induction. It’s also worth noting that many doctors and midwives are not only 100% on board with these natural induction methods (with the possible exception of castor oil and/or herbs) but actually recommend them under certain circumstances, most usually with a, “it can’t hurt” attitude.

What do you guys think? Did you try these things? Will you try these things

Earlier this month the March Of Dimes launched a new campaign to reduce medical inductions: “New Campaign From The March Of Dimes Focuses On Reducing Early Inductions.”

Early Labor: How to know when to go to the hospital

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