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Inducing Labor: The Facts About Exercise, Sex, and Medical Intervention

Techniques for inducing labor can sound scary, but they can range from exercise to sex to stripping membranes.

It’s not uncommon for doctors to induce labor to get child delivery started. Some parents who are past their due date may even research how to induce labor before they even reach the hospital. And there are many ways to get the birth process started, including exercise, sex, a technique known as “stripping membranes”, and even some medications. 

Advances in medical science have made inducing labor relatively straightforward, but letting nature run its course is generally preferred. Still, parents have options when it comes to kickstarting the mother’s body into contractions. And it can be pretty fun, too.

Non-medical Methods for Inducing Labor

The first, most frequently recommended way to get a body primed for contractions is exercise. Most mothers will attest that the simple act of walking seems like a workout unto itself. It turns out it is, and expecting mothers needn’t enroll in CrossFit to stimulate their bodies. If they’re at or beyond the due date and want to move things along, light to moderate exercise can help. And for a pregnant woman, simply taking a walk is moderate exercise.

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“Women walk all the time, but during the third trimester, sometimes a lot of walking can cause contractions and kick someone into labor,” says Dr. Tamika Auguste, COG Fellow and OB/GYN at MedStar Health in Washington, DC.

Many people tell mothers that eating spicy food or consuming castor oil will help kickstart labor. Those, according to Auguste, are simply “old wives tales.” While they likely won’t help matters they won’t hurt mothers either. At the very least they offer an excuse to dine on Thai food. However, the “daddy method” (sex, basically) is different. Often lumped into the old wives category there’s some debate as to whether third-trimester intercourse makes a difference. Auguste says that sex, can, in fact, help kickstart the birth process. And it’s totally safe. At the very least, it’s light to moderate exercise.

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“Some say lots of intercourse … There’s actually really good science behind it,” says Auguste. “With intercourse natural prostaglandins (which help induce labor) are released from the uterus, and that can cause contractions to start.”

Medical Methods for Inducing Labor

There are a number of reasons a mother might want to induce: discomfort, the desire for her OB/GYN to be there for the birth (kids create scheduling conflicts before they’re even born), an extremely late child. Thankfully, parents can plan ahead, making inducing labor into something of a contingency plan.

“When the topic of induction comes up, have a good conversation with your healthcare provider about your desires and what the doctor recommends and come up with a plan together,” says Auguste. “When people do that, the induction process is less scary.”

Not making things less scary is terminology. Case in point: membrane stripping, in which the doctor inserts a finger into the cervix and performs a “sweep” to separate the uterus and the amniotic sack, releasing those induction-sparking prostaglandins. It’s an uncomfortable-yet-routine natural solution doctors will often use on a “ripened” cervix to get contractions going.

Medical induction is also an option, and it’s all relatively straightforward. If a cervix is “ripe” — prime for the beginning of dilation — doctors could administer an IV of Pitocin, the most commonly known induction drug. It is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin. But doctors can administer other prostaglandin drugs such as misoprostol in order to initiate ripening of the cervix and get it ready for contractions.

It’s all very fascinating, and very routine stuff, but not something the partner of an expectant mother has a ton of say in. To be a good partner and assist in the quest to induce labor in lieu of elective induction, get ready to take some leisurely strolls.