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Natural Labor Induction

Evaluate Natural Labor Induction Methods

Which natural labor induction methods are safe? Which are effective? Evaluate common techniques used by women to induce labor.

Why Induce Labor?

Labor occurs naturally when a cascade of hormones begins a process that initiates uterine contractions that continue until the baby is born.

Researchers continue to study exactly what starts labor. It is known to be a process that occurs when the mother's pituitary gland, the baby's pituitary gland, and the placenta communicate and release certain hormones.

There are specific medical interventions that are done in the hospital to induce - or start - labor. These are done for a variety of medical and social reasons.

There are times when mothers want to naturally induce labor. The three most commonly given reasons for self inducing are:
  • Tired of being pregnant
  • Timing the labor to coincide with a particular date - for instance when the father of the baby is off of work
  • Avoid a medical induction that the physician orders
Before you read any further, you should realize that there are risks of labor induction. The most notable of these risks is the chance of preterm delivery and baby with respiratory problems requiring admission to the NICU and prolonged hospitalization. This can occur with a self-induced labor or a medically induced labor.

Because of these and other risks, many recommend against any form of induction unless there is evidence of a threat to the baby's survival. In fact, one of the 20 Factors Of Optimal Childbearing Outcomes is that spontaneous labor begins at term.

It has been my exprience that many, many women use different techniques to self-induce. Most people who work in the field are aware of it, but there are no recorded statistics that I could find specifying how common it is.

The point was recently made clearer to me recently when I was at a public park. Three pregnant women with small children were nearby, and were naturally drawn to each other. They started talking and discussing the different methods they had used to self-induce in prior pregnancies, other things they had heard about, and what they might use in this pregnancy. They were unaware that I was a midwife and was listening to their conversation with interest.

Definition of Natural Labor Induction

To some extent, the term "natural labor induction" is an oxymoron - in that "natural" and "induction" and inherently anti-thetical to each other.

In that case, there is no such thing as a natural labor induction.

Some people, use the phrase "natural induction" to contrast with "medical induction." In this case, the emphasis is on the fact that it is the woman who chooses the induction and she chooses and administers the method. The term then is a description of what it is NOT: a medically induced labor.

Another dichotomy distinguishes between natural labor induction and self-induced methods. We are going to use this dichotomy, though it can be acknowledged that there is some overlap between the terms.

Natural Labor Induction Methods

Sexual Activity

It has been known for centuries that sexual activity stimulates uterine contractions and can start labor.

There are two mechanisms responsible for inducing labor with sexual activity: semen and muscular contractions of the uterus.

Semen contains a fatty acid prostaglandin which can induce labor at the end of pregnancy.

Prostaglandin is also administered medically to start labor.

Prostglandin softens the cervix and can stimulate contractions of the lower uterine segment.

Uterine Muscle Contractions
When a woman has an orgasm, the uterine muscle contracts. This can initiate labor if other hormones of pregnancy are ready.

The combined effect of both semen and orgasmic contractions are often sufficient to begin labor in a woman who is full term. Even one of those factors (semen alone or orgasm alone) may initiate labor, but is not as likely to be as effective.

Exercise and Physical Activity

It has also been known for a long time that physical activity can initiate labor. Research has demonstrated that physically active women have slightly shorter pregnancies.

There are also plenty of antecodal reports that certainly activites have started labor even in women who are not athletic: riding on bumpy roads, horse back riding, jogging, hiking.

A hike or ride on a bumpy road certainly is considered safe. You might want to skip the horse back riding or jogging unless this is something you have been doing throughout the pregnancy.

Swimming is one of the safest athletic activities in pregnancy, and has also been reported to increase uterine contractions and initiate labor. It is thought to be a combination of the water pressure as well as the physical activity.


No research has been found indicating that massage is an effective method of natural labor induction. However, women who get prenatal massage have reported that they do begin contracting several hours after a full message.

What could be the cause?

Perhaps the relaxation that is achieved, followed by mild activity afterwards may be a contributing factor.

Stimulation of acupressure points (discussed below) may also be a factor. Massage therapists are, however, trained not to stimulate those points until labor is desired.

Essential oils (also discussed below) are often used in professional massages. These, too, may contribute to contractions stimulated by massage.

Self Induction Methods

Self induction refers to methods that use chemicals or other interventions to stimulate labor. Usually, these are substances or activities that are not generally done by the woman, except for the purpose of stimulating labor.


Two acupressure points for stimulating contractions are the LI-4 (or Bony V) and the SP-6 (FAIA). These have been used by women to induce labor or to strengthen contractions once labor has started.

Points can be stimulated with firm - almost hard - pressure for sixty full seconds. Then release. Repeat every three to five minutes for half an hour.

Essential Oils

Essential Oils are also used to stimulate labor. It can be debated if this is a natural induction or self-induction method.

Some consider it natural for the simple reason that many people use oils as part of their regular life routine. Also, the oils work by introducing cellular components made by the plant cells to the human body. Our cells can then use those components rather than wait for them to be synthesized by the liver. Obviously, if it is an ingredient in short supply, the oil will help. Like vitamins, if it is a substance that is not in short supply, adding more is not going to change anything.

Of course, the reason for considering it a method of self induction is that it is introducing a chemical substance for a specific therapeutic effect.

The difference between self induction and natural labor induction is, perhaps, splitting hairs at this point. The oils usually recommended: jasmine and clary sage, are safe if mixed in the proper quantities. Allergy to the essential oil or the carrier oil is the primary drawback. More information is available on our page of essential oils for labor.

Herbs for Labor Induction

Herbs are another method of labor induction. Because of possible adverse effects, herbal inductions should only be done by those skilled in their use or by following manufacturer recommended amounts.

Castor Oil Induction

Using castor oil or any other method of laxative induction is definitely considered self induction and not a natural labor induction.

Diarrhea is a major adverse effect, occuring in well over half of women who use it.

Castor Oil is probably the most effective method of self induction.


The role of prostaglandins was discussed earlier. Evening primrose oil is one ingredient sometimes used by women to increase their level of circulating prostaglandin.

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By Karen Newell Copyright 2003 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA