Impatiently waiting: does following the old wives’ tales really help you go into labour?


With an impending baby boom amongst my friends, two are entering their final weeks of pregnancy. Tonight a group of us girls are heading out for a curry dinner in the hopes of coaxing a rather large baby to enter the world a little early and give its mother a break. We know that realistically it comes down to baby being ready but it’s a good chance for us girls to get together one last time before one of us sinks into the newborn fog again. It got me thinking of all the old wives’ tales that we’re told will bring on a baby – and I’m fairly sure that the list below comes nowhere close to a complete list of all folklore ways to induce labour!

Old Wives’ Tales to Induce Labour:

  • Spicy food – the good old curry. Sadly didn’t do anything for me but hey, I didn’t cook it so it was one less thing for me to do while unpacking the house!
  • Acupuncture or Acupressure – I didn’t end up making it to my acupuncture appointment (my acupuncturist preferred not to do the points until 40 weeks) but acupuncture helped me overcome other crippling physiological issues so I would actually credit this as being possibility
  • Bad weather – the theory being changes in atmospheric pressure and perhaps just the universe laughing at the fact that you’ll have to do what should be a quick drive to the hospital in absolute snail’s pace traffic as the worst thunderstorm in 20 years rolls through.
  • Walk – the theory here is that the gravity helps your baby apply pressure to the cervix. Some argue for the kerb-walking method where you walk with one foot on the footpath and one foot on the road. Personally I think those people want to laugh at you while you waddle along.
  • Sex (or foreplay) – as much as I understand the theory behind this (oxytocin release at orgasm can start contractions, although these will not necessarily turn into labour) it makes me cringe that this is one of the first old wives’ tales that even strangers will recommend to you. Thanks elderly woman at the greengrocers; I really want to answer your question about whether my husband and I have tried sex to get things underway.
  • Nipple stimulation – scientifically, same reason as above. My bosom was a “no fly zone” for the later half of my pregnancy and so I was not keen for this one!
  • Pineapple, papaya, mango, chinese food & eggplant parmigiana – I can’t find any scientific backing for this one (in theory for the active ingredient for pineapple to help you’d have to eat six whole ones) but it sounds delicious. And Lord knows I love delicious food!
  • Jumping on a trampoline – brought to you by the same people who want you to kerb-walk. I cannot think of anything more frightening than me at 38 weeks pregnant flopping around on a trampoline. I may have done a little light bouncing on a swiss ball, that was my limit.
  • Squatting – not like the exercise style but hanging out in a squat like you see little kids do while examining bugs. The theory behind this is that you’re opening up your pelvis and allowing baby to engage fully. I see how this could work but can also see how someone heavily pregnant would end up stuck there. Try this with a spotter.
  • Evening Primrose Oil capsules, pierced and inserted vaginally – the theory behind this is that it softens and “ripens” the cervix. I couldn’t find any scientific evidence for this but put it in the “can’t hurt” file.
  • A full moon or eclipse – but it’s a little hard to just order one of those up.
  • A stretch and sweep (or membrane sweep) procedure – I’ll admit that I had to research this as I had no idea what it actually was despite many friends having had the procedure. I found this fantastic plain-speak definition on the Huggies website:

The midwife or doctor gently inserts two gloved fingers into your vagina and their forefinger through your cervix. They will check if your cervix is what is known as “favourable” e.g. soft, beginning to dilate and effacing/ thinning. A cervix which is high and closed is not ideal for a stretch and sweep. It also increases the likelihood of this being a painful, rather than uncomfortable procedure.

They will then feel for the membranes which are enclosing the baby and resting on your cervix. Stretch refers to the process of stretching the cervix so it opens a little and sweep refers to separating the membranes from where they adhere around the cervix in the lower portion of the uterus.

The cervix needs to be soft and slightly open already so that a finger can be inserted. If the mother’s cervix is not open then another option is for the obstetrician/midwife to gently massage the cervix so that prostaglandins may be released.

The aim with a stretch and sweep is for the obstetrician or midwife is to rotate their finger in a sweeping and circular motion to a full 360 degrees. They need to be careful that they do not break the membranes when they are doing this. Though sometimes this is inevitable, especially if the membranes are bulging and about to rupture spontaneously.

While this is a medically-based rather than natural procedure, I’ve included this in the round up because it doesn’t always work and should be considered a possible rather than inevitable induction.

Big Flashing Sirens Note: Castor oil is NOT recommended as a natural form of induction any more. It works as a powerful laxative – the spasms in your bowels starting off contractions in your uterus – and this leads to increased chances of diarrhea and dehydration in the mother, in turn raising the probability of labour complications. There is also medical debate about whether it increases the chance of meconium contamination of the amniotic fluid but there are no studies to date that prove this. Take at your own peril.

The reality is that unless you are medically induced, baby will come when baby is ready. I stand by the fact that CJ started his journey into the world after I’d had a big bawling cry-session (we’re talking about an hour of tears) and that the oxytocin from that release did the trick. But if he hadn’t been ready to make his way into the world, rushing then like he does now, it wouldn’t have happened. It sure does give us plenty to do to keep us occupied though doesn’t it?

Can you think of any old wives’ tales you’ve heard of that aren’t mentioned above?

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One thought on “Impatiently waiting: does following the old wives’ tales really help you go into labour?

  1. I got an infection which brought on labour. DO NOT RECOMMEND haha. But boy it was efficient :/ I was only in hospital 3 hours before he was delivered!
    Seriously, though, I am relieved he came three weeks early. I was getting so nervous – he was getting quite big and I had a lot of pregnancy ailments!
    Wishing your friends all the best! x

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