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A substantial number of women use unproven methods to try to induce labor near the end of their pregnancies, a new study suggests.
More than half the women in the study said they tried to bring on labor by walking, having sex, eating spicy food, or other dubious methods.
Exactly what gets labor started remains unknown, but it likely begins when certain hormones are produced by the fetus, the researchers said.
"Despite all of these women trying to go into labor and end their pregnancies, it winds up mostly being something moms have no control over," said study researcher Jonathan Schaffir, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University. [See 11 Big Fat Pregnancy Myths].
Most of their efforts were unlikely to cause harm, but doctors should be aware that their patients might be trying to take matters into their own hands, Schaffir 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," he said.
Is the baby here yet?
The researchers surveyed about 200 women at a Midwestern hospital who had just given birth. All participants had carried the fetus for least 37 weeks, considered a full-term pregnancy.
The women were asked if they had used any unprescribed methods for inducing labor in the last week of their pregnancies, including walking, exercise, sexual intercourse, nipple stimulation, masturbation, laxatives, enemas, spicy food, herbal preparations, acupuncture or starvation.
Just over half (50.7 percent) said they had tried one of these methods. Of the women who said yes, 85 percent said they tried walking, 45 percent tried sex, 22 percent ingested spicy food and 15 percent used nipple stimulation. The other methods were less common, and no women reported using starvation or enemas.
The average age of the women who had tried these methods was 27, while the women who let nature take its course were 31. Women who tried to induce labor tended to be first-time moms and slightly further along in their pregnancies.
Because the study was conducted at only one hospital, it's not known whether the results apply to the general population.
The one method known to have a bearing on labor is nipple stimulation, Schaffir said. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which can cause uterine contractions.
But "it's just not something I recommend, because there is no established safe protocol," Schaffir said.
"Although most of the women in our study were employing fairly benign methods of inducing labor, it is prudent to caution women that the labor induction methods they may hear about can carry potential risk," the researchers wrote in the June issue of the journal Birth.
For instance, there have been some reports of fetal heart complications from using herbal supplements.
Pass it on: Pregnant women should not use unprescribed methods to induce labor because some may cause harm.