How to Make a Baby Come Early

All You Need to Know About Inductions, Doctor-Approved Techniques and Old Wives' Tales

The calendar clearly shows that all three trimesters of a pregnancy are equal in duration, yet women who've been there will swear that the third trimester is the longest by far. As you approach the 40-week mark, the anticipation of meeting your baby, the powerful emotions surrounding impending motherhood and the ever-increasing discomfort of a pregnant body seemingly stretched to its limits all culminate in a single, desperate desire: to get this baby out now!

Unless there's a medical need to induce labor early, your doctor will certainly advise patience, but many a mother-to-be will readily resort to trying a variety of techniques reported to get labor going. A few have a degree of scientific basis, while others sound downright wacky. But as long as they can be done without harm to mother or baby, the only way to know if the tricks work is to try them.

What it Means for Your Baby to "Come Early"

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In 2013, the medical establishment changed its definition of a full-term pregnancy to one between 39 weeks, 0 days and 40 weeks, 6 days gestation. This time period is determined to give newborn babies the best chance of being healthy. Early term is defined as between 37 weeks, 0 days and 38 weeks, 6 days, with a pregnancy that goes longer than 41 weeks defined as late term. Any babies born before 37 weeks are considered preterm. Previously, any pregnancy from 37 to 42 weeks was deemed a term pregnancy. The reason for the change in terminology is to emphasize the importance of the final weeks of pregnancy and discourage the practice of non-medically necessary inductions or C-sections earlier than 39 weeks.

In otherwise healthy pregnancies, outcomes are statistically better when mothers wait until they go into labor naturally. Babies born after 39 weeks gestation have more mature brains and lungs than those born earlier. Premature babies have a higher likelihood of breathing problems, feeding problems, jaundice and other issues requiring longer hospital stays and possibly NICU admissions. Some studies show that premature babies go on to have a higher chance of certain health problems as adults.

Every mother's priority is the health and well-being of her child. Equipped with the knowledge that full-term gestation is best, there is no compelling reason to want your baby to be born before you reach 39 weeks gestation. If you do want to attempt some at-home induction techniques, do so only after this point in your pregnancy and only after discussing its safety with your doctor.

Medical Inductions

Your doctor can induce labor using a variety of drugs that simulate the hormonal shifts that take place when labor occurs naturally. Inductions are performed in the labor and delivery ward under full medical supervision. These are scheduled only before 39 weeks gestation for medical reasons when continuing the pregnancy poses a greater risk to the mother or baby than an earlier labor.

Some women elect induction after their pregnancy passes the 39-week mark. Many doctors are reluctant to perform such inductions, whereas others are keen to get a delivery scheduled. Your doctor might advise waiting for an induction until you pass 40 or even 41 weeks, which gives your body a chance to go into labor naturally.

Before resorting to a full medical induction, you might ask your OB-GYN about membrane stripping. It's a manual, drug-free technique performed in-office by the doctor, and it may or may not get labor started.

(Sort Of) Proven Techniques

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A number of the techniques reported to get labor started do have a basis in science, but it's impossible to prove whether they really work. Given that women attempting the techniques are usually within days or weeks of going into labor naturally, there's no way to tell if the "trick" worked, or if labor would have started regardless. When you're past 39 weeks into a healthy, low-risk pregnancy and ready to have your baby, ask for your doctor's approval to try the following:

  • Exercise: Walking, climbing stairs and bouncing on an exercise ball are reported to help labor begin. The theory is that you're working with gravity to help the baby settle more deeply into the birth canal.
  • Sex: Sex releases the hormone oxytocin, which is responsible for starting uterine contractions when labor occurs naturally. Additionally, prostaglandins present in ejaculate soften the cervix, another stage in readying the body for labor. 
  • Nipple stimulation: Stimulating your nipples also releases oxytocin, which can cause your uterus to contract. You or your partner can try rubbing, rolling or pulling your nipples for five minutes with 15-minute breaks, or you can use a breast pump. Stop during contractions.
  • Acupuncture and acupressure: Acupuncture performed by a professional, and acupressure techniques you can perform on yourself, can also stimulate the release of oxytocin. For accupressure, look up the appropriate pressure points online.
  • Evening primrose oil: Taken orally or vaginally, this herbal remedy is said to soften the cervix. 

Old Wives' Tales

Helpful friends, relatives and complete strangers will recommend all manner of foods to a heavily pregnant woman to help get labor going. Among the most common are spicy foods, pineapple, eggplant Parmesan and a specific pizza/sandwich/salad from a specific (usually obscure) local restaurant. If you enjoy eating the food in question, go for it.

One old wives' tale to think twice about is castor oil. Some say the bowel contractions it causes in high doses stimulate uterine contractions. Others report that it simply gives you terrible diarrhea, which comes with a risk of dehydration. If you're desperate enough to try castor oil, consult your doctor first.

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