Old Wives’ Tales to Induce Labor

I love hearing the old wives’ tales about pregnancy and birth.

Sure, some are a little silly.  For example, you shouldn’t lift your arms over your head or you’ll strangle the baby with the umbilical cord.  Or another favorite is, if you take a bath your baby will drown in your belly!  Those are quaint, amusing, and completely untrue.

But for every very silly old wives’ tale, you can find one with a grain of truth.  Old wives’ have been making and having babies for thousands of years.  It stands to reason that they’d have some pretty decent ideas.

For fun, I thought I’d come up a list of old wives’ tales for inducing labor.  No, I’m not trying to induce labor.  I’m doing my best to remain lovingly patient and let my baby choose her own birthday just like the Hypnobabies program coaches me to do.  But it sure is fun to look at this stuff, isn’t it?  As an added incentive to avoid trying these, we tried just about every natural method we could to get the Grasshopper to come out, and she stubbornly stayed in there until she was darn well ready to come out.  Two weeks after her due date!  So again, this is just for fun.

So here are some natural, old wives’ tales for ways to induce labor:

  • Walking – This is actually really good for you and can help the baby move into position and begin to descend.  Just don’t wear yourself out walking.  Take it from me, if the baby’s not ready, no amount of walking will make her come out, and if you overdo it your body will punish you for it later.
  • Walking up and down stairs – same as walking!
  • Driving over a bumpy road – I had zero luck with this with the Grasshopper despite my mom driving me up and down a cobblestone road.  This gets a big nope from me.
  • Eating eggplant parmigiana – Something about the oregano?  Eggplant does not agree with my stomach.  I skipped this one.
  • Eating this special salad from a place in LA – I am so trying this!  Apparently, the salad is actually really yummy, so I plan to try to sweet-talk my sister-in-law into driving us down for lunch next week.  A friend of mine tried it with no luck, but still.  Just for fun, eh?
  • Sex – Okay, now this one is something that my OB with the Grasshopper recommended and something that my midwives are recommending as well.  Apparently semen contains proglastins which help trigger the cervix to begin soften.  Additionally, the female orgasm can trigger uterine contractions.  More info here.
  • Bouncing on a birth ball – Kind of like walking.  The birth ball can also help open the pelvis to allow the baby to settle comfortably in position.  Birth balls rock.  Maybe not so much for inducing labor, but for getting comfy and getting the baby positioned correctly.
  • Castor Oil – This is a huge one that a lot of people try.  Here’s why I think it’s a terrible idea: think horrifying diarrhea and nausea and puking and stomach cramps and just generally feeling awful.  Is this really how you want to start your birthing time?  No thanks!  I’ve had enough of that with the hyperemesis gravidarum!  Plus, you’ve got the very real risks of dehydration from the diarrhea and vomiting and fetal distress!  Just say no!  That’s my opinion on this one!
  • Nipple Stimulation – Nipple stimulation causes a release of oxytocin which, in turn, causes uterine contractions.  I tried this a bit with the Grasshopper, and yes, it did cause some contractions, but they weren’t terribly productive.  My OB at the time actually recommended against this tactic cautioning that in his experience it will cause contractions but those contractions not very productive.
  • Herbal supplements – This is something to approach with caution.  Herbs can carry some very real risks.  Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe. I am currently taking an herbal supplement that contains several of these “inducing” herbs (black cohosh, red raspberry leaf, etc), but I am doing so under the guidance of experienced midwives and taking them in very specific and careful amounts designed to tone the uterus, not bring on labor.  I’m not just glugging cohosh tea or pills.  So if you are interested in some of the herbal remedies, do your research and only take them under experienced medical guidance.  It’s really not worth the risk otherwise.
  • Evening Primrose Oil – Evening primrose oil (EPO), is not going to induce labor.  It will, however, soften and ripen the cervix.  Again, like any kind of supplement, talk to your healthcare professional about this.  EPO is pretty benign, but only you and your doctor know your medical history.
So what old wives’ tales have you heard of for inducing labor?  Did you try them?  Was it successful for you?

11 thoughts on “Old Wives’ Tales to Induce Labor

    1. Oh, yes. This absolutely! I’m sort of afraid of the Murphy’s law thing right now actually. My doula is out of town camping and my sister-in-law is on a plane coming to visit with no way to contact her to let her know if a shuttle/rental car is necessary! Baby stay in today!


  1. As you know it was recommended I was induced due to developing cholestasis, but I was so determined to kick things off naturally before that point that we tried a few things.

    Walking was the main one. The day before my induction we went on and extra long walk and even had a go on the seesaw at the park (hard with a massive bump!) but despite bringing on some contractions it didn’t help at all.

    I sat on a birthing ball for weeks prior to giving birth because it was comfortable more than anything. But that did help open the pelvis, although baby never did fully engage until my waters were broken during labour.

    I was however lucky that I had dilated to 2cm prior to induction and only had the single low dose of prostin gel and then 11 hours later had my waters broken when I reached 5cm so I avoided repeat doses of the gel and a drip (although I had to have a drip for the ketones that suddenly appeared in my urine along with my sudden high BP and racing heart rate).

    Some of the old wives tales confuse me… like sex. I cannot figure out how anyone can manage it. My husband and I tried but couldn’t manage it at all. Maybe this is because I had such a large bump and my pelvis was so unstable by that point and we always found sex difficult because of the pain I got from my Endo and being limited in what positions were actually comfortable for me. But still it baffles me how anyone manages it.

    And castor oil sounds like hell! Labour can be a sicky time for any woman without adding to it with this!

    Great post… hope your little one decides to arrive sooner rather than 2 weeks late, but glad to hear you’re coping with allowing her to come when she’s ready xx


  2. Eating spicy food (haven’t tried), using a couple of different acupuncture points (tried this, did strengthen contractions), using black and blue cohosh (this is supposed to REALLY work and shouldn’t be done outside of a midwife’s supervision)…. Oh, and the one above, starting a project that can’t be stopped without disastrous results, that sounds like an absolute sure-thing!! 🙂


  3. As recently as July of 1941 Castor oil was being regularly prescribed by the doctors if you had not delivered by your due date. And did it work! That is how tiny Nana delivered an 8 lb 6oz baby PRIOR to arriving at the delivery room. I skipped this method with mine.


  4. Molly your beautiful baby was born the same day as my HG son 🙂 generations of women have given birth to sons on that day in my family- weird right?. Its a beautiful day of celebration. Can’t wait to see pictures


  5. Reblogged this on Blog for the Success of College Moms and commented:
    Since I am now in my last week of pregnancy (Due Date August 21,2014) I am freaking out like other pregnant mothers at the end of their pregnancy. At the end I have been so anxious, nervous, impatient, and even a little annoying especially with my oh-so patient fiance of mine because i want baby Chanel here already. I mean her room is set up, the bottles are ready and not to mention my breast are full of milk! The homestretch can be the worst for many but what has helped me so far is prayer, pudding (lol), getting out the house, and talking to other women who have experienced this and who are now experiencing the “Home Stretch”. However, always remember that you can do it and it’ll be over before you know! THINK POSITIVE AND DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY!!


  6. I have 4 daughters and 1 son (he’s the youngest of the brood). With my third girl I was uncomfortable and sick from start to end. Due to chronic illness and barely being able to move, I didn’t finish preparing for her arrival until 5 days prior to my due date. On that same day I also purchased a small bottle of castor oil. I drank the entire contents at about 11 that night. By 3:30am it was coming from both ends (it came out the the same as it went in: weird) and at 6:23 am my 7lb 3oz bundle of love was here. The taste was awful and it was not a joy to use the toilet and bucket at the same time but that was pretty much my entire pregnancy so I was used to it at that point. One thing I didn’t understand is that she was born covered in a oily film and seemed to just slip out (I did no real pushing), which my mother attributed to the castor oil, but it couldn’t get inside the uterus, could it? I don’t recommend anyone do it since doctors advise against it but for me I felt like drastic times called for drastic measures and my misery was drastic, lol. I know I was lucky that things turned out well and never tried it again but for the sake of this blog it definitely work quite well.


    1. I’m glad the castor oil worked out for you, but for the sake of my readers, it’s not something I can recommend. It carries too great of a risk. It’s important to let babies choose their own birthdays and allow them to develop fully before they are born.

      The oily substance you saw on her was certainly not castor oil. It would have been vernix. Something that most babies have to some degree or another.


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