Columbus (Dispatch) – Spicy food, exercise, sex and laxatives.
That might seem like an odd assortment, but more than half of pregnant women surveyed by Ohio State University researchers reported using these things – and others – to induce labor.
Of the 201 women whom Dr. Jonathon Schaffir, an ob-gyn at OSU Medical Center, surveyed, 102 said they used unprescribed methods in an attempt to kick-start labor.
His study is published this month in the journal Birth.
These methods range from special eggplant parmesan recipes and exotic fruits to nipple stimulation and herbal cocktails.
Why go to all the trouble?
Doctors say women in their last month of pregnancy often experience significant discomfort performing normal activities and can’t sleep well.
“Many women grow increasingly frustrated as their due dates approach,” Schaffir said. “They experience physical discomfort and have an emotional investment in wanting to see the baby.”
Women who had tried these methods tended to be younger and on their first pregnancy.
Do they work?
Doctors say there is no way to know because it’s not clear what triggers natural labor.
“There are plenty of medical ways we know of to induce labor, but we are still searching for the hormonal changes that trigger labor,” said Dr. Mini Somasundaram, an ob-gyn at Riverside Methodist Hospital.
“Women could eat spicy food, then have sex and go on a walk, and all of a sudden they go into labor, but who is to say they weren’t going to have a baby on that day anyway?”
Christina Dick, 31, had her first child, Ashley Winter Dick, on Thursday in Riverside. She stayed very active toward the end of her pregnancy because she had heard it would promote an easy labor. She labored for 11 hours and pushed for one.
“I worked up until the day I had her,” said Dick, a Columbus veterinarian. “I stayed on my feet moving around, and then when we got to Riverside, they had me walking the halls and using the birthing ball.”
She hadn’t tried any other methods, though she had heard of a few. Dick had her baby two weeks before her due date.
“My philosophy was: Whatever happens, happens,” she said.
Doctors warn that there are some health risks involved when a mother tries to induce labor. One of the most potentially harmful methods is the use of castor oil as a laxative, said Dr. Stuart Jones, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Riverside.
It can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps that mimic labor but are not. Similarly, the oil can cause the fetus to have a bowel movement in the womb, which puts the baby at risk.
Women also should avoid nipple stimulation, he said. Although it does cause contractions, they are difficult to control and can cause problems with the birth.
“Bottom line is that these things are beyond women’s control,” Schaffir said, “and unless specific medical concerns require medically induced labor, it’s best left to Mother Nature.”