29 True Stories That Show What Giving Birth Is REALLY Like

Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
If you thought eating an entire pineapple from the bottom up would make you go into labor, would you do it? More importantly, should you? That probably depends on how much you like pineapple, but we asked 29 women what weird methods they tried to induce labor, and the piña sans colada definitely factored on the list.

Of course, if you’ve never been pregnant, you might be wondering why anyone would need to induce. After all, judging by TV depictions of birth, babies could just pop out at any second, with pregnant characters reliably going into labor with theatrical waterworks in the street, grocery store, or while fighting with their partners or friends. But the any-momentness is something real-life pregnant people can’t seem to stop being aware of, as they count each passing day by waddling trips to the bathroom and kicks to the ribs, neither of which distracts from the Is it happening? How about now? thoughts (and texts from loved ones) that can really drive a person nuts. Then, they Google: How exactly does labor start? What will make this kid come out already?

Get acupuncture, go for long walks, eat precisely six dates per day, some moms say. Somehow, eggplant Parmesan has earned a reputation as a labor-inducer (according to one Scalini’s Italian Restaurant of Smyrna, GA, at least). Are we just looking to have a little fun in those last days of freedom? The sex and nipple-stimulation recommendations would point to yes.

But Scott Sullivan, MD, director of maternal-fetal medicine at MUSC in Charleston, SC, says it’s more about taking matters into our own hands. “I perfectly understand the desire to have some control on the timing of labor,” he said in an email. “The end of pregnancy can be uncomfortable, and people like to be able to plan for their families.” He says he gets asked all the time how food can have an impact on pregnancy, from helping the fetus grow to flipping a breech baby (how nice if a sleeve of Thin Mints could achieve that), but he’s careful to caution that “very, very few patients actually start their own labors — [the] vast majority are spontaneous.” Just like in the movies! There you are, minding your business, test-driving strollers in Buy Buy Baby, which your mother-in-law told you to do when you were only six months along, and BAM: water, water everywhere.

“A lot of patients seem to break their water at the store, or Wal-Mart, or another public place,” Dr. Sullivan says. But did they make it happen? With their minds? (Or by strolling the baby aisles and scarfing samosas while doing squats?) No, and maybe yes. “People have a lot to do to get ready, are walking a lot, and [labor] just sets in where they are,” he said. A surprising number of women we spoke to happened to be at work, saving up those paid — or more likely unpaid — days off until absolutely necessary, and some were in the beauty chair getting a last-minute brow touch-up. Perhaps emailing — or tweezing, or trying to catch a taxi on Lexington Avenue (all represented in the stories that follow) — brings on contractions.

I gave the doctor a chance to myth-bust some of the oft-rumored bring-on-the-baby tricks: Walking, he said, “does seem to lead to more contractions; I’ve always thought it works. Research doesn’t back me up.” Eggplant Parmesan? “Sounds great, never heard that one.” Sex? “Should work, physiology-wise, but the studies have been disappointing.” (To this he added that, for most patients, it can’t hurt.)

Drinking castor oil “seems to work, but it is usually through vomiting, dehydration, and is really awful...stomach bugs and food-poisoning infections have the same effect. It’s hard to recommend.” Gastrointestinal action is the same reason spicy food may make some women experience contractions — if you’re a Sriracha fiend, your gut will likely be impervious to this as a labor-inducer, alas.

Nipple stimulation: “an old-time method, used commonly by midwives; it does work, but is slow and sometimes uncomfortable to do.” What he’s hinting at is that you have to keep doing it. But sure, have fun. Just don’t think that a quick nipple tweak is going to send little dude surfin’ his amniotic wave out into the world.

The only thing Dr. Sullivan says is consistently shown to work is “membrane-stripping,” or “the process of separating the fluid-filled membranes from the cervix with a finger. This is done by the obstetric provider” — and is no lunch at the pizza shop, as anyone who’s experienced it can attest. Despite anecdotal experience that occasionally supports these methods, Dr. Sullivan does “caution people not to overdo the walking, or nipple stimulation, or other home remedies,” adding that he’s “had patients get exhausted, fall down the stairs, have a lot of pain — and sometimes for no gain.”

Ahead, 29 moms share their stories of how it all really went down — pain, gain, pineapples and all. Kick your feet up and enjoy. Then, maybe take a walk.

Ed. note: Names have been changed, and some ages were withheld, for privacy.

1 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Tried It All
“During my seven days overdue, I got acupuncture, walked 85 blocks home one day, chugged insane amounts of raspberry leaf tea/pineapple/cayenne pepper whatever, and then on Christmas Eve, we were like, ‘Let's have sex and scare this guy out,’ and so we did. Contractions started right after, and kiddo joined us first thing on the 26th because he wanted his OWN damn holiday.” —Paige, 30
2 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Was Happy To Wait, But…
“The day before my due date, a Wednesday, my doctor said I’d probably have to be induced — I wasn’t dilated, nothing was happening. A lot of people walk around dilated for a while, so I went back to work like fine, whatever. I didn’t do anything to move it along, I was fine waiting; I didn’t feel ready yet! On Friday at 5 p.m., out of the blue, water just poured out of me on my chair. Like, I couldn't move, so much came out, and I was like paralyzed. It was on, and epic, and completely public. I was trying to send an email to my editor-in-chief: ‘WATER just broke I'm stuck at my desk!’ My doctor said to wait for contractions to start before rushing to the hospital, but on a Friday at 5 p.m.-ish in NYC, how was I going to get home? I thought I was stuck. Someone at the office happened to have her car there and drove me home; I had to sit on garbage bags. I got home, had pizza, showered, then started having contractions around 2:30 a.m. and went in. You can try all these funny things, and do this and that, but the baby's gonna come when the baby wants to come.” —Jen, 44
3 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She’s Being Made Into A Movie In 3, 2…
“My water ACTUALLY broke while crossing Lexington Avenue to get on the train. Got in a cab instead. We did have sex that morning, and I had just climbed steep stairs to have my eyebrows done (good thing, too, because it took three months before that happened again), and I had just met my mother who was on the Upper East Side to have lunch with a friend (first time she was up there in five years!), so she was with me. I think I got a little on her shoes.” —Chelsea, 35
4 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Still Had To Be Induced
“I tried everything to get the baby to come: spicy foods, sex, hand-washing the floors, castor oil, teas, massage. Ended up having to be induced just before my 42-week mark. And even with induction, she still didn't want to come! Pitocin didn't work to give regular contractions. Then, they broke my water, which did not help me progress. Then, after continuously upping the pitocin, I finally got some contractions. She was born 12 hours later.” —Kate
5 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Tried The Special Juice Method
“I had been working from home for a few days, since my due date was drawing nearer and I didn't want to be at the office when I went into labor. My husband's cousin (who has NO filter) had told us that having sex and leaving ‘the special juices’ (her words!) inside would help soften the cervix and induce labor. I wasn't late, but I also thought I would have had my baby already, so we gave it a shot. Then: nothing. We decided to go for a walk on the boardwalk by our house while eating an entire pint of Phish Food ice cream. There was a fireworks display, and as soon as it started, I felt a kind of jump inside my belly, but it felt way different than when the baby kicked or moved around. We went home, went to sleep, and everything seemed very normal. Then, my water broke at about 2:30 a.m. while I was sleeping. I don't know if it was the sex, the walk, or just an eager baby, but she decided to join our family three days early!” —Lucy, 28
6 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Was Living Her Best Life
“I was four weeks early. I ate a banging-ass meal (rice, beans, salad, and steak); then, I was painting my nails in the living room. When I stood up, I felt a stream of water coming down my leg and thought I peed on myself. When I got to the bathroom, more came down, so, yep, my water broke.” —Samara
7 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She, well…
“Sex definitely got me in that situation, and out!” —Jessie, 35
8 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Just Couldn’t Even With Facebook Anymore
“I woke up at 6 a.m. and only after using the bathroom (which was like every two hours at that point) did I see part of my mucus plug and realize I had mild contractions. They must have started while I was sleeping. The last thing I remember doing the night before was ranting on Facebook about racist depictions of Mexicans and the general lack of interest in authentic Mexican culture on Cinco de Mayo. Maybe that pushed me over the edge! That first day, I was chillin’, watching Netflix, eating, walking in the park; my partner and I even met up with friends. On day two, the pain got more intense, but contractions weren't steady; 57 hours later (but who's counting?) I delivered, a week before my due date.” —Naya
9 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Tried The Ol’ Upside-Down Pineapple
“It was four days past my due date, our induction date was set, and I was doing everything to go into labor naturally: walking on the treadmill for miles at a time, exclusively sitting on the exercise ball, sex. The last thing I tried in those final 24 hours was the pineapple trick — eating an entire pineapple in one sitting. My resident is the one who told me about this, and about turning the entire fruit upside down for five to 10 minutes before cutting it up. Apparently, it's the sugars that settle at the bottom that really help. I thought she was crazy! I had two whole pineapples in less than 24 hours. Within hours of my second one, around 6 p.m. while chopping carrots, I felt a little pop, and my water had broken.” —Andrea
10 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
& She Tried A Pineapple A Day
“Man, I ate seven pineapples within 1.5 weeks, and it didn't work for me! Now I can't stand pineapple. I did everything possible to start labor, since I was huge and uncomfortable. I ate whole pineapples (core included — not my best decision), went on incredibly long walks, ate everything spicy, nipple stimulation, etc. Then, finally, a day before my due date, with no signs of having the baby soon, I scheduled a lot of things for the upcoming week (movies, massages, baseball games, etc). Sure enough, that night, I went into labor about an hour after having sex, while I was eating a box of gummies in the nursery. I thought I peed my pants and was so mad it happened on our white linen couch. But turns out it was my water breaking. I don't know if it was the sex or the fact that I said, Eff this, I’m going to enjoy my last days alone that got me started.” —Monica
11 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Ordered Off The Kids' Menu
“I had my first real contraction just as the manager at Applebee's asked us how our meal was. I made a face for a moment, then answered in a normal voice, ‘Good, thank you!’ Went home, ate some pineapple, had some sex. Middle of the night, contractions woke me up. Went to the hospital and was sent home. Went to an ultrasound appointment to check the baby's size, with the doctor measuring between contractions. (He was 100% right in his guess, too, BTW.) And went right back to the hospital that evening.” —Kelseigh
12 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She...Carried A Pizza
“The day before my due date, I decided to go down to the pizzeria to get lunch. I asked coworkers if they wanted anything, and everyone said yes! I ended up walking up a very long flight of stairs with a pie and my soup. By the time I got back, I was having contractions. But I stayed at work until an hour before my shift ended, then drove to pick up my husband, went home to shower (I didn't realize how that wouldn't matter AT ALL), ordered my husband a sandwich for pick-up, and put on makeup. By the time we got the sandwich, I thought I was going to die! Got to the hospital four centimeters dilated.” —Amanda
13 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Experimented With A Little Mall Madness
“I was a little over 37 weeks and still working full-time as an attorney. One night (at 3 a.m.) after a particularly stressful day in court, my water broke spontaneously while I was sleeping. I felt it break, and I jumped out of bed (we had just gotten a new mattress), and there was a gush like you see in the movies. I called my midwife, who said to come to her office in the morning if I wasn't in labor yet. I went to the office at 10 a.m. for a stress test, but I still wasn't in labor. I spent the rest of the day at a local mall doing laps and stretches in order to jump-start labor. If you haven't sat in a car in a mall parking lot and aggressively played with your nipples, you haven't lived. That evening, I went to an acupuncturist who, after a quick check, determined that the baby was breech (all of a sudden!). She did put some needles in my feet and legs, and the baby turned (with no water!). I was hopeful that this would start labor, but it didn't. At midnight that night, about 21 hours after my water broke, I went into the hospital for an induction. After quite a bit of Pitocin and fluids, my daughter was born.” —Avery, 31
14 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Brought The Guest Of Honor
“The day of my baby shower, when all my friends were in town from around the country, I woke up thinking I had tinkled the bed a little. Turned out my water had ruptured, and my son was coming six weeks early. Everyone got to meet him that afternoon! He came during a full moon, so I think that is what did it...if you believe in that sort of stuff.” —Amy, 28
15 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
Ugh, Dad Jokes
“My dad cracked a joke at dinner, and I thought I peed when I laughed. When I got to the bathroom, I realized it wasn't stopping! I was at 42 weeks to the day (it felt longer than that), and I had this cream cheese from a little cafe that boasted it could put moms into labor. A few hours later, it worked! I had tried every trick in the book, though. (My dad had bought the cream cheese and was originally very mad that he spent $8 on two ounces of the stuff, but wasn't too mad the next day when he was holding his granddaughter.)” —June
16 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
This One’s Right On Target
“I was 40 weeks and miserable. I had tried everything: walking, sex, spicy food, clary sage, labor-prep massage, acupressure, membrane sweep. All of it! My water broke in the checkout line at Target — buying last of the baby supplies. We were buying the special baby Q-tips, so my husband and I joked that our son just refused to come out until we had those Q-tips; then, he was like, Okay fine, I'll come out now.” — Gena
17 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Claims It Was The Full Moon
“We had spicy Thai food for dinner, and had sex that night, and it was a full moon (the hospital was super full!), and I'd been eating lots of dates (six a day, per the recommendations). Clearly trying lots of tactics! My water broke at 3 a.m. and my daughter was born the next evening.” —Sarah
18 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Probably Got A Great Tip
“I was waiting tables when my water broke at 38 weeks — I guess I didn’t need to do anything!” —Mary-Kate
19 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Proves Laughter Is The Best Pitocin
“I was 38.5 weeks along, watching The Daily Show, and laughing like crazy as John Oliver did a hilarious bit about the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. As soon as I got up from the couch, I felt a gush — yep, my water broke from laughing at The Daily Show!” —Suzanne
20 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Went On A Cleaning Streak
“The day before my water broke, I was down on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floors. It was Cinco de Mayo, so we went out for Mexican that night. Woke up around 3 a.m. not feeling well, and I did the dishes — I should've known then. Went back to sleep and my water broke when I got out of bed around 7 a.m. I was 38 weeks and definitely not expecting that.” —Meg, 34
21 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Tried An Eggplant Parm (& Everything Else)
“I tried all the things Google says to do, but what ended up working was acupuncture! I tried an eggplant parmigiana recipe that was guaranteed to start labor, ate a whole pineapple, ate spicy Indian food, had sex, walked three to five miles each day, increased evening primrose oil intake, warm baths, naps. I had been having contractions for at least a couple days that I couldn't really feel, just slight tightening of my belly. When I was six days overdue, I went to acupuncture, took a nap, and woke up to what felt like menstrual cramps. My water broke the following evening, about 24 hours after those first cramps.” —Leah
22 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Had A Surprising Plot Twist
“I had just gotten home from a 13-hour work day, was watching Law and Order SVU on the couch, and my water broke 2.5 weeks early.” —Kim, 33
23 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Might Be A Blissed-Out Woodland Fairy
“I just kept moving the last week: hiking and swimming. The water felt so good! Went for a boat ride and a long, relaxing swim, then eased into gentle labor to be woken up in bed later with a quick active labor. Had her within four minutes of arriving to hospital — she’s my third and was one day past due. Oh, and I ate spicy food, but not sure it was worth the reflux.” —Astrid, 34
24 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Knew It Was Time (Every Day)
“I had false labor pains in the evenings for about 10 days — we started calling 7 p.m. ‘contraction o' clock.’ About a week after my due date, I felt similar contractions at 5 a.m., which hadn't happened before. I quietly got out of bed and turned on Netflix. After about an hour, I realized that the contractions were regular and less than three minutes apart; the hospital told us to come in. My water did not break until about 15 hours later, literally just as the doctor was about to go in and rupture them by hand. Previously I had tried lots of walking, spicy food, nipple stimulation (my doc told me to be careful with it); I was so uncomfortable, I couldn't bear the idea of sex. My doctor stripped my membrane two weeks before. In the end, nothing worked but time.” —Kim, 36
25 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
JT Gave Her Kid LIFE
“I was two weeks overdue and fed up! I went into labor in the middle of the night while asleep, pretty uneventful, but I had spent the previous evening bouncing on an exercise ball while watching a livestream of a Justin Timberlake concert. My kid is still obsessed with his music, incidentally.” —Janine
26 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Took A Hike
“We were walking a trail at our local park, two weeks before my due date, and I thought I had peed myself (which hadn’t happened to me, but I had heard stories). We kept walking, and more and more ‘leaking’ was occurring. I looked at my husband and said ‘I think my water broke; I thought I had peed but it just keeps coming,’ and showed him my wet spot. He freaked and said to wait here and he’d get the car, but I told him I was fine to walk, so we walked a mile back to the car, and by the time we got back, my pants were soaked past my knees. I was really glad there wasn't really anyone walking the trail that day. We got home, and he was running around like a crazy person getting everything ready for the hospital, and I just stood in the kitchen and ate dinner. I knew it was going to be a long time before I got to eat again.” —Margot, 31
27 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Birthed The Heir To Her Throne
“I was on the toilet! Does it get better than that?! My husband and I had breakfast in bed and then took a shower. I went to the bathroom when I got out, and there was an extra little gush. Nothing major, but since it continued to trickle a little, I called the doc. No contractions, but they asked me to come in, and they confirmed that my water broke and that I'd be having the baby that day, at 37 weeks — the day before my baby shower!” —Jody
28 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Just Let It Happen (For 72 Hours)
“I had prodromal labor for three days before going into active labor. So I don't have a typical ‘going into labor’ moment. I woke up from contractions and then continued to have contractions, to the point where I couldn't sleep or eat for three days, and then my daughter was born. My water didn't break until about four hours before the baby was born.” —Cassie
29 of 29
Illustrated by: Paola Delucca.
She Couldn’t Wait Until Her Brows Were On Fleek
“I had just sat down in a chair at my local beauty spot to have my eyebrows threaded when all of a sudden, GUSH! My water broke and went everywhere; they literally had to mop up after me, and I couldn't even stay to have the threading, so the business didn't benefit from my visit at all. Luckily I go there all the time, so they were cool about it!” —Karlie