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.