How Nipple Stimulation Works to Induce Labor

Whether you’re still waiting to reach your baby’s due date, or the 40-week mark has already come and gone, you might be curious about natural ways to induce labor.

With your doctor or midwife’s approval, there are some ways you can get things rolling at home. One of the most effective things you can do is nipple stimulation.

Here’s what you need to know about this practice, how to do it, and what questions you’ll want to ask your doctor or midwife.

Note: If you have a high risk pregnancy, nipple stimulation might be dangerous. Always talk with your care professional before trying any induction techniques.

In a 2011 study published in the journal Birth, 201 women were asked if they tried to induce labor naturally at home. Of the group, about half said they tried at least one method, such as eating spicy food or having sex.

You should always speak with your midwife or doctor before trying any induction techniques. That being said, the majority of home induction methods aren’t backed by scientific evidence, so their effectiveness is mostly measured by anecdotal accounts.

The effectiveness of nipple stimulation does have some solid scientific evidenceTrusted Source. But depending on your medical history, the method may or may not be safe for you to try.

If you’re concerned with going far past your due date, here are some questions you might want to ask your care professional:

  • What monitoring do you use after 40 weeks?
  • What types of natural or at-home induction methods do you recommend, if any?
  • What types of induction methods do you perform medically if labor doesn’t begin on its own?
  • At what point would you consider medically inducing labor if it doesn’t begin on its own?
  • At what point do you recommend I come to the hospital or birth center once contractions begin?

Rubbing or rolling your nipples helps the bodyTrusted Source release oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a role in arousal, initiating labor, and bonding between birthing parent and child. This hormone also makes the uterus contract after labor, helping it return to its pre-pregnancy size.

Stimulating the breasts may also help bring on full labor by making contractions stronger and longer. In fact, in medical inductions, healthcare professionals often use the drug Pitocin, which is a synthetic form of oxytocin.

In a 2015 study published in Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, a group of 390 Turkish pregnant women were randomly assigned to one of three groups during their labor: nipple stimulation, uterine stimulation, and control.

The results were compelling. The women in the nipple stimulation group had the shortest durations of each phase of labor and delivery.

According to the study, the average duration was 3.8 hours for the first phase (dilation), 16 minutes for the second phase (pushing and delivery), and 5 minutes for the third phase (delivery of the placenta).

Even more interesting, none of the women in the nipple stimulation and uterine stimulation groups needed to have a cesarean delivery.

By comparison, many women in the control group needed other induction methods, like synthetic oxytocin, to get things going. Over 8 percent of women in the control group had a cesarean delivery.

Before you get started, note that this method of labor stimulation is only recommended for low risk pregnancies. Its effects in late pregnancy can be powerful.

On the other hand, light or occasional nipple stimulation during earlier pregnancy is not likely to bring on labor.

Step 1: Choose your tool

For the best results, you want to mimic a baby’s latch as closely as you can. You can use your fingers, a breast pump, or even your partner’s mouth to stimulate your nipples. In most research studies, the participants have used their fingers.

It’s important to note that nursing an older child throughout pregnancy has not been found to stimulate labor or lead to preterm birthTrusted Source.

Step 2: Focus on the areola

The areola is the dark circle that surrounds your actual nipple. When babies nurse, they massage the areola, not just the nipple itself. Use your fingers or palm to gently rub your nipple and areola through thin clothing or directly on the skin. You can also use an oil or lubricant on your nipple to make it more comfortable.

Step 3: Use care

It is possible to get too much of a good thing. Follow these guidelines to prevent overstimulation:

  • Focus on one breast at a time.
  • Limit stimulation to just 5 minutes and wait another 15 before trying again.
  • Take a break from nipple stimulation during contractions.
  • Stop nipple stimulation when contractions are 3 minutes apart or less, and 1 minute in length or longer.

Always speak with your doctor or midwife before using nipple stimulation to induce labor.

You can also use nipple stimulation in combination with other natural labor-inducing techniques.

Most methods you’ll read about don’t have much scientific backing, so don’t be discouraged if they don’t send you into full labor soon after trying them.

If you’re full term and have your doctor or midwife’s blessing, you can try the following:

Important: It’s best to avoid using red raspberry leaf herbal tea or supplements, which have limited scientific evidence showing effectiveness and may even have adverse affectsTrusted Source.

When the day comes, you’ll likely know you’re going into labor. In the days or weeks prior to labor, you’ll likely have noticed your baby drop lower into your pelvis, or you might have lost your mucus plug. When labor starts in earnest, you’ll probably start to get regular contractions.

In the early stages of labor, these contractions may feel like dull pressure or mild discomfort in the lower part of your belly, your low back, or in your pelvis. Time a few of your contractions as soon as you notice them so that you can communicate the information with your healthcare team.

In the early stages, contractions may be 5 to 20 minutes apart and last around 30 to 60 seconds. As you approach active labor, they’ll likely get stronger and more uncomfortable. The time between contractions will shorten to 2 to 4 minutes, and they’ll last between 60 and 90 seconds.

If your water breaks before contractions begin, call your doctor or midwife to find out the next steps. Also let your care professional know if you experience any bleeding. Otherwise, you might consider heading to the hospital or birth center when your contractions have been just 5 minutes apart for over an hour.

If you’re planning a home birth, stay in close communication with your midwifery team so they know when to come to you.

Your individual timeline will depend on a number of factors, so it’s best to always keep an open line of communication with your care professional.

Nipple stimulation is an effective way to induce labor, backed by scientific research. Massaging the nipples releases the hormone oxytocin in the body. This helps initiate labor and makes contractions longer and stronger. Speak with your doctor or midwife about whether nipple stimulation is safe for you to try.

The final stages of pregnancy can be a trying time. You may be uncomfortable, exhausted, and anxious to meet your baby. The good news is, no matter how you might feel, you won’t be pregnant forever.

Speak with your doctor or midwife about what actions might be safe for you to try. And remember that babies generally are healthier and do better when they reach at least 39 weeks of gestation before being born.

Otherwise, try to have patience, take care of yourself, and rest as much as you can before the excitement of labor begins.

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