Women’s Use of Nonprescribed Methods to Induce Labor

It is seen that many women use non-prescribed methods to induce labor during pregnancy, in order to get rid of the discomforts associated with it. This study investigated the prevalence of such practices among pregnant women. Two hundred and one women at a Midwestern academic hospital were surveyed and it was found that 50.7% of them resorted to non-prescribed methods like walking, exercising, masturbation, sexual intercourse and nipple stimulation for the induction of labor. These women were young and at more advanced stages of pregnancy. According to the authors of this study, “maternity caregivers may want to inquire about such issues, especially where such interventions may do more harm than good.”

At the end of a pregnancy, labor is induced for a safe delivery. It has been observed that many first time mothers resort to medications and practices that are purported to help induction of labor and decrease the discomfort. Such beliefs are based on myths, wrongly placed advice and suggestions from family and friends. Some of these methods may harm the mother as well as the baby. Common practices include starvation, enemas, use of laxatives, sexual intercourse, heavy exercise, consumption of spicy food and the use of herbal drugs. This study attempted to evaluate the frequency of such practices and to find out whether the women discussed these with their physicians.


  • A total of 201 women, who had had their babies delivered at a Midwestern hospital, were included in this study. The survey was conducted for a period of four months in the same hospital.
  • The women were given a questionnaire asking them about the kind of non-medical methods they used to induce their own labor. They were also questioned about the source of such information and whether they had spoken about it to their doctors or caregivers.
  • Information about their age, the timing and frequency of such interventions, method of delivery (normal vaginal or by Caesarean section) and the health of the baby was recorded.

Key findings

  • It was found that 50.7 percent women tried to induce labor using non-prescribed methods. 43.3 percent of women tried walking, 22.9 percent tried sexual intercourse, 10.9 percent tried consuming spicy foods, and 7.5 percent tried stimulation of the nipples to induce labor. A minor number of women tried heavy exercise, masturbation, laxatives, acupuncture and herbal medications to induce labor. Some women used more than a single method.
  • Most of these women had obtained information about these methods from family (40.2 percent), friends (36.3 percent) and physicians (25.5 percent). Nurses, the Internet and the print media were rarely used as sources of such information. Less than half of the women (46 women) discussed the use of such non-prescribed methods with their doctors.
  • Women who tried these methods were young, first-timers, at an advanced stage of pregnancy, who had had normal vaginal births.

Next steps/Shortcomings
According to the authors of this study, the participants were anonymous, and so, their clinical and demographic data could not be confirmed. This study relied on patient memory and may have been subjected to bias. The women surveyed may not have revealed the actual methods they used to induce labor. Furthermore, only English-speaking women were surveyed, and therefore, the methods prevalent among women from non-native cultures could not be assessed. Future studies that will focus on a wider sample population from larger areas, to investigate the reasons behind the prevalence of such measures, need to be conducted.

This study shows that nearly half of the surveyed women resorted to non-medical methods to induce labor. While most of the practices like walking and sexual intercourse are harmless, their efficacy is not yet clinically proven. Most of the methods may even harm the mother and the fetus. For example, some studies cite that “intestinal harm from enema use and herbal supplements lead to fetal cardiac complications”. The fact that only about half of these women informed their caregivers and doctors about these practices is a worrying revelation. The results also show that a quarter of the participants had obtained this information from their physicians. The authors indicate that research is necessary to look into how the physicians feel about giving such nonmedical advice. They conclude that caregivers and doctors should be aware of the use of such methods and the potential harm that these can cause to mothers and babies. It is their responsibility to ensure that such misconceptions are eliminated and that pregnant women do not put themselves at risk through such practices.

For More Information:
Women’s Use of Nonprescribed Methods to Induce Labor: A Brief Report
Publication Journal: Birth, June 2011
By Zaid Chaudhry; Jane Fischer
From the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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