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How Nipple Stimulation Works to Induce Labor

Nipple Stimulation 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’s approval, there are some ways you can get things rolling at home. One of the most effective things you can do is actually nipple stimulation.

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

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

Is It Safe to Induce at Home?

In a 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.

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You should always speak to your 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.

Nipple stimulation does have some solid scientific evidence. But depending on your medical history, it may or may not be safe to try.

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If you are concerned with going far over your due date, here are some questions you might want to ask your doctor:

  • 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 once contractions begin?

What’s the Deal with Nipple Stimulation?

Rubbing or rolling your nipples helps the body release oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a role in arousal, initiating labor, and bonding between mother and child. This hormone also makes the uterus contract after labor, helping it return to its prepregnancy size. Stimulating the breasts may also help bring on full labor by making contractions stronger and longer. In fact, in traditional inductions, doctors often use the drug Pitocin, which is a synthetic form of oxytocin.

In a 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 labors: 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 five minutes for the third phase (delivery of the placenta).

Even more interesting, none of the women in the nipple stimulation or 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.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Nipple Stimulation

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

On the other hand, light or occasional sucking or tugging on breasts 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 to stimulate your nipples, a breast pump, or even your partner’s mouth.

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If you have an older baby or toddler who is still nursing, that might also provide good stimulation.

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 through thin clothing or directly on the skin.

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Step 3: Use Care

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

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

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

Other Safe Labor Inducing Techniques

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

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

If you’re full-term and have your doctor’s permission, try the following:

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  • exercise
  • sex
  • spicy foods
  • castor oil
  • bumpy car ride
  • evening primrose oil
  • red raspberry leaf tea

When to Head to the Hospital

When the day comes, you’ll likely know you’re going into labor. You’ll feel your baby drop lower into your pelvis, lose your mucus plug, and you’ll probably start to get regular contractions. In the early stages of labor, these contractions may feel like dull pressure or mild discomfort. Start timing the contractions when you notice them.

In the early stages, they may be 15 to 20 minutes apart and last around 60 to 90 seconds. As you approach active labor, the contractions will likely get stronger and more uncomfortable. The time between them will shorten to three or four minutes, and they will last between 45 and 60 seconds.

If your water breaks before contractions begin, call your doctor to find out the next steps. Also let your doctor know if you experience any bleeding. Otherwise, you might consider heading to the hospital when your contractions have been just five minutes apart for more than an hour.

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

The Takeaway

The end of pregnancy is 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 about what actions might be safe for you to try.

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

Ashley Marcin
Article Resources
  • Chaudhry, Z., Fischer, J., & Schaffir, J. (2011, March 10). Women’s use of nonprescribed methods to induce labor: A brief report. Birth, 38(2), 168-171. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-536X.2010.00465.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false
  • Christensson, K., Matthiesen, A. S., Nilsson, B. A., Stock, S., & Uvnas-Moberg, K. (1988, July 9). Effect of nipple stimulation on uterine activity and on plasma levels of oxytocin in full term, healthy, pregnant women. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 68(3), 205-210. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00016348909020990
  • Definition of term pregnancy. (2013, November). Retrieved from http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Definition-of-Term-Pregnancy
  • Inducing labor. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/inducing-labor/
  • Labor and delivery. (2012, December 12). Retrieved from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Am_I_Pregnant/hic_Labor_and_Delivery
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 10). Fetal development: The first trimester. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-care/art-20045302
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, June 20). Inducing labor: When to wait, when to induce. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/inducing-labor/art-20047557
  • Natural ways to encourage labor. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.obgynnorth.com/patient_education/childbirth_preparation/natural_ways_to_encourage_labor
  • What does oxytocin do? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/oxytocin
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