I was pregnant with my third baby during the hottest summer on record. My doctor was predicting my son would be a big baby. Translation? I was huge and absolutely miserable.
On the morning of my due date, I roped my younger sister into being my "coach" and dragged my giant pregnant self out to run the hills on the dirt roads around our house.
As the summer sun blazed over us, I handed her my phone and told her it was time to make me do some sprint intervals. Up and down those hills I ran. I was waddling my way up in the world's most painfully awkward motion to what I hoped would be imminent labor.
I toiled on while my sister stifled her laughter at the sight of a swollen, huge pregnant woman "sprinting" until I couldn't make my legs move any longer. I crossed my fingers, ate some BLT pizza for dinner, and woke up around 3 a.m. to contractions.
I can't say for sure that my uphill sprinting was the ticket that led to my labor. But I'm convinced it helped speed things along.
Pregnant women who are desperate to start labor may be willing to try anything, including exercise. But is it safe to use exercise to try to induce labor? Here’s what you need to know.
How to induce labor with exercise
According to the Journal of Perinatal Education, among women in a research survey who tried to induce labor on their own, exercise was the top reported trigger. The survey also found that less than one-quarter of women admitted to trying to induce labor on their own. They generally reported walking, having sex, or using nipple stimulation to get the action started.
Newer studies have uncovered more benefits to exercising during pregnancy. A 2013 review of all the available studies found that regular "structured" exercise during pregnancy reduces the risk of a cesarean delivery. Even small amounts of moderate exercise helped significantly improve a woman's labor, according to the study's authors.
Who shouldn't exercise to induce labor?
For most pregnant women, regular exercise during pregnancy is safe. It may reduce the risk of a cesarean delivery and lower the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. But exercise isn't safe for all pregnant women.
Avoid exercise during pregnancy if you:
- are on prescribed bed rest
- have any condition involving the placenta (including placenta previa)
- have severely high or low amniotic fluid
- have a history of premature labor or premature delivery
- have preeclampsia
- have pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
- have an incompetent cervix
If your water has broken, let your doctor know.
Does exercise work to induce labor?
Is it really possible to induce labor with exercise? The answer is probably not.
A study published in the Internet Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that there wasn’t any association between increased physical activity (and yes, that included sex) and going into labor.
While exercising regularly during pregnancy will give you the best possible start to having a complication-free labor and delivery, it won't necessarily put you into labor.
It’s hard to say whether or not exercise can definitely induce labor. But in most cases, it won't hurt. Always talk to your doctor before trying to induce labor. Regular exercise during your pregnancy is associated with having a healthier pregnancy, labor, and delivery. If you're currently pregnant and not following a regular exercise routine, talk to your doctor about getting started. If you're already exercising, keep up the good work.