12 ways to bring on labour naturally

If you've gone past your due date try one of these 12 natural ways to induce labour

Pineapple pregnancy
(Image credit: Getty Images)

From relaxing yoga poses to tweaking your nipples, we've got lots of suggestions to bring on labour naturally.

Wondering how to bring on labour naturally is perhaps the most persistent worry for women as they reach 40 weeks of pregnancy. 

Well-meaning friends and relatives will be pestering you for updates on the birth, and you may feel under pressure as you go past your due date. But the best thing you can do is relax, look after yourself, and maybe try a few of these natural ways to induce labour.

These natural ways to induce labour aren’t scientifically proven, but they have helped mums-to-be in the past. Doctors advise against trying to induce labour until you’ve gone full term, as the last few weeks of pregnancy are essential for your baby’s development. A complex set of hormonal changes and physical developments trigger birth naturally, and your baby will certainly let you know when they're ready.

How do I stop being overdue?

Don’t get too attached to your due date, if that’s what’s making you want to eat curry and pineapples. Less than five percent of babies are born on their due date, according to a 2013 study in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics of about 18,700 women in Australia. Which means the whole idea of babies being ‘late’ or ‘early’ is a bit misleading. The majority of first-time babies are often ‘late’: The Evidence Based Birth website investigated accuracy of due dates, and a study showed that 75 percent of first-time mothers gave birth nine days after their ‘due date’. So you’re in good company.

Here are 12 tips that might help bring labour on in the meantime:

  1. Try relaxation exercises
  2. Swimming
  3. Have sex
  4. Nipple stimulation
  5. Yoga 
  6. Eat a curry
  7. Walking
  8. The Miles Circuit
  9. Eating pineapple
  10. Bouncing around
  11. Drink raspberry leaf tea
  12. Inhaling clary sage

1. Try relaxation exercises

Relaxation is one of the most powerful ways to bring on labour. Exercising and eating pineapples might feel like a welcome distraction in those final few days, but your body knows when it’s ready to give birth. If you’ve had a healthy pregnancy so far, spend any extra time resting and treating yourself to nourishing food and lots of sleep instead. Most importantly, once the baby arrives you’ll need all the energy you’ve got. 

Milli Hill founder of the Positive Birth Movement and author of the bestselling Positive Birth Book and Give Birth Like a Feminist recommends relaxing and enjoying this time: "When waiting for a baby and trying to beat the induction clock, the temptation is to ‘do stuff’. Pregnancy forums are filled with women sharing ideas on how to kick start labour and therefore ‘avoid induction’. Often this is because induction is not presented to them as a choice. They therefore feel they ‘have to’ be induced if labour doesn’t start by a certain date. So out come the spicy curries, bumpy car rides, acupuncture… you name it! Doing nothing is one possible option in a world where the usual advice is to ‘do something’. It’s a reminder to women that it’s OK to do nothing and just trust their bodies."

If you find it hard to relax, try hypnobirthing techniques before you go to sleep or whilst you’ve got your feet up. Don't believe the myths about hypnobirthing, as it can prepare you for a more positive birth. Hypnobirthing teacher Sophie Kirkham from Calm Hypnobirthing recommends conserving your energy and maintaining a positive mindset. "Rest, go gently, and surrender to your body and your birthing. Surround yourself with people who fill you with confidence and make you feel comfortable, as this will help labour progress naturally."

2. Swimming

Gentle exercise and moving through warm water is thought to be good for starting labour. In fact, it’s what the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, did in the lead up to the birth of her second child, Charlotte. Of course, she does have the luxury of nipping to Buckingham Palace to use their pool rather than wading through armbands and verruca socks at the local swimming pool.

Pregnant woman swimming

Credit: Getty

3. Have sex to encourage labour naturally

Semen contains prostaglandin, which softens the cervix and helps open it for the birthing process. Likewise, female orgasms release oxytocin, which stimulates uterus contractions and gets you ready for labour. At 40 weeks pregnant, sex might not be top of your agenda, but just being intimate and close with your partner can help initiate labour. Even cuddling and taking time together in bed will release the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. So don’t feel obliged to get jiggy if you don’t feel like it.

Note: Don’t have sex after your waters have broken because it can increase risk of infection.

4. Nipple stimulation

Gentle, attentive nipple stimulation releases the hormone oxytocin which is essential in early stages of labour. Tweaking nipples might not sound sexy, but in her book, A Guide to Childbirth, legendary midwife Ina May recommends loving nipple stimulation and kissing before and during birth. This helps shorten the active labour stages, contract the uterus, and encourages the cervix to dilate.

5. Yoga for natural labour

Gentle pregnancy yoga can help bring on labour by opening up the hips and helping you relax and connect with your body. Don’t start doing headstands or complicated lotus positions; you just want to rest in wide legged poses and gently release any tension in your lower back.

Doula Emilie Joy Rowell recommends gentle movement for instance: "Working with gravity and the biomechanics of your body is ideal. Cat-cow yoga pose, forward leaning inversions, calf stretches, dancing and resting are beneficial and can help your baby get into a good position."

Try these easy yoga poses to help bring on labour:


6. Eat curry

The theory is that spicy foods stimulate the gut and bowel, which gets the uterus moving as a result. But there is no medical evidence to support this. Whilst you don’t want to be hungry going into labour, it might not be the best idea to have a stomach full of your favourite korma. Try some of our homemade curry recipes – they’re healthier too.

7. Walking to bring on labour

Going for a gentle walk produces labour-inducing chemicals, which can speed the process up. Additionally, walking increases the pressure the baby’s head puts on the cervix and helps move it into the right position for labour. This is one of the safest methods to try – there’s no harm in a gentle stroll, but take your phone or have someone with you in case it works.

8. Try the Miles Circuit

The Miles Circuit was designed by an American midwife to help progress labour and get the baby lined up in the left occiput anterior (LOA) position both before and during labour. It involves a series of exercises which takes about 90 minutes to complete. These include lying on your front with your bottom in the air, on your side cushioned by pillows, and walking up the stairs sideways. Check with your midwife or doctor before trying any of these exercises.


9. Eat pineapple

Fresh pineapple contains the chemical bromelain which is thought to soften the cervix and potentially speed up early labour. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to back this up and you might have to eat seven fresh pineapples to feel the effects. 

10. Bouncing around to bring on labour naturally

Gentle bouncing helps bring the baby down and increases pressure on the cervix to kick start labour. Taking a bumpy car ride has been known to start contractions. Corrie’s Tina O’Brien even reported that bouncing on a trampoline helped bring on labour for her. If this sounds a little too gymnastic, a safer option is gently bouncing on a birth ball or try one of these birth ball exercises to help bring on labour:


11. Drink raspberry leaf tea

Raspberry leaf tea doesn’t actually induce labour, but it does help prepare the muscles of your womb for labour. Raspberry leaf tea is made from the leaves of the red raspberry plant, as opposed to raspberry flavoured black tea. One study found that women who drank raspberry leaf tea in the last few weeks of their pregnancy had a faster second stage of labour than those who didn’t. It tastes like hot ribena, but if that’s not your thing, raspberry leaf can also be bought in capsule form.

12. Inhaling clary sage to bring on labour

Clary sage, or Salvia sclarea, is a powerful essential oil that’s thought to induce labour naturally by increasing oxytocin. While there is little controlled scientific evidence to support this, many women and midwives swear by inhaling the oil on a handkerchief or in an aromatherapy burner before and during birth. Many birthing women find deep inhalations, candles, and gorgeous scents relaxing during the birthing process, so this may also contribute to the effect. Do not use clary sage before your due date.

Doula Bridget Teyler shares her tips for aromatherapy with clary sage, and a recipe for her secret Midwives Brew tea to help bring on labour:


Things to remember when bringing on labour naturally

  • If you’ve had a healthy pregnancy, try to be patient. It’s easier said than done, but letting your body and the baby decide when they're ready can lead to a more positive birth experience. 
  • Talk to your doctor or midwife before trying to induce labour with any of these methods. Particularly if you’ve had complications during your pregnancy.
  • Relax and enjoy it. You will meet your baby soon.

READ MORE: Try Milli Hill's A to Z of pain relief techniques during labour

Lisa Harris is a senior lifestyle writer, editor and food trends consultant with over 10 years experience in the industry. Her work is published on GoodtoKnow.com, as well as in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Stylist, The Telegraph and the Independent. She is an official Time Out restaurant reviewer.