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Creating a human being inside your body is a wonderful, some would say, miraculous thing. But there comes a time when you think…. enough already……
Helping things along
Pregnancy is enormously rewarding and yet at the same time enormously challenging.
Moms’ thoughts naturally turn to thinking of ways they can induce labor so as to get a feeling of control over how and when the big event will happen.
This is especially true for women that are past due but even applies to moms at 39, 38, hey even 36 weeks! Yer gotta plan ahead! 😊
There are a lot of myths around natural ways to induce labor – spicy food, walking up stairs, sex – to name but a few; but it seems like there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back any of these up – so what’s a girl to do??
One of the most tried and tested ways of naturally inducing labor is through nipple stimulation.
Nipple stimulation is an ancient technique that has been used for centuries to bring on labor.
This was mostly done by hand (and oh we did mention that sex thing earlier…) but these days we also have breast pumps which, as well as being great in helping us to express milk, also have the added bonus of stimulating the nipples too.
In this article we’ll talk about how, scientifically, breast pumps can be used to bring on labor and how you actually physically go about doing it! We’ll also talk about how likely you are to succeed and if there are any dangers or risks you should be concerned about.
[As an aside you can get usually get breast pumps for free via your insurance company.]
How Does it Work – the Science Behind Pumping to Start Labor
It’s all about the love drug! Or oxytocin as it’s known to scientists.
Oxytocin is a critical hormone in many facets of a mother’s life. It is released during sex (which may explain how you get pregnant in the first place!) and it is released during breastfeeding.
In breastfeeding Oxytocin works with the Prolactin hormone to produce and release milk from the breasts. Prolactin is responsible for producing the milk and the Oxytocin reflex makes the milk that is already in the breast flow for the current feed, and helps the baby get its milk easier. It gives a euphoric natural ‘high’ which encourages the mother to keep feeding and builds up the mother-baby bond.
For this reason oxytocin is often known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love drug”.
There’s nothing harmful about it though. On the contrary it is a wonderful gift that nature has bestowed upon mothers (about time we got something!).
Oxytocin is also key in the process of initiating labor by stimulating the uterine muscles to contract.
When a mother is induced artificially it is through the introduction of Pitocin which is a synthetic version of oxytocin.
Now, as we said, breastfeeding encourages the production of oxytocin due to the stimulation of the nipples. So, it is this nipple stimulation that causes the oxytocin to be released and for labor to be encouraged.
Using a Breast Pump for Nipple Stimulation
In times gone by mothers would stimulate the nipples by hand in order to encourage the onset of labor.
Nowadays we have handy breast pumps scientifically designed to mimic the action of a nursing baby.
So, hey presto, the breast pump mimics a nursing child which stimulates the nipples which causes the release of oxytocin which encourages the uterine muscles to contract – which is the start of labor.
Phew! Got there in the end.
Hope that makes sense now how breast pumps can theoretically bring about the onset of labor?
(If you are new to breastfeeding and breast pumping, please have a look at our article Breastfeeding and Pumping Schedule: Sample Schedules for Nursing Newborns.)
How likely is it to work?
That’s all well and good in theory, I hear you say, but how likely is it to work for me?
Well, good news, a significant scientific study of exactly this topic was carried out back in 2005. They split 719 volunteers into control groups and studied the effect of nipple stimulation on labor induction.
They found that, within the next 72 hours, 37.3% of the women that massaged their nipples had gone into labor. Whereas only 6.4% of those who had done nothing had gone into labor.
In my non-scientific mind I read that as good news and bad news for all your nipple stimulators out there.
Good news is that massaging the nipples makes it six times more likely that labor contractions will begin.
Bad news is that, for the majority of women (62.4%), it didn’t have an effect.
Anything’s better than nothing, though right?
There is a major caveat that you need to be aware of. The study also flagged up some unknowns and risks for those with high-risk pregnancies. We’ll cover that further down this post but, in short, breast pumping and nipple stimulation should only be used if you have what is considered to be a ‘low risk’ pregnancy.
If in doubt seek medical advice.
How to use a breast pump to induce labor?
Always ask your doctor about it first. However, if they say yes to you because you are well-advanced in your pregnancy and you don’t present a high-risk pregnancy or any related issues, then here are the basic steps that will guide to you use your breast pump to induce labor:
- Find your ideal breast pump. Wash it properly and thoroughly.
- Place a warm towel or washcloth over your breasts, as this will allow your mammary glands to feel calm and safe and you will then be able to release more oxytocin.
- When you are feeling relaxed, lift up one of the washcloths and place the pump cup on your nipple area.
- Pump one breast first then the other one. It is usually advisable to do this for 15 minutes maximum. (Note only do one breast at a time even if you have a double pump)
- You should get some rest now for five minutes or so. Place the warm towel back over your breast.
- Pump the other breast for another 15 minutes, remember to take deep breaths.
- Repeat the above a couple of times for a maximum of one hour.
- Cross fingers (not legs)
- Try again tomorrow if nothing happens.
In this video midwife Elizabeth Bachner describes the process in more detail.
The key thing is to relax. Oxytocin won’t be produced if you are on edge or anxious – no matter how much nipple stimulation you get.
Remember that scientific studies have found that oxytocin can take a few days to build up to ‘trigger’ levels so just be patient and keep going.
Don’t try to force it. This is something to try not a magic wand. Remember that, even though nipple stimulation is scientifically shown to increase the chances of going into labor, for the majority of women it is still a hit and hope affair.
Note: If you don’t have a breast pump and you are not really intending on buying one then you can always stimulate your breasts by using your hands. Or, you could ask your partner to come in and help you out…that can always lead to great sex that will also help you induce labor, so it’s a win-win situation!
When can I start pumping to induce labor?
Feeling impatient? You’re not alone.
The parenting forums are full of posts from fed up moms asking ‘can I pump to induce labor at 37 weeks?’, ‘I’m 38 weeks can I use nipple stimulation to bring on contractions?’, ‘what about me at 39 weeks?’
We’ve even seen moms at 36 weeks asking if they can start.
In truth, the medical advice is to wait until you are at full-term – 40 weeks+.
Even then it stands a better chance of succeeding if you are already starting to dilate and showing other signs of labor.
So, the advice is to wait as long as you can. Nature is a wonderful thing and so is your body (although it may not be feeling so wonderful right now!) and you have to trust her to know what she’s doing.
Dr. Shannon M. Clark a double board certified OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist says to never try a home induction before 39 weeks and, even then, you should really try to be patient and let nature take its course.
While this may be not the news you wanted to hear there are some encouraging words from Diana Spalding, midwife and Birth Editor at mother.ly who explains why that little one isn’t ready to pop out just yet.
“I always like to tell women that if they haven’t gone into labor yet, there is usually a reason for it. Maybe baby needs a little more time to cook, or their body isn’t quite there yet. I think it’s good to re-instill confidence that their body knows what it’s doing, because it can feel so discouraging at the end, especially as you watch your due date pass by.”
Which kind of breast pump should I use?
So. You’re 40 weeks gone. Your body is getting ready to go into contractions but, somehow or other, it’s not quite getting there.
Or maybe the contractions are building but then dying away again. Assuming these aren’t Braxton Hicks contractions and your body really is getting ready to go into labor then maybe it is time to give it a little helping hand. Or a helping pump even.
But what kind of breast pump should you use to induce labor? There are a myriad range on the market so how do you decide on the best one for you? For example, there are manual vs electric breast pumps, hospital-grade v off-the-shelf, Medela v Philips AVENT, etc.
Our advice is to use whatever pump you’d planned to get (or have gotten) already. The key thing is the nipple stimulation and that is largely the same for all kinds of pumps.
Medela do claim to have a scientifically engineered pumping system to closely mimic the action of a nursing baby. We’ve not verified that claim ourselves but maybe if you wanted to check out Medela pumps yourself you can have a read of the reviews on the web.
Other than that we’d suggest an electric pump would be better if only to free your hands. If you have to pump for an hour or so to get that stimulation built up you’ll probably regret doing it manually.
Good for those bingo wings though….
High-end electric breast pumps can be expensive. To avoid that cost one option is to check in with our partners Aeroflow Healthcare as you may be able to get a free Breast Pump via your health insurance (US Residents only).
Click the image below (or to the right) to go to their website and fill in a no-obligation enquiry form.
Is pumping while pregnant safe?
What are the dangers of using a breast pump to induce labor?
Mothers-to-be are an anxious lot (unsurprisingly) and there are worries that you might be doing something wrong in bringing about labor with a breast pump.
However, always keep in mind that this should only be done if it has been previously approved by your doctor or midwife and if you are more than 39 weeks’ pregnant. Using a pump to induce labor or any other at-home method of inducing labor, should only be tried if you are having a safe, low-risk pregnancy and are beyond your expected due date. You should always ask your doctor about it and obtaining an OK from them before doing any sort of labor induction – as natural as it could be.
IMPORTANT – when should you avoid using a breast pump to induce your labor?
Studies have shown that pumping to induce labor in low risk pregnancies is quite safe. In fact, the study we mentioned earlier suggests that natural labor inducing techniques can tone up the body for labor and reduce the likelihood of postpartum haemorrhage.
HOWEVER, there is a big but (not that kind of big butt) here.
The same study found that in high risk pregnancies there was cause for concern and they advised not to try to induce labor in this case.
If you are in any doubt refer to your care provider. As always, there are some contraindications you must be aware of, especially if you have had a tough pregnancy.
For example, if you happen to be in any of these situations, then it is highly recommended not to use a breast pump to induce labor, even if you have passed your due date:
- Have you had a high-risk pregnancy? If yes, then nipple stimulation is definitely discouraged as it could lead to several complications and side effects
- If you already have had contractions during your pregnancy then you mustn’t apply any extra pressure nor stimuli to your nipples’ area, as you could end up having uterine hyperstimulation, where you will have endless and painful contractions.
- Have you had a previous preterm pregnancy or precipitous labor? If yes, then you should definitely avoid using a breast pump to induce labor, even if you have passed the 38 weeks of pregnancy, as it could lead to complications.
- Did you have gestational diabetes? Are you expecting twins or maybe even triplets? If this is your case then don’t stimulate your nipples either, as is better to be safe than sorry.
- If you have been pregnant before and you tend to develop mastitis, then it is also advisable to avoid the stimulation of your nipples to induce labor.
Be aware of your body at all times and bear in mind that inducing labor could take days; this isn’t necessarily a quick ‘fix’. In fact, if you have never given birth before, inducing labor is not something that will happen immediately, no matter what method you use to hurry things along.
Will pumping before birth waste colostrum?
This is a question frequently asked by moms who are considering using their breast pumps to induce their labor.
It is understandable that a soon-to-be mom is worried and nervous about doing something that could possibly damage their milk supply or colostrum; especially when it is a well-known fact that colostrum is filled with the perfect antibodies and immunoglobulins that will protect their newborns while also providing a beneficial first earthly meal.
The good news is that there is no need to worry about your milk or colostrum supply. Colostrum is produced until 72 hours after birth regardless of whether or not you pumped before birth.
You can even collect the colostrum and freeze it for use after birth. This maybe a lifeline if you have any feeding issues immediately post-partum – and waste-not-want-not hey?
Pumping to induce labor – Success Stories
We’re all familiar with the forums that moms use to share ideas and tips on pregnancy and motherhood. There are literally thousands of, often contradictory, posts giving advice on what does and doesn’t work.
We’ve collated some thoughts from moms who have been there, done that in the hope of giving you guidance and, at the very least, the comfort to know you are not alone.
On the subject of the various myths on natural ways to induce labor Kerry laughs
“Hate to put a dampener on all these old wife’s tales but I have now tried all of them and I am 40+5 today!!
I have eaten enough hot food to take my own head off.
I have also eaten a whole fresh pineapple.
I have had several hot baths with Clary Sage oil
I have drunk a whole packet of Rasberry leaf tea and taken most of a packet of capsules (although obviously not all at once!)
Yesterday morning I walked about 3 miles
Got oh to give me a foot massage which is supposed to help.
Only thing I haven’t tried is the sex, far too bloody uncomfortable, but if I thought for one minute it might work I would lol”
Tracy made the best of it
“lol OH has come home from work to me demanding sex and nipple stimulation for a min of 30 mins.. lol after a nervous laugh he asked to eat his dinner first.. which he is just having! x”
Kymbra found pumping helpful
“It has helped get my contractions going. Currently walking to get things going as well. I am full term and got the go ahead from my midwife”
“It’s a great technique to maintain strong contractions if you start getting tired”
Last word to Tyler Marie to end on a positive note
“I did!! 🙂 pumped each breast for 10 min with waiting periods in between for about an hour. Started with the pump at 4am, got to the hospital around 6am and had my baby girl in the afternoon”
Please remember that studies show that pumping can help to induce labor but in the majority of cases it won’t make much difference. The most important thing of all is to try to relax (yeah right!) as stress over the pumping will have the opposite effect to the desired result.
Alternatives to pumping – hand expressing (milk) to induce labor
Of course, you don’t have to use a breast pump at all. The nipples can be stimulated by hand (that might’ve been what got you in this condition in the first place lol!)
Seriously, though, some medical professionals recommend expressing some colostrum prior to birth anyway. They advise to express, collect in a syringe and freeze it.
This process (rather eerily called ‘colostrum harvesting’) has the advantage of guaranteeing a supply of colostrum for your baby in her/his early days.
It could also cause your body to secrete oxytocin – and so increasing the chances of contractions starting.
However you want to do it nipple stimulation is the key to the process. Some moms find using a breast pump a little easier over long periods.
In summary, breast pumps have been designed to mimic a newborns (or child’s) natural and innate suckling reflex, thus this will make moms secrete oxytocin which, in turn, stimulates her uterus to contract and relax in a rhythmic way, and, consequently, the birth canal widens in order to allow your baby to pass through.
Isn’t pregnancy and childbirth something beautiful?
Are you almost reaching the end of your pregnancy? Are you feeling ready and somehow anxious about getting to know your little one? Some women have described the last couple of weeks of their pregnancy as the toughest of the whole time.
This could be because they are feeling extremely tired, isolated and have a huge bump that won’t allow them to do much… this is why these final weeks of any pregnancy can be difficult, regardless of the journey a woman has lived throughout their (usually) 9 months of carrying her child.
So, women start looking for ways to induce labor as they feel quite tired, even stressed out. They start eating spicy foods, or going for long walks, they ask their doctors whether they could get acupuncture done on them, and they start looking for their partners even more in order to have sex.
But what about using a breast pump to induce labor? What should you keep in mind if you decide to go down this route?
- Always stimulate both breasts in order to have a balance between them. You may start noticing that one of the breasts – or maybe the two of them – are very sore. This is normal as your breasts are ‘’preparing’’ for the arrival of your child.
- Do not overdo it. We know what is like to carry a child, especially if they are still very comfortable inside of you. However, you should be taking rests in between your nipple stimulation time because this way you will be avoiding contractions that could potentially be too fast or dangerous for you or your baby.
- Definitely don’t try this if you are in one of the high risk categories listed above
Finally, remember, being pregnant is something that usually takes almost a year.
We understand only too well how impatient you are to get things over and done.
However, also remember that it is a wonderful and beautiful thing. Trust nature and your body to know what is right.
So it is definitely something you don’t want to hurry either.
If your baby is comfortable where he or she is, then there is a reason why they are still there having fun!
Enjoy it, mama!
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