Does Walking Really Help Induce Labor? [What You Need To Know]

So you’re 39 weeks pregnant and you’ve heard that walking can help induce labor?

It’s a very common belief.

In fact, OBGYNs will often send you “walking” if you come to the hospital in early labor.

But does it actually work?

Does walking really help induce labor?

Keep reading.

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Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Does walking really induce labor?

From a completely scientific perspective, we can’t say for certain that walking helps induce labor.

There is no randomized controlled trial that has tested this hypothesis.

The only study to comment on walking and it’s effect on labor found no difference.

However, many women will report that walking is what helped start their labor.

Why is that the case?

The most obvious reason is that walking could potentially help dilate your cervix.

Does walking help you dilate?

In a full term pregnancy, your baby’s head is pushing down on your cervix.

The cervix is the gate keeper of the uterus. It’s what dilates when you’re in labor.

With the help of gravity, the weight of the baby will be putting a lot of pressure on the cervix. In theory, this can put enough force on the cervix to make it start dilating.

Again, we have no actual proof that this works. It’s just the theory.

So if you want to try it for yourself, speak with your doctor on how you should go about it.

How many miles a day should a pregnant woman walk?

This is a highly individualized question, therefore, I have written an entire article on walking while pregnant. However, if you are already very fit, walking anywhere from 3- 5 miles a day should be healthy.

If you aren’t very active, I suggest that you start by walking for 20 minutes a day, four times per week. Similar to the protocol I published on running after pregnancy.

As you begin to feel comfortable, start increasing the time that you are walking. 

With that said, I don’t recommend that you go for very long aimless walks in the hopes of inducing labor. 

Why?

Because It’s important that you don’t completely fatigue yourself needlessly. You will need your energy for when you do go into labor.

It’s also a good idea to stay in your neighborhood, or walk close to the hospital just in case.

walking-in-pregnancy

Does climbing stairs help induce labor?

There is no evidence that climbing stairs induces labor either. 

You do not need to aimlessly go up and down stairs to get contractions going. 

Similar to walking, you shouldn’t fatigue yourself with an activity that isn’t proven.

Can pushing induce labor?

What about bearing down? If you are actively trying to push, will that induce labor?

No. I really recommend against pushing to induce labor. Every time you bear down, you will be doing something called the valsalva maneuver.

This valsalva will temporarily increase your blood pressure, decrease your blood flow, and cause you unnecessary strain.

Don’t try and trick your body into something it’s not yet ready to do.

So What actually triggers labor?

That is the million dollar question. From what we understand, labor seems to be triggered by a few different things.

First of all, we know that substances called prostaglandins can help get your cervix ready to dilate.

How do we know?

Because a lot of the medications we use to induce labor are prostaglandin derivatives. 

But prostaglandins are just the beginning.

We also know that oxytocin is the hormone that ultimately causes your uterus to contract and induce labor.

That’s the second medication that is often used for labor induction.

There is likely a cascade of events that happen in between prostaglandin release and oxytocin. 

But that’s what we know.

What is the quickest way to go into labor?

If you’re over 37 weeks pregnant, you’re probably tired of being pregnant.

It’s common to just want to get your labor going and just be done with it.

The quickest and safest way to go into labor is to artificially induce labor with prostaglandins and oxytocin.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research on quick, natural ways to go into labor. 

But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Here are a few things you may have heard other women do:

labor-induction-methods

Nipple Stimulation:

You may have heard that some women use nipple stimulation as a way to start uterine contractions. 

While it does work, this is something you need to be very careful with.

Nipple stimulation is known to release the hormone oxytocin, and start uterine contractions.

The problem is, there is no way to control this.

Nipple stimulation can cause you to have strong and prolonged contractions. If they are long enough, these kind of contractions can decrease blood flow to your baby. 

Reduced blood flow will lead to decreased fetal heart rate and put your baby at risk of serious fetal consequences.

In fact, nipple stimulation is sometimes used to perform what we call a “contraction stress test.” Basically, its a way to see how your baby tolerates contractions.

If your baby’s heart rate has a concerning drop with each contraction, that would indicate a positive test result. This means that your baby is intolerant to labor.

That’s why I don’t recommend nipple stimulation for labor induction.

Sexual Intercourse:

You may have also heard that sexual Intercourse can bring on labor. 

That is for two reasons.

  • There is some research to show that semen may contain prostaglandins. That’s the substance that we have been talking about that can soften your cervix.
  • In addition, sex has the potential to cause uterine contractions.

The only research on sex and labor induction is equivocal. With that said, you are free to try it as long as your doctor says it is ok.

If you have placenta previa or any other condition that can lead to heavy bleeding, you must avoid intercourse!

Castor Oil:

Another common method you may have heard of is castor oil for labor induction.

Castor oil is a laxative, meaning it’s will make you have several bowel movements.

Frequent bowel movements can dehydrate you, and the dehydration is what can cause you to contract.

Dehydration is never a good thing. Especially during a full term pregnancy.

Being dehydrated means you have less blood circulating.

Less circulation = less blood flow to your baby.

And we’ve already discussed that less blood flow to your baby is something you want to avoid.

Massage or Acupuncture:

Massage and acupuncture is another common recommendation for labor induction.

Again, there are no actual studies to prove or refute this claim.

If this is something you want to try, just make sure that you go to a clinic that can treat pregnant women.

Spicy Foods:

The last thing I see recommended to induce labor is spicy food. 

The thought process is that these foods can irritate your gut, which may cause your uterus to contract.

It’s a similar theory to the castor oil example.

As of right now, there is no evidence that this works.

All you might get from spicy food is some heartburn.

How can I soften my cervix at home?

Another common question I hear is how can you soften your cervix. 

It’s frequently asked because many women know that the cervix has to soften in order for it to thin out (efface) and begin dilating.

But this is not something your want to DIY.

I do not recommend that you try to soften your cervix at home. 

Many women experiment with placing primrose oil in their vagina to try and soften the cervix. 

I do not recommend inserting primrose oil into your vagina as there are no studies to confirm its safety. 

Using substances to try to induce your labor can have some negative consequences to both you and your baby.

What is the most effective way to induce labor naturally? 

So we have spent a good amount of time discussing what doesn’t work.

Are there any effective ways to induce labor naturally? 

You may need to have your labor induced for one of many reasons. One of the most common indications for labor induction is going past your due date.

The most effective, natural way to induce labor is known as membrane sweeping.  Your healthcare provider will do a cervical exam and try to stretch your cervix and sweep the amniotic sac away from the cervix. 

natural-labor-induction-methods

This can cause irritation and possible release of prostaglandins and oxytocin. 

The downside to membrane sweeping is that 

  • You need to be dilated for it to be done 
  • It can accidentally lead to premature rupture of your membranes (aka breaking your water before the onset of labor)
  • It can be quite uncomfortable

And while you wait check out the best exercises to prepare you for labor for when the time comes.

Final Thoughts on Walking to Induce Labor

So, do you need to go walking to induce your labor?

There is no evidence that it will help, but if you walk responsibly, there’s no evidence that it’ll hurt either.

Be careful trying to induce your own labor naturally, as many things you hear about aren’t proven and may have negative effects.

Listen to your doctor, and ask about having your membranes swept!

Have you tried walking to induce your labor?

Comment below and let me know.

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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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