How to bring on contractions

Updated April 17, 2017

As the end of pregnancy approaches, pregnant women watch with great anticipation for signs of labour starting. By this point, your back hurts, you can't sleep well at night and you are ready to finally hold your baby in your arms. Unfortunately, if your body isn't ready to go into labour on its own, attempts to induce labour can be fraught with difficulties -- even for your doctor. While people suggest a variety of methods for bringing on labour contractions, evidence for the effectiveness of only a few actually exists.

Stimulate your nipples by sucking, rubbing or rolling them. To ensure you don't overstimulate your uterus, manipulate your breasts for five minutes and then wait 15, to see what effects it has. Only stimulate one breast at a time and avoid nipple stimulation during contractions. Stop when your contractions occur every three minutes or last for a minute or more. The effectiveness of nipple stimulation hasn't been conclusively proven by scientific study, but a 2011 study in "ACTA Obstetrica et Gynecologica Scandinavica" found that breast stimulation was both effective and safe for women who have undergone previous caesarean sections and given birth five or more times.

Apply prostaglandins -- substances that can help a cervix dilate, thin and soften -- to your vagina. Prostaglandins such as Cervidil and Prepidil do increase your chances of going into labour within 24 hours, reports a 2003 review of labour induction techniques in "American Family Physician." However, they may also overstimulate the uterus and cause other negative side effects such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Sweep your membranes. In this procedure, your doctor or midwife inserts a finger into your cervix during a cervical check and detaches the amniotic sac from your cervix. A membrane sweep can help bring on contractions, but according to a 2000 study in "Obstetrics and Gynecology", it is only effective in first time mothers who had unfavourable cervices ripened with a prostaglandin.

Insert a mechanical device, such as Foley catheter, into your cervix to release prostaglandins and help your cervix dilate. Mechanical dilators do successfully help the cervix open, but they carry risks of bleeding, infection and membrane rupture. Only your health care provider should attempt to dilate your cervix with a mechanical device.

Use misoprostol to help ripen your cervix. The review of labour induction methods in "American Family Physician" found that misoprostol increases the rate of vaginal births within 24 hours. It does carry the risk of overstimulating your uterus and may cause uterine rupture in women who had a prior caesarean section.

Start an IV pump of pitocin, an artificial form of oxytocin used to start or strengthen contractions. According to the "American Family Physician" review, physicians prefer using pitocin to induce labour when a woman has a favourable cervix, and many studies support its effectiveness in encouraging contractions. However, pitocin does cause longer and more painful contractions, may reduce oxygen to your baby and increases the caesarean rates due to difficult labour oa fetal distress.


Sexual intercourse is often recommended as a natural method of inducing labour because the prostaglandins in semen may stimulate contractions. As long as your water hasn't broken, this labour induction method is safe -- if a bit uncomfortable -- but scientific evidence doesn't support its effectiveness. Two studies in "Obstetrics and Gynecology," one from 2006 and one from 2007, both found that sexual intercourse at term did not help ready the cervix for labour or increase a woman's chances of going into labour.


Don't use castor oil or herbal supplements -- such as evening primrose oil, black cohosh or red raspberry leaves -- for inducing labour. They have not received adequate scientific study, and so safe doses and their effectiveness remains unknown.

Things You'll Need

  • Prostaglandins
  • Mechanical dilation device
  • Misoprostol
  • Pitocin
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About the Author

Based in southern Idaho, Michelle Johnson started writing in 1991. Her work has been published in the science fiction and fantasy journal, "Extrapolation." Johnson holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and a Master of Arts in fantasy literature, both from Hofstra University in New York.