There are a lot of things that people shout about when it comes to the age old conversation of how to bring on labour. We could debate for days about eating spicy pineapple curry whilst driving along a bumpy road and having sex after scrubbing your kitchen floor. There is evidence supporting some, others are best left alone. But one that most people don’t think about, may not know about and certainly don’t talk much about is using nipple stimulation to induce labour. Yep, the aforementioned nipple tweaking! (For the record: it’s best to avoid actually tweaking! Read on for a more gentle approach!)
What have my nipples got to do with birth?
Skip forward to immediately post birth. Everything is left to pan out naturally with no interruption or disturbance whatsoever and your newly born baby is brought up to your chest. Your baby experiences skin to skin contact. Your baby follows its natural primal instinct and begins to search for your breast. It nods and bobs, following its senses of smell and sight, zoning in on the nipple and eventually latching on and suckling. The reaction within the your body is one of intense oxytocin release and this stimulates the uterus. Contractions strengthen and that helps to separate the placenta from the uterus wall as well as prevent haemorrhage. This surge of oxytocin also helps the development of the love at first sight (love at first touch, love at first smell) bond between you and your baby.
So, that’s the physiology of how stimulating the nipple causes a release of oxytocin that helps to strengthen uterine contractions to birth the placenta. Can you see where this is going now?
Back to you, pregnant and wanting to help things along
Rewind back to before your labour has begun. Remember what happened when the baby stimulated the nipples? If you can simulate this, your body will respond in a similar way, though with less intensity. You could never completely reproduce that post birth hormone love bubble.
Create a calm, relaxed and safe environment. This could be in the bath, it could be comfortably laying in bed, it could be in the room of an induction ward having asked for privacy. Stimulate your breast area through light touch, stroking, squeezing or massage. Gently rub the nipple between your thumb and forefinger, whatever feels comfortable for you. You could even use a breast pump, gently of course, you are not trying to get milk. Accompany this with calm breathing to help you relax and focus your thoughts on positive visualisation, connection with your baby or simply the sensations you are feeling.
You may feel tightening sensations in your uterus soon after, you may feel nothing. Continue this for as long as you are comfortable, and repeat as often as you are comfortable. (For the record, again: please don’t take up residence in a bath playing with your nipples for 3 days determined to get the baby coming!). Everyone will respond to this differently and the effect will be dependent on how ready your are to go into labour.
The evidence for using nipple stimulation to induce labour
But don’t take my word for it. A Cochrane Review published in 2005 looked at using breast stimulation, as opposed to specifically nipple stimulation, as a way to induce labour. It found that after 72 hours, 37% of women who had used breast stimulation were in labour. Only 6% of women who hadn’t used breast stimulation were in labour at this point. It is worth noting that this result was only significant in women who already had a favourable or ripe cervix. This means that their cervix was already going through the subtle changes indicating early labour is on the horizon. There was also found to be a major reduction in postpartum haemorrhage.
As this review shows, if your body is not ready, no amount of home-techniques are going to convince your body to have the baby. Your best bet by far is to remind yourself that baby will come when baby is ready. Rest, relax and surround yourself with oxytocin.
So. Did you try nipple stimulation in your own labours? Do you think you might give it a try? Turns out nipple tweaking might just be up there with a jalfrezi for getting things going!
To read the 2005 Cochrane Review looking at breast stimulation and induction click here
If you are looking for antenatal preparation that covers natural methods to help encourage labour, as well as preparing the perfect environment for birth (or nipple stimulation!) take a look at the Hypnobirthing courses I offer