Nipple stimulation and labor
Using a breast pump may help start labor contractions for some full-term pregnant women or for those past their due dates.
The theory is that nipple stimulation from the breast pump increases the levels of the hormone oxytocin in the body. This, in turn, may relax the body and help start uterine contractions.
This method is only safe if you have a low-risk, healthy pregnancy, and have received your doctor’s approval. Nipple stimulation with a breast pump isn’t safe if you have a high-risk pregnancy or pregnancy complications.
Read on to learn more about this method for inducing labor, including safety concerns and steps for using this method.
What does the research say?
While research on manual nipple stimulation to induce labor is promising, studies that specifically looked at using a breast pump to induce labor are more limited in scope.
In 1999, a studyTrusted Source compared nipple stimulation with a breast pump to synthetic oxytocin for labor induction. The study observed 79 pregnant women. Of the women in the study, 49 were in the breast pump stimulation group, while 30 were administered oxytocin.
Labor started faster for those in the oxytocin group, but researchers found that first-time moms in the breast stimulation group had more natural deliveries than those in the oxytocin group. Women in the oxytocin group were more likely to require the use of vacuums or forceps for delivery.
More recently, one small 2018 studyTrusted Source of 16 low-risk pregnant women found that nipple stimulation could be effective for increasing oxytocin levels in the body naturally. The study used a manual method of nipple stimulation, not stimulation with a breast pump.
The women in the study were all 38 to 40 weeks along in their pregnancies and were observed over three days in a hospital maternity ward. They massaged their nipples for 15 minutes at a time for a total of one hour per day.
Researchers found that the oxytocin levels in the women were highest on day three, meaning it may take multiple days for nipple stimulation to be effective.
Larger-scale studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of nipple stimulation for labor induction.
Is it safe?
Inducing labor through nipple simulation is generally considered safe if you have a low-risk, healthy pregnancy.
But it’s only safe to try at-home methods for labor inductions if you are at or past your due date. Inducing labor too early may lead to your baby being born prematurely or preterm.
Preterm babies (born between 34 and 37 weeks) are usually healthy, but they may face temporary problems, including:
- difficulty feeding
- trouble breathing
- difficulty maintaining body temperature
Preterm babies may also face developmental problems or learning problems later in life.
Always discuss with your doctor or midwife if it’s safe for you to try at-home labor induction methods. They may have a different recommendation that’s safer for your pregnancy.
When to induce labor
There are risks to inducing labor. Your doctor or midwife will be best able to assess the situation and help you to make a decision that’s best for your health and your baby’s safety.
Your doctor or midwife may recommend a method to induce labor quickly when they are concerned about your health or your baby’s.
For example, they may recommend induction if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, or if there’s not enough amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
Your labor may also need to be induced if you are two weeks past your due date. After 42 weeks, amniotic fluid decreases, and there’s a risk your baby will be larger than average.
Keep checking in with your healthcare team after your due date, as your doctor will want to keep a close eye on your progress.
How to induce labor with a breast pump
Before starting nipple stimulation, it’s important to talk to your doctor or midwife. They should be aware that you are going to try at-home labor induction techniques like breast stimulation before you begin.
Your medical team likely will only recommend nipple stimulation when you’re already dilated. Otherwise, you may risk a premature delivery.
Once you get the OK from your medical team, follow these steps with care.
- Remove the breast pump from its packaging and make sure it’s sterile before using it.
- Place warm washcloths on both your breasts.
- When you’re ready, remove one of the washcloths and attach the breast pump. You can use a hand pump or electric breast pump for this. If you have a double electric pump, note that you only want to do one breast at a time.
- Turn on the breast pump or begin pumping by hand.
- Do this for a maximum of 15 minutes before switching to the other breast. Reapply the warm washcloth to the breast you just used the pump on and remove the cloth from your other breast.
- Continue this for 15 minutes per breast until you have regular, strong contractions. If you don’t have contractions after about an hour, you may want to stop and try again the next day. Contractions may also start within an hour of stopping nipple stimulation.
- Once you feel contractions, stop nipple stimulation and let your body go into labor on its own. If your contractions stop or decrease, you may reapply the pump and stimulate for five minutes per side.
- Keep stimulating until you get contractions that are five minutes apart.
- Let your doctor or midwife know about your progress. They will be able to advise you on when to go to the hospital.
Other natural ways to induce labor
Some other ways to try to naturally induce labor at home include going for a walk, eating spicy food, or having sex. The proven effectiveness of each of these varies, but none of them are usually considered harmful to your health if you’ve had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.
Check in with your doctor or midwife before trying any at-home induction method. Don’t try to induce labor at home if you’re on bed rest, have a medical condition, or have a high-risk pregnancy.
The results of using a breast pump to induce labor will be different for everyone. You may immediately feel contractions starting. It also may take several days before your body goes into labor, or you may not successfully induce labor using this method.
Before trying any at-home methods to induce labor, always check with your doctor or midwife. They may recommend an in-office method instead, such as membrane stripping or manually breaking your water. They also can let you know if it’s safe for you to try to induce labor at home.