Let’s get straight to the point: Yes, using breast pumps *can* help induce labor contractions for some full term or overdue pregnant people.
But it’s definitely *not* a good idea to reach for the breast pump before you’ve hit full term. And it’s only recommended if you get your OB or midwife’s blessing.
Still curious about pumping your way to baby day? Here’s what to know.
Research is pretty limited on how effective a breast pump is for inducing labor. More promising research looks at nipple stimulation itself.
A 2018 study of 16 low-risk pregnant women found nipple stimulation helped increase oxytocin levels in the body naturally. This hormone helps relax the body and can stimulate uterine contractions.
Another 2015 study found nipple stimulation resulted in shorter labor and more natural births compared to women who were induced with synthetic oxytocin.
This study from 2014 also found nipple stimulation increased cervical ripening and increased rates of vaginal birth, compared with doing nothing. The people who did not use nipple stimulation were more likely to need Pitocin (aka an oxytocin injection).
When it comes to breast pumps, a 1999 study found evidence that breast pumps led to more spontaneous vaginal births (meaning no forceps or vacuums were used to help get the baby out) than women who received IV oxytocin. But the study itself was small and is outdated.
Bottom line on tweaking those nips for labor
More research is def needed to tell whether nipple stimulation with or without a breast pump really is effective in inducing labor.
Studies show that either method can have an effect on oxytocin levels to kickstart labor, but nipple stimulation looks more promising than an actual breast pump.
Using a breast pump to induce labor is generally safe if and only if:
- Your healthcare provider approves it.
- You’ve had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy.
- You’ve reached your due date.
It’s NOT safe to induce labor on your own if you’re high-risk or have pregnancy complications.
At-home methods to induce labor should also always be avoided before you’re full term. Full term means you’ve reached a minimum of 39 weeks pregnant (no more than 7 days before your estimated due date).
Going into labor too early and having a premature baby can come with complications like:
- difficulty feeding
- trouble breathing
- low birth weight
- difficulty regulating body temperature
- vision problems
- underdeveloped organs
Premature babies born at 34 to 37 weeks are usually healthy even after short-term problems. But, complications can last longer, too.
Babies born too early can be more at risk of developmental problems or learning difficulties later in life. Even babies born between 37 and 39 weeks are considered “early term” and can have more struggles in the early days and weeks of life than a baby who is born after at least 39 weeks.
Inducing labor comes with risks, so your doctor or midwife should assess your situation first. They can help you make the best and safest decision for you and bébé.
Induction might be suggested if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or if you have low amniotic fluid surrounding your baby.
Your healthcare provider may also suggest induction if you’re well past your due date. After 42 weeks, there can be some increased risks, such as having too little amniotic fluid or the baby getting too big.
Nearing your due date and still no baby?
It’s important that you stay in touch with your midwife or OB after your due date. This way they can monitor your health and decide what’s next.
If you’re past your due date and have been given the OK by your doctor or midwife, you can try to induce labor with a breast pump.
Here’s how to do it:
- Grab you breast pump and sterilize it before use.
- Put warm washcloths on your breasts.
- Once you’re comfy, remove a washcloth and attach your breast pump. Only pump one breast at a time.
- Start up the breast pump if it’s electric, or pump by hand if it’s manual.
- Pump for 15 minutes max, then try on the other breast and reapply the warm washcloth on the breast you just pumped.
- Repeat the same procedure on the breast you haven’t pumped.
- Keep pumping for 15 minutes per breast until you have regular contractions that feel strong. If you don’t have them after an hour, stop and try again the next day. Note: Contractions could still start within 1 hour after stopping the pumping.
- If you feel contractions, stop and let your body take things into motion itself. If your contractions stop or get weaker, reapply the pump and stimulate for another 5 minutes per breast.
- Keep checking in with your healthcare provider on your progress, especially if your contractions are 5 minutes apart.
Pro tip: If you’ve never pumped before it can be a little, er, irritating. Try using a nipple balm (even coconut oil or olive oil will do) to help lube things up and make things more comfy.
Not into using the whole breast pump shebang. You can also give nipple stimulation a try.
Mimicking a baby’s latch as closely as you can is the best way to do it. Here’s how:
- Use your fingers to stimulate one nipple at a time. You can also use your partner’s mouth if you’re feeling frisky.
- Gently rub the areola and massage toward your nipple in a circle. (This is the area babies massage while nursing.)
- Limit your stimulation to just 5 minutes, and wait 15 more before trying again.
- Stop once you’re having regular contractions (every 3 minutes, lasting at least 1 minute).
- Make sure to check in with your healthcare provider so they’re in the loop.
There are other traditional ways to induce labor, though they don’t always work for everyone. Plus, a lot of these are anecdotal, not entirely scientific.
Some popular natural methods include:
- having sex
- exercising or going for a walk
- taking a bumpy car ride
- taking evening primrose oil
- drinking castor oil (Warning: this can cause upset stomach and diarrhea so it can be unpleasant)
- drinking red raspberry leaf tea
- eating spicy foods
FYI: As anything related to inducing labor, make sure you chat with your doc or midwife before doing any at-home induction methods. And don’t try anything if you’re high risk.
There’s not a ton of research that a breast pump is the best way to induce labor, but nipple stimulation looks like it might help. But it doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
It’s only considered safe if you have reached your due date, have had a healthy pregnancy, and get the OK from your healthcare provider.
Always check in with your doctor or midwife before trying any at-home induction methods. Especially if you’re nearing the 42-week mark and might need a hospital induction.