The Science Behind Pumping to Induce Labor
Does Pumping to Induce Labor Actually Work?
Pregnant women who have reached or are past their expected due date may use different methods of inducing labor, such as eating spicy foods, walking, acupuncture, exercising, or drinking certain beverages or teas. Nipple stimulation is also a proven option with evidence-based research behind it that you may want to discuss with your doctor. When attempting to spur labor, many women try to stimulate their nipples manually or by using a breast pump to induce labor.
Pumping to induce labor, and any other at-home method of inducing labor, should only be tried if you are having a safe, low-risk pregnancy and are at or beyond your expected due date. Be sure to communicate any questions to your doctor, especially if you are past your expected due date. Your physician should be aware that you are using your breast pump to induce labor, or if you are trying any other methods of labor induction at home, because he or she may recommend that you wait a little longer or may want you to be induced at the hospital. For these reasons, it’s important to speak to your physician first – even if you are having a safe, low-risk pregnancy.
Research shows that nipple stimulation – whether manually or by using a breast pump – promotes the release of oxytocin from your brain, a hormone that is typically present for women during childbirth, intimacy, and breastfeeding and is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone”. When oxytocin is released from the brain, it often encourages uterine contractions. In fact, nipple and breast stimulation has even been shown to make these contractions longer and more powerful.
A 2005 study encompassing six randomized control trials concluded that nipple stimulation increases the likelihood of labor. While the study was being conducted, 719 pregnant women at term were randomly directed to stimulate their nipples for several hours, or not. The results revealed that 37.8% of the women who stimulated their nipples went into labor within the following 3 days, compared to just 6.4% of the women who did not.
What Happens When Using a Breast Pump to Induce Labor?
Pumping to induce labor is different for every woman’s unique body. Some may go into labor right away or others might not experience consistent contractions for a few days. For others, using a breast pump to induce labor may have no effect and not bring about labor at all.
When pumping to induce labor, it is usually recommended to use your breast pump for approximately 15 minutes on each breast and to switch between your breasts consistently^. All Medela breast pumps are engineered with patented, research-based 2-Phase Expression® technology, which closely mimics how a baby naturally nurses. Pumping at your breast pump’s Maximum Comfort Vacuum™ helps you find the speed and suction that is most efficient and comfortable for you. To find your optimal comfort level, increase your breast pump’s suction gradually until it becomes a little bit uncomfortable and then turn it down slightly.
Eventually, you will begin to experience strong, consistent contractions because this stimulation helps release oxytocin from your brain – which in turn often causes the uterus to contract. These contractions may start right away or up to an hour after you’ve finished pumping to induce labor. Once these contractions begin, stop pumping and let labor continue naturally. If your contractions stop or slow significantly, use your breast pump for about five minutes on each breast until the contractions increase to about five minutes apart. If you don’t start having contractions within about an hour of using your breast pump to induce labor, give yourself a rest and try again another day. Overstimulation can have an adverse effect, so talk with your doctor before pumping to induce labor and carefully follow their direction for using your breast pump to induce labor.
If pumping to induce labor was successful and you experience strong, regular contractions, call your doctor right away to discuss when and how you will arrive at the hospital for your little one’s delivery. Remember, inducing labor at home should only be attempted if you are having a safe, low-risk pregnancy*. Though it may feel as though you have been pregnant for a very long time or you’re just excited to meet your new baby, having a little extra patience and talking regularly with your doctor can make your at-term experience much more calming. Don’t worry, mama – whether you try to induce labor at home, are induced at a hospital, or go into labor naturally, you’ll be able to hold, cuddle, and love on your little one very soon!
*Please speak to your doctor first if you are at or beyond your expected due date and considering inducing labor at home. Every pregnancy is different and there may be reasons why attempting to induce labor at home is not recommended for you and/or your unique situation. Do not try to induce labor at home or use your breast pump to induce labor – even if you are at or past your expected due date – if you have not first discussed this option in detail with your doctor.