Hesperian Health Guides

Home methods for starting labor

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HealthWiki > A Book for Midwives > Chapter 19: Advanced skills for pregnancy and birth > Home methods for starting labor

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You may need to encourage labor when:

  • the bag of waters has broken, and labor has not started, or it has started but the birth is not near.
  • the mother has been in active labor for several hours, but the birth is not near.
  • the mother has been in light labor for many hours and the labor is active enough to keep her from resting, but it
    is not strong enough to open the cervix.

Do not try to encourage labor if there are warning signs, especially if the baby is in an impossible birth position, if there is unusual bleeding, or if the baby's heartbeat is slower than 100 beats a minute. Get medical help.

See information about some very safe home methods to start or strengthen labor. Those methods have little risk, so try them first. If those methods do not work, and you cannot get medical help, try the methods listed in the following section to strengthen labor.

Risks of these methods

The methods here can all be used at home, but they do have risks. The greatest risk is that they may not work. Trying to encourage labor can waste precious time — time that could have been used traveling to a medical center to get help. If these methods do not work after an hour or 2, get medical help — even if it is very far away.

There can also be risks from the method itself. For example, some plant medicines strengthen labor but can also cause high blood pressure.

WARNING!    Never use drugs (like oxytocin or misoprostol) to start labor at home. These drugs can cause contractions strong enough to kill the baby or the mother.

Enemas (rectal fluids)

Enemas are used to:

  • speed labor (enemas can make contractions stronger).
  • wash stool out of the intestines (this may make labor less painful).
  • hydrate a person who does not have enough fluids in her body.
  • give medicines to a person who cannot swallow.

WARNING!    The greatest danger of enemas is that a little stool will wash out of the rectum and get into the vagina. This can cause an infection after birth. To avoid causing infection, keep everything that touches the mother's anus, or any stool, away from her vagina.

Also, be prepared for labor to become strong very quickly.

How to give an enema

illustration of the below: tools for giving an enema.
  1. Gather the tools you will need:
    • a pair of clean plastic gloves
    • a clean enema bag, or a container to hold water
    • a clean plastic tube to put into the rectum
    • a clean hose to attach the enema bag to the tube (60 centimeters, or 2 feet, is a good length)
    • 500 milliliters (about a ½ liter bottle or 2 cups) of clean warm water.
  2. Wash your hands and put on clean plastic gloves.
  3. Ask the woman to lie on her left side.
  4. Let water flow down into the end of the tube and
    then pinch the tube closed. This lets the air out.
    a line that measures 7 and a half centimeters.
    7 ½ cm
  5. Wet the end of the tube with water or lubricant and then slide it into the rectum. Do not slide it more than 7½ centimeters (3 inches).
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  7. Hold the bag of water about the level of the woman's hips and let the water flow in slowly. It will take about 20 minutes for all of the water to flow in.
  8. Remove the tube and ask the woman to hold the water inside as long as she can. When she passes stool or lets the water out, contractions will usually get stronger and closer together. The longer she holds the water in, the better it will work
Note: If you are giving her rectal fluids to prevent dehydration (not to strengthen labor), it is especially important for her to hold the fluid. If the woman is in shock, you can give her a second bag of fluid 1 hour after the first.

Castor oil drink

A drink of castor oil and fruit juice can sometimes start or strengthen labor. If castor oil is going to start a labor, it should work within 4 hours.

Castor oil causes stomach cramps and diarrhea (watery stool). Sometimes it also causes vomiting. Having diarrhea during labor increases the chance of infection because a little stool can easily get into the vagina. The contractions together with stomach cramps can make labor feel too fast or overwhelming for the woman.

Always warn women that castor oil tastes very bad and will make them feel very uncomfortable. Remind them to wipe from front to back after passing stool.

To use castor oil

Mix about 60 milliliters (2 ounces) of castor oil in a cup (240 milliliters or 8 ounces) of fruit juice. Lemon or orange juice work especially well. Do not give more than 1 glass.

60 ml or 2 oz. castor oil
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+ 240 ml or 8 oz. fruit juice
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The mother should drink the whole glass down.

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Plant medicines

Many traditional midwives and healers use plant medicines to start or strengthen labor. There may be plants in your area that work well. Some plant medicines do not work very well but are not harmful. Others can be dangerous.

Watch the effects of plant medicines carefully. Ask other healers about the useful and harmful effects of plant medicines in your community. Do not use a plant medicine that may be dangerous.

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All plant medicines have these problems:

  • It is difficult to control the dose. The same plant grown in different areas or in different soil, or picked in different seasons, will have different strengths.
  • Any medicine given by mouth during labor may be difficult for the body to use. The stomach does not work well during labor.
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Each plant may have its own risks. Some common risks among plants that strengthen labor are:

  • high blood pressure
  • contractions that are too strong
  • allergic reactions

This page was updated:11 Sep 2019