After nine months of pregnancy, many women are anxious to deliver. The female body is an effective incubator, and most women will go into labor once the baby has reached full term and is ready to be delivered. Unless there are complications, the health of the baby generally depends on complete development inside the womb. While there are several ways to hasten labor once it has started--including squatting, there are only a few methods to actually encourage the start of true, active labor. Unfortunately, squatting and other gravitational methods are not effective in inducing labor. The only verifiable methods to induce labor are medically induced and require the assistance of a physician.
The main reason a doctor might want to induce labor is to protect the health of the mother or child. A doctor may want to induce labor when the water (amniotic fluid) has broken (rupture of the amniotic sac), an infection inside the uterus has been detected, there is not enough amniotic fluid, the mother's Rh factor isn't compatible with the baby's, or there are other health problems or complications. Most doctors will not induce labor simply because the mother is uncomfortable or tired of being pregnant.
The induction of labor requires the doctor to administer medication or use other methods to stimulate contractions and open the birth canal. Induction increases the risk for cesarean birth. While squatting may help move labor to the next stage, doctors do not use it to induce labor.
There are a large variety of anecdotes from women who have claimed to induce or hasten labor using folk remedies or other unsubstantiated methods. Most of these claims do not have any scientific backing. Lisa Rodriguez, R.N. and Marjorie Greenfield, M.D. suggest that castor oil might be effective in causing the uterus to spasm, stimulating the onset of natural contraction. They also claim taking herbal stimulants, such as black cohosh, might help, but no studies have been conducted on the safety of these supplements. Walking has long been thought to stimulate the onset of natural labor by the constant pressure placed on the cervix.
There are some verifiable methods to encourage the onset of labor if a woman's body is ready. The production of oxytocin, the main chemical used in medical induction, stimulates uterine contractions. Oxytocin is naturally produced by nipple stimulation and orgasm. Both activities release the chemical into the bloodstream naturally and may encourage the onset of natural labor.
Some studies have been done on the use of prostaglandins to stimulate labor. Some medicines used to induce labor contain prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are present in small amounts in semen, which is why Rodriguez and Greenfield believe that sexual intercourse can stimulate labor.
Once natural labor is underway, there are a few things that can speed up the process. Gravity helps put pressure on the cervix, allowing it to open for passage of the baby. Squatting--as well as walking and light bouncing--may help apply such pressure, especially during transition, the stage of labor when the baby is moving through the birth canal. These positions encourage the cervix to thin and efface.
Lowering the amount of pain allows the woman to relax and let nature take its course. Pain medication can be effective at reducing stress and encouraging the birth process, and thus speeding it up. Some women find sitting in a warm bath to be soothing and allows the birth canal to expand, hastening the opening of the cervix.
While there are a few methods that are effective at inducing labor, most gravity-based methods, such as squatting, only help hasten labor once it has begun. A physician should always be consulted before undertaking any steps to induce or speed up labor.