There is no medical data from studies to suggest that a hot bath, ingesting castor oil, or having an enema will induce labor. Inducing labor at home when 38 weeks pregnant should only be attempted with the guidance of knowledgeable medical professionals. Some home-based labor-inducing concepts may appear harmless, but there is always a degree of risk involved.
Pregnancy in the final days is tough, and many mothers-to-be would rather welcome labor pains than see their pregnancy through to its natural end.
Self-inducing labor at 38 weeks by taking a hot bath may be dangerous as it can put your baby in distress. The final period of pregnancy can feel like it will last forever because so much focus is placed on the continuous discomfort experienced.
You want it to end as quickly as possible, and self-inducing labor in the confines of your home may seem like a rational way forward. Yet many of the “remedies” out there are not grounded on medical facts.
Every mother’s pregnancy experience is different, and childbirth is always a welcomed relief; however, some moms-to-be become desperate enough to chase fallacies to bring their pregnancy to an end. Let’s explore the hot bath and other labor-inducing beliefs.
Does medical research support the notion of a hot bath to induce labour?
There could be endless reasons for wanting to induce labor at 38 weeks, but one thing is certain; the pregnancy must come to an end, and if it means chasing nature on, then so be it.
Sadly, medicine is riddled with “alternatives,” and many of these alternative remedies have been embraced, mostly through desperation which negatively impacts rational thought. One such alternative to inducing labor is the hot bath misconception.
Ideas and opinions about hot baths and other labor-inducing techniques are not grounded in medical research.
Dr. Tenore of Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois, cites a poorly designed study of 100 participants to test castor oil as a labor-inducing technique versus no treatment. The women who ingested the castor oil all reported being nauseated but had no effect on their cervical ripening or labor induction.
The results for hot baths and enemas are the same for the castor oil treatment – no cervical ripening or labor induction. In short, there is no medical data from studies to suggest that a hot bath, ingesting castor oil, or having an enema will induce labor.
Besides feeling nauseated from ingesting castor oil, it tends to loosen the contents of your bowels, inducing diarrhea which can cause embarrassment and upset the maternity nursing staff.
Wanting to vomit puts pressure on your stomach, which mimics pushing during labor, and if your baby is not ready to come out, all you’re doing is causing distress for your baby.
The pros and cons of a hot bath while pregnant
As stated, there is no medical evidence that indicates a hot bath will induce labor. Among the many alternative labor-inducing methods, a hot bath can be dangerous because if the bathwater is too hot, it can reduce blood flow to your baby, causing distress.
Taking a bath or shower is great for your personal hygiene, but the water temperature should be warm and not hot. The ideal water temperature should be 36.7°C or 98°F, which is your normal body temperature.
Adhere to this recommendation from the time you think you are pregnant. Confirmation of your pregnancy will mean you played it safe, and sticking to body temperature bathwater for the duration of your pregnancy will be the norm.
Long baths to relax often involve bath salts or having a bubble bath which increases the risk of infection. Many brands of bath salts alter the pH of the vagina, decreasing good bacteria, which can lead to itching, irritation, yeast infection, and urinary tract infections. Bathing for longer than ten minutes can also spur on infections but taking a warm bath does have benefits too.
A warm bath may help stop preterm labor as it relaxes your muscles, slowing down contractions. Studies show that a warm bath or water immersion during the early stages of labor reduces labor by about 32 minutes, and less epidural anesthesia is needed.
Besides your baby being continuously monitored, there are other risks to consider with a water immersion treatment. For medical reasons, it is a treatment for selected patients and should be conducted with medical staff present.
The role of Oxytocin to induce labour
Oxytocin is one of several hormones responsible for driving the labor process.
It is released in response to signals from sensory nerves that include release during labor, breastfeeding, sexual activity, low-intensity stimulation of the skin resulting from touch, stroking, and warm temperature. Oxytocin contains and reduces stress and is also released with food ingestion.
The state of relaxation that oxytocin brings has labeled it a feel-good hormone. Relating oxytocin release to warm temperature – a warm bath, coupled with medical findings that oxytocin is released during labor, builds a good argument supporting a warm bath to induce labor.
So, does this mean that a warm bath, albeit the increased temperature risk to the unborn baby, actually does induce labor through the release of oxytocin? It sounds plausible.
To strengthen this point, oxytocin in a synthetic form administered through a drip helps trigger the labor process. The drip is then regulated to control the frequency of contractions. So, either naturally released or through a drip, oxytocin is essential to initiating labor.
Although oxytocin contributes to labor, other hormones are released and suppressed at the onset of and during labor, namely:
- Prostaglandins (group of hormones released in association with oxytocin and high levels of oestrogen that play a role in ripening the cervix).
- Relaxin levels increase during labour to help soften the cervix and the lower pelvic region.
- Beta-endorphins (natural pain relief similar to morphine).
- Adrenaline and noradrenaline (fight or flight hormones that initiate a surge of energy and several strong contractions to help deliver the baby).
Besides releasing these hormones, there is also a biological sequence to childbirth. The ripening of the cervix with initial mild contraction spaced far apart comes before strong labor contractions that push the baby deeper into the softened birth canal. The first examination conducted in a hospital setting confirms that the cervix is softening and that dilation has begun for natural childbirth.
The importance of relaxation in the final stages of pregnancy
During the three stages of labor and birth, you are advised to relax. In both early labor and active labor, it is recommended to take a warm bath to relax. Being relaxed in the lead-up to childbirth takes grit, especially as you face unannounced contractions with varying levels of pain.
Early labor is not that uncomfortable for some women, but the contractions will be unsettling and painful at times. The following are recommended to stay comfortable and relaxed during early labor:
- Go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air.
- Take a shower or bath. Warm not hot.
- Listen to soft relaxing music.
- Change your position to a more comfortable one.
- Breathing and relaxation techniques.
In active labor, you can try the following if the circumstances allow:
- Take a warm shower or bath.
- Change positions.
- Breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Take a slow walk and breath through contractions.
- Have a gentle massage in between contractions.
- Use a birthing ball to roll on.
What a warm bath or shower does is help to relax you in preparation for the birth of your baby, so yes, a warm bath is a good idea to set the stage for childbirth.
Why is using a hot tub during pregnancy bad?
The temperature of the water is usually above your body temperature and will increase your core temperature over the length of your stay in the hot tub.
An increase in your core body temperature, whether artificially induced from a stint in the hot tub, a hot bath, or naturally induced through fever, can result in your baby being inflicted with brain and spinal cord deformities.
Can a hot bath help to ripen the cervix?
This is a commonly asked question, but sadly, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that a hot bath promotes ripping of the cervix.
The terms hot bath and pregnancy should not be used in the same sentence. A warm bath will help you relax, which primes your body to naturally prepare for childbirth.
Is it safe to try and induce labor at home?
It’s advisable to speak to your doctor or midwife about inducing labor at home. Home-based alternatives are mostly not supported by science, and there’s a good chance you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
There are safe medical procedures to induce labor, and your doctor, who knows your health history and that of your baby, will be in the best position to guide you to make the best decision. Until you have confirmation from your doctor, consider home-based alternatives as unsafe.
Pregnancy can be challenging for many moms-to-be. The discomfort experienced can often instigate irrational thinking where fallacy solutions to giving birth sooner are actually considered and carried out.
The health and wellbeing of both mother and unborn child must be considered and given priority over all else. Only act on the advice of medical professionals who are aware of your state of health and that of your unborn baby.
Hot baths are dangerous for unborn babies, but a warm bath with the water temperature at about 98 degrees F or 36.7 degrees C for no longer than 10 minutes is considered safe.
This will limit the risk of infections but is long enough to promote relaxation and calm; a much-needed boost to cope with the remaining time of your pregnancy.