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(Last updated 4/1/02)

 

LABOR-INDUCING FOLKLORE ALIVE AND WELL AMONG PREGNANT WOMEN

COLUMBUS, Ohio - In spite of an avalanche of modern medical advances in obstetrics, old wives' tales about pregnancy and labor still run rampant, especially tales on how to get labor going as the due date nears. The fact that they're largely untrue doesn't seem to matter.

A new Ohio State University survey found that two out of three pregnant women believed that walking would help induce labor, while nearly half believed that having sex would.


Schaffir doesn't put much faith in folkloric suggestions, although he said that certain recommendations - such as having sex or taking castor oil - might be biologically plausible to some degree.


But the best that a woman with a normal pregnancy can do is to just wait, said study author Jonathan Schaffir, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State.

"For healthy pregnancies, Mother Nature is the best obstetrician," he said. Schaffir surveyed 102 pregnant women coming to a prenatal clinic at Ohio State about their awareness of 10 common folk suggestions on inducing labor, and whether or not they believed any of the tips would really work.

The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Birth.

Schaffir gave each woman a questionnaire listing certain folk beliefs about hastening labor: frequent walking; having sex; heavy exercise; using a laxative, such as castor oil; nipple stimulation; eating spicy foods; fright; starvation; having an enema; and drinking herbal tea.

Women also noted in the survey where they had gotten their information from: More than three-fourths (76 percent) of the women said they had gleaned advice from friends and relatives. A small portion of the women (15 percent) had read about some of the techniques in books and pamphlets. Surprisingly, some of these folk beliefs come from health care professionals: 12 percent of the women cited physicians or nurses as providing the information.

While most of the women in the study (84 percent) had been told that walking would help start labor, 64 percent believed it could actually work. Sex was a close second - 74 percent had been told it would induce labor, and 46 percent believed it. Herbal tea was the least-believed recommendation; 5 percent of the women thought drinking certain types of tea would induce labor.

Exercise was another fairly common belief among the women - one out of three thought it could expedite labor.

"While it's important to maintain some level of physical activity throughout pregnancy, an otherwise sedentary woman might run into trouble if she decides to start an exercise regimen at the very end," Schaffir said.

Schaffir doesn't put much faith in folkloric suggestions, although he said that certain recommendations - such as having sex or taking castor oil - might be biologically plausible to some degree.

"But dosages and safety issues haven't been worked out to the point where we can safely recommend any folk remedy," he said. "Such recommendations often have little scientific merit, and some are at odds with what is known to be beneficial for the fetus."

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Contact: Jonathan Schaffir, 614-293-9164 or 614-293-3069; Schaffir.1@osu.edu
Written by Holly Wagner, 614-292-8310; Wagner.235@osu.edu