When I was in the third trimester of pregnancy, waiting for the birth of my first daughter, Lilia, I remember distinctly being more than ready to get things moving. After all, I was tired, huge and anxious to meet my little one.

That’s why I half laughed when I was out for lunch and saw eggplant parmigiana on the menu. You see, there’s many a folk tale about eggplant parmigiana inducing labor in pregnant mothers.

“Why not?”  I thought. 

Sure enough, an hour afterwards I was in labor. And 36 (long!) hours later, I was holding baby Lilia in my arms. 

Eggplant parmigiana babies

So I was amused to see that Scalini’s, a restaurant in Smyrna, Ga., is marketing its eggplant parmigiana as a natural way for impatient mothers to move things along. The restaurant’s website is full of testimonials from sometimes skeptical parents, like this one from Kevin Schully: 

“I was skeptical at first but now I'm convinced! My wife sent me the recipe and story because she thought it was funny. I tempted fate and cooked it for her two weeks before her due date. She had leftovers for lunch the next day and 12 hours later we were in the hospital!”

Supposedly labor-inducing foods

So could there really be something to this legend? Is eggplant parmigiana somehow a catalyst for delivering babies? What about all the other foods that are sometimes attributed to hastening labor? From pineapple to spicy curries, from a spoon of castor oil to a hefty dose of anchovies, the world is not short of recipes and remedies from around the world that proponents claim are a surefire way to speed things up. 

  

Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to back up these tales. In fact, as the folks at What To Expect point out, some of these remedies — castor oil and raspberry leaf tea — may do more harm than good, due to their effect of stimulating the bowels. (Diarrhea and the accompanying dehydration is not a great way to start the grueling process of labor.)

Potential dangers of inducing pregnancy

So what can you do to encourage an earlier labor? The first question to ask is whether you really have to. The American Pregnancy Association argues that despite the recent rise of elective cesarians to accommodate busy lifestyles (and even tax calendars!), labor should really only be induced when it is preferable due to complications and/or being well over your due date:

“Induction of labor has recently been on the rise for purposes of convenience or to accommodate busy schedules. However, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), labor should be induced only when it is more risky for the baby to remain inside the mother’s uterus than to be born.”

This is a position backed up by the American College of Nurse Midwives, which suggests that the medical establishment should also think very carefully before rushing Mother Nature along: 

“Induction of labor should be offered to women only for medical indications that are supported by scientific evidence which indicate the benefit outweighs the risk of induction of labor, including the potential risks of prematurity.”

Why hurry?

So perhaps the first thing to consider is why you are in such a hurry? Try relaxing, visualization exercises and/or switching up your schedule to allow you to go with the flow. You’ll not only be easing the pressure on yourself to deliver immediately, but you’ll also be getting yourself into a healthy mind state for what’s to follow. 

All that being said — if you’re in a position where you are overdue and/or medical professionals are beginning to talk about interventions — either using medicines like oxytocin or prostaglandins  and/or rupturing the membranes — you might be anxious to kick things into gear yourself. 

If that’s the case, there are a few things that may help.

Sex may speed up labor

There’s some validity, for example, to theories that sex may help induce labor. WebMD spoke to several medical doctors, including Dr. Terry Harper, who said they recommend sex to their patients all the time:

" 'I tell my patients to do that all the time,' Harper says. Although there's no proof sex can start labor, there is a good reason why it might. Harper says sex releases prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that are like the medications used to induce labor. And it won't hurt to try!"

Acupuncture and expecting mothers

Harper also conducted a small study at the University of North Carolina that showed acupuncture may also help. The study followed 56 women who were 39.5 to 41 weeks pregnant, and showed 70 percent of women who received acupuncture going into labor on their own, versus 50 percent who did not. (According to Harper, they also saw a 50 percent reduction in cesarian sections.)

Of food-related options, there really is little evidence beyond the anecdotal of any efficacy. But then, there’s also little evidence of any harm. 

As with most issues to do with our bodies, it’s tempting for me to take my own experiences with eggplant parmigiana as “proof” of some labor-inducing qualities. But I am a firm believer in evidence-based nutrition advice. Unless my case is part of a controlled study that compares like-with-like, it’s really not evidence. It’s hearsay. 

Delicious, cheesy hearsay. 

I enjoyed that eggplant parmigiana. And I loved welcoming my daughter into the world. So if you’re feeling like eating a spicy curry or an eggplant parmigiana, go ahead and do it anyway. Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work. 

Jenni Grover, MS RD LDN, is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners. She specializes in child, maternal and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods. 

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