Induction of labour is a common obstetric procedure. Some women are likely to turn to complementary and alternative medicine in order to avoid medical intervention.
The aim of this paper is to examine the scientific evidence for the use of complementary and alternative medicine to stimulate labour.
An initial search for relevant literature published from 2000 was undertaken using a range of databases. Articles were also identified by examining bibliographies.
Most complementary and alternative medicines used for induction of labour are recommended on the basis of traditional knowledge, rather than scientific research. Currently, the clinical evidence is sparse and it is not possible to make firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness of these therapies. There is however some data to support the use of breast stimulation for induction of labour. Acupuncture and raspberry leaf may also be beneficial. Castor oil and evening primrose oil might not be effective and possibly increase the incidence of complications. There is no evidence from clinical trails to support homeopathy however, some women have found these remedies helpful. Blue cohosh may be harmful during pregnancy and should not be recommended for induction. Other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies may be useful but further investigation is needed.
More research is needed to establish the safety and efficacy of CAM modalities. Midwives should develop a good understanding of these therapies, including both the benefits and risks, so they can assist women to make appropriate decisions.