Can Using an Electric Breast Pump Induce Labor?

As pregnant women approach their due dates, the anticipation of meeting their little ones can become overwhelming. While the natural labor process typically unfolds on its own, some expectant mothers may explore methods that could potentially kick-start the process. One such method that has gained attention is the use of an electric breast pump during pregnancy. However, it’s crucial to understand the potential effects and safety considerations before attempting this approach.

While electric breast pumps are regarded as safe for lactating mothers, their use during pregnancy raises some concerns. This article aims to explore the connection between nipple stimulation, oxytocin release, and the potential for labor induction, as well as the safety considerations associated with using an electric breast pump during pregnancy.

Nipple Stimulation and Oxytocin Release

The connection between nipple stimulation and labor induction lies in the release of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the hypothalamus in the brain and stored in the pituitary gland. Its primary functions include facilitating the let-down reflex during breastfeeding and stimulating uterine contractions during labor.

When a woman’s nipples are stimulated, either through breastfeeding or the use of a breast pump, it triggers the release of oxytocin. This hormonal surge can lead to uterine contractions, which may induce labor or strengthen existing contractions during the early stages of labor.

However, it’s important to note that little pieces of evidence are received for this. The effectiveness of nipple stimulation in inducing labor can vary among individuals, and it may not be successful for everyone.

So, Can Pumping Induce Labor?

Different research supported this theory of nipple stimulation through breast pumping. Studies conducted in hospital settings have demonstrated that nipple stimulation may shorten the time to delivery and reduce postpartum bleeding for women with low-risk pregnancies.

As per a study conducted in 2018, 108 women were randomly assigned either breast pump stimulation or IV oxytocin administration after delivery. There were no significant differences between the two groups in the duration of the third stage of labor, incidence of postpartum hemorrhage, or anemia indicators.

Women who received breast stimulation reported lower levels of after-birth pain and breastfed more frequently in the first 24 hours compared to those given oxytocin.

Although breast pump use and oxytocin administration had similar outcomes for most childbirth factors measured, breast stimulation through a breast pump offered advantages in terms of reduced postpartum pain and increased early breastfeeding success.

However, the specific effects of using a breast pump at home to initiate labor have not been extensively studied. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recognizes nipple stimulation as a “natural and inexpensive nonmedical method for inducing labor” for low-risk pregnancies in their 2009 clinical guidelines.

Safety Considerations During Pregnancy

Just as the labor induction concern, many women are also worried and curious to know if it is safe to use an electric breast pump during pregnancy. The answer is neither a complete yes nor a no. A board-certified OB-GYN at Austin Regional Clinic, Dr. Crystal Berry-Roberts, says in an article, “Pumping while pregnant is generally not advised unless you are pumping to feed a little one who is still nursing.”


However, she further added that there could be a risk of miscarriage if you start pumping during early pregnancy while not nursing at the time. Here are some potential risks and complications that healthcare providers may warn against. The following are the safety considerations to keep in mind:

  • Preterm Labor: Nipple stimulation and the release of oxytocin can potentially lead to preterm labor, specifically if a woman is at risk for preterm birth or has a history of preterm labor. It can risk the baby’s health and development.
  • Uterine Hyperstimulation: In some cases, excessive nipple stimulation can cause the uterus to contract too frequently or too strongly, leading to a condition known as uterine hyperstimulation. It can compromise the baby’s oxygen supply and potentially cause fetal distress.
  • Infection Risk: Improper use or cleaning of breast pumps can increase the risk of bacterial or fungal infections, which can be harmful to both the mother and the baby.

Research and Expert Opinions

While studies explore the connection between nipple stimulation and labor induction, research on the specific use of electric breast pumps during pregnancy is still a little limited.

In a study conducted, researchers compared using an electric breast pump for nipple stimulation with oxytocin infusion to induce labor. They found that the time it took for regular uterine activity to start, reaching a certain level of uterine activity and entering the active labor phase was significantly shorter in the nipple stimulation group compared to the oxytocin infusion group.

Some more studies seconds that nipple stimulation through breast pumping may help ripen the cervix and potentially induce labor, but the results have been mixed.

But overall, many healthcare professionals and lactation consultants recommend caution when using breast pumps during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester or if there is a risk of preterm labor.

Tips for Safe Pumping During Pregnancy

If a pregnant woman chooses to use an electric breast pump, several tips can help ensure a safer experience:

  • Before using a breast pump during pregnancy, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider, such as an obstetrician or midwife. They can assess individual risk factors and provide personalized advice.
  • Be aware of potential signs of preterm labor, such as regular contractions, pelvic pressure, or vaginal discharge. If these symptoms occur, stop using the breast pump and contact a healthcare provider immediately.
  • It’s generally recommended to limit breast pumping sessions to 10-15 minutes and avoid excessive or prolonged pumping, which can increase the risk of uterine hyperstimulation.
  • Pumping can cause dehydration and potentially affect milk supply, so it’s important to stay hydrated and monitor milk production closely.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning and sterilizing breast pump parts to prevent the risk of infection.

Alternative Methods to Induce Labor

There are various nonpharmacological methods for cervical ripening and labor induction as below:

  • Herbal Supplements: Evening primrose oil, black haw, black and blue cohosh, and red raspberry leaves are commonly used herbal supplements for labor induction. However, their effectiveness is still uncertain due to limited high-quality evidence from randomized controlled trials. Some studies suggest evening primrose oil may be healthy for cervical ripening, but larger studies are needed to confirm its safety and efficacy.
  • Castor Oil, Hot Baths, and Enemas: These methods have been traditionally recommended for cervical ripening or labor induction, but there is insufficient scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. A Cochrane review found no clear benefits of castor oil for labor induction compared to placebo. Hot baths and enemas may help relax the mother, but their direct impact on inducing labor is unclear.
  • Sexual Intercourse: Sexual intercourse is often suggested to promote labor initiation as it can stimulate the release of oxytocin and prostaglandins. However, a review found limited data from only one small study involving 28 women, making it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about the effectiveness of sexual intercourse for cervical ripening and labor induction in the third trimester. The review highlights the uncertainty surrounding this approach and the need for larger, well-designed studies to assess its efficacy compared to other labor induction methods.
  • Acupuncture/Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation: Acupuncture and TENS may stimulate the release of prostaglandins and oxytocin that can potentially induce labor. However, the current evidence from clinical trials is mixed, with some studies showing potential benefits while others found no significant effects. More well-designed studies are needed to evaluate their role in labor induction.
  • Mechanical Modalities: Mechanical methods like hygroscopic dilators and balloon devices exert local pressure to stimulate the release of prostaglandins for cervical ripening. Several studies have shown these methods to be effective in promoting cervical dilation and reducing the need for oxytocin augmentation during labor induction compared to placebo or no treatment.

End Note

While nipple stimulation through the use of an electric breast pump may potentially induce labor by triggering oxytocin release and uterine contractions, the evidence supporting its effectiveness and safety during pregnancy is still limited. It’s crucial to weigh the potential risks, such as preterm labor and uterine hyper-stimulation, against the benefits.

Consulting with a healthcare provider is essential to assess individual risk factors and receive personalized guidance. Additionally, exploring other nonpharmacological methods for cervical ripening and labor induction may be worthwhile alternatives. Ultimately, the decision to use a breast pump or any other method during pregnancy should be made in consultation with a qualified healthcare professional, carefully considering the potential risks and benefits.