What is labor induction?
Sometimes, if labor hasn't started on its own, doctors use medicines to make a woman's labor start so she can deliver her baby vaginally. This is called "labor induction."
Why would my doctor recommend labor induction?
The most common reason for labor induction is that the pregnancy has gone 2 weeks or more past the due date. The baby may get too big if you carry it this far past your due date. It may not be able to get enough food from inside your body. Your doctor might also recommend labor induction if:
- Your water breaks but you aren't having any contractions.
- You have high blood pressure.
- You have an infection in your uterus.
- You have diabetes.
- There isn't enough amniotic fluid around the baby.
How will my doctor induce labor?
There are several ways to induce labor. Toward the end of pregnancy, the cervix (the opening to the uterus, or womb) gets soft. It may even open up a little. Your doctor will check to see if your cervix is getting soft and opening up. If it isn't, your doctor may put a medicine in your vagina near the cervix. The medicine helps your cervix get soft and open up.
Your doctor may also "break your water" or use a finger to separate your cervix from the membranes (tissues) around your baby's head. This often makes labor start.
Your doctor will watch you closely. When you're ready, your doctor will start giving you a medicine called oxytocin. Oxytocin will start your contractions and help them to get strong and regular.
Are there any risks to labor induction?
One risk is that the medicine might not work. If your labor won't start with medicine, you might need to have a cesarean section (also called a C-section). The medicine also might make your contractions too strong. If this happens, your doctor might stop the medicine and wait for a while, or do a cesarean section. If your labor is induced because of medical problems, there might be other risks.
What can I expect during labor induction?
Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 days to induce labor, but it usually takes less time. It takes more time if you're being induced really early or if it's your first baby. Don't eat very much before you come to the hospital. Remember that the medicines for labor induction can give you very strong contractions and might upset your stomach. Tell your doctor if you need help with the pain. In most cases, labor induction goes well and you can deliver your baby vaginally.
Current Trends in Cervical Ripening and Labor Induction by Jefferson H. Harman, Jr., LT COL, USAF, MC, FS, and Andrew Kim, MAJ, USAF, MC (American Family Physician August 01, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/477.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff