What is labor induction?
Sometimes, if labor has not started on its own, doctors use certain medicines to help a woman start labor 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 1 week or more past the due date. 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.
- Your baby isn't growing the way he or she should.
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 place 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 (also may be called Pitocin). 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 C-section. If your labor is induced because of medical problems, there might be other risks.
What can I expect during labor induction?
The time it takes for the labor induction to work varies. 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. Tell your doctor if you need help with the pain form contractions. 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