Babies are not always born on their due dates. In fact, only a small percentage (fewer than 5 percent) are born when predicted. Many babies arrive earlier. It’s the late babies, though, that often need a little encouragement.
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.
Path to improved health
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 use a crochet-like hook to “break your water.” This is a common phrase that means to rupture the water-like amniotic sac that surrounds the baby. Or your doctor may use a finger to separate your cervix from the membranes (tissues) around your baby’s head. This often makes labor start.
After doing this, your doctor will watch you closely. When you’re ready, your doctor will start giving you a medicine called oxytocin (it also may be called by its brand name, Pitocin). Oxytocin will start your contractions and help them to get strong and regular.
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 from contractions. In most cases, labor induction goes well and you can deliver your baby vaginally.
Things to consider
Sometimes labor induction just doesn’t work. If your labor won’t start with medicine, you might need to have a cesarean section (also called a C-section). Also, the medicine used for induction 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 specific to your condition.
Questions for your doctor
- Is labor induction safe for me?
- Can I schedule induction even before my baby it late?
- Does induction make labor more painful?
- Can I have an epidural?
- Does induction mean that I won’t labor as long?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.