In some cases, the doctor needs to help labor begin by using:
Inducing labor is done instead of waiting for your body to go into labor on its own.
The most common reason to have an induction is that the pregnancy has gone 2 or more weeks past the due date (or at the due date with twins). In this situation, the baby may:
Other reasons for induction include:
The same complications that may occur when labor begins on its own may also occur during induced delivery. Risks associated with the medications used for labor induction include the following:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the procedure.
The same instructions used when labor begins on its own also apply to induced labor. But, there are some differences. Do not eat too much before arriving at the hospital. It is okay to have clear fluids. The medications can create very strong contractions and could upset your stomach. Contractions slow the digestive process, so your stomach will remain full. This can cause a problem if you need general anesthesia.
To deliver your baby vaginally, the cervix will need to ripen. This means it needs to soften, thin, and open to prepare for delivery. If your cervix is not doing this already, your doctor may aid this process by giving you medication. Medication may be a:
The cervical ripening process can last up to a few days.
There are also procedures that your doctor may try to aid cervical ripening, such as:
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If contractions have not started when your cervix is ripe, your doctor will give you a drug that causes contractions. The drug is a man-made version of a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is produced by your body during active labor. The drug will be adjusted during labor to strengthen or weaken the contractions. After contractions begin, the labor and birth process will be the same as when labor begins on its own.
The same pain medications are available for an induced labor as for a spontaneous delivery, including:
If everything goes well, you will vaginally deliver a healthy baby after the induction.
It can be hours to several days (very rarely) from the time you are induced until the delivery. If your cervix is not ripe when you are scheduled for the induction, labor and delivery could take 2-3 days. It could take longer for first-time mothers and for pre-term babies.
Labor causes severe pain. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage the pain.
The usual length of stay is 1-3 days. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you have any problems.
The care after an induced labor is the same as for a spontaneous birth.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
Women's Health Matters
Harman JH, Kim A. Current trends in cervical ripening and labor induction. Am Fam Physician. 1999;60:477-484.
Induction of Labor. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Practice Bulletin No. 107. August 2009.
Facts about labor induction. Am Fam Physician. 1999 Aug 1;60(2):484. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/990800a.html. Accessed MArch 29, 2016.
Longer hospital stays for childbirth. National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/hospbirth/hospbirth.htm. Updated February 3, 2010. Accessed March 29, 2016.
Morey SS. ACOG develops guidelines for induction of labor. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Jul 15;62(2):445. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000715/practice.html. Accessed March 29, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Andrea Chisholm, MD